One can always count on the run up to the trade deadline to ratchet the cranks spewing rumors into high gear. Some of the teams who will no doubt be sitting squarely atop the sprockets and wearing down the tonfas* of the mills as we get ever closer to deadline day. Who’s at the bottom of the stack hasn’t changed dramatically in the last couple of weeks, but the teams that should be humongous big sellers in the middle, will probably end up buyers.

The Columbus Blue Jackets brought in talent by free agency over the summer. They brought in talent via trade as well. What they didn’t bring in was anything vaguely like depth. When you are spending close to the cap and getting less than teams in your division you are outspending by an eight digit figure. While media pressure, and tradition and the hope of hype will say “draft Yakupov”, I have different advice: trade the pick and the middle or bottom of the roster for a stud defenseman and a good goalie. Shocking as it is to hear, goaltending is believed by some to be critical to winning. Also of note, of the last four Stanley Cup Champions three had a Norris winner on the roster. Just a thought.

The Edmonton Oilers: See all those things I said about defense? Yeah that. It applies to you too. Also, drafting guys with a history of frequent injuries might be something to consider skipping this year.

The Montreal Canadiens are to be sellers if you ask RDS scribe Mario Tremblay. Two of the players on his list of sellable bits just don’t make any sense from the perspective of work ethic and ability. Why someone would trade Lars Ellers who will undoubtedly wear the nickname “Danish Dynamo” when he’s an RFA this summer is beyond me. On the other hand the number of things that make zero sense in Habsland this season exceed the number that are perfectly sensible by an order of magnitude. Brian Gionta has certainly underperformed this year, but its a touch difficult to excel when you’ve got an average AHL team skating around with you. Possibly Gionta asked out? Who knows.

The Hurricanes kicked off the sell off with an early assault on competitiveness by jettisoning the admittedly underwhelming Ponikarovski to New Jersey for not a great deal. Speculation has Ruutu or Gleason (why not both?) being shipped north. Among the other potential destinations for No-Not-Jarkko-I’m-Tuomo Ruutu are the defending Stanley Cup champions. One wonders if Nathan Horton would get as much of a workout out of ragdolling whatever defeneman replaced Gleason in games between the two clubs.

The Buffalo Sabres who’s owner has already given them a pass on the season have bounced off the Hurricanes at the bottom of the east and are above them on the strength of having played two less games. Injuries have been a serious problem yes, but there’s some intangible missing on this team that begs for an overhaul nonetheless. Some would call it competitiveness. Having iced 30 skaters and 3 goalies across the course of the season they at least know what the their system holds. Robyn Regehr might be an attractive trade piece to move out the door even with singularly uninspiring offensive season thus far. Assuming someone thinks they can goose him hard enough to get him looking like a 40 goal scorer again, Brad Boyes is pending UFA and probably not on Lindy Ruff’s top three list of UFA’s to bring back.

If Koivu and Selanne were to ask for trades before the deadline, the return on the two of them would help the Ducks for years to come. Yes, trading the first and fifth leading scorers and second and first in plus-minus will probably make the post trade season look a lot like all of the year up to January when the Occasional-Big-Three remembered they were payed at a passable level to produce wings. That said, having a second line center or legitimate impact defenseman not named Visnovsky or Beauchemin for a couple seasons to come could make early trips to the draft podium a smidgin less likely.

The Flames should be selling, they will probably be buying but I don’t think they can buy enough: 1) A #1 Center, 2) Another solid winger to make any dent in the playoffs. They do still have to make it in, and do have more regulation wins than the three teams ahead of them but it will still be tough to make it in.

Tampa Bay needs a goalie, which I’m sure is the biggest bombshell dropped on the hockey world this year, but it still needs saying.  Adding a defensive defenseman wouldn’t exactly kill the team either.

The Wild should try to be both buyers and sellers. Even more so than Buffalo injuries have rained on the parade of what looked to be the Cindarella team of the season. Swapping out a few of their spare defensemen for some scoring talent, particularly of the long term variety could make them a perennial contender. Having skated 10 defensemen among their 36 total players to take the ice this year it is a little hard to imagine them not having a handle on who is capable of what. Harding is also a UFA to be and teams wanting to evaluate him in their system and get a jump on negotiations with him might pay a premium to do so.

Figuring out what the Islanders should do is tough, (insert your joke here) they have a lot of pending UFA’s, and several promising prospects playing in juniors. Shipping a few of the elders out will bring some return, but what worth from a team that might not be in the lottery for the first time in years is anyones guess. For the future they have between 12 and 20 games covered in net by Dipietro’s cameos, and Poulin might just make it. Overall between the roster and the system they have 15 pending UFA’s including both Montoya and Nabokov in net.

*Thank you Harry Dresden. Parts 1 and Parts 2

The Kings are one of seven teams to make a coaching change this season. It has improved their winning percentage, it hasn’t improved their scoring. The Kings are still last in the league in goals for. As has been mentioned before, they don’t have any viable left wings. On the left side they have Dustin Penner, Simone Gagne, Scott Parse and little else. Penner’s stats speak for themselves. Gagne is shockingly out with an injury. Scott Parse will miss the rest of the season. As well as Quick has been playing, adding someone on the left who has traditionally been able to damage is an obvious need.

On the other end of the continent, the Montreal Canadiens are in shambles. Mike Cammalleri publicly expressed some displeasure with the way things are going. The Canadien’s too have made a coaching change, and thanks to the cities rampant anglophobia, made the sitting coach a lame duck. Sitting 12th in the east and fifth in the northeast division isn’t a place anyone is used to seeing the Habs. With fights breaking out in practice, It’s clearly time for a shakeup on the ice in Montreal.

Sending Cammalleri to California gives the Kings a bonafide threat, and lets them add him to Kopitar, Brown and Richards as a fearsome foursome. Going back, the Habs should probably look for the Kings 1st round pick, and at least one or two AHL’ers or prospects who should be NHL ready next year. Cammalleri did play with the Kings before, and was highly productive there including a 39 goal season. With two (or with other moves possibly more) first round picks used wisely, the Habs could put themselves in good position to be the first Canadian city to win the cup since the last time they won it in 1993.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down checked with an injury, it’s time to look at some of the top rookies again. No doubt he’ll come back and be the only rookie the media and most blogs mention.

Eric Staal currently boasts a stat line of 9-16-25 -23 through 41 games played. The good news for him is that’s he’s just two goals and four assists short of matching his own rookie season. The bad news is well, everything else. Since December tenth he’s added two goals, four assists and dropped down another -5.

Goalies:

  • Richard Bachman has leaped onto the scene. When Lehtonen went out with an injury, and Raycroft simply fell down on the job the Dallas Stars called on Salt Lake City’s Bachman to stand and deliver. He’s now gotten into nine games with a 5-2-0 line, one shutout, .912sv% and 2.76 gaa.
  • Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres has struggled lately (as has the team) with his last win coming back on November 26th. Still his numbers are solid on the season with a .921sv% and 2.49 gaa in 16 starts. Likely the only rookie netminder who will cross twenty five games.
  • Jakob Markstrom of the Florida Panthers appears to play a bit better in the NHL than the AHL, and has been recalled. In six games in the big show so far he’s got a five starts and is 2-3-0. His .928sv% is tops among rookie goalies with five or more games and is better than either Theodore or Clemmensen for the Panthers, his 2.59 gaa is about one fifth of a goal better than his AHL number.

Forwards:

  • Adam Henrique of New Jersey Devils and Windsor Spitfires fame is behind only Nugent-Hopkins in rookie scoring and is tied for the lead in game winning goals for rookies with 3. Currently he’s playing 18:23 a night leading all rookie forwards in TOI/G.
  • Matt Read is one of the other guys tied for game winning goal leads. The Flyers prodigy is also the only rookie forward who has scored both a shorthanded goal and on the powerplay. Is one of just six rookie forwards playing more than two minutes shorthanded per game.
  • Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators leads all rookie forwards in powerplay goals and is third in scoring.
  • Gabriel Landeskog is the only rookie forward who has recorded more than 100 hits, he’s seventh for rookie scoring and second for average TOI/G with respectable numbers for both powerplay and penalty kill minutes.

Defensemen:

  • Rapheal Diaz of the Montreal Canadiens (Now In English!) is quietly putting together a very respectable season in chaos central. at 2-11-13 he’s tied for the scoring lead for rookie defensemen, just three points behind the scoring leader on the blueline in Montreal. The -2 he sports is in comparison to the teams -10 goal differential. His 72 blocked shots leads all rookie defensemen.
  • Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils has been one of the few constants of this NHL season. Huge minutes, very important to the team and leading rookie defenders in scoring.  He’s also tops in TOI and eats up over two minutes a night of powerplay time.
  • Jared Cowen is probably the most complete rookie defenseman. The Senators blueliner is 3rd in scoring, 2nd in total ice time, 2nd in hits (with more than twice as many as Larsson who is 3rd) is 1st in shorthanded time on ice by more than a little, and is behind only Spezza and Karlsson in TOI for the Senators.

Others to watch:

Defensemen: Slava Voynov, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jake Gardiner

Forwards: Cody Hodgson, Luke Adam

Goalie: Matt Hackett, Mike Murphy, Leland Irving

 

 

The NHL season wouldn’t be the same without rumors of one or more major talents being shuffled across the map. A lot of the speculation has centered on one Jarome Iginla the last three or four years. They chaos that has been the front office of the team for much of the last decade has virtually sealed the deal on him winning a Stanley Cup with Flames. Certainly it is hard to imagine him doing it before his current contract is over, and possibly ever. He’s still playing smart, tough, effective hockey as he closes in on his 35th birthday it is hard to imagine him being the cornerstone of a cup win three or four years from now.

Among the concerns for Iginla about leaving the only city he’s ever played in is how much it will damage his legacy. I’m not convinced that is as valid a concern as it might once have been so long as he doesn’t go to Edmonton or perhaps Vancouver. If the team plays it right, and gets a solid return on him, and he’s willing to go back after his current contract there’s no reason he can’t still win a cup there with some better complimentary players, if the front office can do their jobs right.

The perfect team to me for Iginla to land on before the deadline is; The Minnesota Wild. They have a real lack of scoring that will not get them far in the playoffs. They have a solid prospect pool. They are reasonably close to Iginla who is loathe to leave his family.  St Paul isn’t exactly next door, but it is far closer than going to one of the New York Area teams, Boston or even to the Panthers. The Wild have almost eight million in cap space this year. Also to be considered is the reputation of the Wild for smart defense, but not having the ponies to flourish offensively. Adding Iginla to a lineup with Heatley and Setogouchi gives the team the ability to easily roll two lines in the top ten in the NHL for quality.

Then too there is the question of attitude. Jarome Iginla may be better known for his goal scoring than his punch throwing but I defy any informed NHL observer to apply the word “soft” to any part of Ignila or his game aside from his hands. Those hands have turned to pummeling opponents on no few occasions. More importantly no one pushes him around. The same can’t be said for the Wild. I’m not sure one could get away with the Marchand on Sedin speed bagging witnessed in the playoffs, but no one has gets the cold shivers at the thought of an infuriated Wild roster. I’m not even sure anyone has seen this current roster infuriated.

For the Wild, adding toughness and skill in one package can’t be dismissed out of hand. To do so with a guy who is undeniably hungry would be huge. They’ve already had a very good opportunity to review much of their farm system at the NHL level thanks to a rash of injuries. Regardless of who or what they trade to Calgary in exchange for Iginla with realignment looming those players will only have two chances a season to come back to haunt the team.

For Calgary the value of a year or two landing in the lottery and drafting quality picks in the first and second rounds to build for the future can’t be understated. It doesn’t matter where Iginla goes if he does get traded, the Flames have to have a plan for winning without him. A return that brought back Coyle or Granland and picks would kickstart the rebuild faster than almost anything. Coyle is arguably NHL ready now, a draft pick that turned into a first line center would be enormous.

Realistically, if all parties do things well this is a situation where everyone can have their cake and eat it too.

With both Thanksgivings behind us, and the holidays, and world juniors coming up, it’s time to take a look at the most exciting rookies again. Eric Staal is this years measuring stick.

Eric Staal:

  • -18, down from last look.
  • 7-12-19
  • averages 21:20 TOI

Rookie Goalies:

  • Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres 8 wins in 14 starts, just under 880 minutes played, .925 sv% 2.32 GAA
  • Thomas Greiss of the San Jose Sharks 4 wins in 7 starts, about 482 minutes .918 sv% 2.37GAA

Defensemen:

  • Marc-Andre Gragnani of the Buffalo Sabres is 2nd in scoring for rookie defensemen, has a +11 on a team whose total goal differential is +3
  • Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes, while playing in just 15 games has not only a positive takeaway to giveaway ratio, but it’s 2 to 1. 10th overall in scoring, 2nd in TOI, solid hit and blocked numbers.
  • Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils 22:27 of TOI leading all rookies, 1st in rookie defensemen for scoring.
  • Jared Cowen of the Ottawa Senators, steadily rising ice time has him at 18 73 hits 31 blocked shots, doesn’t turn the puck over much or 7th in scoring rookie defenseman, leads all rookie defensemen in SHTOI,

Forwards:

  • Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils, late to party but making up for it. 3rd in rookie scoring, tops in average ice time with 18 minutes 6-14-20, only rookie to take more than 300 faceoffs so far, playing in all situations.
  • Craig Smith, Nashville Predators, playing in a very defensive system he’s still #2 in rookie scoring despite much less ice time than RNH, even giveaway to takeaway ratio.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers lots of ice time, leads rookies in scoring, tied for 5th in NHL in scoring.

Others to watch: Gabriel Landeskog, Luke Adam, Matt Read, Jake Gardiner, Matt Hackett

Ah yes, that all important quest for lottery. Some teams strive for Lord Stanley, this season many teams are doing their best to get Nail Yakupov.

Today the Montreal Canadiens threw their hat into the ring. Just three points out of a lottery position, they sent the serviceable Spacek to Carolina, a UFA to be, for the declining but younger and more highly paid Tomas Kaberle. Presumably the justification or at least excuse for this is to improve the powerplay. Unfortunately, there’s not much logic to that. The Boston Bruins powerplay last year went into reverse when Kaberle landed in the Hub. The Carolina Hurricanes powerplay is better than the Canadiens this year yet both are in the bottom five league wide. Kaberle’s numbers have also been in decline for the past several seasons, and with 3:58 second of PPTOI with the Canes, it’s hard to figure out how the Habs think this is an improvement.

The Carolina Hurricanes are limping along in 28th place in the NHL. While Spacek probably can’t hurt their lottery hopes, with his injury issues it does give them further opportunity to shuttle players back and forth between the NHL and AHL. If they are unlucky one of the youngsters could be good enough to boot them from a lottery position.

The Blue Jackets have worked hard for the last month but are still at the bottom of the NHL’s standings. If they manage to win Saturday against the Boston Bruins they might slip from the best odds for the man called the greatest Russian prospect since Ovechkin.

The Anaheim Ducks are doing their part to stay in the mix for Yakupov. With scoring depth among their many issues have decided to allow Devante Smith-Pelly to play in the World Junior Tournament. As he’s recently found his scoring touch, it’s clear that the five to seven games he’ll miss as part of the tournament are important. With two key divisional matchups against the San Jose Sharks during the tournament, the Ducks are nearly assured of being passed by the Blue Jackets.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the surprise to jump beneath the hammer. With Marcel Goc doing a creditable job as their number one goaltender they are in danger of slipping from the lottery despite a goal differential 29 worse than the division leading cross state theoretical rivals the Florida Panthers. As a franchise that has finished in the bottom five multiple times since the lockout, clearly what they need to do is draft more offense.

The sixth iteration of the New York Islanders five year plan might just be completed by this Russian. With nearly 30 years elapsed since the last time the Islanders won a Cup, they are in prime position for a stealth trip to the top of the lottery odds.  The loafing about in 27th is the perfect pose. All they need to do is trade a few of their veterans between January and the deadline and they can plunge those last three spots into 30th. If Pierre Gauther can’t take any of their contracts off their hands maybe they can bring up Anders Nilsson to get some more NHL seasoning.

The Montreal Canadiens have had two problems the past several years. The first is an injured and aging defense. The second is an undersized and not especially skilled forward group.

Starting with the defensive unit, the injuries this season and last have actually been a mixed blessing. Without the various injuries I don’t think Subban would have gotten the shot he has. Yannick Weber would still be buried in the minors, and no one would know who Rapheal Diaz is. Subban is a hugely skilled asset, with wheels, will and a scoring touch. Despite injuries to Markov, Gill and Campoli this group, with the assistance of Carey Price, has the 8th best goals against average in the NHL. That’s not a bad number for a group who’s most experienced defenseman is Josh Gorges who is a creaky and venerable 27 years old with just under 400 NHL regular season games to his name.

Max Pacioretty is emerging as something more than a bottom six checker or grinder. Michael Cammeleri is a gifted goal scorer and has been he most offensively the most dependable source if offense the last few seasons. After that, even taking the talented Plekanek into account, there’s not much offense to be had. This year the Habs are 20th in goals for, last season they finished at 23rd in goals for.

When the older defensemen return, they can use the silver lining of the first problem to help solve the second. Markov, Gill, and Spacek between them represent a good deal of talent, experience and leadership. There are at least half a dozen NHL teams with much shallower defensive pools who would pay and pay well to get  one of them. Bringing back a gifted goal scorer or a high first round pick that could be turned into a goal scorer has to be a priority. Even if it’s a young talent that takes a season or two to blossom, the young blueline and Carey Price can wait. But the team on the ice and in the trainers room just isn’t going to do the trick.

Through 18 games the once sensational Eric Staal is still trying to get the engine to turn over. He’s a league worst -17, and his 4-4-8 line has people scratching their heads all over the hockey world.

Goalies:

  • Jacob Markstrom is back in the AHL playing for an offensively disabled team, while Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen  but don’t be surprised to see him back in Sunrise if the Panthers get an offer they can’t refuse for one of the two senior goalies.
  • Jhonas Enroth has the reigns in Buffalo after an unfortunate collision between the nominal number one goalie and an opposing forward. With a stellar .942 sv% and impressive 1.76 gaa, you have to wonder how many games he’ll get this season. If he’s in the #1 role long enough and still playing near this level it becomes a tough call to turn the job back over to a starter who hasn’t performed as well.
  • Thomas Greiss is 3-3-o in starts for the Sharks this season. Like Markstrom, he’s behind not one but two older goalies on the depth chart, and like Enroth he’s outplaying his teammates. his .919 sv% and 2.15 GAA are notable improvements over Niemi’s .903 and 2.74.
  • Ben Scrivens is the latest goalie of the future in Toronto. He’s been better than Gustavasson, with a .904 and 2.92 through five starts and six appearances.

Defensemen

  • Marc-Andre Gragnani leads all rookie defensemen in points, and sits at a +5 on the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Up on his second recall to the LA Kings this season is Slava Voynov, he’s playing over twenty minutes a game, has three points in his first five games, averaging just over 3 minutes a game in PPTOI means he’s likely to see a good number of points.
  • Jared Cohen is on pace for 208 hits and could hit triple digit blocked shots for the Senators, if he can find a few goals along the way the towering 2009 first round pick will make a name for himself.
  • The New Jersey Devil’s Adam Larsson is very quietly having himself a nice freshmen season. While the team has struggled he’s played a solid game with over 23 minutes of ice time each night, he’s second in hits for rookie blueliners, and sixth in scoring.

Forwards

  • Craig Smith is tied for the rookie scoring lead, on a point per minute basis he’s doing quite a bit more than Nugent-Hopkins getting a minute and a half less ice time per game.  Smith is also tied for the Predators scoring lead.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has slowed a bit off the season opening scoring bonanza but has still produced enough to stay at the front of the pack. His plus/minus is two higher than Smiths, and he’s second on the Oilers to that other Ryan forward in scoring.
  • Luke Adam is right behind Nugent-Hopkins and Smith with just one less point. He’s the rookie leader in assists and playing two minutes less per game than Nugent-Hopkins.

Names to watch:

Roman Horak is getting some important minutes on the Calgary Flames, not a lot of them yet, but with both short handed and powerplay time on the clock it’s obvious he’s got the trust of the bench boss. Gabriel Landeskog leads rookie forwards in time on ice, and with 45 hits and 12 blocked shots its obvious he’s not loafing in the neutral zone. Sean Couturier and Matt Read are making solid contributions to a stacked Flyers team. Nate Prosser is eating a lot of minutes for the Wild. Jonathan Blum of the Nashville Predators is on pace for 212 blocked shots, and has shown a scoring touch at lower levels.  Adam Henrique is quickly making himself a household name among Devils fans.

Last year after signing a still debated contract Ilya Kovalchuk got off to a poor start and was the bench mark for rookie performance. This year, I can think of no star more deserving than Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes. No one is sure if the tailspin his career is the result of guilt from potentially ending his own brothers career, or the extended confusion caused by not being able to find the other Erik who used to share the ice with him.

Forwards:

  • The Edmonton Oilers once again had the first overall pick in the draft, and he is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While some questioned his ability to make an immediate impact in the NHL, he  is currently leading tied for the lead in rookie scoring.
  • Ask 100 hockey fans who’s tied with RNH for the rookie scoring lead, and you might get a double handful who come up with Luke Adam center for the Buffalo Sabres. Nugent-Hopkins has the better +/-, Adam wins more faceoffs and has achieved his points in significantly less minutes.
  • Right behind them with one less point is Nashville’s second leading scorer Craig Smith. Given the NHL’s lack of a picture to identify him, one can only assume he is Amish, which makes his career choice amazing, and his success highly admirable. Of the top three scorers he is clearly the most physical, and is currently on pace for 82 hits.

Defensemen:

  • Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils leads all rookies in time on ice with a mind boggling average shift length of 59 seconds. The scoring hasn’t come yet, but with nearly 24 minutes of ice time a night it has to come eventually for last June’s #4 pick and 1st defenseman.
  • Jake Gardiner skated onto the scene in training camp for the Maple Leafs and earned himself a spot on the crowded Toronto blueline. So far the small, slick skating defenseman has five assists on the season, enough for him to lead all rookie defensemen in scoring.
  • The Sabres second entry in the race for rookie recognition is Marc-Andre Gragnani, second in rookie scoring and with the best +/- among all rookie defensemen.

Goaltenders:

  • Sneering at the trend towards ultra-large goaltenders is Buffalo Sabres backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, listed at 5′ 10 he’s still putting up big numbers. Through four games he’s got a 1.29 GAA and .958Sv%.
  • With four starts Jacob Markstrom of the Florida Panthers is already endearing himself to fans and teammates. Slightly larger than Enroth at six and a half feet tall, he leads all rookies in saves and is sporting a2.05 GAA and .944 Sv%
  • Fussen Germany and San Jose Sharks goalie Thomas Greiss is putting up solid numbers for the  perennial regular season favorites. His 1.99 GAA and .928 Sv% are not just solid, but better by a wide margin than starter Antti Niemi’s.

Eric Staal’s numbers heading into today’s action, his line is 3-2-5 -14 through 13 games. The -14 is particularly significant because the next nearest forward is only a -5. Staal is currently averaging 19:58 a game in TOI, Anthony Steward who gets just 7:48 a night also has 3 goals and is a +1.