The veils are coming off around the league.
Past the halfway point, teams are more or less who we think they are and there won’t be much difference between how teams appear now and how they will appear in, say, late March. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily count the trade deadline, now only six weeks away.
Already things are starting to bubble on the trade front and many teams will be looking to add in the weeks ahead because, as always, delusion and desperation run rampant among general managers.
So let’s try to wade through the morass:
Andrew asks: “Which team does it make the most sense for to make a trade for Taylor Hall?”
I do think New Jersey needs to let go of the idea that keeping him makes sense, just because like, what are you gonna do? Pay him $9 million until he’s 36 to miss the playoffs with you for another three or four years?
So to answer your question: Columbus if Panarin leaves, for sure, and Winnipeg more broadly. If someone’s willing to pay a big bounty — probably more like “over the summer” than “at the deadline” — you oughta take ’em up on it. And those teams should be willing. Both are in a win-now mode, to whatever extent you care to define it, and both are in need of some scoring on the left wing.
Both also have a ton of tradeable assets including nice centerpieces — Marchenko for the Jackets and Trouba, who’s likely gone this summer anyway for the Jets, plus picks, etc. — and the cap room to add a $6-million AAV whenever you’d like. Either one would do well to add the reigning league MVP, that’s for sure.
Brandon asks: “If you made Peter Chiarelli GM of the Lightning or Predators today, how long would it take for things to fall apart? Would they fall apart?”
Several years at least. A lot of the guys on these teams, including their core guys, are locked into affordable deals and have no obvious weaknesses, you know? Sure, that was also true of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, but the Oilers have had a gaping hole on defense for as long as I can remember so that wouldn’t be a temptation here.
As Preds GM, he’s not likely to trade one of the defensemen in search of more scoring (that’s not how his brain works) and even if he did the blue line there is so good it might not matter that much.
As Lightning GM, there’s really nowhere he can tinker and hurt this team. Even if he trades Stamkos for a middle-pair defenseman or something.
Rake asks: “Should the Devils have extended John Hynes, or did they have any better realistic option?”
I think it ultimately doesn’t matter. Certainly this isn’t a good team, but that’s not a John Hynes problem. That’s a lingering Lou Lamoriello problem, plus the team is in an acknowledged rebuild and whatever, you’re just trying to develop talent at that point.
Hynes has a long history as a talent developer having coached in college and junior hockey before becoming an AHL head coach who oversaw the development of several current NHLers out of the Penguins organization (Pouilot, Maatta, Dumoulin, Harrington, Sheary, Rust, Wilson, Rowney, just off the top of my head).
If the kids like him and you’re not set up to win for a while, hey, why not?
Luke asks: “Which big-name star’s name gets thrown around the most in the next coming weeks during trade talks?”
The four biggest names come from just two teams: Panarin and Bobrovsky in Columbus, plus Stone and Duchene in Ottawa.
The idea now being floated — presumably from the Columbus front office — is that the two Russians would be “rentals” of a sort since the team is going for it and they’re both looking like goners this summer. That’s a nice way of saying, “This is our best shot to win the Cup so we’re just gonna not-get value for them, because we’d like the playoff revenues instead of the picks and prospects.” I get it, for sure, but that won’t stop them from being talked about because I can’t imagine Jarmo Kekalainen is just closing the book on trading them altogether.
As for the Sens guys, both should be traded if the team were smart, but it isn’t and we know that. Stone says he might want to stay but they would have to, like, pay him what he’s worth and this is a team that generally has problems doing that, what with those headlines out of Ottawa lately asking if the team or its owner are more or less broke.
Beyond that, pick any two players you like from the Rangers and call it a day.
Chet asks: “Were the Caps dumb to let Barry Trotz walk?”
I’m gonna look at the standings, which have the Caps leading their division as I write this, and say no. Also the Islanders still aren’t in a playoff spot and all the games in hand won’t matter much if they don’t win ’em, y’know?
That said, this could also be a question of whether it’s dumb to penny-pinch when it comes to coaching, and that answer is yes. If it’s something you can spend money on without affecting your cap situation, and you have that money, it’s better to spend it on a coach than nothing. I’m sure Todd Rierden is great, but it doesn’t take a ton of coaching smarts to tell those two top lines to go out there and kick ass, y’know?
It’s the David-Quinn-at-BU-the-one-year-BU-was-elite-because-it-had-Jack-Eichel thing. His team won a ton of games but the hardest thing Quinn had to do was tell Eichel to hop over the boards for a shift every three minutes or so. The concept is the same here.
Trotz is great and has the Islanders way better than anyone thought, but the Caps haven’t suffered in his absence either.
Alex asks via email: “Is the fact that the Sabres and Avs have hit a hiccup a sign that teams that teams have figured out these ‘one-line’ teams, or were they never as good as their record indicated to begin with?
I think sometimes great players score a ton and sometimes they don’t score as much. Watch any Sabres or Avs game since they’ve hit the skids; it’s not those top lines not-producing, it’s those top lines not-producing at the same incredible rates as before.
We’re on like a year and a half of the Rantanen/MacKinnon combo just friggin’ annihilating everyone they play. It’s true that they’ve “slowed down” but they still combined for more than a point a game on average in the last 10, so I can’t be too mad at them for not dragging poorly constructed teams kicking and screaming to above-average win totals.
Same in Buffalo. They don’t have anyone (apart from my beautiful son CJ Smith) who can score reliably apart from that top line. When those guys are off the ice, the team gets run over. Skinner “only” has seven goals in his last 10 games. If that’s him after getting figured out, give him the MVP right now.
Yann asks via email: “Who do you think are the most NHL-ready NCAA players this year?”
First of all, thanks for asking a college hockey question.
Second, it’s the year of the defenseman in college hockey and that applies to who’s most NHL-ready, too. Adam Fox (Harvard/CAR), Quinn Hughes (Michigan/VAN), and Cale Makar (UMass/COL) are all blue liners that are just operating on a whole different level from their teammates and competition. I might even throw Chase Priskie (Quinnipiac/WSH) into that mix, but I’m a little less optimistic on that.
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.