BOSTON – The holiday roster freeze ends Sunday at midnight, meaning teams are once again free to make trades and use waivers or the AHL as they see fit. But don’t expect a flood of trades coming, and not just because we’re still more than two months away from the Feb. 29 deadline.
Many teams are tight to the salary cap and there’s simply very few of them out of the playoff hunt to pinpoint as sellers. No one in the Western Conference entered Saturday’s games more than five points out of a playoff spot, while the Sabres joined Toronto, Carolina and Columbus as the only teams in the East more than five out.
With those factors in mind, a quick look at players who will top the chatter list for the next few weeks:
• Anze Kopitar/Steven Stamkos: The stars of Los Angeles and Tampa Bay appear to be the class of unrestricted free agents come July 1 but things with their old teams are currently trending a wee bit different. Kopitar’s talks with the Kings seem to be moving toward a resolution on a new long-term deal in the next few weeks; Stamkos and the Lightning seem to be going nowhere. No less an authority than TSN’s Bob McKenzie said last week his feeling is that Stamkos is as good as gone, be it to Toronto or somewhere else next season.
The relationship between Stamkos and coach Jon Cooper, which clearly seemed dicey during the Stanley Cup final in June, hasn’t thawed much this season either and Cooper has already gotten a contract extension. Still, Stamkos insisted he’s far from any decision when talking last week to the Tampa Bay Times.
“Like I’ve always said, I envision myself winning a championship here and want to do that,” Stamkos said. “Obviously we got close last year, and I’m the captain of this team and I want to be that leader.”
And what about McKenzie’s viewpoint? “Absolutely not,” Stamkos said. “Not even close. That’s why people say, ‘I’ve got a feeling. I think, speculate.’ There’s so much information out there that’s probably false.”
Stamkos is certainly expected to be looking for a contract in the Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews range of $10-$11 million per year. And if the Lightning don’t pony up, would he waive his no-trade clause at the deadline?
“When we cross that bridge, we’ll go over it then,” Stamkos said. “There’s still a lot of time before then. A lot of things can happen. It’s probably not something I can give an answer to right now. Still a couple months away. There’s a lot of things that can happen.”
• Eric Staal: He’s been with the Hurricanes since 2003 and is 31 now. Through a Stanley Cup run, years of playoff misses and now, pending free agency. It seems hard to believe Carolina would go on a new deal with him for the $8-9 million he would want on a multi-year contract. He may become the prime rental on the market in a few weeks.
• Ryan Johansen: The Blue Jackets’ top center immediately ran afoul of new coach John Tortorella for not being in great shape and things reached a head last week when he was a healthy scratch. Teams are simply waiting to hear when he’s going to be made available as the Jackets careen to another non-playoff season and perhaps the best chance at the Auston Matthews Lottery.
If they actually make a deal, how about Nashville? The Predators are desperate for more punch up front on a roster made completely from the back end with goalie Pekka Rinne and a strong defense corps. Remember what the Sabres proved from, say, 2008-2012 with Ryan Miller & Co.? Without a center, it was tough to succeed.
“If we can make a deal – I don’t care who it is – we’re sitting at the bottom of the heap right now. Unless the contract stipulates otherwise, everybody’s tradable,” team president John Davidson told the Columbus Dispatch. “That’s hockey. It could be ‘Joey’ or it could be anybody else. If we feel it’s the right deal, we make the deal.”
• Edmonton: The Oilers have been better of late, especially at home, But it seems inevitable that new GM Peter Chiarelli is going to move one of his fowards. Look for plenty of teams to be sniffing around for a deal with either Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
• Travis Hamonic: The Islanders defenseman has asked for a trade closer to his native Manitoba for personal reasons but the Islanders are pushing to the top of the East and are going to want a big return. This one will be alive all season but might have to wait until the spring.
• Winnipeg: The Jets are falling fast in the Central and have big contracts up in unrestricted free agents Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, and restricted free agent Jacob Trouba. The Islanders wouldn’t be interested in any of them for Hamonic unless being certain they could be locked up long term. Byfuglien and Ladd could certainly rate as good rentals.
A frank Finn
Leafs forward Leo Komarov has become one of the great stories in the league for his surpising offensive play, but he may need to work on the tourism PR for his homeland.
Asked by the Toronto Star for advice for those visiting Finland for the World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Komarov was more than a little blunt. A sampling of the most stark responses:
1) What do you love about Finland? “Summertime. I can’t say anything good about winter. You’ll see a lot of darkness. Helsinki is a good city. But I don’t know what to recommend about wintertime. The only thing you can do is watch hockey.”
2) What do Finns do in the winter? “I hope you see snow. It’s dark out. They have more suicides than the whole world. It gets dark at 3 and doesn’t get light till 9 or 10 in the morning. There’s nothing you can do.”
3) What’s their favorite drink? “They got good beer. Karjala, Koff, Karhu and vodka. But vodka is probably the same everywhere. But, yeah, you’re probably going to see a lot of drunk people.”
Komarov entered the holiday break tied for 11th in the league with 15 goals in 33 games – after scoring just 12 in his first 104 games with the Leafs, a stretch interrupted by two years in the KHL.
Ducks GM cooks his vets
You have to wonder when the breaking point will come in Anaheim. The Ducks hit the holiday break 29th in the NHL with a league-low four road wins. While the calls continue to come for the team to move on from coach Bruce Boudreau, and that move would seem almost inevitable, General Manager Bob Murray pulled no punches in an interview Wednesday with the Orange County Register.
The Ducks have been a mess chemistry-wise this season, with newcomers like Carl Hagelin and Kevin Bieksa simply not coming close to filling the void of players who left like Matt Beleskey and Francois Beauchemin.
“Let’s be clear on one thing, putting all the blame on the incoming players would be totally unfair,” Murray said. “We had far too many returning players who decided training for this season was optional, thus a poor start. After succeeding during the past few regular seasons, suddenly we are underachieving and having to handle adversity, and some are not physically prepared to work through the challenge.”
Ouch. You don’t often hear a GM ripping his players in that manner. Could he possibly be referring to one-goal captain Ryan Getzlaf?
“The greatest fear when so many people have changed is the chemistry of the group on and off the ice,” Murray said. “So far there is no cohesion – we do not seem to be thinking and competing on the same page.”
Around the boards
• Buffalo prospect Will Borgen, a freshman defenseman at St. Cloud State, was one of the surprise choices to make Team USA for the World Junior Championships. He was a fourth-pick round in June. All Team USA games are being televised live on NHL Network. After opening Saturday against Canada, the Americans’ next game is Monday at 9 a.m. Eastern time against Sweden.
Borgen is the only Buffalo prospect in the tournament. Czech winger Vaclav Karabacek, a second-rounder in 2014, was scheduled to play but is going to miss the tournament due to a broken thumb.
• The Sabres have been emailing surveys out to season ticket-holders and club insiders, asking for opinions on the team’s radio and MSG television broadcasts and critiques of on-air personalities Rick Jeanneret, Dan Dunleavy, Rob Ray, Brad May and Brian Duff. There continues to be chatter the team is going to finally move away from the awkward simulcasting of games, a vestige of the penny-pinching era of former owner Tom Golisano. Frankly, the practice is just a bad look for a major-league team and the vagaries of the two mediums really hurt the radio audience at times.
• Sidney Crosby entered the holiday break with six goals. Six. There were 150 NHL players with more than him. No. 87 had 22 points. There were 83 players with more. While the talent level has dropped in Pittsburgh and coach Mike Johnston was just sacked, you have to wonder if all the mileage of the last 10 years has taken a toll on Crosby. That said, Team Canada officials have already said he’s a lock to make their roster for next fall’s World Cup of Hockey.
• Boston fans are doubly unhappy about some ancilliary items for Friday’s Winter Classic against Montreal in Gillette Stadium. Longtime TD Garden anthem singer Rene Rancourt has been pushed aside by the NHL, which runs the game, and told to take his fist-pumping act to the alumni showdown on New Year’s Eve. That’s because the Star-Spangled Banner will be performced by Jordan Smith, season nine winner of “The Voice.” Hmmmm. An NBC show. Imagine that.
Then on Wednesday, word came out that a planned public viewing of the game on a large screen at Copley Square in downtown Boston was canceled due to a dispute over broadcast rights. The free event was to be part of the city’s First Night/First Day festivities, but the Boston Globe reported NBC would not grant the license necessary for the city to stage the event because it said “public viewing gatherings for nationally televised regular-season games are not permissible under NHL media-rights policies.”
That’s a page right out of the No Fun League.