It’s a Stanley Cup playoff edition of Screen Shots, in which we take a relatively brief look at a few hockey topics. Not all of today’s topics are playoff-related, but this is always a fascinating time of the NHL calendar, because in addition to the fallout from the first round of the post-season, you’ve also got significant moves being made by non-playoff teams. Let’s get right down to business.
– As someone who’s watched Lou Lamoriello work and succeed over the years, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the Islanders GM dismissed Barry Trotz as coach earlier this week. But I was, if only because it wasn’t Trotz’s fault the Isles had huge COVID-19 pandemic issues that sunk the team’s playoff hopes before the halfway point of the season. However, Lamoriello is famous for making moves some might see as harsh, occasionally going behind one of his team’s benches when he saw the need for it.
That said, I suspect Trotz’s services will be in great demand this summer. He may be waiting until the playoffs shake out a little more before he chooses a new home, but Trotz might not find a better situation, competitively speaking, than the bench boss of the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets underwhelmed this season and their veteran lineup could not find a way to make it into the playoffs, but with Trotz’s famous defensive structure implemented properly, Winnipeg likely could get back into the playoff race in 2022-23. The Jets have some notable roster decisions to make, but they likely won’t find as accomplished a coach as Trotz is. He would instantly bring credibility and professionalism to an organization that needs a boost of a different kind of energy. We’ll see where Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff goes, but don’t be shocked if he chooses Trotz to lead the team in a new direction.
– The St. Louis Blues are headed to the second round of the playoffs after disposing of the higher-ranked Minnesota Wild in six games, proving that Cup-winning experience, which the Blues have in spades, is always dangerous, particularly against a greener, less-tested group like the Wild.
There are ramifications for both teams: for the Blues, even if they are eliminated in the second round, GM Doug Armstrong will be justified in keeping his lineup relatively intact. Veterans David Perron, Tyler Bozak, Nick Leddy and Ville Husso are their most notable unrestricted free agents, and as per CapFriendly.com, they’ve got 17 players signed next season and just $9.775 million in salary cap space to try and retain everyone. That means there will be some degree of change, but after their impressive play against Minnesota, there’s no good reason why Armstrong has to break up the group.
Meanwhile, the Wild and their long-suffering fan base has to be extremely disappointed to see them fall to a key Central Division rival in the Blues. Minnesota GM Bill Guerin made big moves this season to buttress his team’s depth, but his decision to buy out veterans Ryan Suter and Zach Parise will bring a huge cap hit – more than $12.7 million combined – that will severely limit what the Wild can do to change up the lineup. Their biggest concerns are restricted free agent winger Keviin Fiala and UFA goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and with only $3.5 million in cap space for next season, it isn’t likely both will return (with Fleury the more likely departure).
Guerin knows he can’t strip down the roster, so it’s very possible he’s active again on the trade market to try and add talent to the Wild. But no rival GM is going to be charitable to him. The He’ll either have to gamble on a high-risk, high-reward transaction, or settle for a handful of minor moves that supplement Minnesota’s current talent. But he can’t stand pat. Despite finishing second in the Central in the regular season, the Wild aren’t on the same level as the Central Division (and NHL regular-season) champion Colorado Avalanche. Getting them there will be a tightrope act for him and the organization.
– After the New Jersey Devils were smiled on by the NHL entry draft lottery gods and were awarded the second overall pick in this summer’s draft, there was speculation Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald would and should be willing to trade the pick in return for veteran help that can make a difference right away. That’s exactly what he ought to be doing, because as we saw with them this season, New Jersey doesn’t have nearly enough experienced depth that can vault them into challenging for a playoff spot in the highly-contested Metropolitan Division.
If you’re a Devils fan, you have to be asking yourself, which of the four Metro teams will New Jersey be able to knock out of a playoff position next year. The Hurricanes? Nope. The New York Rangers? Don’t think so. The aging Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals? One of those teams may be their best target, but now you’re talking about unseating either Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, or fellow stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. A tall order, to be sure.
New Jersey could always use more talent at all positions, but at this stage, is an 18-year-old kid going to be the addition that transforms them as a playoff team? m. However, if Fitzgerald can find a trade partner that’s able and willing to give them young-ish skilled players, they can augment flourishing star Jack Hughes and in-his-prime defenseman Dougie Hamilton by making a massive move, on the trade front and/or via free agency. The Devils have been linked to Calgary Flames star, soon-to-be-UFA, and New Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau, but that won’t be the only marquee name that will be of interest to the Devils.
Right now, Fitzgerald has more than $25.3 million in cap space for next season. That puts the Devils in the position of being one of the biggest players on the trade and free agency markets. And if it means dealing away the No. 2 overall pick to get them to that next level and becoming a legitimate playoff contender, so be it.