NHL Trade Deadline

Penguins bolster depth by acquiring Zucker from Wild

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Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford had his eyes on Jason Zucker this summer and finally pulled off the acquisition Monday evening.

NHL insider Bob McKenzie broke that story and reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins sent Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison and a conditional 2020 first-round pick to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Zucker.

The 28-year-old forward has 3 years remaining on his contract after this season with a $5.5 million cap hit. He erupted offensively in the 2017-18 season when he recorded a career high 33 goals and 64 points, but has been unable to replicate that production since.

Pittsburgh hopes to unlock that offensive potential by pairing him with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Rutherford was likely not enthused about surrendering a premium draft pick, but the strategy is to extend the Penguins’ championship window for as long as possible.

“Jason Zucker is a top-six forward that we think will be a great fit for our group,” Rutherford said in the team’s press release. “He’s a proven goal scorer, and with three more years on his current contract, he has the potential to make an impact for us moving forward.”

Rutherford originally tried to acquire Zucker this summer in a trade for Phil Kessel, but the deal was nixed due to a no-movement clause.

From Minnesota’s perspective, the team unloads a long-term contract and will see if Galchenyuk can find his stride. He will become an unrestricted free agent when his contract expires at the end of this season.

If Pittsburgh does not qualify for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have the option to move the first-round selection to Minnesota from the 2020 NHL Draft to the 2021 NHL Draft.

Pierre LeBrun reported that no salary was retained in the deal.

PHT Morning Skate: Blues looking for top-6 winger; Pacific Division race

NHL News
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• General manager Doug Armstrong says the St. Louis Blues could be in the market for a top-six forward. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Canucks, Oilers, Flames prime for mad dash in crowded Pacific Division. (TSN)

• Five reasons for fans to be concerned about the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Sportsnet)

• General mangers on the hot seat as the NHL trade deadline approaches. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Has Valeri Nichushkin been Joe Sakic’s best offseason addition for the Colorado Avalanche? (Mile High Hockey)

Matt Dumba‘s good deed went viral, even if he wished it did not. (Pioneer Press)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s chippy controversy is no surprise to Blues players that watched him growing up. (Sporting News)

• Commitment to team defense driving Penguins’ success. (The Point)

• Ex-Penguin Mark Johnson has made his own impact on women’s hockey. (Tribune-Review)

• What the Chicago Blackhawks have done and what they still need to do. (Daily Herald)

• The New York Rangers have officially loaned forward Lias Andersson to HV71 of the Swedish League. (Blueshirt Banter)

• Looking back at the Capitals’ history winning streak a decade later. (NOVA Caps Fans)

Jakub Vrana gives the Washington Capitals something they have not had in more than a decade. (Japers’ Rink)

• Demanding remaining schedule awaits the Nashville Predators. (On The Forecheck)

• NWHL responds to comments about league on Sportsnet. (The Ice Garden)

• The New York Rangers have been the best investment for hockey bettors. (New York Post)

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.

Will Golden Knights be surprise trade deadline buyers?

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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