Seems like these mailbags get longer every time. But your questions are just so good – and it’s the time of year when fans from every market want to know about their teams’ futures as the trade deadline approaches. The Rangers take center stage this week as one of the potential seller teams with the best assets to offer.
Mike Lackey (@mobilope) asks…
What do you think the most likely landing spot for Rick Nash and the return would be?
I got more questions about Nash than about any other topic this week, which makes sense given the fact Rangers GM Jeff Gorton just asked Nash for a no-trade list. It’s all but guaranteed Nash changes addresses in the next couple weeks.
Or is it? This trade won’t necessarily be easy to complete. Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the no-trade list includes 18 teams to which Nash would not accept a deal. That only leaves a dozen destinations to which he can go. For a deal to work, then, Gorton has to hope one or more of the teams on that list has interest in Nash. That’s not a certainty because, as McKenzie pointed out, if Nash really didn’t want to leave New York – and he’s expressed as much publicly this week – he could use that no-trade list to sabotage a deal by deliberately picking non-contender teams he knows would never want to acquire him.
So that doesn’t exactly give the Rangers much leverage, does it? If I’m a team pursuing Nash, I start with a borderline lowball offer. First-round pick for a 33-year-old pending UFA who will be lucky to score 25 goals again in his career? Hell no. Given how few teams are even eligible to acquire Nash, even a second-round pick feels steep to me. That said, I can’t see Gorton accepting less than a second for Nash on sheer principle, especially when the Rangers aren’t out of playoff contention despite their recent struggles.
So who makes the most sense for Nash, then? Nash isn’t a first-line offensive weapon at this stage of his career, so the best fits would be teams with top-heavy forward groups looking to make their middle sixes more dangerous. Nash has been linked to the Winnipeg Jets, but the Jets are too deep in my opinion. Nash would force someone like Kyle Connor or Mathieu Perreault down the lineup, and each is arguably more effective than Nash at this point. The two easiest picks as Nash destinations to me are the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams have uber-aggressive GMs willing to sacrifice picks in the name of a Cup chase, and both teams are obviously in their win-now windows, having battled in the final last year. The Columbus Blue Jackets also check a couple boxes for Nash. He’d be returning to a city where he’s obviously comfortable, having spent most of his career there and still spending his off-seasons there. He also overlapped with current Jackets coach John Tortorella for one year as a Ranger, and Nash was excellent that season.
The Nash sleeper team that interests me most: the Dallas Stars. I spoke to Stars GM Jim Nill a few weeks ago about his trade deadline approach this season, and here’s what he said:
“Right now I like our team. I like where we’re going. I like our depth. I would say right now I’m not actively looking. You’re always listening. If there’s a hockey trade I think makes our team better, I’m always open to that. But I like our depth up top and in the minors.”
So that doesn’t sound like a GM looking to make a monster splash and pursue, say, Max Pacioretty. Nill did suggest he had an open mind, however, and that was before it became publicly apparent the Rangers were leaning in the seller direction and putting Nash on the block. The Stars are a nice fit in that they have a phenomenal first line, could use some secondary scoring punch and would be in the market for more of a moderately priced acquisition. Dallas has a decent farm group, stronger on defense than at forward, but isn’t so loaded that it would effortlessly cough up a first-rounder or top prospect for a trade-deadline rental. A second-rounder, though? And/or a second-tier prospect such as Jason Dickinson? I could see that. Dallas really could use someone like Nash. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have combined for 68 goals. The rest of Dallas’ forwards: 73. So the Stars get 48.2 percent of their forward-line goals from Line 1.
Nill also told me he’s far more likely to be aggressive on the trade front if one of his forwards sustains an injury, so if that happens in the next two weeks, Dallas should become a much bigger trade-deadline player.
Platinum Seat Ghosts (@3rdPeriodSuits) asks…
How would you rate Dale Tallon’s performance in Florida since he resumed the big boy role?
It’s difficult to choose where to start assessing Tallon’s performance in the big boy role. His responsibilities with the Panthers were so murky even when he vacated it that it’s possible he was still making hockey decisions then. But for the sake of this question, “since he resumed the job,” a.k.a. April 10, 2017, feels like a fair starting point.
And let’s face it: the roster personnel decisions since that point have been head scratchers to say the least. We may never know what happened between Jonathan Marchessault and the Panthers – did he borrow Tallon’s car and return it with an empty gas tank or something? – but it seemed like every rational hockey-loving human being aside from Tallon and the Panthers’ brain trust thought it was insane to expose Marchessault in the expansion draft. He carried a $750,000 cap hit for one more season and had just delivered the Panthers’ first 30-goal effort since David Booth in 2008-09. Few were surprised to see Marchessault emerge as the Golden Knights’ leading scorer, and he’s even exceeded expectations despite that. It was also a bit unsettling to see Tallon sell low on Reilly Smith for just a fourth-round pick. Sure, Smith was pricey with a $5-million cap hit, but it’s not like he was 35-year-old dead weight. He was 26 and capable of helping the team not just with scoring but with steady two-way play.
Worse yet, after Tallon dumped Smith’s salary, he spent half that amount to replace him with 36-year-old Radim Vrbata anyway. The Evgeny Dadonov signing has worked out decently, as he’s struck pretty good chemistry with Aleskander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. The possession stats suggest they aren’t carrying Dadonov, either. Per natturalstattrick.com, he augments their numbers just as much as they do his. Other than that, though, the Panthers have behaved strangely ever since enjoying their best regular season in franchise history two years ago. It started with dismantling their defense corps in summer 2016 and continued with the Gerard Gallant firing. This franchise doesn’t feel like it has much direction in my mind.
That said, the Michael Matheson extension at eight years with a $4.88-million cap hit looks pretty shrewd. He’s a smart, well-rounded defenseman who is almost as important to the team’s success in the long run as Aaron Ekblad will be. The Panthers have also drafted well the past couple seasons. Henrik Borgstrom, picked 23rd overall in 2016, has ripped it up and won a national title with NCAA Denver and looks like he’s going to be something special. The Panthers will have tremendous depth at center by the time he cracks the lineup, which could be next season. With Barkov and Vincent Trocheck aboard and Borgstrom on the way, Nick Bjugstad could become a trade chip. Owen Tippett, chosen 10th overall last June, won’t be confused with a Selke candidate anytime soon but looks like the best pure goal-scoring threat in the organization. And, goodness, how about 2017 second-rounder Aleski Heponiemi? That kid has gone bananas in the WHL, with 93 points in 39 games so far. He’s tiny, but that doesn’t hurt a prospect so much in the current NHL landscape.
So while I don’t think Tallon has made great roster decisions since reassuming control of the team, the Panthers do have some promising youth poised to join the team in the next year or two, so I wouldn’t call their near-future outlook bleak – even though losing Marchessault was unforgivably foolish.
Mazen Samhat (@SamhatMazen) asks…
How do you see the coach’s challenge evolving after the GM meetings? Do you believe change is required to the current process?
Hey Mazen. Good question. I think the league has made some nice progress in altering the challenge process for this season – but I believe more changes are to come.
Introducing a two-minute minor for coaches who mistakenly challenge an offside has worked wonders for reducing the number of challenges and momentum-killing delays in games. At roughly the season’s halfway point a couple weeks ago, I did some research on the challenges and consulted with the NHL to obtain some statistics. After 686 games league-wide last year, there were 57 offside challenges. At 686 this year: 35 challenges. That’s a 38.6 percent decrease in one year. Introducing the penalty is thus a smashing success.
That said – what about the actual manner in which the offside plays are reviewed on challenges? That’s where I fully expect to see the league and the NHL’s competition committee consider changes. One Eastern conference GM told me a couple weeks back he’s convinced the offside reviews will change. I’m referring to that airtight enforcement that declares a player offside if his back skate is a millimeter off the ice as he’s straddling the blueline. It’s technically correct to call that player offside, but it violates the spirit of the rule, which is to catch the cheaters. A guy keeping one leg out of the zone and one millimeter off the ice is essentially anchored and not giving himself any advantage. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rule were amended so that a player only had to be offside according to an overhead angle upon any review – or, in other words, if reviews were shortened to include fewer camera angles. It would speed up the process and put a few goals back in teams’ pockets. The obvious offside calls wouldn’t get missed.
Goalie interference is going to be much more complicated to figure out. Virtually the entire league is frustrated about it. Alex Ovechkin told me during the all-star weekend he was “pissed off” about the calls given how hard it is to score already, which is telling given he leads the NHL in goals. He suggested the league call the obvious stuff, in which goalies are blatantly bowled over, but not the soft, incidental contact. Sidney Crosby, on the other hand, said he felt players knew what they were doing, knew what was interference, had good control over their bodies and should take responsibility to avoid contact with goalies.
My fellow THNers and I spent a lot of all-star weekend canvassing players and coaches for where they stood on the debate, and I think the best answer of all came from Predators’ coach Peter Laviolette:
“Those decisions are so hard when they happen. If we threw one instance of a goaltender interference in front of this group, half of you would think it is and half of you would think it wasn’t. Usually one coach is pretty happy, and the other might be upset, but that’s the nature of the goalie interference. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I know the referees and the NHL give their best to give the right answer. I’m not trying to give the politically correct answer, either.
“I could throw three clips out to you right now with exactly what you think is cut and dried, and you’d be 50/50.”
Confirming Laviolette’s theory: check out the poll Bob McKenzie ran on his Twitter feed this week, asking his readers to review a goal. More than 20,000 people voted, and they were split 50/50! You can’t make this stuff up. It was downright poetic.
I therefore don’t see a solution to the goalie interference problem in the near future. The interpretations are just so darned subjective. The best we might get is a polishing of officials’ philosophies so that, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently put it, they’ll stop “overthinking” the calls.
Jay Primrose (@jaywp1) asks…
How much longer before Stan Bowman waves the white flag in Chicago? And what real assets does he have to deal? Artem Anisimov? Ryan Hartman?
It’s getting grim in Chicago, isn’t it? The Hawks are an honest seven points out of a playoff spot, with No. 8 seed Minnesota having played the same number of games. The Hawks have the league’s 28th-ranked power play and allow their most shots per game since Joel Quenneville became coach in 2008-09. They still do plenty of things well, boasting a good penalty kill and ranking top-three in 5-on-5 Corsi, per corsica.hockey. But they’re simply sagging as their core ages out. Marian Hossa is gone. Brent Seabrook was a healthy scratch at one point. Duncan Keith is 34 and doesn’t have nearly the supporting cast he used to, as the Hawks lost four of their top six D-men over the off-season. Jonathan Toews’ offensive ceiling appears to have lowered as he nears the end of his prime, reminiscent of what happened to Mike Richards in his late 20s. Goaltender Corey Crawford has been the team’s MVP this season, so it’s obviously hurt to have him sidelined with vertigo-like symptoms.
It really does look like Chicago’s era of mini-dynasty dominance has ended, and it’s not like it came out of nowhere. When Toews took over as Guest Editor of our magazine this year, I went to Chicago to work with him on the project. We were talking about travelling, and he pointed out that he and his girlfriend, Lindsey, finally got do to a lot of it the past couple years, “you know, because our seasons were finished in April.” I shook my head and said, “Man, I hadn’t thought of that. No hockey in April must feel weird. You guys always played deep into May or June.” The glory days really appear over in Chicago.
The St. Louis Blues beat the Hawks in seven games two years ago, and the Preds swept Chicago last year. The next step in the progression, logically, would be to slide out of the playoffs, especially with the Winnipeg Jets emerging as a Central superpower after missing the post-season the past two years. Some team has to get nudged out for that to happen.
As for waving the white flag… it feels like now’s the time to do so, just as we’re seeing with the Rangers, but the difference with the Rangers and Gorton is they actually have assets to offer. What would teams want from Bowman? Toews, Patrick Kane, Keith, Crawford, and Brandon Saad aren’t going anywhere. Seabrook is signed through 2023-24 with an impossible cap hit of $6.88 million. Good luck finding a taker for that. Youngers Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman profile as part of the future solution, not the problem. You hold them and build around them as the next generation. Whom does that leave as a viable trade chip? Anisimov isn’t a rental, as he has three seasons left on his contract at $4.55 million per. He strikes me more as a piece to shop in a year or two if the Hawks plunge into a long-term standings abyss. Would an experience-starved contender make a cheap offer for, say, Patrick Sharp? Even if the answer is yes, what does Sharp net you in a trade at his current value? A mid-round pick at best.
So maybe Bowman has little to gain by waving the white flag. To me, the best course this season is to stand pat. You don’t dig yourself deeper by trading away any picks or prospects for short-term upgrades, but you don’t realistically expect a successful fire sale. You just hope Crawford comes back early and that you can sneak into Round 1. What if the battle-hardened Hawks draw inexperienced Vegas or the young Jets in Round 1? You just never know.
Garret Smith (@Smitty0717) asks…
What will be the return for Evander Kane?
The answer to this question has really changed in the past couple months. As of mid-November, Kane was enjoying the best, healthiest season of his career, averaging roughly a point per game. I visited him in Buffalo to talk to him and his teammates about his future, and what struck me was how much chemistry he seemed to have found there, which contradicted his rocky final days in Winnipeg. As a uniquely skilled power forward, big and powerful and physical, he was set up to command a monster return for Sabres GM Botterill at the deadline. But so much has happened since then.
First off, Kane is ice cold. Through 35 games, Kane had 15 goals and 33 points. In 18 games since: one goal and three points. Some of that can be attributed to a freakishly low shooting percentage of 2.1 since then, but it’s still not a good look. He also had that minor altercation with teammate Justin Falk during a practice. It would’ve been shrugged off in most players’ cases but, fair or not, Kane’s history bubbles back to the surface every time something like this happens. Kane has also been very open to the idea of a trade. He told me he understands hockey is a business and that his agent will help him make aware of all his options this summer. To me, that didn’t sound like someone planning to re-sign with the Sabres as a UFA.
Add up those three factors – the slump, the skirmish, the implication Kane won’t come back – and it sucks away a lot of Botterill’s leverage. That’s why the asking price – reportedly a first-rounder, prospect, conditional pick and roster player – seems ludicrous to me. Given the risk Kane carries, I’d be shocked to see Buffalo get more than just a pick for him. A first-rounder would be a successful haul, and maybe that’s really what Botterill wants. I know in my fantasy hockey leagues, I always start by asking for more than I’ll actually get. It would be silly not to.
Rather than speculate further, I got Botterill on the phone today. He said he obviously couldn't go into much detail right now about specific trade machinations, but he did point out what makes Kane unique as an asset.
"There will be players on the trade market who can maybe score more than Evander does, but it’s the entire package Evander brings that is why teams have been inquiring about his status here with us," Botterill said. "And also his age, where he’s at right now. He’s a 26-year-old player. A lot of the other ones on the market are older. Evander’s a young player coming into his prime right now."
Botterill's naturally wanting to advertise his prize to potential suitors, but he makes a good point. Kane's tools are different from any other potential trade rental's.