Nino Niederreiter

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Kessel rumor paints strange picture for Wild’s offseason path

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The first big trade rumor of the offseason (it is currently the offseason for 29 NHL teams) was centered around a potential blockbuster that would have reportedly seen the Pittsburgh Penguins send Phil Kessel to the Minnesota Wild in a deal that was thought to have included Jason Zucker (with the possible inclusion of a Jack Johnson for Victor Rask swap).

The rumored deal was reported by several outlets, including both the Minnesota and Pittsburgh chapters of The Athletic.

It now seems likely that the deal is not going to happen, seemingly because Kessel does not want to waive his no-trade clause to go to a Wild team that is probably pretty far away from a championship.

Based on everything that has come out of Pittsburgh in the aftermath of its Round 1 sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders, there is going to be some change this summer and a Kessel trade will likely be a significant part of that. At this point it is just a matter of when it happens and where he ends up going. It is not a surprise to hear his name in trade speculation, and it should not be a surprise when he eventually goes.

The surprise is that it was the Wild that came the closest to making a deal.

[Related: Can the Penguins win a Phil Kessel trade?]

There is no denying that Kessel could probably help them because for all of his flaws he is still an elite offensive player.

He can still score goals, he is still an exceptional playmaker and passer, and any team’s power play could run through him and be better for it. Given that the Wild were 28th in the NHL in goals scored and 14th on the power play this past season he is, in theory, the type of player they could use.

But these types of situations do not exist in a vacuum. What is so strange about the Wild making a play for Kessel is that it seems to run counter to everything they did in the second half of last season when they started to strip their team of core players, trading Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle, none of whom were pending free agents or needed to be traded when they were.

The return on that trio was mainly Rask, Ryan Donato, and Kevin Fiala, a sequence of transactions that shed some salary off their cap and made the team slightly younger. The Rask, Donato, and Fiala trio is, on average, three years younger than than the Niederreiter, Coyle, and Granlund trio.

It seemed to be a sign that the Wild were looking to turn the page on a core that hadn’t really won anything, seemed to have reached its ceiling, and was looking to get younger and cheaper. General manager Paul Fenton again emphasized the team’s desire to get younger in his end of the season press conference. Whether or not the moves they made were the right ones remains to be seen (the Niederreiter trade was definitely not the right one) but it was probably a path that had to be taken at some point.

Throwing their hat into the Kessel ring, however, obviously runs counter to all of that.

The rumored trade, assuming it also included the Johnson-Rask swap, would have only saved them $500,000 against the cap and it would have made the team significantly older. Even if a team is looking to rebuild or retool (or whatever they want to call it) it still needs players to put a team on the ice, and you never want to turn down the opportunity to acquire good players when the opportunity presents itself.

But the Kessel pursuit, even if it ultimately failed, creates a number of questions for where the Wild are headed this summer.

Among them…

  1. Is this team, as it is currently constructed, a 32-year-old Phil Kessel away from being a contender in the Western Conference, and especially in a Central Division that includes Nashville, Winnipeg, an emerging power in Colorado, and a current Stanley Cup Finalist in the St. Louis Blues? If it is not, what are you trying to make that type of splash more for? And if you can not get him, are you going to pursue another comparable player?
  2. If you think it is just one of those players away, why the sudden rush to trade a player like Niederreiter (at what was probably his lowest possible value at the time) for an inferior player in Rask, or to make any of the moves you made at the trade deadline? What changed your mind in these past couple of months that you went from selling veteran players under contract to suddenly deciding you need to go get another veteran winger that can score?
  3. Beyond all of that, the most important question might be what this all means for Zucker’s future in Minnesota, as he once again found himself at the center of another trade rumor and another trade that almost happened? Why is one of your best two-way players burning such a hole in your pocket that you are seemingly desperate to trade him or try to use him as a trade chip?

When everything is put together it just seems to be a team that is kind of lost in what it wants or where it wants to go.

On-the-fly rebuilds do not usually work, especially when it is a team that is already lacking high-end talent at the top of the lineup. That path almost always seems to end up resulting in a complete rebuild anyway, only just a couple of years after it should have already started (see, for example, the Los Angeles Kings).

Not only are the Wild lacking in impact players, just about all of their top returning scorers from a year ago (Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu) are going to be age 35 or older this upcoming season. Their best days are definitely far in their rear-view mirrors.

Trying to re-tool around mediocrity or aging and declining talent only extends the mediocrity and leaves you stuck somewhere in the middle of the NHL.

Successfully acquiring Kessel might have made the team slightly better (at least offensively), but probably not enough to have moved the needle in a meaningful way. It just would have added another player on the wrong side of 30 to a team that already has too many players like that.

But what it really would have been is just another strange, questionable transaction after a season full of strange, questionable transactions that didn’t seem to be necessary.

Where the Wild go from here this summer will be seen in the coming weeks, but the continuing trend of questionable transactions should be a cause for concern for the team’s fans when it comes to this new front office.

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.

The Wraparound: Hurricanes need to solve Rask to avoid sweep

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

This is it for the Carolina Hurricanes. Either they win tonight against the Boston Bruins or their Cinderella story ends in an Eastern Conference Final sweep (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream).

After Boston scored 11 goals over the first two contests, the Hurricanes decided to switch from goaltender Petr Mrazek to Curtis McElhinney for Game 3. McElhinney performed admirably, stopping 29 of 31 shots, but Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has gotten better and better over the course of the 2019 playoffs. Only Calvin de Haan was able to get the puck by Rask on Tuesday en route to 2-1 victory for Boston that put the Bruins up 3-0 in the series.

After his strong performance, McElhinney will probably be in the net again tonight, though Hurricanes Rod Brind’Amour declined to said anything definitively.

“You never know,” Brind’Amour said, per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston

Despite dropping the contest, the Hurricanes took some silver linings from Game 3. Obviously they’re in a terrible position, but they do feel that they played better on Tuesday and are hoping if they carry that into tonight’s action, they’ll get a better result.

“We’ve been hit three times here, it takes four to knock us down,” Justin Williams said, per the News & Observer. “We’re just going to keep showing up and see what happens.”

The Hurricanes need to solve Rask. Ultimately, he’s the single biggest obstacle in their way. In particular, it would certainly help if Nino Niederreiter could step up. Niederreiter has just a goal and four points in 14 playoff games and has been held off the scoresheet in the Western Conference Final.

That’s in stark contrast to the regular season. Niederreiter scored 14 goals and 30 points in 36 contests after being acquired by Carolina to help the Hurricanes make the playoffs in the first place.

Teuvo Teravainen is another forward they could use more from. He had six goals and nine points in 11 playoff contests going into the series, but he’s been limited to a single point so far in the Eastern Conference Final. He logged 22:58 minutes in Game 3, but didn’t record any shots on goal.

Carolina also desperately needs to capitalize on their power-play chances. The Hurricanes were 0-for-5 on the power play in Game 3, dropping them to 1-for-12 in the series.

Even if the Hurricanes breakthrough Rask, the odds are still stacked heavily against them. Having up to four chances to close out the series is a huge luxury for Boston. Still, Carolina has no choice but to focus exclusively on this game and worry about the future only if they create one.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WEDNESDAY’S SCOREBOARD
Sharks 5, Blues 4 (OT) (Sharks lead 2-1)

The Buzzer has more on Wednesday’s action

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT roundtable
• Hurricanes/Bruins series preview
• PHT Conference Finals predictions

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Niederreiter leading ‘Canes playoff surge

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For most of the 2018-19 NHL season the Carolina Hurricanes have been making headlines for what they have done after games.

Their Storm Surge celebrations after home victories has produced a wide range of responses from excitement locally and in the locker room, to some outrage and anger mostly north of the border.

After their 4-0 win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, arguably the Hurricanes’ best and most complete effort of the season, I asked forward Jordan Martinook what it would take for them to do a Storm Surge on the road, an act that would probably produce the most boiling hot takes hockey has ever seen (while also being wildly entertaining). He quickly responded with “that will not happen. I’m just putting that out there right now. We will not do that on the road. Only for the home fans.”

Hey, it never hurts to ask.

While the Storm Surges are fun thing to talk about and watch, and have definitely helped put a young, improving team in the spotlight more than it otherwise would have been, it is time we started to pay attention to what this team is doing during games.

Because it, too, is worth watching right now.

What they are doing is playing their way back into playoff contention.

They enter Thursday’s massive game against the Buffalo Sabres three points back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and actually tied with the Sabres in the standings, making it a huge four-point game. A win in regulation would be a massive swing for either team in their quest to snap what is a lengthy postseason drought for both teams.

Lately, these are two teams trending in very different directions.

While the Sabres are in a bit of a freefall after a white-hot start that included a 10-game winning streak, the Hurricanes have been steadily climbing the standings thanks to an 11-4-1 run over their past 16 games.

One of the biggest developments for the Hurricanes in recent weeks has been the acquisition of forward Nino Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Victor Rask.

For years the Hurricanes have been a team that’s been a sleeper pick because of their ability to dominate the shot charts and the possession game, but they’ve always fallen short of making the playoffs because their two biggest weaknesses have been goaltending and a lack of true finishers on the roster. If you can’t stop the puck and you can’t put the puck in the other team’s net you’re probably not going to win many games.

Rask’s 2018-19 season (and his 2017-18 one for, that matter) was pretty emblematic of the first weakness. For as good as he may have been helping to drive possession and making plays in the neutral zone he was never going to be somebody that was going to consistently finish or put the puck in the net.

Niederreiter will, and in his first couple of weeks with the Hurricanes has been one of their most productive offensive players having already scored five goals (along with an assist) in his first six games with the team. There is an argument to be made he has already been the difference in two wins during that stretch with a pair of two-goal efforts. It was a perfect addition for the Hurricanes because he not only gives them the type of player they needed right now in the short-term, but he is still signed for three more seasons after this one and is young enough to still be a part of this core that is built around Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and what is still a very young, talented defense.

While Niederreiter has given the offense a much-needed boost, the other big question that will determine how far this team goes is what they are able to get out of their goaltenders

Veteran Curtis McElhinney has, quite surprisingly, emerged this season as their best goaltender and carries a .918 save percentage into Thursday night after shutting out the Penguins. Whether or not he’s able to continue that level of play remains to be seen. He’s played well over the past few years in limited action, but he has only played more than 30 games in a season one time in his career and that was four years ago.

The Hurricanes have been one of the best shot suppression teams in the league for several years now but always seem to get burned because they haven’t had even adequate goaltending in net. They don’t need Carey Price or Andrei Vasilevskiy to be a top-tier defensive team.

Even decent, league average goaltending what probably give them that and help put them back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

In his limited action this season McElhinney has given them that level of play.

If he can continue to do so that development, combined with the addition of Niederreiter and continued development of Aho and Teravainen into top-line players, might at least give them a shot to make that happen this season.

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.

 

Hurricanes’ Brind’Amour latest coach to put his team on blast

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Sure, you can have a high-up team executive call you out and compare you to horse excrement.

That’s one thing.

But when your coach, who is nearly a decade removed from playing his last NHL game, contemplates dressing because his team is that bad, that’s another.

And then to top it all off, that coach then apologized to a newly-acquired player on behalf of the team that he coaches.

That stings.

We’ve seen a couple of outbursts this year that haven’t been seen in some time — if ever.

Carolina Hurricanes legend Rod Brind’Amour is the latest to eviscerate his team publicly in what seems to be the in-fashion way to get the message across these days.

Who can forget Jim Lites’ tirade in Dallas?

Or Bruce Boudreau’s rant?

Or David Quinn putting his team on blast earlier this week?

Now you can add Brind’Amour to the list.

“We were so bad, I almost dressed and got out there,” Brind’Amour said after the Hurricanes fell 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators on Friday. “I might have been as good as what we were throwing out there. We just didn’t want to play the way we were supposed to. I didn’t know what I was watching. That’s the first time all year I can say that.”

If that wasn’t the kill shot, Brind’Amour then feeling the need to apologize to Nino Niederreiter certainly was.

The latter was picked up in a trade earlier this week for Victor Rask. In his first game, his new teammates crapped the proverbial bed.

“Good. I thought he was fine,” Brind’Amour said about Niederreiter’s debut. “He had a couple chances. I think the first shift he almost had a breakaway. … I apologized to him for that effort. That’s not our team, and that’s his first game.”

It’s not often you hear about that sort of thing.

The Hurricanes had won seven-of-eight before dropping a 6-2 decision to the New York Rangers and Friday’s loss to the visiting Senators.

The Hurricanes are now nine points adrift from the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Wild trade Nino Niederreiter to Hurricanes for Victor Rask

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The NHL’s trading season has officially arrived.

We knew the Carolina Hurricanes were going to be one of the teams to watch over the next few weeks as the trade deadline approaches, and they made a fairly significant deal on Thursday afternoon when they sent forward Victor Rask to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for forward Nino Niederreiter.

There is no salary retained in the deal and is strictly a straight up one-for-one trade.

Both players still have three years remaining on their current deals, with Rask counting $4 million against the cap and Niederreiter carrying a $5.2 million hit against the cap.

At first glance this is an extremely curious move by the Wild because it is really difficult to see where they get better here other than saving a minimal amount of salary cap space and picking up a player that is one year younger.

When it comes to production and what actually happens on the ice, this would seem to be a step backwards.

Rask has been limited to just 26 games this season where he’s scored just a single goal and recorded five assists. That all comes after a disappointing 2017-18 season where his production dropped across the board and saw him record the worst numbers of his career. He is 25 years old, never tallied more than 48 points in a season and has seen his play regress over the past two years.

While Niederreiter has also been stuck in a down year, he has still been the more productive player over the past two seasons and is probably a better fit for what the Hurricanes need — A player that, in theory, can finish and score goals.

[Related: Ranking the Hurricanes’ victory celebrations]

“We’re excited to welcome a proven goal-scorer and veteran presence in Nino Niederreiter,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said in a team statement. “We wish Victor the best moving forward and thank him for his efforts on the ice and in the community during his time in Raleigh.”

Niederreiter has pretty consistently scored at a 25-goal pace over 82 games in each of the past four years while also playing a really good two-way game where he can drive possession and control the puck.

Rask has topped the 20-goal mark once in his career, and that was four years ago.

The Hurricanes have been on a bit of a roll over the past two weeks but still sit seven points back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That is a pretty big mountain standing in front of them, but with Niederreiter signed beyond this season and being an upgrade it is a perfectly reasonable trade for a team in this situation to make.

The Wild, on the other hand, are one of the teams in the jumbled Western Conference wild card mix and just seemingly made themselves worse. Not significantly worse, but definitely worse. That is not something you ever want to do, especially when you are not even guaranteed a playoff spot.

Perhaps there is another shoe to drop and another trade to be made, especially with a little bit more salary cap space at their disposal. But in a vacuum this is a fairly bizarre trade for a team desperately fighting for a playoff spot to make.

Unless they are wildly optimistic about a chance of scenery and a fresh start sparking some sort of bounce back for Rask. There is not much evidence to suggest that is a strong possibility.

More: Who has the inside track in Western Conference Wild Card race?

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.