Dealing the Cards

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The Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators executed the biggest trade of the NHL season earlier today.

The Jackets sent #1C Ryan Johansen to Hockey Tonk ® in exchange for 2013 4th overall pick Seth Jones.

It’s a trade that addresses extreme need for both teams.

Nashville has been searching for a #1C for years and Columbus has been shy on the blue line for almost as long.

Most of the comments I’ve seen are worried about C depth in Columbus which is pretty much balderdash.

It’s obvious that Columbus is waving a white flag on the season, understandably, and are positioning the team for the future.

After the departure of Johansen, here’s how the Jackets’ C depth looks going forward.

Alexander Wennberg

Brandon Dubinsky

Boone Jenner

Marko Dano

William Karlsson

Sonny Milano

Wennberg is a revelation this season and the others on the list are not chopped liver.

The addition of Seth Jones, a potential #1D, is exactly what the Jackets need and, if he and Ryan Murray live up to their draft pedigree, they will have a superb top pairing for a decade.

I’d wager they will.

From the Nashville perspective, The Predators have a tremendous group on D and can afford to move one of them for strength down the middle.

If Nashville can find a scoring winger, this move makes them a legit Stanley Cup contender.

With more than $8 million in free cap space to work with, David Poile should be able to add pretty much anyone available for a cup run

Radim Vrbata?

 

 

 

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Dallas Stars – Time to Win

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I’ve been very impressed by the work of Jim Nill since he took over as GM in Dallas…his latest move being the acquisition of Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns in return for his worst veteran defenseman and a couple of spare parts.

Patrick Sharp has the potential to quickly return to his former 30 goal scoring days since he will be playing with either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza as his centre and back in a top 6 role after spending most of the past season on Chicago’s 3rd line.

TSN’s number guy, Scott Cullen, breaks down the trade and offers a couple of money quotes:

There ought to be a good opportunity awaiting Sharp in Dallas too. Last season, his ice time was cut – 16:49 per game was his lowest since 2005-2006 – and he spent a fair amount of time on Chicago’s third line (his second most-common linemates were Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw). In Dallas, Sharp is surely going to play on one of the top two lines, which means having either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza as his centre; all the more reason to suspect that Sharp should be productive in 2015-2016.

That Sharp has been a better-than-56% possession player over the past four seasons is in part a credit to the talent with which he played in Chicago, but also an indication that he should be a positive possession player with the Stars.

 

Johns is an NHL-ready defence prospect. The 23-year-old was a second-round pick in 2010 and played four years at Notre Dame. The 6-foot-4, 233-pounder plays a physical game and has 33 points (8 G, 25 A) in 67 (regular season plus playoff) AHL games.

In Dallas, Johns will compete for playing time with the likes of Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokipakka, Jamie Oleksiak and Jordie Benn. Given that there are so many relatively inexperienced defencemen contending for playing time in Dallas, it would come as no surprise if they managed to get involved in the free agent market to add a veteran like Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff, Jan Hejda or, to stick with the current Chicago theme, Johnny Oduya.

Not much more to be said in this case…the Stars win this trade going away and the fact they add to their already bursting pipeline of blue chip D prospects just seals the deal.

However, there are still some observers who are questioning Nill’s strategy in building a contender in Texas. Chief among those was Lowetide poster Ryan who generally is a pretty reasonable individual.

RYAN says:

Dashingsilverfox,

What I know about Johns is less than zero.

Jim Nill likes taking on bloated contracts on declining players and the early returns haven’t been great so far.

He also has some new theories on cap management relative to spending on goalies.

Is any of this true?

No, it isn’t.

The object of any offseason is to assemble a roster that has the best chance of winning in the following season.

Nill’s offseason moves (and I don’t think he’s finished) is to ice the best product possible under the cap without compromising the team’s long term prospects under the cap. 

None of Nill’s acquisition will have any long term consequences.

Patrick Sharp has only 2 years remaining on his contract, which coincides EXACTLY with the expiration of Jamie Benn’s deal.

Next season, Dallas has 11 roster players reaching free agency and all but Alex Goligoski, are NOT key pieces so Nill will have a ton of flexibility in roster building.

Ryan and others have also been pointed in their criticism of Nil”s move to sign Antti Niemi to a 3 year $4.5M contract to be Dallas’ 1B goaltender, somehow seemingly suggesting that having two established NHL goaltenders is a bad thing.

You know what they say about goaltending…”when you have it…it’s 50% of the game. When you don’t have it…it’s 100% of the game.”

You would think any Oiler fan would know this as they once again approach another season with unproven goaltending.

And, of course, if you look at why Dallas missed the playoffs last season, their goaltending was a major red flag.

Now, it’s more than likely that Kari Lehtonen returns to his career SV% of .914…but, if he doesn’t, Nill can call on Niemi with his career .916 to fill in.

The thing is, Dallas had the cap space to acquire Niemi and unused cap space is worthless since it doesn’t carry over to subsequent seasons.

With goaltending pretty much solidified, the most pertinent questions revolve around the Dallas D.

Alex Goligoski is an anchor on the 1st pairing and I think there is little doubt that John Klingberg is going to be a star 1st pairing, point producing stud.

Things get a little murkier after that since Jason Demers and Jordie Benn are the only other veterans but the Stars have a boatload of big, mobile, puck moving young D ready to step up and make a difference.

Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokkipaka, Jamie Oleksiak and, now, Stephen Johns, are all NHL ready and most have already seen significant NHL GP and will improve with experience.

I believe that Nill, with $6M remaining free cap space should sign another veteran D to shelter the young guys and, remember, if he does, he’ll likely also move another player or 2 to regain some cap space.

No way around it folks, Nill has built a close to elite team in Dallas and it’s time to win NOW.

Dum Luck

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The Edmonton Oilers are likely a much better hockey team today than they were yesterday but they are also a team that is being rewarded, handsomely, for a decade of incompetence.

It is true that the NHL draft lottery exists to give a leg up to teams that have fallen on hard times but the Oilers will now have FOUR 1st overall picks in their lineup and unless their management can deliver a winner in short order, they will deserve every bit of scorn from hockey fans all over the world will heap on them.

With Connor McDavid in the fold, Kevin Lowe and Co. have likely bought themselves more time with fans and, most importantly, owner Daryl Katz but unless they can surround all that young talent with the right veterans (something they have shown little aptitude for), the stakes will be very high.

I would say they have the length of Connor McDavid’s entry level contract to win a Stanley Cup and, if they haven’t, it will be time to blow it all up again.

There are a few reasons for that.

The most important of those is that the Oilers will be in a very tenuous cap position with all of Hall, Eberle, Hopkins and, perhaps, Yakupov earning big dollars and, one would imagine if McDavid lives up to his draft billing, a second contract that far eclipses the $6 million now being paid to Hall, Eberle and Hopkins.

When you consider they have to acquire (and pay) TWO top pairing defensemen and a legitimate starting goaltender, they are likely to have very little remaining cap space to fill out a team with good complimentary players.

Of course, they will likely rely on some of their prospect depth to fill out the bottom of the order but, bear in mind, in 3 years time some of the players will also be needing second (more expensive) contracts as well.

Prudent management I think should already be looking 3-4 years down the road and realize that they need to make some moves now to prevent that situation from developing.

If we assume that two top pairing D are likely going to cost north of $5 million each, you could see a situation in Connor McDavid’s 4th season where the Oilers are paying him $8M, Hall, Hopkins and Eberle $6M each and Yakupov perhaps $5M.

That would be a minimum of $41M to pay 7 players and, depending on where the cap is at, could make it exceedingly difficult to round out a winning roster.

The Oilers can, of course, move any one of those highly paid pieces at any time but, considering they desperately need to fill out they D corp and get solid goaltending, it make a whole lot of sense to start that process right away and get on with trying to win.

Tomorrow just arrived.

The Full Johnny

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Just back from a visit catching up with some old friends on bucolic Denman Island off the coast of Vancouver Island. Pictured is the largest commercial structure on Denman and, when I visited it last night, it was exactly as portrayed. I had the opportunity  misfortune of getting into line behind one of many Denman Island icons named “Johnny”.

Johnny is just one of many “characters” on Denman including other residents, either full time or part time, like X Files star Jillian Anderson, world renowned glass blower Robert Held, a bevy of environmental scientists and activists as well as the detritus of the American draft dodgers who escaped into the back country and remain there until today.

But Johnny has his own special charm and I had a first hand experience of why he is one of the most well known residents of the island.

Johnny’s main claim to fame is his legendary lack of personal hygiene and, when having the opportunity misfortune to line up behind him at the stores’ till/liquor counter I received a gift that just keeps on giving…just like when your dog gets sprayed by an annoyed skunk.

Johnny (who appeared in the General Store shirtless, with the filthiest pair of jeans I had ever seen allowing the display of at least 6 inches of plumbers’ butt and with a 8 inch Bowie knife hanging from his rope belt) treated me to his special gift and my friends explained that, folks on Denman, when sniffing their own armpits for any offensive odours will say things like “yeah, I’m a Little Johnny today” or “good grief, I’m Full Johnny today, , I’d better have a shower”.

Which brings us naturally to the subject of Johnny Boychuk.

There is palpable trembling in some quarters of the Oiler blog world that Johnny Boychuk should be a target for a massive, long free agent contract in the offseason.

Oops…wait a minute?

Ask yourself…what would Dean Lombardi do?

Well, I think it’s reasonable that Dean would first identify his teams’ “window to win” and only when he was absolutely sure that was going to be in the next 1 or 2 seasons would he commit huge long term dollars to a 31 year old defenseman who isn’t even the Islanders best defenseman (Nick Leddy is…go look it up yourself.)

While signing Boychuk to, say a $6 million 5 or 6 year contract might not be the “Full Johnny”, I would wager who ever the Oilers GM is after Craig MacTavish finishes blowing off both of his feet, would be asking himself if he was a “Little Johnny” with an aging defenseman on a bloated contract and a team still not good enough to be  contender.

There a lot of miles to go before the Oilers can consider themselves any kind of threat in the WC and acquiring an expensive rearguard is not only foolish in and of itself, a contract like that would severely limit the cap flexibility that the overspending Oilers will need in the next 2-3 years.

No, Dean would use some of his excess forwards (remember than the Oilers will likely soon have another high end forward from the draft and also have Draisaitl on the way) to trade for a young defenseman (the 23 year old Nick Leddy would have been perfect but that train has sailed)  with sure 1st pairing potential.

Oliver Ekmann-Larsson fits that profile perfectly and while Arizona would surely be loathe to move him, the Oilers do have the “marketable” assets that the Coyotes desperately need.

It would take a game changing, BOLD move by McTavish to make that deal happen but, if the Oilers draft one of the high end forwards this year, they could more comfortably move one of their “core youngsters” to make it work.

That’s what Dean would do.

 

 

 

Taylor Hall

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I watched last night’s game against the St. Louis Blues with a particular focus on the play of Taylor Hall. What I saw was a player, particularly at even strength, who was not engaged and appeared to be going through the motions.

Now, playing the Blues is not the easiest thing in the world but a player of Hall’s reputation and draft pedigree should be competitive against any opponent and Hall was far from competitive.

He was credited with 2 shots on goal but both were “Pajaarvis” from the perimeter and while the official stat sheets doesn’t nick Hall for any giveaways, the official scorer must have been asleep as I saw several.

In his post-game player grades, the Journal’s Bruce McCurdy had this to say:

#4 Taylor Hall, 4. A nice shot on goal in an early chance, and a great open-ice hit on T.J. Oshie in the third were the highlights of an otherwise forgettable night. Hall wound up -2, and was one of several Oilers who couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge while Pouliot was battling on his own after the buzzer.

If the highlight of the night for your best player is getting a shot on goal, you’re likely in a lot of trouble…and then there is that final observation about Hall skating away while the Blues took liberties with Benoit Pouliot at the end of the game. David Backes was heard calling Hall a “pussy” and, at least on the surface, his comments appear to have some merit.

And, as Lowetide poster Jimbones points out…Hall’s lack of commitment to his team did not go unnoticed:

JIMBONESsays:

Strudwick specifically called out Hall and Schultz for not even attempting to support their teammate.

There are those who try to claim that Hall’s lacklustre performance this season is due to injury but, in a recent interview, (sorry I can’t find the link) Hall himself says that’s not true so what is going on here?

Hall’s best season as an Oiler came just last year when he scored 27 goals and 80 points in 75GP (1.06PPG).

This season, he is scoring at .736 PPG and is unlikely to hit 25 goals or 60 points.

While much of the Oiler fan base is now focused on the draft, I think it needs to be pointed out that drafting yet another teenager won’t solve a thing if there the core of the apple is as rotten as it appears to be. At least some of the more astute observers can also see this:

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I stand by my point from earlier this year, to fix this, #Oilers will have to trade part of the core, whether it is Eberle or Hall is TBD.

— Alex Thomas (@Alex_Thomas14) January 14, 2015

Back in mid December, TSN Inside Darren Dreger dropped a bombshell on a morning radio show:

If you’re moving a piece like Taylor Hall – and I believe that Taylor Hall will be in play – then the rate of return is always best when teams have flexibility in the summer… If you’re moving out a franchise player, potentially, like Taylor Hall is, you’d better be damn certain that that’s the right move for the organization because he is an elite talent. If you’re moving out Jordan Eberle, someone like that, again from that inner core, a core that you paid dearly, obviously too early, you have to be certain…….

“It’s not one player; it’s the collection of players that make up a sagging work ethic and a lack of culture,” he said. “But if you wanted to put a face on it or a name to it, that would be Taylor Hall. Taylor Hall, at least again from a culture standpoint, more in the room not necessarily on the ice, hasn’t been what they’d hoped he would be.”

I suspect the reason Hall is going through the motions this season is that he has had enough of the constant losing and wants out. Whether or not that has triggered a formal trade request we may never know but I see nothing in Hall’s demeanour or performance that would indicate to me that he remains committed to leading the Oilers out of the morass.

The question then becomes, is moving Hall in the team’s best interest…I think it is.

The current rebuild was doomed from the start since it ignored the dictum that successful teams are built from the back-end out and down the middle.

The only way to climb out of this mess is to hit the re-set button and turn the Oilers most tradeable assets into 1 or 2 top pairing D and/or an established #1C.

Given that the Oilers’ #1 overall picks, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov are all underreporting their draft pedigree by a wide margin, I think there is a pretty strong cautionary tale that hoping the team will be able to draft its way out is fraught with peril.

So not only should the Oilers trade Hall…but they must trade Hall if they hope to get the rebuild re-started.

Unfortunately, the men making that decision having shown very little in the way of acumen in how to build a winning hockey team so, perhaps, we’ll be talking about this again a year from now.

I’m left to wonder…what would Dean Lombardi do?

More on that next time.

 

Long Gone Perron

One of the happiest people on the planet today has to be David Perron.

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Perron, as you are probably aware, was traded to the Penguins for utility forward Rob Klinkhammer who is UFA at the end of the year and Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick in this year’s draft.

Here are a few reactions to the deal:

The biggest issue I have in this trade is that it came after a period where the Oilers played Perron on the 3rd line and devalued him. It’s what they always do,

The return, considering Klinkhammer is nothing more than a player who could be picked off the waiver wire almost anytime, is a pick that likely will have no impact on the Oilers for 3-5 years.

If they use the pick as part of a bigger deal to get an actual NHL player, fine. But, of course, they could also have packaged Perron with, say, Petry, and likely have done much better.

From the Penguin’s point of view, they got exactly what they needed and Perron should thrive playing with either Crosby or Malkin.

If you look at this from the perspective of the process by which this trade eventually occurs, you see that St. Louis conducted a salary dump and got an opportunity to see if Paajarvi is an NHL player (he isn’t) but got Ivan Barbashev (who is tearing up the QMJHL at an almost 2PPG pace) as a consolation prize.

The Penguins got a scoring winger in his prime for a late 1st round pick.

And the Oilers turned a 10th overall pick and a 33rd overall pick into a late 1st round pick.

That’s not performance folks.

A couple more reaction pieces.

First from Alan Muir of Sports Illustrated:

Perron, as they say in the business, is an interesting guy. Blessed with decent size (6-feet, 200 pounds), quick feet and some of the best puck skills in the league, he excels at creating chances off the rush.

The problem is that he has never quite lived up to expectations. He’s a player who will find his way onto the highlight reel several times a year, but who doesn’t finish with the consistency he should given his spectacular array of tools.

Part of that can be attributed to his situation, especially during the past two seasons when he’s been weighed down with a series of spare linemates on team drowning under the weight of its own incompetence.

That won’t be a problem with the Penguins. Perron will likely line up alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on a team that’s challenging for the Eastern Conference lead. Wherever he’s slotted, Perron will get his first real chance to play with an elite center and it’s easy to imagine that he could thrive in five-on-five situations. He’s also likely to be given quality minutes on a power play that has dominated for much of the season, but which has fallen on hard times of late, scoring just once in its last 24 chances.

Even at the cost of a first-rounder, this has the look of a smart deal for a Pittsburgh team that’s in win-now mode.

It’s tough to make the same claim for the Oilers. The subtraction of Perron and addition of Klinkhammer will mean nothing to Edmonton’s season beyond another loss or two in what will seem like a never-ending string of defeats. You have to wonder, though, why the Oilers settled for a first-rounder when the Penguins are neck deep in the very thing that Edmonton needs most: young, mobile defensive prospects.

Then from Jim Matheson at the Edmonton Journal who talks about the rebuild that goes on and on and on:

Hockey trades always come with branches and a tree, so to recap the Edmonton Oilers now have a first-round draft pick in 2015 and Rob Klinkhammer, a fourth-line forward, for Magnus Paajarvi and a second-round pick in 2014 (St. Louis took Russian forward Ivan Barbashev, playing in the world junior as we speak). David Perron was the focal piece in both deals. You following that?
The Oilers got Perron for Paajarvi, now in the minors, and that second-rounder (a very good prospect Barbashev, who plays in Moncton) in the summer of 2013 and they’ve now used Perron to get an extra first-rounder this June, in a very deep draft, and before you get squeamish about the Oilers’ draft scouting record, they do a pretty good job in the first round give or take Nail Yakupov who has nine points today,in his third year in the league.