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Six players who should stay put this summer

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Over the next couple of months there will be a lot of trades that get made throughout the NHL.

Some of them will be good for everybody involved. Some of them will be bad for somebody. Some of them should not happen. After taking a look at six players that probably should be traded, let us now take a look at six players that should not be traded.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins. Based on his career it seems that the Phi Kessel experience has a shelf life with whatever organization he is playing for.

Based on the reports coming out of Pittsburgh regarding his relationship with coach Mike Sullivan in the wake of their second-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals he could be on the verge of reaching the end of that shelf life in Pittsburgh

That, of course, has led to trade speculation.

General manager Jim Rutherford has downplayed the whole thing and summed up the entire ordeal becoming a story this offseason as perfectly as anyone could have when he said this to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a week ago.

“They always had good communication directly and indirectly through the assistant coaches,” Rutherford said. “I don’t see where that has changed. The only thing that’s changed is that we won the first two years, so nobody wants to talk about it. We didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, so it’s become a bigger public issue. To me, that’s the only reason.”

Basically, when you win nobody cares that you don’t get along. When you lose, suddenly it is the most important thing in the world.

There are probably a lot of truths when it comes to the Kessel-Penguins situation.

Kessel is probably the type of player that drives coaches crazy.

He and Sullivan may not always see eye-to-eye.

But he is also one of the best offensive players in the world and is more than just a one-trick pony that can only score goals (not that being a goal-scorer is a bad thing).

If I am Jim Rutherford my message to Kessel and Sullivan is simple: Hey Mike, Phil is too good, too productive, and too much of a bargain for me to trade because I will never get fair value back in return and it is only going to make our team worse if I do trade him. Hey Phil, Mike is the coach … try to be a little less of a pain in the ass sometimes.

The Penguins could probably use a tweak or two or to their roster. They could stand to dump a contract or two (Conor Sheary, perhaps). But it should not be the guy that was just one of the top-10 scorers in the NHL and has been a central cog in a team that has won the Stanley Cup in two of the past three years.

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers. There is a disturbing cycle in Edmonton.

It usually starts with the team underperforming or just flat out being terrible on the ice.

Then you start to hear rumblings about how one of the core players is falling out of favor even though they aren’t really the biggest part of the problem. Then that player gets traded for an underwhelming return and goes to their new team and excels while the Oilers are left holding a bag of magic beans and looking like they do not really know what they are doing.

Justin Schultz. Taylor Hall. Jordan Eberle.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you are paying close attention it seems to be happening again, and this time the player at the center of that discussion is defenseman Oscar Klefbom.

Knowing the history of the Oilers and the history of general manager Peter Chiarelli making these kinds of deals it should send a shiver up the back of every Oilers fans because there is no way this would end well.

Klefbom was tremendous as a top-pairing defenseman for the Oilers in 2016-17 but regressed this past season as he played through a shoulder injury.

He is still only 24 years old, he is signed long-term, when healthy he has shown that he can be an outstanding player. He is not the reason their defense stinks and if they try to trade him now they are doing so at what is probably his lowest value — coming off of an injury plagued, injury shortened season where he did not play at his best. Only bad things can come from a trade in that situation.

Give him a chance to rebound. Keep your best defenseman. Just do not do anything dumb.

Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. Everything we just said about Klefbom? Say it again, only this time about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Not that he is someone that seems to be on the trading block, but he carries a big contract, the Oilers have to clear some salary cap space somewhere, and with Schultz, Hall and Eberle all gone he is one of the few long-time members of the “core” that lost so much that still remains in Edmonton.

He is good. He is not your problem. Keep him.

Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes. There has been some speculation for more than a year now that Domi has been shopped, and there was even a rumor that the Pittsburgh Penguins could be interested in him (Domi’s father, long-time NHL tough-guy Tie Domi, and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux are very close).

Given how much smoke there has been around Domi when it comes to trade speculation there is always the possibility that it could happen but I really can’t think of a compelling reason why it should happen.

Yes, he had a tough season in 2017-18. Yes, he is a restricted free agent and in line for a new contract. But he is still only 22 years old. The Coyotes have reportedly struck a deal with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson indicating that they are trying to build something around their current young core. Domi could still be a part of that. Plus, he just does not seem like the type of player that would bring enough of a return to warrant trading him at this point.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens. You could try to give me a lot of good reasons why the Canadiens could — or maybe even should — trade him. The only one that even begins to make sense is the contract situation as he enters the final year of his deal.

Still, let’s be serious here: The Canadiens are not really in a position to rebuild after committing a ton of money into a veteran core. Whether or not they should rebuild is another question entirely, but given the makeup of the team that just does not seem to be in the cards.

That brings us to Pacioretty.

He is their best player not named Carey Price and has been one of the best goal scorers in the NHL throughout his career. He is also coming off of a career-worst performance offensively. Trading him now is trading him at his absolute lowest value given that he did not play great in 2017-18 and only has one year left on his contract. There is no upside to moving him at this point. Even though he is entering his age 30 season he is the type of player that should be able to maintain a lot of his value as an offensive contributor for several more years and there is plenty to indicate that he is due for a bounce back season, from the fact he was a 53 percent possession player this past season, to the fact he still averaged more than 3.30 shots on goal per game, to the fact he had one of the worst shooting percentages of his career.

There is a very real chance that he comes back in 2018-19 and is once again a 30-35 goal scorer. Make sure he has that season for your team and not somebody else.

Regarding the contract situation? You are the Montreal Canadiens. You can afford to re-sign an elite goal-scorer. Make it work.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. The only reason the Maple Leafs might even consider something like this is because they want to maybe deal from a position of strength (young, talented forwards) to fill a position of weakness (defense).

Here is another idea: Don’t do it. Find another way to fix your defense. You don’t want to do something crazy like pulling a Hall-for-Larsson here.

Nylander is a great young player and is going to be one of the key building blocks of a team that could, maybe, one day, finally end your Stanley Cup drought.

He just turned 22 years old and already has a pair of 60-point seasons under his belt, something that only 33 players have accomplished since the start of the 2000 season.

Players like that do not typically get traded. Out of that aforementioned group of 33, only 11 of them have been traded at any point in their careers. One of them, Filip Forsberg, was traded before his NHL debut. Several others (like Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Staal, Paul Stastny, Marian Gabroik) were traded later in their careers just before they were set to become unrestricted free agents or due to some other contractual issue. The only players out of that group that were traded before their 25th birthdays were Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen.

One of those trades (Johansen) worked out well for everybody. The other (Seguin) was a disaster for the team that gave up the player.

Do you want to take that chance?

Players that produce like Nylander at this age usually go on to be All-Star level players. They are also incredibly difficult to find. When you get one, you want to hang on to them for as long as you possibly can.

MORE: Six players who should be traded this summer

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wild’s new GM faces tough task in finding ‘finishing touches’

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If you look at NHL GM gigs like flipping a home, then some jobs call for a massive renovation, and it must be fun to deal with a “fixer-upper.” But what about when someone wants you to turn an already-expensive house into a mansion?

That’s essentially what’s being asked of longtime Nashville Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton as he takes over the Minnesota Wild job from Chuck Fletcher.

Wild owner (and former Predators owner) Craig Leipold at least had a sense of humor about his demands during the press conference that introduced Fenton as GM.

“Our goal is to bring a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey. But, no pressure, Paul,” Leipold said, via The Athletic’s Michael Russo.

For those who are waiting to interject with a comment along the lines of “Yes, but every team talks about winning the Stanley Cup in these situations” … well, that’s true. Sometimes you can root out some semi-useful information in reading between the lines during these moments, though.

Take, for instance, the video clip below. On one hand, Fenton wants to “move the puck” and play an uptempo style that virtually every team discusses (aside from a relative outlier here or there, like Peter Chiarelli wanting “heavy and hard hockey”). On the other hand, there are some interesting kernels to consider. Fenton at least seems open-minded to making things work with head coach Bruce Boudreau, which is certainly a fair question since he wasn’t a bench boss handpicked by Fenton. Multiple comments also indicate that the Wild hope to ascend to the level of contender rather than going into a rebuild, as “finishing touches” indicate.

If anyone’s ready for a GM job, it’s Fenton. He’s been rising up the Predators organization since 1998, earning glowing reviews from Nashville GM David Poile. There’s a reason he’s been on plenty of GM candidate lists for years.

Minnesota could especially benefit if Fenton observed how Nashville flourished after making courageous trades such as the P.K. SubbanShea Weber swap. Not everyone has the stomach for such risks, but those gambles often separate contenders from pretenders.

There are a number of reasons why Fenton might fail, or at least could struggle. Let’s dive in.

Jumping right into the deep end

The 2018 Stanley Cup Final is nearly upon us. The draft isn’t far away on June 22, and free agency is right afterward. Wild fans have to hope that Fenton’s experience in scouting and his familiarity with the Central Division will come in handy, as this next stretch is a true “trial by fire.”

Fletcher left quite a mess of long-term contracts, most obviously in challenging deals for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, so the Wild aren’t exactly bursting with cap space.

[A deep dive on the mess Fletcher left behind. It’s a mixed bag at best.]

It’s up to Fenton to try to land pending RFAs Jason Zucker and Mathew Dumba to team-friendly deals after each player enjoyed easily the best seasons of their NHL careers. Over the years, the Predators have piled up some really nice contracts for players they developed, most notably Viktor Arvidsson, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis. Bargain extensions often come down to timing, however, as you can see in Ryan Johansen getting a Getzlaf-like deal. Fenton faces two challenges in getting Zucker and Dumba signed to affordable contracts, whether that means going short-term or trying to bring the annual price down by handing out more term.

If “finishing touches” boil down to small tweaks and savvy shopping in the discount aisle, that’s fine.

Something more drastic could be highly difficult to pull off …

Central issue

… Because the Wild are in a true meat grinder of a Central Division.

Consider this: Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck was being comically hasty in discussing his team becoming a “dynasty.”

That said, when you consider how young and talented that core is, you never know. At minimum, the Jets are structured in a way where they’ll be on-paper favorites against the Wild for the foreseeable future.

Fenton will need to make beautiful music to get his Wild to outmatch his old boss in Nashville, while it’s possible that the Blues and Stars are the ones who are “finishing touches” away from legitimate contention. You can’t totally count out the Blackhawks either (what if Corey Crawford was healthy all season?) and the Avalanche seem like they’re onto something.

One could envision Fenton making the right moves and the Wild still stalling in this first-round limbo. The Central Division is that tough, and there’s a genuine fear that Minnesota simply doesn’t have a high enough ceiling to break through.

***

There’s a school of thought that the Wild might be better off rebuilding, or if that’s too extreme, maybe a brief “reload.”

Minnesota definitely has some talent, and the Wild can look like a contender on better nights. Still, that series against the Jets felt telling; you wonder if they’re doomed to be stuck at good when they need to be great.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Mike Fisher will not play Game 7 for Predators

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The Nashville Predators announced on Thursday afternoon that center Mike Fisher will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of their series against the Winnipeg Jets. The team has him listed as “day-to-day” with a lower-body injury.

The 37-year-old Fisher came out of retirement late in the regular season and played in 16 games for the Predators, scoring two goals and adding two assists.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

He appeared in each of the team’s first 12 playoff games, scoring one goal while playing just a little under 12 minutes per night. He played just 2:58 in the Predators’ Game 6 win in Winnipeg before exiting the game after the first period with the injury.

His only goal in the series came in the Predators’ Game 3 loss in Winnipeg.

Given Fisher’s workload and role this postseason it is not a totally damaging blow to the Predators’ chances in Game 7, especially given that they already have Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, and Nick Bonino playing down the middle, but it does create a hole on the team’s fourth line.

More Jets-Predators

Jets, Predators set the stage for what should be incredible Game 7

Jets, Predators lean heavily on Rinne-Hellebuyck

Home ice hasn’t been huge advantage for Jets, Predators

Predators haven’t found answer for Jets’ quick-strike offense

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Preds, Jets lean heavily on Rinne, Hellebuyck in Game 7

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has years of postseason experience, including a couple Game 7s and a Stanley Cup Final.

Connor Hellebuyck has the Winnipeg Jets on the verge of their first Western Conference final in his first playoff appearance, and the best comparison he can make to the looming Game 7 in Nashville is playing for Hockey East championships back in college.

“I have yet to be scored on in one, so I like those odds,” Hellebuyck said. “This has nothing to do with that. This is whole new level and you’ve just got to get into the game as much as you can.”

Nobody has reflected the roller-coaster ride of this thrilling Western Conference semifinal between the NHL’s top two teams in the regular season than their Vezina Trophy finalists. Rinne has been pulled from not one but two games – both on his own ice – before staving off elimination in Game 6 with his second shutout this postseason.

“When you think about Game 7, as a team, as an individual, you’re just going to give it all and do your best and do it as a team and trust your teammates,” Rinne said Wednesday. “I think that’s the best formula and focus on your own team.”

Hellebuyck’s stats include a 2-1 record in Nashville in this series, which ends Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in the only Game 7 of the second round this postseason. Hellebuyck gave up three goals in a 4-0 home loss Monday night , turning this into a winner-take-all game for the right to play Vegas in the conference final.

“We know it’s all on the line, and nothing in the past is going to bother us,” Hellebuyck said. “We can’t let it. This is going to be the most fun game we’re going to play and I think a lot of us are going to enjoy ourselves.”

RESTED RINNE

A Justin Timberlake concert Wednesday night pushed Game 7 to Thursday night, giving the 35-year-old Rinne two days of rest. During the regular season, the Predators goalie went 11-3 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .936 save percentage during the season when he got two days to rest between games. “It’s nice to have that extra day,” Rinne said.

EDGE IN EXPERIENCE

The eventual Stanley Cup champion in each of the past five seasons has won a Game 7 along the way. This is the Predators’ third Game 7. The Jets will become the 29th active NHL franchise to play a Game 7 on Thursday night. Nashville is among both the 14 teams to win their first Game 7 and the 10 who did that on the road, beating Anaheim in 2016 to clinch a first-round series.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette, 5-2 in Game 7s, is one of only four NHL coaches to win a Game 7 in each of four different playoff rounds (Pat Burns, Mike Keenan and John Tortorella). He also has 19 Predators who have at least one Game 7 on their resume. Jets coach Paul Maurice is 2-0 himself, though only seven of his Jets have played in a Game 7.

RAZOR-THIN SERIES

Nashville finished only three points (117) ahead of Winnipeg (114) for the Presidents’ Trophy, and this series has been about as close as possible. The Jets have more goals (22-18), while Nashville has more shots on goal (217-213). But even-strength shot attempts are 338 apiece with each team blocking 97 shots. The Predators have only three more hits (144-141).

TOP LINE MATTERS

Nashville’s JOFA line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson combined for eight points in keeping the Predators alive with a 4-0 win in Game 6. Winnipeg’s top line of Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele had eight points in Game 5.

“It’s the final game for one team,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “So, there’s lot of emotion, lots of excitement. But there’s definitely a calmness to it. There’s a finality coming. It brings out the best I think.”

THE DREAM GAME

“Ever since I started playing hockey, I was five years old, you put yourself in that position where you play a Game 7 in the playoffs,” Jets forward Mathieu Perrault said. “This is what we play for. So this should be the most fun we’ve had all year.”

 

What if Predators need more from second line in Game 7?

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It’s remarkable that the Nashville Predators managed to push the Jets to a Game 7, and not just because of the wealth of talent in Winnipeg.

Instead, it’s a testament to how dangerous the top line (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson) can be and, while there have been some ups and downs, how much of a difference Pekka Rinne and that defense can make. Because, frankly, the Predators’ second line has been a letdown.

An effective second line really helped Nashville win its first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy in 2017-18.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

On nights that the top line struggled, or the Predators simply needed to trade goals, the trio of Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith often soared. Sometimes they looked like another top line, particularly during Turris’ hot start after being traded from the Ottawa Senators.

Now, it’s true that there have been some moments of brilliance. They came through during one especially big moment when the Predators needed them, as Turris made a nice play to unleash Craig Smith, who fed Fiala for a big overtime goal earlier in the Jets series:

Those moments have been few and far between for this intriguing line, though.

So far during the postseason, Turris has been a bust, only managing three assists in 12 playoff contests. Much like Johansen, Turris tends to pass first, but his minimal numbers stand as maybe the most troubling of that trio.

Smith’s numbers are a bit reminiscent of Rick Nash, as the possession stats and shots are there (29 SOG through 12 games). This moment captures some of Smith’s struggles:

Fiala might represent the most extreme highs and lows for the second line.

On one hand, he scored that huge OT goal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy winger made some big plays in Game 7. Fiala seems to have a sense of the moment, as he also scored a big OT goal against Chicago during the 2017 run.

The bigger picture is mixed for the young forward, though. He’s been limited to three goals and one assist for four points during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Fiala has even been a healthy scratch during this series.

When you consider these struggles, the Predators have to be pretty happy that they’re a win away from another trip to the third round. Forsberg’s ascent to stardom alongside that lethal top line stands as a big reason why, and Nashville’s seen players like Austin Watson and Colton Sissons step up (particularly during the first round).

[Soak in Forsberg and the rest of the first line’s dominant Game 6 performances]

It’s conceivable that Nashville could survive this huge challenge even if the second line flounders. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Predators are far from the only team that’s wanted more from supporting cast members during this postseason. You can file some of this under “easier said than done.”

Still, whether it’s in Game 7 against the Jets on Thursday, or against the Golden Knights if Nashville manages to advance, the Predators are going to want more from Fiala, Turris, and Smith sooner rather than later. So far, that group hasn’t really been able to deliver as hoped.

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.