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Will Golden Knights be surprise trade deadline buyers?

By Stephen Whyno (AP Sports Writer)

The Vegas Golden Knights’ unpredictable success has put them in an unexpected spot.

On pace for by far the best inaugural season for an expansion franchise in NHL history, the Golden Knights are closer to winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the most points than they are to missing the playoffs. Going into the season, forwards James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron all looked like potential trade bait in the final year of their contracts.

Now they are among the leading scorers for a team in first place.

Marchessault has already been re-signed to a $30 million, six-year contract, Neal was an All-Star and there are no signs that general manager George McPhee will do any kind of the selling off at the deadline that most expected.

“The plan was simple: If we’re in the hunt or a playoff spot, we want to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot,” McPhee said by phone last week. “And if we’re not, we’ll do what teams do when they’re not in the hunt. The focus every day is to be the best we can be and see where we are come the deadline.”

Vegas has a six-game road trip and a seven-game home stand before the Feb. 26 deadline. Visits to Central Division powerhouse Winnipeg, defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh and former McPhee stomping ground Washington will test the Golden Knights, but their jaw-dropping effort so far has given them a nine-point cushion atop the Pacific Division.

In addition to Marchessault, Perron and Neal, William Karlsson has been a revelation with a career-high 27 goals after scoring 28 in his first 183 games. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been as good as everyone thought he would be after missing time with a concussion, and an unheralded blue line led by Nate Schmidt and Colin Miller has done the job.

Vegas has scored the third-most goals and allowed the sixth fewest. Can an expansion team top the list of Cup contenders? Maybe so, along with the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Would McPhee see any way of being a buyer at the deadline and potentially cutting into the organization’s surplus of draft picks and prospects?

“It’s hard to answer now because that’s a month away,” McPhee said. “There’s a long way to go between now and then. At this point, we’ll try to stay in it. I don’t know whether we would add. I don’t have the answer to that question.”

Perhaps the Golden Knights’ only weakness is the power play, where they’re 21st in the league. One of the most available potential deadline pickups is Mike Green of the Detroit Red Wings, whose 13 power-play points are tied for ninth among defenseman. He was a 2004 first-round pick of McPhee’s with the Capitals.

Green has a full no-trade clause, so he can pick his destination.

“I think in this league there’s always uncertainty,” Green said during All-Star weekend. “I’ve been around long enough I know how it works and what to expect. I think that’s why I don’t think about it all that much other than I understand the process, and when the decisions have to be made I’ll be ready to make them.”

TAVARES WATCH

While Green is a pending free agent who’s expected to be available, New York Islanders captain John Tavares very much isn’t. Tavares is 27 and tied for fifth in goals and points. He’s also the face of a franchise that will soon be moving to the new Belmont Park complex, closer to many members of their Long Island fan base. In the same spot is fellow Canadian Steven Stamkos, who re-signed with the Lightning in the summer of 2016 just before hitting free agency, Tavares said he hasn’t sought out the Tampa Bay captain’s opinion or anyone else’s.

“I try to be myself and be the best I can,” Tavares said. “I don’t think because it’s my contract year my approach or my thought process and the way I play should change. I just go out there on a nightly basis and worry about playing and try and have success and contribute. None of the other stuff comes into my mind when it comes to playing.”

MVP RACE

When the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association conducted its midseason award voting, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov edged out the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon for the Hart Trophy. It might hinge on whether MacKinnon can get the Avalanche to the playoffs and who leads the league in scoring. Right now it’s Kucherov in the lead.

“His work ethic, his skill obviously is great,” Capitals star and fellow Russian winger Alex Ovechkin said. “In the next year or next couple of years, he’s going to be the best player or he’s going to be one of them.”

THEY SAID IT

“Hockey’s a funny game. It goes in 10-game segments. We started off 9-2 and then in our last 11, I think we’re 2-9-2. So what team are we?” — New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall, who returned Monday after missing three games with a right thumb injury.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Boston Bruins on Saturday in what is becoming an increasingly likely first-round matchup.

LEADERS (through the All-Star break)

Goals: Ovechkin, 30; Assists: Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia); Points: Kucherov, 64; Ice Time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 27:13; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 29; Goals-against average: Tuukka Rask (Boston), 2.16; Save percentage: Vasilevskiy, .931.

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AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, and Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed.

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

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For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Your PHT trade deadline day primer

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The trade deadline hits at 3 p.m. ET Monday and it’s generally been a day filled with action big and small. This year’s deadline could be more of the same. Small tweaks or franchise-changing moves could happen just the same. Who might be on the move this year? Here’s a list of ten names you might see us writing about tomorrow.

Check out the PHT Trade Deadline Tracker

1. Rick Nash, RW – Columbus Blue Jackets
He’s the big prize to be had and with at least three teams (Toronto, San Jose and Philly) and perhaps other sneaky suitors (Nashville). His agent wants to see him moved and Nash wants this ordeal done. Whether or not Scott Howson bites and gets things done is the million dollar question.

2. Steve Ott, LW – Dallas Stars
Dallas’ sandpaper-like forward has earned a lot of interest of late. With Vancouver and Philadelphia appearing to be the front-runners for the 29-year-old and the Canucks in particular freeing up cap space recently, Ott could be had. Dallas hanging around in the playoff race might mean he doesn’t go anywhere which would suit Ott just fine.

3. Evgeni Nabokov, G – New York Islanders
Some teams could use some veteran goaltending help (Toronto, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay) and whether Nabokov signs a contract extension with the Isles will likely decide whether he can be had or not. If Nabokov is off limits, perhaps Tampa Bay’s Dwayne Roloson would make a nice booby prize despite his rough season.

4. Dustin Brown, RW – Los Angeles Kings
It was a bombshell when it was made known that Dustin Brown could be had via trade. After seeing him blow up for a hat trick and four points against Chicago, however, perhaps word of him being available was meant to be the kick in the butt he needed to get going and probably stick in Los Angeles.

5. Andrei Kostitsyn, LW – Montreal Canadiens
Is your team in need of a depth forward with scoring touch that’s tired of the rat race in Montreal? Kostitsyn is your guy. Nashville (where his brother Sergei is), Detroit, who’s sniffing around for forward depth, and others in need of scoring help could be in the mix here.

6. Bryan Allen, D – Carolina Hurricanes
With Carolina re-signing Tuomo Ruutu to a whopper of a deal and things not going as smoothly between these two sides, Allen is shaping up to be the guy headed out of town. We’ve already seen Niklas Grossman and Hal Gill get moved and Allen is the next in line to be had. He’s physical and a defensive-defenseman that will give you about 19 minutes a game. Don’t expect any offense here though.

7. Nikolai Khabibulin, G – Edmonton Oilers
If your team needs goaltending help, perhaps kicking the tires on this aging Stanley Cup winner is what would fit the bill. With the issues Toronto has had in goal, would Brian Burke dare deviate from the plan to pick up an old warhorse like the ‘Bulin Wall? (No, probably not)

8. Jonathan Bernier, G – Los Angeles Kings
Teams with long-term issues in goal (Columbus, Tampa Bay) might choose now to address those problems. While those teams would also covet Vancouver’s Cory Schneider and may wait til summer to make a run at him, Bernier is also a young and potential franchise goalie that will get attention, especially if there’s a scoring forward to be had in the deal.

9. Derick Brassard, C – Columbus Blue Jackets
Speaking of young players potentially on the move, Columbus’ Derick Brassard is believed to still be out there and available at the right price. It won’t be easy to pull him away, but with Columbus in “anything goes” mode, the right deal could net a team with a need at center a young playmaker.

10. Shane O’Brien, D – Colorado Avalanche
If there’s a team desperate for physical defense and wants a guy on an expiring contract, O’Brien could garner interest. He’s been on playoff teams before and has that experience. Problem here is that Colorado is still in the hunt for the postseason and may not want to sell too much.

Related

PHT’s Trade Deadline Tracker

Ruutu on trade talk: “I’ve heard rumors I’m going to every team in the NHL”

One of the most talked-about players heading into the trade deadline is Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu — so talked about, in fact, that TSN’s Darren Dreger suggested the ‘Canes could deal Ruutu as early as this week.

Ruutu’s heard the rumblings and in response, he’s trying to keep a level head.

“I’ve heard rumors I’m going to every team in the NHL — I must be really playing well,” he told the Charlotte Observer. “You hear rumors but I think everybody is different. We’re all human. Some guys take it more seriously, some take it less seriously. Everybody has their own way of dealing with it.

“I hear about stuff but there’s nothing I can really do. It’s nice to be back playing so I don’t have to think about this stuff.”

Teams rumored to be in the Ruutu sweepstakes include Nashville, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and Toronto. It’s easy to see why Ruutu’s in such high demand — he’s 28, leads the ‘Canes in goals (15) and hits (97), can play center or wing, has shown good durability after a series of injuries (he’s played in 134 straight games) and, perhaps most importantly, is an impending UFA with a manageable cap hit ($3.8 million.)

Ruutu’s wait-and-see approach means he’s not taking many calls from his agent — “I don’t think my agent can do anything right now,” he said — and the chances of him re-upping with the ‘Canes are bleak. Ruutu told The Observer he’s had no contract negotiations with Carolina management, but isn’t burdened by it — he just wants to keep playing hockey.

“Looking at the standings, we still have a really good chance of making [the playoffs],” Ruutu said, and I think he was being serious. “Try to win a couple in a row and go from there.”

PHT Related

The Big Question: Which big name(s) will be traded before the deadline?

Tuomo Ruutu is about to be the star of trade rumors

A few trade candidates to whet your appetite

Would the Dallas Stars actually trade Brenden Morrow?

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One of the great sideshows of every All-Star weekend is the convergence of hockey people from across North America — and the rumors that emerge from said convergence.

This year, the trade winds started blowing as soon as folks arrived in Ottawa, with TSN’s Bob McKenzie reporting there’s talk Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow may become available by the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

The development is a bit of a stunner considering Morrow is the Stars captain and spent his entire NHL career in Dallas. There’s also the not-so-tiny fact Dallas is smack in the midst of the Western Conference playoff race — 10th spot, three points out of eighth, with games in hand — and new owner Tom Gaglardi said he’d spend money to keep the team competitive.

Doesn’t sound like a team willing to trade its heart and soul, does it?

That said, there are some things to consider.

— Morrow, 33, has this season and one more with an annual cap hit of $4.1 million but, as McKenzie writes, “the veteran winger also has some hard miles on him.” (Note: Morrow has a no-trade clause.)

— Given Dallas’ (apparent) future lies with the 26-and-under core of Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Alex Goligoski and prospects Scott Glennie and Jack Campbell, Morrow could be flipped for young talent and/or draft picks. Remember, Dallas didn’t have first-round picks in 2007 or 2008.

— Morrow’s stock was already high, but he raised it with a stellar performance for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver (the Sun’s Iain MacIntyre said Morrow had “the tournament of his life.”) His ability to fit seamlessly alongside a number of talented players — most notably Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry — make Morrow the ideal rental player, a guy that can move on short notice and still make a big impact.

Translation: There would be plenty of buyers for Morrow, and plenty of buyers raises Dallas’ asking price.

While trading Morrow would be bold (and, some would argue, crazy) it’s definitely a situation worth following.

The NHL trade deadline could be absolutely insane this year

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This morning, the good people at CapGeek.com tweeted a link to their “Trade Deadline Tracker,” a page that shows how much cap space each team can add at the NHL trade deadline.

If you want to get excited about what could happen by Feb. 27 at 3 p.m. ET, click on this link.

A few things to consider:

—- Some really good teams could add some really good players for their playoff runs. The Boston Bruins, for example, could acquire a $13,681,735 cap hit at the deadline (assuming they don’t make any moves before then.) And that’s not even counting the $4 million in LTI relief they could get for Marc Savard.

—- Other Stanley Cup contenders with deep pockets that could make significant moves include Detroit ($23,551,749) and Chicago ($22,197,711).

—- Potential playoff teams with not-so-deep pockets that could make big moves include Nashville ($66,150,085), Dallas ($64,798,123), Ottawa ($61,466,958), Winnipeg ($50,676,384), Phoenix ($43,787,030), Florida ($42,664,187), St. Louis ($42,328,028), and Minnesota ($39,195,631). Will any of those ownership groups step up to the plate?

—- Washington ($1,065,650) and Vancouver ($2,213,127) will be limited in their deadline dealings, barring injuries.

—- Calgary ($1,597,873) just lost 9-0 to the Bruins and doesn’t have much room to get better. Good thing every half-decent player on the Flames has a no-trade clause.