2019 NHL Trade Deadline

Zuccarello ready for fans’ reception ahead of MSG return

Mats Zuccarello wasn’t surprised that his nearly decade-long relationship with the Rangers ended at last season’s trade deadline, he just wishes the lines of communication between his camp and the team were a little better.

“It was tough to accept because you were passionate about your team and and you felt like you gave everything,” Zuccarello said via the Pioneer Press. “Then suddenly they don’t want you anymore or whatever. They go in a different direction.”

The 32-year-old Norwegian spent nine seasons with the Rangers and quickly became a fan favorite for his work ethic. It was clear how much he meant to the organization just by hearing how emotional Henrik Lundqvist was following the trade.

As the franchise decided to move toward a younger look, Zuccarello’s pending free agency made it clear he would be moving on from Broadway at some point. Then came last February when he was dealt to the Stars for their playoff push. When free agency opened on July 1, he signed a five-year, $30 million deal to join the Wild, a contract that was never going to come from the Rangers.

After a slow start in Minnesota where he was critical of himself, Zuccarello’s offense has picked up. He enters Monday’s game with a three-game point streak and four goals and 11 points in 19 games this season.

Hard feelings are in the past now, but Zuccarello isn’t sure just how emotional his return will be when he steps on to Madison Square Garden ice for the first time as a visitor.

Editor’s note: Need tickets to see his MSG return? Click here

“I came there young and kind of grew up there,” he said. “That’s where I’m living almost my whole 20s. Obviously it’s a big part of me. So yeah, I don’t know if it’s going to be emotional.”

While he may not think it’s going to be emotional, it will be for the fans inside MSG, who will give him an extended, roaring ovation when the time comes. It will be a thank you for his years of service to the franchise, which were appreciated by the franchise.

“The fans, they did so much for me and helped me and supported me all those years,” he said. “So that’s going to be special, for sure.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson undergoes groin surgery

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson has undergone groin surgery before becoming eligible for free agency this summer.

The Sharks said Wednesday that Karlsson had the operation last week and has already started rehabilitation. The team says Karlsson is expected to recover fully in the offseason and be ready for the start of the 2019-20 season.

The big question surrounding Karlsson now will be where he plays next season. The Sharks acquired the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman from Ottawa just before the start of the season. Karlsson is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and has given no indication whether he wants to return to San Jose or find a new team.

The 29-year-old Karlsson initially injured his groin in January and missed 27 of the final 33 regular-season games for San Jose. Karlsson returned in the final regular-season game and played in the postseason despite being visibly hampered by the injury.

Karlsson finally wore down at the end of the postseason. He missed most of the second half of the third period in a Game 4 loss to St. Louis in the Western Conference final, missed the entire third period when the Sharks lost the following game and then didn’t travel for the Game 6 loss that ended San Jose’s season.

Despite the injury that left him at less than full speed, Karlsson still managed to make a major impact in the playoffs. He is tied for the NHL lead with 14 assists this postseason and also had two goals, including the overtime winner in Game 3 against the Blues.

Karlsson got off to a slow start in San Jose following the trade and then was slowed by the injury over the final three months. He finished his first season with the Sharks with three goals and 42 assists in 53 games.

But during a stretch from December to January, Karlsson showed he still has the ability to be the best defenseman in the NHL. He had points in 15 straight games that he played and had 25 points total in that span.

Karlsson then got hurt Jan. 16 in Arizona. He returned to take part in All-Star weekend in San Jose but had to wait two more weeks to play a real game. He got hurt again Feb. 26 in Boston and didn’t play again until the regular-season finale.

Karlsson is one of several prominent potential free agents in San Jose this summer, along with captain Joe Pavelski and franchise stalwart Joe Thornton.

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

Flyers trade pick to Jets for Kevin Hayes’ rights

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While the hockey world soaks in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (airing on NBC; stream here), the Philadelphia Flyers are clearly thinking about getting ahead of free agent season.

The Flyers sent their 2019 fifth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets to secure the negotiating rights for big center Kevin Hayes. Hayes is set to become a UFA on July 1, so the Flyers have a bit less than a month to convince him to sign with them, rather than hitting the open market.

As you can see from this amusingly matter-of-fact comment from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher.

“By gaining the rights to Kevin at this time, it provides us with an opportunity to negotiate with him prior to July 1 when he is due to become an unrestricted free agent,” said Fletcher.

Y-yes, that’s true, Chuck.

The Flyers’ side makes some sense.

They get that lengthy window to wine and dine the 27-year-old, thus getting time to lay out their plan for how he’d figure into their mix. Theoretically, negotiating with Hayes now, rather than when other teams are bidding off in an auction on July 1, might mean that Philly could save a few bucks on a deal. (That’s, of course, basically impossible to prove … but the argument is there.)

The Flyers are unable to offer Hayes an eight-year deal due to the fact that he was not on their roster at the February trade deadline. That’s the same reason why Erik Karlsson was ineligible to sign a max deal with the San Jose Sharks until after the deadline following the September trade that brought him west from Ottawa.

Naturally, the Flyers would also see this as a chance to make sure that Hayes doesn’t sign with another team, most obviously one that might hurt their chances of returning to the postseason during the 2019-20 campaign.

From the Jets’ perspective, this is a no-brainer, at least when you realize that they aren’t able to keep Hayes around.

Winnipeg receives that fifth-round pick for a player who was set to walk for nothing. The Jets gave up their 2019 first-round pick and Brendan Lemieux to the New York Rangers to land Hayes as a (solid enough) rental, so Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff recoups some of that cost.

(And, hey, it’s one other time where you can’t make a pun about taking the “dayoff.”)

Ultimately, though, this would be a loss for the Flyers if they can’t ink Hayes to a deal … or if they sign Hayes to an ill-advised contract. That remains to be seen, but credit Fletcher with aggressiveness, although the NHL probably would have preferred to see this news break, say, on Tuesday instead.

Oh yeah, and if the Flyers do sign Hayes, they’d be reuniting Hayes with former Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. Cue “The Circle of Life.”

More: Flyers hire Vigneault.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Trade deadline acquisitions making postseason impact

Every year around the NHL trade deadline there is always that talk about how “sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”

It is usually mentioned as a justification for a team standing pat at the deadline and not adding a player for the stretch run or the postseason, and it only gets driven home even further when a team that did make a big trade inevitably loses before the Stanley Cup Final.

But you do not need to actually win the Stanley Cup for a postseason run to be a successful one or for a trade deadline deal to be worth it.

Sometimes making a big trade is the right move and sometimes does work. There have been quite a few examples this season and those are the subject of this week’s PHT Power Rankings: The trade deadline acquisitions that have made the biggest impact in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Let’s go to the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. This was probably the most significant deadline deal due to the combination of Duchene being one of the top players available, and because Columbus wasn’t even a lock to make the postseason when it was completed. It was bold. It was a risk. It was the type of move team’s in this position do not usually make. After a slow start with his new team at the end of the regular season, Duchene has proven to be everything the Blue Jackets hoped he would be in the playoffs with 10 points in his first nine games, including a pair of game-winning goals. He is one of the many free agents on this Blue Jackets roster so his long-term future with the team remains very much in doubt (this summer will probably be his last chance to cash in with a big contract in free agency) but he is a big reason they have experienced life beyond Round 1 of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

2. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. Yeah, I know, they lost in the first round and that is going to make it easy to hold this up as an example of a big trade at the deadline not working out but that entire mindset is completely misguided and totally shortsighted. First, the Golden Knights didn’t lose because of Stone or what they gave up to get him. They lost because of a controversial penalty call and a penalty killing unit that collapsed on itself over a five-minute stretch late in the third period of Game 7. Stone was so good and so dominant in their Round 1 series against the San Jose Sharks that he is still tied for the second most total points and the third most goals in this year’s playoffs. He was great for the Golden Knights, is one of the best two-way wingers in the NHL, and the team has him signed long-term. If it had not been for the trade to send him to Vegas it is entirely possible the Golden Knights never would have even made it to Game 7 and been in a position to win. The trade worked, and it will continue to work for the next several years.

3. Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes. Since this trade happened in January, more than a month before the trade deadline, it is probably stretching it to call this a “deadline” deal, but it is close enough and it was still a significant mid-season deal that helped alter the playoff landscape in the NHL. Not only because it gave the Hurricanes another bona-fide top-six winger (and one with some much-needed finishing ability around the net) to help power their second half surge, but also because it took him away from Minnesota and helped complete their second half fall. Niederreiter hasn’t made a huge impact in the box score so far in the playoffs (one goal, four assists) but he is one of the team’s best possession-driving players, was amazing in the regular season to help the Hurricanes secure their playoff spot, and is signed long-term to be a significant part of the team’s core beyond this season. Huge trade at the right time. The Hurricanes were one of the best teams in the NHL after January 1 and the addition of Niederreiter was a significant part of that.

4. Mats Zuccarello, Dallas Stars. If the Stars were going to do anything meaningful this season it was imperative that they find some secondary scoring to complement their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. The addition of Zuccarello at the trade deadline was supposed to do exactly that, and in his first game with the team the Stars got a taste of what he could add to their lineup with a huge performance — to lose him for most of the remaining regular season schedule due to injury. He returned just in time for the playoffs and has made a massive impact on the Stars’ second line with 10 points in the team’s first 12 playoff games. He has been exactly what they needed, and along with the emergence of Roope Hintz has given the Stars enough offense after their top line to give themselves a chance to make a deep playoff run.

[Related: Zuccarello is perfect complement for Stars’ top line]

5. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Another significant Minnesota trade where the Wild probably sold low on a winger that had been one of their most productive players in recent years. Coyle struggled immediately after arriving in Boston but has been a huge difference-maker so far in the playoffs, having already scored five goals for the Bruins. That includes two goals in Game 1 of their Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets where he tied the game late in the third period and then won it in overtime. Right now those two goals are why the Bruins are playing for the chance to move on to the Eastern Conference Final on Monday night instead of facing elimination.

6. Gustav Nyquist, San Jose Sharks. Nyquist hasn’t yet made a huge impact for the Sharks, but he’s been very good and an excellent addition to a roster that is already loaded. He finished the regular season strong and even though he has just one goal and four assists in the playoffs, he has still played well and been a threat to score … he just hasn’t consistently finished yet. Given that the Sharks only had to give up a second-and third-round pick to get him it was a worthwhile addition and one that still has the potential to pay off even more.

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.