Sunday, February 26, 2012

NHL Hot Potato

Right now, the NHL is a big game of hot potato as the trade deadline looms. Rumors are swirling around so fast, high schoolers can't keep up. Here's a brief recap of what potatoes landed where and what it means.

Jeff Carter
This is perhaps the biggest trade that has occurred thus far as we near the trade deadline. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jeff Carter was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. The Kings have organizational and player ties to the Flyers, Carter's team before he joined Columbus during the 2011 offseason, which inspired the trade. Columbus is a struggling team, despite its bold acquisitions during free agency before the current season to improve the club. It had been rumored that Carter was unhappy with the team and was looking to be traded. Although the Kings are a strong team, they have had numerous problems with its offense and were looking to add some firepower to the team. Although the Kings had been rumored to be targeting Rick Nash as their first choice, the club eventually came to terms on a deal for Jeff Carter. Although he is a top six forward, I strongly believe that the Kings overpaid for Carter when they dealt over top defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. If LA didn't have Drew Doughty, perhaps the top defenseman in the league, Jack Johnson most likely would be the featured star of the defense. These two players would have been a fair trade, but giving that first-round pick just seems too much. Time will tell whether Carter can add that offensive power that LA so desperately needs. Johnson will be a much needed star on the Blue Jackets, and he will most definitely improve the club.

As a result of this trade, the Kings signed veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell to a two-year extension and recalled Slava Voynov from their minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Voynov has spent a good chunk of the season with the Kings as the go-to defenseman during roster injuries after impressing the club with his play when Drew Doughty was out with a concussion, I mean upper-body injury, early in the season. Voynov will likely be groomed to fill Johnson's absence, and while I am unsure of his contract, I am positive that he will be receiving a hefty promotion in the near future should he continue to improve his game.

Another ripple from the Carter trade is that Kings are rumored to be shopping their captain Dustin Brown and possibly their back-up goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Although Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi has since declined that Brown will be on the trading block, it seems that most experts are inclined to take this as a soft "no." Johnson left a large hole in the defense, and it would not surprise people if Brown were moved in order to fill that void without having to rely so heavily on inexperienced players such as Voynov. To echo E.J. Hradek's plea, Lombardi better be sure to get a LOT for Brown, since he totally overpaid for Carter. Teams rumored to be interested in Brown are the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Brown would be a good fit for these teams because he brings a lot of grit to the team as one of the top hitters in the league but also has a knack for scoring. He may not be a top six forward, but he can provide a physical presence on the ice, which the Rangers and Flyers are known for. Not to mention, these are teams with some star players, so I hope that Lombardi could pull for a Marc Staal or Dan Girardi from the Rangers or Andrej Meszaros from the Flyers. I would really hate to lose Brown because he has been such a leader in the locker room and provides that physical dominance on the ice, but if he is going to be traded, these are players I wouldn't mind seeing joining the team.

As for Jonathan Bernier, the Los Angeles Kings should not even think of moving Bernier unless they are trading for another goalie. The Kings have a strong goaltending duo, and I would hate to see them split up for the time being. Part of the reason is that while Quick is an All-Star goaltender, he isn't a workhorse, like Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. Quick is like Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, they need a break every now and then. Quick can get on a cold streak, and he doesn't bounce back as well. When he isn't playing well, he needs to be on the bench, and he can't be playing a huge majority of the games. From years past, it was clear that Quick is the type of goaltender who needs the occasional night or two off. This makes it essential that the Kings have a quality back-up goaltender. Right now, Bernier is that guy. Could the Kings get an upgrade? Sure, but I wouldn't do it now. The Kings still have a lot of games coming up, and having a key back-up is going to be essential if they even have a chance of getting into the playoffs because right now solid D and stellar goaltending is what is winning them games.

Hal Gill
Although the trade for Montreal Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill (and a 2013 fifth-round pick) for Nashville Predators forwards Blake Geoffrion and Robert Slaney (and a 2012 second-round pick) isn't the splashiest trade, it has huge implications for the upcoming offseason. During the All-Star game last month, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter let it slip that it is uncertain whether or not he will be returning to the team at the end of the season. It has not been a secret that the Predators are facing financial difficulties with their roster, no one had imagined that Suter would be on the chopping block. Early in the season Nashville signed their star goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year $49 million contract. This was essential since this team lacks more offense than even the Los Angeles Kings, though that has changed slightly as of this season. When you think of the Nashville Predators, you think monster D, like the 1985 Chicago Bears. This is a scary defense, but their weakness is their offense, which has prevented them from playing deep into the playoffs.

The Preds also boast star defensemen in both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, though it is unquestioned that Weber is the team's #1 man as he also serves as the team's captain. However, the financial situation in Nashville will only allow for one star defenseman to renew his contract during the offseason. Suter seems to be the odd-man out in this one. When the Predators signed Gill, this only seemed to confirm that Suter would be on his way out. Although, ESPN posted a picture of Gill to announce the trade and captioned it: The Predators traded for Hal Gill today. Is that enough to convince Ryan Suter to re-sign in Nashville? Maybe I should put the trade in terms that ESPN might understand. You're not going to convince Tim Lincecum to sign a long-term deal with the Giants isn't to sign a veteran pitcher. What you would do is sign a big batter, like Pagan and Cabrera apparently. This brings me to my next point. Well, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash is available, and the Nashville Predators who are in desperate need of a top goal-scorer to make a sincere push for the Cup have a top defenseman who will be available. I'm not sure if Nashville is on his list, but this could be a trade that we might be seeing in the offseason.

New York Rangers
The New York Rangers have not been making any splashy moves, but it is interesting that they have made a couple of trades. On February 3, the Rangers traded forward Eric Christensen and a 2013 seventh-round pick for Minnesota wild forward Casey Wellman. Yesterday, the Rangers traded Wojtek Wolski for Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Vernace and a 2013 third-round pick. While the Rangers traded away depth forwards (which in a team like the Rangers you can certainly do because what line isn't productive these days), they have received players that come with much smaller contracts. Although these aren't exciting trades, the moves appear to be a way for the Rangers to play with the salary cap in order to make room for another contract, like say Rick Nash. I'm not sure if the Rangers is a team that Nash is extremely interested in, but I would assume it would be because they have a very good chance at the Cup this season. He may end up as a rental, but I think he'd rather win the Cup than worry about longevity on any given team, since, let's face it, he wouldn't be "unemployed" so to speak for long.

Marek Zidlicky
This trade seems to have taken quite some time to hammer out the details. Everyone knew that the New Jersey Devils were extremely interested in acquiring Minnesota Wild forward Marek Zidlicky, but it was a surprise as to what they paid in order to attain him. The Devils traded defenseman Kurtis Foster, forward Nick Palmieri, forward Stephane Veilleux, a 2012 second-round pick, and a conditional 2013 third-round pick. You can think of this as a four-for-one deal since the 2013 pick is only contingent on the fact that the Devils make it to the playoffs, at which point they'd probably be happy to be without it. It seems that Minnesota might have gotten the better of this deal, but it is important to point out that the Wild received a couple players who show great potential and prospects. You can't put a true value on the players since you're not exactly sure what you're going to get, while you know exactly what type of a player Zidlicky is. This is a trade that will work out nicely for the Devils, and it will most likely work for the Wild who seem to be in a state of transition. Remember, this is a team that traded away star defenseman Brent Burns and top forward Martin Havlat to the San Jose Sharks, defenseman Cam Barker to the Edmonton Oilers, and forward Andrew Brunette to the Chicago Blackhawks. Although they had a very hot streak to begin the season, they have turned ice cold. Perhaps shaking things up once again might be exactly what this club needs.

Tampa Bay Lightning
After a rather successful 2011 season that lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Eastern Conference Finals, the 2011-2012 season has been rather disappointing. It seems that the Lightning are going to have to get on a long hot streak to even eek into the playoffs this year as they currently sit twelfth in the Eastern Conference standings. What seems to be their biggest downfall is the goaltending situation. Staying loyal to Dwayne Roloson who took them through the playoffs, the team decided to make him the number one goaltender for the season. Well, the forty-two year old is the oldest player in the league, and it is showing. When a goaltender starts to falter, he falters fast and hard, and Roli the Goalie is a case in point. As a Kings fan, I already knew their back-up goaltender Mathieu Garon was nothing more than a back-up. He played a strong game towards the beginning of the season, but he lacked consistency. The Lightning are going to be in the market for a goaltender at least in the offseason if not now.

Although the Lightning have quite a few young guys on their roster, the Lightning have been using the trade deadline to acquire draft picks. On February 16, the Lightning traded veteran forward Dominic Moore and a 2012 seventh-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for a 2012 second-round pick. The following day, General Manager Steve Yzerman traded veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina to the Philadelphia Flyers for forward Jon Kalinski, a 2013 second-round pick, and a conditional 2013 fourth-round pick. On February 21, the Lightning then traded forward Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Kyle Quincey. They then traded newly-acquired Quincey to the Detroit Red-Wings for defenseman Sebastien Piche and a 2012 first-round pick. Clearly, the Lightning are preparing for some rebuilding or perhaps acquiring assets to later trade. Off the top of my head, the Edmonton Oilers are a team that are in the process of rebuilding and have been extremely interested in draft picks. It's possible that the Lightning are looking to acquire Nikolai Khabibulin as a back-up goaltender since I'm fairly positive that the Oilers are not looking to trade their rookie goaltender Devan Dubnyk who has been showing great promise while learning the ropes under Khabibulin's tutelage. Who knows, the Lightning might just be preparing to draft players who will work in their 1-3-1 scheme.

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