LOS ANGELES – Back in the 716, we’ve gotten used to salary dumps and deals for draft picks. But Monday’s deadline day has quite a bit different meaning in the penthouse suites of the NHL.
While it’s pretty obvious which teams are sellers, it’s always fun to see who is buying and perhaps overpaying. And another thing has become crystal clear in the last few days: The Chicago Blackhawks are in it to win it. Again.
General Manager Stan Bowman stole the show in advance of the deadline, reacquiring Andrew Ladd from Winnipeg, adding Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann from Montreal and getting former Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff from Los Angeles, where he was buried in the minors after clearing waivers.
The Hawks were getting top-heavy up front with the line of Artem Anisimov between Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, and Bowman restored a lot of balance to their lineup. Tuevo Teravinen has been moved to center and Weise seems like a logical choice for his wing. Ladd can join Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. And Andrew Shaw can go back to the fourth-line slot he thrived in last spring.
Now, all this comes with a price. Chicago has no first- or second-round pick at this year’s draft in Buffalo, and no second- or third-rounder in 2018 (the word is they’re trying to keep ‘17 choices because that draft is at United Center). They also dealt promising prospects in Marko Dano and Phil Danault.
But this is what elite teams do. Bowman has become a master of tapdancing the cap and keeping his team replenished. Signing Panarin out of the KHL looks like a genius move in the wake of a summer when big names like Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya were lost in the cap squeeze of Toews’ and Kane’s massive extensions.
In the wake of the Hawks’ moves, you wonder what teams who could be contenders – such as Los Angeles, Dallas, the New York Rangers, Florida and Anaheim – might do in response. Will Boston re-sign Loui Eriksson and try to add more to take a big package for perhaps the top remaining unrestricted player on the market? Will the Kings or Panthers make a heavy play for Sabres winger Jamie McGinn?
Only Washington seems prepared to stand pat, other than the depth acquisition of Mike Weber from the Sabres on defense. At this point, anything other than a Caps-Hawks Stanley Cup final would be considered an upset.
It’s a tight trade market, a reflection of the tight standings. Entering Saturday, 22 of the NHL’s 30 teams were either in a playoff spot or within five points of one.
“What we’re noticing now is that, every year, there are going to be 22 to 24 teams still in the hunt for the playoffs at this time of year,” Dallas GM Jim Nill told the Toronto Globe and Mail. “In the past, it used to be you had 18 or 19 teams that knew they had a chance of making it. Well, I think we’re going to become an 88- to 98-point league, and it’s all going to be a crush can. We’re all going to be in the hunt for the playoffs at the deadline.”
The teams who are close but just on the outside have some excruciating decisions to make. For instance, what does Carolina do with captain Eric Staal? Teams like the Rangers, Dallas and Nashville might be interested in having a rental like Staal.
It seems unlikely the Hurricanes are going to re-sign him but they hit the weekend just two points out of the playoffs in a market struggling to draw fans. Can they legitimately pull the chute on their season by trading their captain when they’re that close?
The Devils are one point back but West Seneca native Lee Stempniak is a pending UFA who has 41 points in 61 games this year. He could certainly draw a couple assets from a team that’s a lock to make the postseason but, like Carolina, what kind of message does that send to fans and to the dressing room if you deal him?
Stay tuned for a Manic Monday.
Nations get Cup crazy
So much focus is on the deadline but this is a huge week otherwise with Wednesday’s announcements of the first 16 players on each team for this fall’s World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
Russia will name its first group at 2 a.m. Eastern time with Finland following at 4 a.m., almost certainly making official that Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will be on the team. The Czech Republic goes at 10 a.m. and Sweden at 12:30 p.m. Those teams will all be announced overseas.
Things ramp up in Toronto in the late afternoon as several teams will have officials on hand for their announcements. Team Europe, represented by General Manager and former Sabres standout Miroslav Satan, will unveil its first roster at 4:30, with Team North America − featuring Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid − going at 5:15 and Team Canada at 6:05. Those three teams will be unveiled during a national television broadcast across Canada on Sportsnet.
Team USA will be revealed at 6:45 on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” a nod to the network getting back into the hockey business as the official American broadcaster of the tournament.
Eichel and Ristolainen appear to be the best hope for Sabres representation. Sam Reinhart has certainly played his way into the conversation with Team North America, while Ryan O’Reilly’s month-long goal slump probably played him off Team Canada to start.
O’Reilly could grab one of Canada’s final roster spots if he has a strong tournament at the World Championships in Russia in May. O’Reilly played for the gold medalists last year − remember Tyler Ennis’ recommendation to Tim Murray? − and will almost certainly be chosen for the squad again.
No draft dodging
The Sabres entered the weekend having not traded any of their own draft picks for either of the next two years − and have piled up a total of 20 picks in that span. With that in mind, here’s their current stable of extra choices for this June’s selection party in First Niagara Center and for the 2017 affair in Chicago.
• 2016: Third round (2) From Dallas for Jhonas Enroth, from St. Louis for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott; Fifth round: From Montreal for Brian Flynn. Seventh round: From Montreal for Torrey Mitchell.
• 2017: Second round: From Minnesota for Chris Stewart. Third round: From Washington for Mike Weber.
Obviously, that gives Murray a ton of flexibility. He’s almost certain to not make all those picks. You can have only 50 players under contract at once, and although draftees often play multiple years without signing, that’s still a ton of young players to add to your organization. The more likely scenario is a draft pick package for a veteran from some cash-strapped team.
Perhaps something like that could happen by Monday’s deadline but a more likely move is for Murray to pull off a deal like that to make a splash for the FNC patrons on draft night come June like he did with O’Reilly last year in Florida.
No McEichel on TV
I get why NBCSN would dump Tuesday’s Sabres-Oilers game to snag a Pittsburgh-Washington showdown. Even with McDavid and Eichel staging their first NHL meeting, no way is the network spending a night in March showing two of the league’s bottom five teams.
Where the NHL messed up is making sure the matchup didn’t happen right away. The first scheduled meeting was on a Sunday night in December in Edmonton? How goofy is that? If this were the NBA, after all the hype off their draft year, Opening Night in October would have been a made-for-TV special of McDavid playing Eichel in Buffalo. It would have been a giant event.
Instead, Eichel opened against Ottawa and McDavid’s career kicked off in St. Louis. Yawn. Such a missed opportunity.
And this note from the nothing-is-guaranteed file: The Oilers are 8-16-2 in games McDavid plays heading into Sunday’s game against the Islanders. This just isn’t a one-player sport. A young forward playing 20 minutes a night is a lot in the NHL, and that’s just one-third of the game.
Choke the challenge
You can count the Blue Jackets as a big no on the coach’s challenge when the GMs talk about it again come June. Coach John Tortorella was exasperated by a goaltender interference review that went against his club and allowed a Boston goal to stand in a win last week against the Bruins.
“It’s a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” Tortorella said, making his best Forrest Gump analogy. “It’s very frustrating that ... we can’t get it right. That’s what this is all about. So get rid of the thing and let’s just get back to where we were before.”
The Jackets were convinced that Loui Eriksson had interfered with Joonas Korpisalo and replays seemed to confirm their point. But referees on the ice did not reverse their own call and let the goal stand.
“All I did was waste a timeout,” Tortorella said. “It’s discouraging. That is a no-brainer call. If they vote again for it, no coach’s challenge as far as this organization is concerned. ... Why have it? I wanted my timeout back, quite honestly.”
Ducky feelings for Bylsma
When the Sabres were in Anaheim, coach Dan Bylsma wistfully recalled his days as a player for the old Mighty Ducks, culminating in his role on their 2003 West champions. That club lost Game Seven of the Stanley Cup final in New Jersey to a team that included current Buffalo captain Brian Gionta.
“I couldn’t have been more sure we were going to go win Game Seven in New Jersey,” Bylsma said. “Some of those memories come flooding back. That was my one and sole chance to win a Stanley Cup as a player and one that still hurts.”
Bylsma played 209 games with the then-Mighty Ducks, scoring 10 of his 19 NHL goals. He said every return to Honda Center makes him reminisce about his last goal, which came with seven seconds left in the first period of a game against Los Angeles on Oct. 16, 2002. He did not score again that season in 39 regular-season games and 11 playoff contests.
“Probably of any place in the league, this building feels the most familiar to me on the ice and looking up at the stands,” he said. “Even now, still seeing the faces of a lot of people I spent time with here. It’s very familiar but it’s been a long time, it’s been well removed. I’m certainly in a different spot.”
Around the boards
• Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal on the pathetic Oilers: “Slap some lipstick and put some earrings on a pig, and it’s still a porker.”
• The John Scott movie is really happening. Mandalay Sports Media acquired the rights to the story of the enforcer-turned-MVP and a script is being written by longtime Detroit Free Press sports writer and best-selling author Mitch Albom.
• The Canadiens had to issue an apology after an embarrassing faux pas from their official Twitter account last week. The team contracted with a company to celebrate its one millionth follower, asking fans for messages and generating auto replies like customized jersey photos and videos from players thanking the fans.
The problem? The company’s filter system failed and numerous tweets were posted with profanities and with racial slurs directed at defenseman P.K. Subban.
• Speaking of Montreal, longtime Gazette columnist Dave Stubbs recently left his job there to become an official historian and columnist for NHL.com. He has a voluminous personal library of photos and is a terrific follow on Twitter at @Dave_Stubbs.