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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.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Maple Leafs on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Maple Leafs won a pivotal division clash Saturday with a 4-3 overtime victory in Montreal to remain in second place in the Atlantic Division. John Tavares scored his team-leading 33rd goal (also T-second in NHL) in OT with a beautiful backhand past Carey Price.

With two points yesterday (goal, assist), Tavares has three straight multi-point games and reached the 60-point mark (33G, 27A in 54 GP), two games shy of his fastest season to 60 points (52 GP in 2013-14 w/ New York Islanders).

Toronto has won four straight games and has a six-game point streak (5-0-1).

On Friday night when the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champion Rangers team was honored for the 25th anniversary of their title, the current Blueshirts fell 3-0 to the Hurricanes. It was scoreless entering the third period before Warren Foegele scored the eventual game-winner and Carolina tallied two empty- netters. Petr Mrazek made 27 saves for Carolina in the shutout, though defenseman Jaccob Slavin also rescued two would-be goals on the doorstep.

The Rangers were shut out for the 5th time this season, tied for second most in the league.

Despite being shut out on Friday, the Rangers top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello has been one of the hottest trios in the league. Since January 12, they have combined for 41 points (19G, 22A) in the last 11 games.

Zibanejad has already set career highs with 53 pts and 31 assists this season. His previous career marks were 51 pts and 30 assists, both in 2015-16 with Ottawa. He is on pace for 80 pts, which would be the highest tally by a Rangers player since Marian Gaborik had 86 in 2009-10.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Sunday, Feb. 10, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Maple Leafs-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

MAPLE LEAFS
Zach Hyman – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Patrick MarleauAuston MatthewsKasperi Kapanen
Connor BrownNazem KadriWilliam Nylander
Par LindholmFrederik GauthierAndreas Johnsson

Jake MuzzinMorgan Rielly
Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev
Travis DermottRon Hainsey

Starting goalie: Garret Sparks

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Mats Zuccarello
Pavel BuchnevichKevin HayesJesper Fast
Filip ChytilRyan StromeVladislav Namestnikov
Jimmy VeseyBoo Nieves – Vinni Lettieri

Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brendan SmithKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Madison Square Garden. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones.

NHL on NBCSN: Maple Leafs go for fifth straight win against Rangers

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite the distractions of Auston Matthews signing his big money deal and Mitch Marner (and his agent) doing their thing when it comes to his contract demands recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs keep chugging along and piling up the wins.

John Tavares‘ overtime winner help the Leafs to their fourth straight win and sixth straight game with at least a point (5-0-1). Tavares reached the 60-point mark and now has 33 goals on the year, putting him on pace for 50. If he can find twine a few extra times given that current pace, he might just tie or set the team’s franchise record, which stands at 54. Tavares has done well against the Rangers, a team he faced 44 times as a member of the New York Islanders, posting 14 goals and 26 assists in those games.

While Matthews’ contract fades into the annals of hockey history, it’s Marner’s that is now taking center stage. Marner made the sweet dish to Tavares on Saturday’s winner, showing once again why he’s on par in terms of importance going forward as Matthews.

Both Marner and his agent walked back on initial comments that the Leafs were low-balling the 21-year-old. who leads the lead with 66 points and 46 assists. Leafs coach Mike Babcock appears not worried about that situation seeping into the team’s fabric this season.

“What he’s done is make clear that they’re not doing anything about it until the end of the season,” Babcock said last week. “So how can that be in the way of anything? Just get in there, play and not worry about it, you’ll deal with it later. I think that they’ve done that because they don’t want it to be a distraction…Mitch is going to be a lifetime Leaf.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Rangers aren’t worried about big money contracts this season, nor are they worried about how it might affect their looming playoff run. The Rangers likely won’t be in the postseason.

They failed to use the inspiration of the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team to their full advantage on Friday, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes in a dismal effort from the Blue Shirts. Carolina was playing the second half of a back to back and New York couldn’t muster a single goal.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for our guys to be around something we’re all inspired to do, win a Cup here in New York,” Rangers coach Dave Quinn said. “It’s disappointing in a lot of ways… there was definitely a lack of urgency, which is surprising. It certainly set up to be a special night, we just didn’t capitalize on it.”

Despite being shut out on Friday, the Rangers top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello has been one of the hottest trios in the league. Since January 12, they have combined for 41 points (19G, 22A) in the last 11 games (Zuccarello missed one game during that span).

Zibanejad has been most impressive during the current run, scoring 10 goals in those 11 games, which is more than any other player in the NHL. His 18 points in that span are second only to Patrick Kane‘s 21.

The line might not last past the end of the month, however, as Zuccarello’s name is once again in trade speculation this season. He’s in the final year of his current contract but would be a solid depth add for any contender.

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Madison Square Garden. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones.

The Buzzer: Tavares delivers in the clutch

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Three Stars

1. Kevin Labanc

Six players generated three points on Saturday, so you could make cases for plenty of players outside of tonight’s picks. Labanc was the only player who generated a hat trick, however, and it’s the first hat trick of the 23-year-old’s career.

Labanc’s been enjoying a pretty effective season. He has nine goals and 36 points in 56 games, leaving him four points short of last season’s career-high of 40.

All three of his shots on goal ended up finding the mark.

2. Alex Galchenyuk

It’s been an up-and-down first season in Arizona for “Chucky,” who’s watched as Max Domi‘s been flourishing in Montreal.

Saturday served as one of his best games with the Coyotes, as Galchenyuk generated two goals (including the game-winner) and an assist. He fired five SOG and had a +1 rating. About the only bummer of his game was that he only won 20 percent of his faceoffs.

3. Patrice Bergeron

When it comes to Galchenyuk and Bergeron making the top three, game-winners tipped the scales.

Bergeron’s three points came by way of that GWG, plus two assists. As you’d expect from Bergeron, it was quite the all-around performance; the Bruins center fired seven SOG, had a +3 rating, and won 54.2 percent of his draws. One of his three points came shorthanded, too.

It’s fair to ask what kind of major awards Bergeron might be pushing for if he hasn’t been dealing with some injuries. Despite being limited to 39 games this season, Bergeron has 20 goals and 50 points. In 2017-18, Bergeron generated 63 points in 64 contests.

You might be shocked to hear that he’s excellent.

Highlight of the Night

If Maple Leafs fans want some assurance that all of that salary cap worrying they shouldn’t be doing is worth it, they merely need to watch Mitch Marner show great instincts and timing by setting up John Tavares, who scored an excellent overtime-winner with a backhander.

Factoid

  • Sidney Crosby passed Mario Lemieux for 916 games played, the most in Penguins franchise history. It really highlights that injuries, cancer, and that pesky first retirement really deprived hockey fans of more Mario. The Penguins celebrated it in a cool way.

Scores

BOS 5 – LAK 4 (OT)
BUF 3 – DET 1
MIN 4 – NJD 2
NYI 4 – COL 3 (OT)
PHI 6 – ANA 2
OTT 5 – WPG 2
STL 3 – NSH 2
ARI 3 – DAL 2
TOR 4 – MTL 3 (OT)
TBL 5 – PIT 4
FLA 5 – WSH 4 (OT)
SJS 5 – EDM 2
VAN 4 – CGY 3 (SO)
CBJ 4 – VGK 3

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.

Marner’s agent tries to put out fire from Maple Leafs ‘lowball’ comments

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The Toronto Maple Leafs might be able to make the salary cap situation work enough to keep their biggest names together, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll sign Mitch Marner without headaches.

The ink on Auston Matthewsdaunting five-year extension barely dried before Marner’s agent Darren Ferris ratcheted up the drama.

In a Tuesday column for the Toronto Star, Dave Feschuk reported that Ferris claimed the Maple Leafs have been “trying to lowball” Marner, and described Matthews’ contract as not being a “team-friendly discount.”

Things blew up to such a point that Ferris went on two Toronto morning radio shows (TSN’s First Up 1050 and “The Jeff Blair Show” on Sportsnet 590) to try to put out the fires related to those comments.

In the process, Ferris then made a clarification on his clarification to Feschuk, ultimately stating that while Ferris made comments about the Maple Leafs lowballing Marner on Tuesday, those comments were related to alleged lowball offers from the summer.

*Phew*

After making eyebrow-raising comments, Ferris tried to spin things with the normal boilerplate comments you’d usually expect.

” …the discussions have been going in the right direction, and Mitch will be a Leaf for a long time, and I’m sure that everything will work out,” Ferris said on “The Jeff Blair Show.”

Of course, to many, the damage has been done — at least in terms of acting as if this is “business as usual.”

And, again, Ferris is doing his best to provide damage control after a day’s worth of frightening quotes about Marner wanting to get as close to Matthews’ $11.63 million cap hit as possible. Chris Nicholls transcribed radio interviews where TSN’s Darren Dreger stated that Marner’s camp reportedly believes he shouldn’t get “a penny” less than Matthews, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie seemed to make similar comments.

It’s difficult to shake the feeling that the people around Marner keep making things a little awkward, if not worse.

Back in December, Marner’s father Paul vented to The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel (sub required) about a perceived lack of interest in the winger possibly becoming the Maple Leafs’ next captain.

“I’ll just be honest with you,” Paul Marner said. “It drives our family nuts when we hear you guys all talk about who should be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Mitch never hardly gets any consideration. It’s because he’s like this happy-go-lucky little kid. But he championed the London Knights to the Memorial Cup with that same happy (personality). I watched a guy like Doug Gilmour who had a lot of joy on and off the ice but was a real competitor.

“And that’s Mitch.”

It’s enough to make your head spin, but Marner and the Maple Leafs did their best not to pour extra gas on the fire when asked about the process on Wednesday.

“That’s why you hire an agent, let him talk to Kyle (Dubas),” Marner said, according to Jonas Siegel.

“ … A deal’s going to get done eventually.”

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock echoed those thoughts. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Babcock said “Mitch is gonna be … Mitch is a lifetime Leaf.” So the messages seem to be aligned on-the-record, at least one day after things spiraled out of control.

(Or at least until Marner demanded that Ferris clean things up? We may or may not find that out once the smoke clears.)

Either way, if the goal of pushing contract extension negotiations to after the season was to “not be a distraction,” then Marner’s reps have failed in a big way.

However, if the true objective is to get as much money as possible — well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

And grab some popcorn.

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.