Every year around this time, hockey fans get excited. The NHL Trade Deadline is a holiday in Canada. It may as well be for American puckers too! On Wednesday, March 1, deals will be struck. TSN will have us covered on NHL Network.
It’s sorta like the July 1 free agent frenzy. Similar to that chaos, this one is all about who’s getting moved. Who’s buying and who’s selling? Already we’ve seen some big trades take place. None bigger than the Capitals coming out of nowhere to land offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues. The deal came down last night.
While I was at the gym, my Twitter feed was going nuts. I had plenty of notifications from a panicked Rangers fan along with others on Shattenkirk moving to Washington. Leading the NHL in points (89) with the best record of 41-13-7 entering tonight’s match at the Rangers, the Caps are desperate to win now. Following last year’s second round disappointment at the hands of bitter foe Pittsburgh, it’s now or never for them.
In a way, you can understand it. How many more years can the Capitals fall short of getting out of the second round with superstar Alexander Ovechkin? Boasting one of the top goalies in the game in Braden Holtby along with one of the best centers in Nicklas Backstrom, the time is now for the Caps. With superb depth that includes potential UFA T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, key restricted Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson along with D anchor John Carlson, Washington is an NHL best plus-70 in differential.
Coached by Barry Trotz, they want to finally take that quantum leap. It’s not just about getting out of a tough Metropolitan Division with a potential second round rematch with Hart favorite Sidney Crosby and the Pens. This is about finally winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Since entering the NHL in 1974, the Caps have boasted plenty of good teams. But only once have they won the Eastern Conference doing so in ’97-98. They were no match for the Red Wings, who swept them in their only Stanley Cup Final appearance to repeat as champs.
Since taking the league by storm winning the Calder Trophy in ’05-06 and the Hart three times (’08, ’09, ’13), Ovechkin has been one of the game’s brightest stars. He came in with Crosby. Both are remarkable players. However, Crosby has the hardware Ovechkin wants. He’s won two Stanley Cups. During both runs, the Pens replaced their coach and defeated the Ovechkin Caps in Round 2.
Maybe that explains why the Caps went all in on Shattenkirk. They weren’t expected to land him. Most experts believe he’ll eventually wind up signing with hometown favorite team the Rangers. But the Blues asking price for the rental was too rich for Jeff Gorton’s blood.
Late on Monday evening, it became another battle between the Caps and Pens. Pittsburgh due to all their injuries on the back end. Washington probably because they didn’t want Shattenkirk to wind up on the Pens. Key defenseman Matt Niskanen is day-to-day with a lower body injury. He had a full practice yesterday with the team in preparation for Tuesday’s game at MSG. He sounds close. Brooks Orpik doesn’t.
Considering that the Caps have scored 203 goals while permitting only 133, it seems far fetched to think they needed another defenseman. Especially one who’s scored half his points on the power play. Shattenkirk is 28 and from New Rochelle. In 61 games with St. Louis, he has 11 goals and 31 assists with a minus-11 rating. For his career with Colorado and St. Louis, Shattenkirk has produced 139 power play points including 34 power play goals and 105 power play assists. At even strength, he’s totaled 32 goals and 110 assists for 142 points.
A strong puck possession player, he’s at a 52.4 Corsi for a second straight year. His career average is 54.2. Somewhat curiously, Shattenkirk is a minus-25 the past two seasons for the Blues. It makes you wonder about him defensively. He’s obviously a unique offensive talent who’s now produced four consecutive seasons of 40 points or more. How much of an impact will he have with the Caps? They rank sixth on the power play clicking at 21.8 percent. Their man-advantage just became scarier.
The price they paid was steep. Shattenkirk and minor league goalie Pheonix Copley went to the Caps in exchange for forward prospect Zach Sanford, minor league center Brad Malone, a 2017 first round pick and a 2019 conditional second round pick. To help out Washington, the Blues retained 39 percent of Shattenkirk’s remaining salary. He gets $5.2 million but the Caps are only on the hook for $2.592 million. Similar to what the Coyotes did for the Rangers when they dealt Keith Yandle to them in 2015. The only difference was Yandle had another year left before winding up in Florida.
So, is this the year for the Caps and their fans? It had better be. Oshie can leave. So can Williams. Defenseman Karl Alzner is also unrestricted. With Kuznetsov due to a big raise along with Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov both Group II’s plus Nate Schmidt, Washington could have a different look by next season.
There’s no guarantee Shattenkirk will re-sign. So, it’s basically do or die. Maybe the Caps deal his negotiating rights and recover a mid-round pick in late June. They better have celebrated a Stanley Cup parade.
The other key move was made by Western Conference leader Minnesota acquiring checking enter Martin Hanzal and gritty forward Ryan White from the Coyotes along with a 2017 fourth round pick for minor league forward Grayson Drowning, a 2017 first round pick, a 2018 second round pick plus a fourth rounder in 2019. That is a lot.
So, another team that’s never been further than one Conference Final is all in on this season. Why not? The Wild boast a excellent roster rich in talent. Maybe getting two key role players is the difference this time in getting past roadblock Chicago. White had a great debut scoring a goal and assist in a come from behind 5-4 overtime home win over the Kings. He’s the kind of player I wanted the Rangers to be in on. He gets his nose dirty in front and would have been a good fit on the fourth line. Oh well.
The other two moves came from the Kings and Maple Leafs. In a stunner, LA acquired Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay with a 2017 fifth round pick for Peter Budaj, D prospect Erik Cernak and a seventh round pick in 2017. With Jonathan Quick back healthy and Bishop hitting the market this summer, why make such a deal? Unless they’re going to reroute Bishop on Wednesday. We’ll see.
For Tampa, it made sense with them wanting the experienced Budaj, who’s redeemed his career with seven shutouts, to back up new starter Andrei Vasilevskiy. They also got a prospect out of it in Cernak. Steve Yzerman is a genius. He also was able to net a second round pick for Brian Boyle, who is a good fit for Toronto as a rental. Boyle is the perfect fourth line center who wins face-offs and puck battles on the fore-check. He’s having a good year with 13 goals and nine assists.In three years with Tampa, Boyle hit double digits in goals each season totaling 41. He helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 before they lost to Chicago. Now, he’ll try to help the Leafs get back to the postseason.
There are still plenty of players available before the deadline. What will happen with Colorado’s Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog? Is anyone willing to pay the big price Joe Sakic wants? The Islanders have been linked up to both Duchene and Jordan Eberle.
One other move saw the Senators acquire annoying pest Alex Burrows from the Canucks and then sign him to a multi-year deal worth $5 million. They gave up 19-year old Swedish forward prospect Jonathan Dahlen. A perplexing move by a desperate team.
Who else will be in on the fun? Are the Rangers going after Brendan Smith? Where does Jarome Iginla wind up? My prediction is Montreal. I would love him to come here. But can’t see it.
Is Evander Kane really on the move as speculated by Mike Commodore? We’ll find out soon enough.