Monotony is officially over in the NHL. Two major trades happened in the last week and they all have short term and long term implications for the teams involved. I am, of course, talking about the Evander Kane and Cody Franson trades that happened almost a full month before the March 2nd trade deadline. I always wonder if trading so early is the right method to get what you want in return. You may not get what you want, but it’s almost better to get the transaction out of the way before you realize teams will not budge on the offer you put out in the first place. On the other hand, you may never know if you could have gotten a better offer come deadline day unless you see how the rest of the market played out.
While we wait for more zaniness to happen, we have hit another 14th point milestone, which means it is time to eliminate another team for the sake of our TV watching eyeballs. Even though only two Western Conference teams have been eliminated so far, the battle for the last three to four spots in the playoffs has been so tight that another Eastern Conference team has to go. The Ottawa Senators are out as we enter a jam-packed edition of the Nerdy 30.
30. Buffalo (82-game Standings Points Pace: 52 points, Last Week: 30)
29. Edmonton (Pace: 59 pts, LW: 29) 28. Arizona (Pace: 66 pts, LW: 28)
So Buffalo has clearly perfected tanking this year. To be frank, why shouldn’t they tank? Their team was decaying for over five years and the franchise hasn’t been the same since Jim Benning left to be the assistant GM in Boston. Players like Sam Reinhart, Mikhail Grigorenko and Jake McCabe should be playing regularly by now and instead, future not-hockey hall of famer Tyson Strachan is getting a Sabres sweater instead. But I am not here to talk about how much the Sabres are gooning the system of “fair competition” without being punished because it is always impossible to punish a tanking team. I am talking about how well they have performed in their acquisition for Evander Kane.
Yes, they will lose a first round pick, but it will be their lowest of the three that they currently have. That first round pick that will go to Winnipeg will either be the Blues’ first round pick that they got from the Ryan Miller trade or the Islanders’ first round pick from the Thomas Vanek trade. From my draft value calculations, both of those picks combined struggle to total their own pick that Buffalo will get in the 2015 draft. Now I agree with almost everyone that Zach Bogosian and Tyler Myers shouldn’t make such an impact on the trade because both bring equal value yet different styles of play and getting rid of a declining future unrestricted free agent in Drew Stafford is a fantastic move. “Baggage” aside, Evander Kane will enter his age-24 season with the potential to play top line minutes in an improving roster and could be paired with Reinhart and, potentially, Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid. To say the least, that is much better than the Tyler Ennis and Chris Stewart top line the Sabres have forced themselves to trot out every night. Where Buffalo could lose this trade is how you feel about Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux.
The Sabres should be able to recollect some prospect depth from this summer’s draft with their two first round picks, their own second round pick and Dallas’ third round pick from the Jhonas Enroth trade. However, Joel Armia and Brandon Lemieux are valuable prospects that should round out a top-five for any other organizational farm system and both are projected to be guaranteed middle six forwards within a year or two. Also, who knows HOW DEEP Buffalo’s farm system really is. Throughout the last couple of years, Reinhart and Grigorenko were thrown into the NHL fire and produced next to nothing. The majority of their forwards also seem to be on the decline (Johan Larsson, William Carrier) or seem to be a bit overrated than their scouting report suggests (Hudson Fasching, J.T. Compher). Nick Baptiste should be a forward to watch out for as he has been racking up points like nobody’s business in OHL Sudbury and Erie, but this summer has to be the time to replenish the blueline prospect pool as Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen become full time NHLers with not a lot of depth behind it.
27. Toronto (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 26)
26. Columbus (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 27)
25. New Jersey (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 25)
So Toronto really is rebuilding. Stop me if you’ve never heard that one before. The real question of course will be how successful that rebuild is going to be. It has to take a real patient and smart general manager to successfully turn this team into the equivalent of the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks and the track record indicates that Dave Nonis is not that guy one bit. Now while they traded Cody Franson, their lone competent NHL defenseman, and productive middle six forward Mike Santorelli for less than a dime on the dollar, they freed up loads of future cap space as Franson and Santorelli will be in the open market this summer and the Leafs just don’t have enough money to pay for them properly. As for the prospect they got in return, Brandon Leipsic could be the player David Clarkson never was as he was a part of Mike Johnston’s fun bunch in Portland with fellow goal scorers Nic Petan, Seth Jones and Ty Rattie. Despite being the high penalty minute player that he is, Leipsic has cut that down in his first AHL season while still scoring at a decent rate. He will certainly be a welcome addition to the team in the long term and is a perfect stereotype of a Toronto Maple Leafs top six forward. As for Olli Jokinen, let’s hope for as many funny gifs as possible created by Maple Leaf fans like this one.
24. Philadelphia (Pace: 83 pts, LW: 23) 23. Carolina (Pace: 69 pts, LW: 24) 22. Ottawa (Pace: 81 pts, LW: 19)
Since the Senators have fired Paul MacLean, they haven’t really gotten much better under Dave Cameron record wise. That being said, since January 6th, their score-adjusted puck possession was at 54.2%; good enough for fourth in the NHL during that span. However, they have gone 6-8-2 during that time and the on-ice save percentage was below league average at 91.1%. Part of that is due to Craig Anderson being out injured since January 21st to a bruised hand and Robin Lehner has been one of the worst goalies in the NHL this season. Now it seems like he’ll be out for sometime after leaving Monday’s game against Carolina from the after-effects of a nasty collision with teammate Clarke MacArthur.
Now the Senators are the 5th youngest team in the NHL, based on weighted average by quanthockey.com, but Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders are younger than them and they’re chasing for a division title. Their forward lines have some quality depth to them and trading away Chris Neil for something valuable at the trade deadline will be a small victory for the Senators this season.
Their defense is where issues really arise. Outside of Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci, there is a serious lack of goal scoring from the blue line. Chris Phillips is on his last legs and Patrick Wiercioch, Jared Cowan and the recently resigned Marc Methot (another disgustingly overpaid NHL defensive defenseman) are simply not going to give you 20 points a season in their sleep. The Senators did draft three blueliners, but all of them are either a stay-at-home type from Europe (second round pick Andreas Englund) or plying their trade in the USHL or lower tier CCHL. Ottawa has proven in their draft history that when they invest in defenseman in the earlier stages of the draft, they turn into successful NHL players, but “when” is the biggest question heading into the 2015 draft.
- 21. Colorado (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 22)
- 20. Calgary (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 21)
- 19. Florida (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 20)
- 18. San Jose (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 16)
- 17. Montreal (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 19)
Oh Avalanche, you may not be so fortunate next time in the coming weeks. Despite still being alive for a playoff spots, Colorado is, once again, doing it with magical unicorns and Semyon Varlamov’s lack of tolerance towards your shots on goal…and stick pokes. Since their 15-9-5 stretch that started on December 11th, Colorado’s score-adjusted puck possession has gone down to a shocking 42.3% while Varlamov and Co. have an on-ice save percentage of 94.2%; only second behind Carey Price’s troops in Montreal.
What is even more unicorn-like is the fact that their penalty killing shooting percentage (11.1%) is actually higher than their power play shooting percentage (a third worst 9.78%). Add in the fact that the Avalanche constantly shoot at among the lowest rates in the league and you get the second worst power play conversion rate in the NHL at 12.4%. You would think this team lacks any goal scorers, but instead they have players like Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene on their team. No one on this roster is on pace to make the top-50 in scoring and the likes of Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay are at the top of the leaderboard. That’s rough, even for a team still alive in the playoff hunt.
- 16. Vancouver (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 18)
- 15. Dallas (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 15)
- 14. Anaheim (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 14)
- 13. Minnesota (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 13)
- 12. Boston (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 12)
- 11. Washington (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 8)
- 10. New York Rangers (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 9)
- 9. Winnipeg (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 10)
There are so many feels I have for the Jets right now. First of all, do we really know if Evander Kane is that much of a low character guy or is he just a 23-year old that is still going through his “punk” phase? Next, is Dustin Byfuglien is that much of a bully that you can easily picture him giving wedgies to all the young players in order to “have them be accepted in their locker room” or a genuine leader of the Winnipeg Jets? All I know is the makeup of this hockey team was altered significantly while their focus should be about seeing if they can match up well with St. Louis, Chicago or Nashville. Instead, their focus will be if they can keep the dressing room together and avoid having Dallas, Los Angeles and Minnesota surpass them for a wild card spot. As if the Jets don’t need any more worries, Mathieu Perreault is out for the rest of the regular season after getting hurt in Monday’s game against Edmonton.
In the long term, this trade is a fantastic success, Armia and Lemieux will help out their already loaded farm system at forward and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff should put his focus on drafting defensemen with, at least, one of his picks in the first round. Even if Winnipeg were to miss the playoffs, the Jets should have a brighter future than most of the teams in the Central Divison. While Minnesota has one of the worst AHL affiliates and Colorado and Dallas have borderline solid farm systems, Winnipeg’s could be the best. They sent seven players to the World Junior Championships and some of them should come into the Jets team next year ready to produce at a high level. Players to watch for are not just Nic Petan, but also last year’s first round pick Nikolaj Ehlers, Chase De Leo, Scott Kosmachuk at forward and Josh Morrisey and Brenden Kichton in defense.
- 8. Los Angeles (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 11)
It took a while for Los Angeles to get back on track, and losing Tanner Pearson to a broken leg certainly doesn’t help. But after the Kings went 1-5-2 since the injury, they have won five in a row and are back in the Pacific Division playoff race. However, you can see cracks in the lineup that will not go away when Los Angeles makes their attempt at winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.
First, the lack of depth amongst the blueline will not go away and it will take more than one trade acquisition to fix it. In house, they could promote Derek Forbort to replace Robyn Regher, but I wouldn’t feel confident about any of the other Kings prospects to immediately replace their two ex-Buffalo Sabres: Jamie McBain and Brayden McNabb. McNabb, to his credit, is playing well as a sheltered third pair defenseman; tying for third amongst Kings blueliners in points and is third in relative puck possession. McBain, is another story, because no one in the NHL wanted this guy after he left the Sabres for free agency. Pedigree is the only reason the Kings even signed him mid-season and now he’s in the lineup after Alec Martinez suffered concussion-like symptoms in Monday’ game against Tampa Bay.
Up front, all the talk will be about how to get rid of Mike Richards’ contract, but the other story should be about what to do with Dustin Brown and Justin Williams long term. Williams will be a free agent next season and will be in his age-34 season after being the best unweighted puck possession player in the NHL last year. This year, he is still a positive impact for his team, but nowhere near the level that he was the season before. Brown, on the other hand, has been a mess for a second straight season and even if his scoring is much better, he is now hitting the forward equivalent of Robyn Regher in terms of relative puck possession. The exact same thing can be said of Jared Stoll and both players are on the wrong side of 30. The Kings have prospects like Nick Shore that should replace Stoll in the long term, but how someone like Jordan Weal has not played a full NHL season yet is nothing short of criminal. Spencer Watson, Nikolai Prokhorkin and Valentin Zykov are other Kings prospects to watch as they hope to continue the dynasty that this franchise has created.
- 7. Detroit (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 7)
- 6. Pittsburgh (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
- 5. St. Louis (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 5)
I was surprised that throughout this NHL season, I have not written anything about the Blues. I’m sorry Robb Tufts and all the other St. Louis fans! Maybe it was the fact that the legendary Jen Lute Costella put out such a great piece about you guys in November that made me have nothing else to add about them.
Many months have passed though and I have no excuses. Blues fans should recognize that this season can be presented in three, well, periods so far: their 12-4-1 hot start that Costella covered, their 10-8-2 record from November 16th until New Year’s Eve and their 15-3-1 record throughout 2015.
In the beginning, the Blues were cruising with a top-ten puck possession, but also with the second highest on-ice save percentage at 94.8%. Considering Brian Elliott’s and Jake Allen’s track record, this was not going to last, but no one in the Blues organization suspected that Elliott would go down on November 26th due to a sprained knee. That’s where the signing of Martin Brodeur came in and, welp, he helped regress that save percentage in a big way to the tune of 90.8% during that second period. Brodeur would only start one game in 2015 and would retire afterwards as Elliott came back healthy and even though the on-ice save percentage went back up to a respectable 92.4%, the rest of the team improved as well.
From November 16th to December 31st, a Ken Hitchcock coached team would shockingly give up the 11th most shot attempts at even strength at 53.5 per 60 minutes. That number improved to a fifth best 47.1 per 60 minutes in 2015. In the beginning of the season, St. Louis relied on the top line of Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko for goal scoring while the second line of T.J. Oshie and David Backes handled all the tough assignments for shot suppression. In the “second period”, injuries to Schwartz, Carl Gunnarsson and Jay Bouwmeester affected the team’s depth while Lehtera regressed out of the top line.
Since the New Year, everyone has returned healthy except for Kevin Shattenkirk and the Blues traded Maxime Lapierre for DC Sports Dork favorite Marcel Goc. The fourth line is now being deployed a little more offensively while Dmitrij Jaskin has emerged as a welcome addition to the third line. Lehtera’s lack of development while only getting highly offensive zone needs to be something to pay attention to come playoff time, but having Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny as center-line depth certainly alleviates any short term worries.
Now one thing the Blues really need to pay attention to is their lack of goaltending on the penalty kill. While St. Louis defenders are giving up the fourth fewest shot attempts with a man down, their save percentage during that span is 25th at just below 84.9%. If you were to use the team’s shot chart, it seams like the Blues like to give up a bit too many shots from the left half wall facing goal the most, but suppress enough shots everywhere else.
- 4. Tampa Bay (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 4)
- 3. New York Islanders (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 3)
- 2. Nashville (Pace: 121 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Chicago (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 1)
While Nashville loses an underrated prospect in Leipsic, Nashville has now stacked their lineup with two players that should be better compliments to their roster than what they had in the past. Santorelli will replace Jokinen on a third line of Matt Cullen and Calle Jarnkrok. Meanwhile, Franson joins now a defensive corps that should already rival Chicago and St. Louis for it’s depth and maybe even surpass it. Both Ryan Ellis and Anton Volchenkov have missed plenty of games this season due to injury, with the latter struggling to stay healthy for the last three to four seasons. While Ellis should come back healthy, Nashville needed someone to compliment Seth Jones and Franson should be that guy. If anything, this should load up Nashville for their chase towards the playoffs as they hope there will be no side effects if their league-leading PDO drop.