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Trading Huberdeau could go very, very wrong for Panthers

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History is already repeating itself in an unpleasant way for the Florida Panthers, as they look all but certain to miss the playoffs for the 16th time in 18 seasons. You almost have to try to fail enough not to win a playoff series since 1995-96.

The good news is that the Panthers have amassed a tantalizingly talented group, and they can supplement that core with the right mix of luck and skill. You know, as long as they don’t keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

GM Dale Tallon probably cringes at any mention of sending Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith out of town, but Panthers management sorely needs to think of those blunders if there’s any validity to rumors about Jonathan Huberdeau being shopped around.

TSN’s Frank Seravalli added Huberdeau to his trade bait list on Monday, citing the Panthers’ pursuit of pending Columbus free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. While Elliotte Friedman reported in 31 Thoughts on Wednesday that there are mixed messages about whether Florida would actually consider moving Huberdeau, the Panthers winger addressed said rumors to The Athletic’s George Richards on Tuesday (sub required), so they’ve at least registered to the forward.

“It’s a rumor, we don’t know if it’s true,” Huberdeau said on Tuesday. “I’m just going to play here for now. We’re trying to make a push for the playoffs and I am going to do everything I can. We’ll see what happens.”

Let’s dig into Huberdeau’s underrated value, the many questions Florida faces during a pivotal crossroads moment for the franchise, and the other, wiser routes they should take.

Huberdeau is a crucial building block

If the Maple Leafs have shown us anything with William Nylander and Auston Matthews (and soon Mitch Marner), it’s that young, high-end players aren’t going to be cheap on second contracts much longer. With that in mind, teams that do have high-end players locked up on bargain contracts should guard them as jealously as a child with ice cream.

Huberdeau is just 25, and his bargain cap hit is $5.9 million. That’s the same as Aleksander Barkov‘s deal, but Huberdeau’s contract runs one extra year (through 2022-23) than Barkov’s does (2021-22). Considering Vincent Trocheck‘s deal ($4.75M cap hit through 2021-22), the Panthers boast one of the most enviable cores in hockey because they could very well afford more pieces.

Not only that, but Huberdeau’s having a fantastic season while suffering from fairly bad luck.

His shooting percentage of 9.4 percent is his lowest since 2014-15, and his on-ice shooting percentage is 6.9 percent, the second-worst mark of his career. Despite not getting bounces, Huberdeau’s had a great season, generating 13 goals and 52 points in 55 games.

Honestly, if every GM made rules like “don’t trade a player when they’re experiencing some of their worst shooting percentages of their careers,” then a boatload of the NHL’s dumbest trades would never happen.

Yes, Panarin is better than Huberdeau, but the gap isn’t as big as you might expect, and who knows how many million more Panarin will cost than Huberdeau’s $5.9M? Will it be $10M per year, or $11M? Maybe more?

Huberdeau compares fairly well to Panarin, a full-fledged star. The Panthers shouldn’t move Huberdeau to get Panarin; instead, they should explore every avenue to get both on their team.

Check out this comparison of the two over multiple easons via Bill Comeau’s eye-catching SKATR charts, which use data from Corsica:

via Bill Comeau/Corsica

Looking at Panarin from a wide variety of angles, it’s resounding just how clearly he’s worth the hype. To an extent, it makes sense that some might see moving Huberdeau as a the price of doing business.

It’s just that the Panthers would be far wiser to pay a different price, as Huberdeau’s a gem.

This situation is especially dangerous if, say, Tallon is looking far too much at (gulp) plus/minus … which might have been a problem with Marchessault and Smith, too. Yikes.

What about Bob?

If the thinking is that the Panthers need to trade away Huberdeau to secure Panarin and Bob, the Panthers should do some soul-searching about Bobrovsky.

Don’t get me wrong. Goaltending has been the Panthers’ achilles heel, and while Bobrovsky’s .903 save percentage this season is troubling, Bob has a credible argument that he’s been the best goalie in the NHL since he joined the Blue Jackets.

Still, Bobrovsky is 30 and will turn 31 in September, and the Panthers already have almost $8M in cap space tied up in Roberto Luongo (39, $4.53M cap hit through 2021-22) and James Reimer (30, $3.4M through 2022-23). Yes, there are ways to alleviate some of the pressures; Luongo’s health might credibly land him on LTIR at some point in the semi-near future, and Reimer could be a buyout target.

This Panthers team might have a budget, though, and what if Bobrovsky trends closer to the backup-level goalie he’s been this season than the two-time Vezina-winner from the past?

Florida might be better off trying to find the next Robin Lehner, rather than risking Bobrovsky having a contract as scary as that of Carey Price or … well, their other two goalies.

Don’t force it

Moving Huberdeau to try to proactively lock down Panarin and Bobrovsky has some logic to it, but it would be a massive overpay.

Most obviously, the Panthers could just wait and see if Panarin and Bobrovsky would come to them via free agency, without costing them a single asset. If they’d sign extensions with Florida, wouldn’t they sign with them in July?

But the concerns about Bob bring up another possibility: maybe a Plan B would work better, overall?

The free agent market is reasonably robust with forwards. Maybe Mark Stone or Matt Duchene would want to soak up the sun and give Florida a boost? Overextending for Panarin and especially Bobrovsky could be a rough value proposition.

Move someone else

The Panthers also have plenty of other pieces to work with.

They could still get at least something for Derick Brassard and/or Riley Sheahan. Jamie McGinn‘s $3.33M is about to come off the books, so that can help even if it just makes a splashy free agent more affordable.

(According to Cap Friendly, the Panthers currently have about $58.5M devoted to 13 players; if the cap goes to $83M, that would give them about $24.5M.)

Thanks to the Nick Bjugstad and Alex Petrovic trades, the Panthers have picks in every round again, including three fourth-rounders. Those picks might not be appealing to the Blue Jackets in a potential Panarin trade, but if the Senators decide to move Stone and/or Duchene, suddenly Florida could be in that mix.

If trading Huberdeau is as much about clearing money as anything else, then there are much better ways to ease financial tensions. Perhaps the Panthers could bribe someone to absorb the full cost of Reimer’s contract, even if costs a pick or two?

Status quo isn’t so bad

Trying to add a big player makes a lot of sense for Florida, but blowing up what they have by recklessly giving up Huberdeau in a sell-low situation isn’t the best way to get better.

And don’t forget, Florida could be on the verge of adding some other nice pieces.

Henrik Borgstrom isn’t setting the NHL on fire, but he’s just 21, and many believe the big forward has serious potential. Many scouts are also excited about Owen Tippett, who’s about to turn 20 on Feb. 16.

The prospect of those prospects making bigger jumps might prompt some to say “OK, then, trade Huberdeau; they can replace him.” Instead, it should inspire the Panthers to take a more zen-like approach.

If you’re going to move any fully formed forward, you’d be better off moving Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, as both are only under contract through 2020-21. Yet, even in those cases, they’re both cost-effective, quality players.

Tallon should instead envision Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Hoffman, Dadonov, Borgstrom, Tippett, and a free agent giving the Panthers a mix of high-end skill and unusual-for-2019 depth.

Really, the Panthers’ biggest question might be: is Bob Boughner the right guy as head coach? Publicly speaking, Tallon at least seems to think so.

In summary: Don’t move Hubey

Overall, it makes sense that the Panthers want to add Panarin and Bobrovsky, or other big pieces. This team is getting impatient, and maybe doesn’t believe that it’s an option to sit idly by.

People make mistakes when they’re desperate, though, and the concept of a Huberdeau trade carries that stink. This doesn’t mean that there’s no scenario where it can work out for Florida … the odds are just higher that things would pay off if they did something else.

Decades of history argue that the Panthers won’t get this right, but they could very well build something special if they do. Good luck, Dale Tallon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Gallant blasts Golden Knights for ‘soft’ play

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The Vegas Golden Knights saw a 2-2 tie devolve into a 5-2 loss against the Arizona Coyotes, and coach Gerard Gallant was not happy on Tuesday.

After the loss, Gallant reportedly had a word with players in the locker room. When asked about the message he sent, Gallant told The Athletic’s Jesse Granger “none of your business” — before giving his team the business.

“It was a 2-2 game, and all of a sudden we try to get cute again and start making drop passes and passes through the slot,” Gallant said. “I didn’t like the way we played. There was no passion in our game. No aggressive forecheck. We played a soft game.”

*Shakes hand to signify a take that’s too hot to touch.*

If there are two things hockey coaches disdain, they are softness and cuteness. Care Bears be warned.

But Gallant likely knows that it’s foolish to get too high or too low from one loss, even if he legitimately sees a lack of passion in one of those 82 games.

Instead, it might be that Gallant is trying to wake his team up. The Golden Knights are pretty securely placed at third in the Pacific Division, as the Sharks and Flames are far too sturdy for them to pass them, while no one else is much of a threat to push Vegas into the wild-card ranks.

Complacency is a threat to any team through a grinding, marathon season, yet it’s an especially big worry when you don’t have a ton of movement.

(As an aside: it’s surreal that the Golden Knights are dealing with the plights of prosperity so early in their existence, isn’t it?)

When you look at recent developments, it’s easy to see why Gallant might be frustrated, if not outright concerned.

After rattling off a seven-game winning streak from late December to early January, the Golden Knights have gone 4-8-0, generating the third-worst record in the NHL since Jan. 10. They’ve generated fewer points than the struggling Oilers and Senators during that slump, only besting the truly moribund Avalanche and Ducks.

The wider signs aren’t all bad. They’re still outshooting their opponents by a considerable margin, and they’ve remained a stout possession team since the calendar hit 2019.

It makes sense that Gallant would like to keep his team awake, and not accept these defeats, even if there’s a “nature of the beast” element happening here. Gallant’s taken measures such as briefly moving Reilly Smith away from William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, with the goal of sending wake-up calls.

A lot of what Gallant is doing carries logic, although he might want to heed an unspoken wake-up call of his own when it comes to the most important position in the sport.

With the Golden Knights wedged in that third spot without much room to move, Gallant should break with his bad habit of leaning heavily on his starter, in this case with 34-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury already came to Vegas with a ton of mileage, and his 50 games played leads the NHL by a three-game margin. While the Golden Knights play a sound enough game that he’s only faced the third-most shots in the league, one cannot disregard the total workload. Since memorably joining the Golden Knights, Fleury’s played in 96 regular-season games, plus that 20-game playoff run.

We’ve seen much younger goalies such as Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy admit they’ve broken down under too many starts, and for all we know, many other goalies have been worn out but haven’t said so on the record.

As much as Gallant wants to make every game count, the bottom line is that the Golden Knights would almost certainly have a better chance at another magical playoff run with an energetic Fleury.

Gallant might not like it, but sometimes the “soft” way is the right way.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: History for Lundqvist; Blood from McDavid

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Marchessault

The Golden Knights have been pretty hot lately (now eight wins in their last 10 games), but Marchessault isn’t having the easiest time. Heading into Saturday, he only had a goal and an assist in his last 10 contests.

Marchessault broke out during Vegas’ lopsided win against the Penguins, generated his second career hat trick. He’s the second Golden Knights player to generate a hat trick, with William Karlsson providing the other two.

This gives Marchessault 17 goals and 34 points in 50 games this season.

2. Steven Stamkos

Stamkos extended his point streak to six games with two goals and an assist, giving him three goals and seven assists for 10 points during that span.

This gives Stamkos 26 goals in 2018-19, one short of last season’s total.

3. Tyson Barrie

The Avalanche lit up the Kings on Saturday, and Barrie played into that, collecting three assists. Barrie now has five assists in his last three games.

It’s quite the season so far for the underrated offensive defenseman, as he has 37 points in 44 games. The Avs blueliner was quite impressive last season, too, as his 57 points came in just 68 contests last season.

Barrie’s 37 points ties him for eighth among defensemen with Keith Yandle, even though Barrie’s missed some time with injuries.

Rough, eventful night for the Oilers

Connor McDavid wasn’t just on the losing end of a game against the Flames, he was also left bloodied on Saturday.

Despite the loss, Mikko Koskinen made some impressive saves. This behind-the-back bit was the odder one, while this one was more … traditional?

Consider this a 3b (or maybe 2b?) for the three stars: Mark Giordano generated a goal and two assists for three points in this one. Giordano now has an outstanding 52 points in 48 games this season, leaving him just four points behind his career-high of 56 from 2015-16.

Hey, at least Milan Lucic is heating up for the Oilers, right bummed out fans?

Oh yeah, the Zamboni also broke down, playing into the night of comic relief.

Highlights of the Night

Here’s that behind-the-back Koskinen save, to spare you a click:

Nolan Patrick really did pull a move straight out of “NHL 19,” didn’t he?

This Stamkos to Yanni Gourde goal is a lot of fun to watch.

Factoids

Up next at fifth place is Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, who’s at 454 wins. After that, it’s a steeper climb to fourth place (Roberto Luongo at 480 and counting).

Scores

ANA 3 – NJD 2
COL 7 – LAK 1
STL 3 – OTT 2
DAL 4 – WPG 2
NYR 3 – BOS 2
PHI 5 – MTL 2
TBL 6 – SJS 3
FLA 4 – NSH 2
MIN 2 – CBJ 1
VGK 7 – PIT 3
CGY 5 – EDM 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights’ second act shaping up to rival first

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LAS VEGAS — Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch had to have faith.

When the Vegas Golden Knights decided to send them to the minors at the start of last season, Theodore and Tuch chose to believe what general manager George McPhee told them.

”The message was that we were part of the future of this team and he definitely saw us in that long-term plan,” Theodore said.

Within weeks, they were back in the NHL as part of the fastest-starting expansion team in history and played significant roles in the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Each player got a long-term contract before he played his first game this season, and they weren’t alone as McPhee went about the process of turning Vegas from a one-year wonder into a perennial title contender.

He locked up 75-point forward Jonathan Marchessault through 2024, signed face-of-the-franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a three-year extension, inked defenseman Nate Schmidt to a six-year contract that begins next season, signed center Paul Stastny as a free agent and acquired big winger Max Pacioretty in a trade with Montreal. Those moves have paid off so far with Vegas five points back of first place in the Pacific Division and looking like its second act could rival its first.

”We have a couple guys signed long term, and it’s fun because it means that we have a core and we’re building something,” Marchessault said. ”You want to be part of a story as a hockey player, and it feels like we’re part of one here.”

The Golden Knights’ story was a fairy tale: A team that looked on paper like it would be among the worst in the league won its division and steamrolled to the final before losing to McPhee’s former team, the Washington Capitals, in five games. Marchessault said he felt in June like this team could be a legitimate threat for years to come.

McPhee’s job was to ensure that. The veteran executive who got to build the Golden Knights from scratch through a wildly successful expansion draft understood he had the benefit of not having to dig out from bad contracts. But he also shouldered the burden of drawing up a whole host of new ones after one season during which seemingly everyone overachieved.

”We did have a lot of work to do because most of the guys that we acquired were either free agents or were on one-year deals and their deals had matured and it was time to negotiate again,” McPhee said. ”And we just thought, we know what they are, we’re comfortable projecting what they will be in the future and we had the cap space, so why not use it now because cap space is like perishable inventory. If you don’t use it, it’s gone at the end of the year. We just wanted some cost certainty moving forward, so it would help us to plan for things better in the future.”

Fleury got $7 million a year, Schmidt, $5.95 million, Theodore, $5.2 million, Marchessault, $5 million and Tuch, $4.75 million. Fleury leads the NHL with 26 wins, Schmidt has played over 23 minutes a game since returning from suspension, Theodore leads Vegas defensemen with 21 points and Tuch and Marchessault are 1-2 on the team in scoring.

Beyond cost certainty, it was money smartly spent to keep morale up, raise expectations and get bang for owner Bill Foley’s buck.

”When you have a guy believe in you like that, sign you to that kind of a term, you don’t want to make him look bad and I think every night you want to go out and you want to play your best,” said Theodore, who is under contract through 2025. ”I think it’s been paying off for us and hopefully will in the future.”

Even though only wingers James Neal and David Perron and defenseman Luca Sbisa aren’t back from the core group that went to the Cup final, McPhee couldn’t stand pat and think success would repeat itself. He consciously added Stastny, Pacioretty and Nick Holden to replace the lost production and provide an influx of talent.

”When you’re a couple games away from winning, I think you’ve got to try and do whatever you can,” Schmidt said. ”You have to add something in order to beat the best teams.”

The way Pacioretty looks at it, McPhee wasn’t scanning the aisles. He was shopping off a specific list. They weren’t part of the playoff run – Stastny was on the Winnipeg Jets team that Vegas beat in the Western Conference final – but brought some more balance.

”They wanted guys like me and Stas to come in and play a little bit of a two-way game,” Pacioretty said. ”That’s how we want to help our team. We know that especially offensively that this team last year had guys who were relied upon every night to create. And we still want to be those guys coming in, but we also know that there’s areas on both sides of the puck that we can help this team.”

Injuries have hampered Pacioretty and Stastny so far, but they and the Golden Knights will really be judged in the playoffs. After falling three victories short of a championship, players feel like they have what it takes to win this time and for years to come.

”As our owner said at the beginning of the year, we just don’t want to be a winning team. We want to have a winning franchise,” Marchessault said. ”Last year we really felt like we have something special, and we have some unfinished business.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Vegas Golden Knights keep hot streak going

When you’re winning, it’s easy to laugh off Ryan Reaves‘ empty-net attempt putting your team down a man late in a game.

The Vegas Golden Knights finished Sunday in that state, as they won their sixth consecutive game by holding off the New Jersey Devils 3-2. Max Pacioretty generating two game-winning goals in a row makes that even sweeter.

This is about more than a six-game surge for Vegas, too.

With a 7-0-2 record in their last nine contests, they’ve extended an impressive point streak. Their overall record improves to 26-15-4 for 56 points. About the closest thing to bad news is that, while they have the same number as points as the West and Pacific-leading Flames, Calgary’s really the leader considering their two games in hand.

That’s a pretty small concern when you remember that there were very real worries about the Golden Knights following last season’s Cinderella run by missing the playoffs in their second campaign.

The lowest point of the season may have come against those Flames, as Vegas slipped to 9-12-1 after a 7-2 drubbing on Nov. 19. Such struggles inspired PHT to ponder serious goaltending slumps and generally lousy luck.

Maybe that 7-2 loss lit a fire under the Golden Knights.

Vegas rattled off a five-game winning streak after that embarrassing defeat, including a 2-0 win against Calgary on Nov. 23. They’re now 17-3-3 in their last 23 games; their 37 points since Nov. 21 tie the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most in the NHL during that span (though the world-beating Bolts got to 37 points in two fewer games).

Can they keep it up?

On one hand, the Golden Knights have some reason to believe that they can keep things going.

They’ve been able to get some nice balanced scoring. Alex Tuch continues to look like an impressive scorer, showing promise with Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Even with Jonathan Marchessault suffering from ice-cold shooting luck, it seems like his trio with Reilly Smith and William Karlsson remain legit. Nate Schmidt‘s return from a suspension sure seems like a big deal for Vegas.

Vegas is also often impressive from a possession standpoint, with its speed and aggressiveness putting opponents on their heels.

But there remain some red flags, as noted earlier this season.

The Golden Knights continue to put a lot of pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” has really impressed lately, yet having the 34-year-old (who’s had some history of injury issues) play 20 of the last 23 games smells like a recipe for disaster.

As of this writing, Fleury is the only goalie who’s logged 2,000 minutes in 2018-19, with John Gibson (25) and Jacob Markstrom (28) trailing close behind. Fleury’s 38 games played tops all goalies.

Malcolm Subban won Sunday’s game against the Devils, holding strong as New Jersey fought to try to tie that contest. Maybe that performance will help him gain Gerard Gallant’s trust?

If not, that gamble could really go wrong for Vegas.

***

Overall, it’s heartening to see the Golden Knights make a profound argument that they’re not just some fluke, and they’re simply fun to watch. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be more fun with this speedy team and its silly pre-game antics.

The hotter Vegas stays, the better the odds are that they will stay in the playoffs.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.