A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.
Theme of the Week: Deadline Day Arrives
Today is trade deadline day, with a 3 p.m. ET cutoff for teams looking to make a deal. And after a very busy weekend, there may not be much excitement left.
We ran a full preview on Thursday. Here’s a quick roundup of the deals we’ve seen since then.
The Rangers went all-in: New York landed arguably the biggest name available, acquiring Arizona’s Keith Yandle in a blockbuster. But the Rangers paid a big price, giving up an excellent prospect in Anthony Duclair and next year’s first-rounder. The Coyotes retain half of Yandle’s salary, which makes him an excellent value, and he’s signed through next year, so this isn’t a straight rental. But it feels like an all-or-nothing gamble for New York, and maybe that makes sense for a team that was just a few bounces away from a championship last year. The Rangers also acquired James Sheppard from San Jose, sent Lee Stempniak to Winnipeg, and have reportedly agreed on a new deal with Mats Zuccarello.
The Blackhawks loaded up: Chicago added two of the top players available, in Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen. Vermette is a solid two-way player who won’t replace the injured Patrick Kane, but will play strong middle-six minutes. Timonen hadn’t played a game for the Flyers this season due to blood clots, but is reportedly healthy now, and if he can play at the same level he was at last year, he could be the deadline’s best acquisition. He’s a gamble, sure, but a high-reward one that certainly looks good from the Hawks’ side.
The Lightning made their moves: Steve Yzerman stayed up late last night, pulling off a pair of deals. He sent Brett Connolly to Boston for two seconds, and then flipped a first, third, and Radko Gudas to Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn. That’s a pretty clear net gain for the Lightning, who remain one of the co-favorites in a hard-to-call East.
The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: Hours after I wrote that it was impossible, the Leafs found a way to trade the league’s worst contract on Thursday. And somehow, it made perfect sense. The Blue Jackets had Nathan Horton’s contract clogging their books; Horton isn’t expect to ever play again due to back problems, but his deal was uninsured, so the Jackets were on the hook for every dollar of it. So they swapped him for Clarkson, a player who’ll actually suit up for roughly the same money. And the Leafs get eventual salary-cap relief thanks to the LTIR. It’s brilliant.
The Panthers (?) got Jaromir Jagr: We expected Jagr to be moved, although the idea was that he’d go to a contender and the Panthers sure don’t seem like one. But Jagr winding up in Florida, even at the cost of a pair of decent picks, could put the Panthers over the top in the chase for the East’s final wild-card spot.
Washington added Curtis Glencross: The Flames forward was expected to be on the move, and he didn’t come cheap, with the Caps giving up a second and a third in this year’s draft. With Washington all but locked into a playoff spot, the team is thinking postseason depth here.
The Red Wings landed Erik Cole: Having lost six straight to fall out of the race, Dallas sent the veteran forward to Detroit for a pick and a pair of decent prospects. The Wings still need blue-line help and may not be done.
The Habs added Jeff Petry: There may not have been a more divisive player available; the old school doesn’t like his game much, but analytics types love him. The Habs got him for a second and a fifth.
The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: I know I mentioned that already. I just really enjoy typing those words. I promise it won’t happen again.
The Ducks added Tomas Fleischmann: The Ducks get a useful player. The Panthers get a draft pick. The rest of us get to say, “Wait, Dany Heatley is still playing?” I’d call that a win all the way around.
A few other smaller deals: Tim Gleason! Spencer Abbott! Adam Cracknell! Carl Klingberg! You are vaguely aware of who some of these people are!
The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: I lied.
So with all of those deals done, what’s still left on the table for today? Well … not much, to be honest. But here are a few names to watch.
Chris Stewart: The Sabres power forward has been on the block for a year now, and should have several bidders.1
Despite quite possibly not being all that good.
Most of Toronto’s roster: It sounds like the odds of a Phil Kessel deal are close to zero, while a Dion Phaneuf move is unlikely but still in play; action around both players could pick up near the draft instead. Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and maybe even Jonathan Bernier are in play, although it’s possible that nobody of any significance gets moved.
Zbynek Michalek: Oh, right, the other Coyotes defenseman. He’ll probably go somewhere, and the way Arizona GM Don Maloney is going, it will be in exchange for a lot more than you’d think.
The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson: I may need help.
Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best
The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.
5. Detroit Red Wings (35-15-11, plus-27) The top of the East remains a pick’em, but an impressive road win over Nashville earns the Wings a temporary spot.
4. Anaheim Ducks (40-17-7, plus-9) This Corey Perry goal is so filthy. You really need to stick around for the last slow-motion replay to appreciate it.
3. Montreal Canadiens (41-16-5, plus-32) They’ve won four straight, and now head out for what should be an interesting test on their annual California road trip.
2. St. Louis Blues (40-18-5, plus-33) Something weird went down with Ken Hitchcock and the Blues goaltenders during yesterday’s wild 6-5 shootout loss to the Canucks, although nobody’s quite sure what. Keep your phone on today, Martin Brodeur!
1. Nashville Predators (41-15-7, plus-39) They’re still in first place, although a two-game losing streak has opened the door for the Ducks, Habs, and Blues to gain ground.
With the Predators still holding down top spot, one of the league’s best underdog stories keeps chugging along. Which is nice, because another seems to have just gone off the rails.
The big question of the week has been “What’s wrong with Mark Giordano?” The Flames captain was hurt in the final seconds of Wednesday’s win over the Devils when he fell awkwardly while trying to clear a puck behind his own net. Initial speculation was that the injury could be serious. Then came reports that he could play on Friday. Then he didn’t, and we went back to waiting.
As of today, we still don’t know what the specific injury is. But we know it’s not good, because yesterday the Flames placed Giordano on the IR. That would indicate he’s going to be out for a while. And that would mean the Flames’ miracle season is all but dead.
That may sound extreme for a team that’s still holding down a playoff spot, thanks to a tiebreaker edge over the Kings. But Giordano is the team’s best player by far, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they can even come close to replacing him. It’s a tribute to the Flames’ remarkable season that we’re even discussing this story in the contenders’ block, instead of down in the also-ran section; the team was expected to be far closer to dead last than the playoffs. But it sure seems like a storybook season just got slammed shut.
Combined with yesterday’s Glencross trade, the Flames are a much weaker team today than they were a week ago. They still have time — and now, some additional ammo — to bring in some reinforcements today. Team president Brian Burke isn’t exactly the kind of guy who quits when the going gets tough, so maybe the Flames have a busy day ahead of them. But it probably won’t be enough.
Connor Watch: The League’s Five Worst
The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s other top prize: franchise prospect Connor McDavid.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (26-32-4, minus-38) The Jackets return to the bottom five thanks to six straight losses. In doing so, they bump the Hurricanes off of our list for the first time all season.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (25-33-5, minus-23) The Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson.
3. Edmonton Oilers (18-35-10, minus-66) It’s sounding more and more like the Oilers could have a quiet deadline day, although it’s possible that their captain may be in play.
2. Arizona Coyotes (20-36-7, minus-75) The losing streak is up to nine and counting, they’ve started hacking apart the roster, and now their GM is saying stuff like this. Look out, Sabres!
1. Buffalo Sabres (19-39-5, minus-93) A 5-3 loss to the Panthers ended a two-game win streak, and just in time.
We’ve spent the season using this space to track the teams in the running for last place. But over the last two months, it’s been widely assumed that the Sabres had the spot locked up. After all, they’ve been in last place most of the season, and based on their underlying numbers, they’re not just the worst team in the league but also quite possibly one of the worst non-expansion teams we’ve ever seen. Besides, they pretty clearly planned this.
Which is why it’s a bit surprising to check the standings with just six weeks to go and see the Sabres barely clinging to that last-place spot. After the weekend’s action, Buffalo is sitting at an appropriately pathetic 43 points. But the Oilers (46) and Coyotes (47) are staying close, leaving the Sabres just one poorly timed win streak away from losing their squatter’s right to the basement’s best real estate.
And that would be a pretty big deal. Remember, given this year’s draft lottery format and the presence of two sure-thing franchise players in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, finishing dead last is absolutely crucial to any team’s rebuilding hopes. How crucial? Here’s a look at how the odds will play out for the league’s worst five teams.
So the team that finishes dead last is a lock to land a franchise player; everyone else is a significant underdog who’ll need some lottery luck. Picking third wouldn’t be a disaster — this year’s draft is top-heavy, and winding up with Noah Hanifin or Dylan Strome would be a reasonable consolation prize. But those guys aren’t considered the sort of generational talents that McDavid and Eichel are.
We’ve assumed all along that the Sabres would get one of those two big prizes. It was the only thing that could make this miserable season worthwhile. And with six weeks to go, they’re getting dangerously close to seeing it all fall apart.
• Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk went through a scary situation on Saturday after collapsing during a pickup basketball game. He recovered quickly, and has since been released from the hospital.
Moderated by Grantland’s own Katie Baker.
• Ottawa Senators goalie Andrew Hammond continues to be unbeatable. The 27-year-old career minor leaguer is now 5-0-0 after helping the Senators sweep their California road trip. After shutout wins over the Ducks and Kings, he earned a 4-2 win in San Jose on Saturday.
• Huge 5-2 home win for the Jets over the Kings yesterday, earning them a nice six-point playoff cushion. That’s even bigger than it looks, because the two teams chasing them, the Kings and the Sharks, are Pacific teams and would pass the Flames first.
• Things got ugly at the end of Saturday’s Wild win over the Avalanche, with Cody McLeod in the middle of it. The two teams face each other again next weekend.
• The ridiculous Devan Dubnyk story just keeps getting better, as the Wild goalie was named the league’s first star for February. He’s started every game for Minnesota since being acquired, and has them in a playoff spot.
• That’s it for this week. Enjoy deadline day. (Unless you’re one of the roughly six dozen broadcasters expected to somehow fill 10 hours of coverage, in which case: Endure deadline day.)