Another week has come and gone in the National Hockey League and we’re drawing closer to the trade deadline. By the time Monday rolls around, there will be just two full weeks before the deadline, which is February 29. At this point in time, there’s still a crowded mass of teams hoping for a potential playoff berth: 24 of the league’s 30 teams are either holding a playoff spot or are within six points of one at this point in time.
Who will be buyers at the trade deadline? Who will end up being sellers? Which teams will end up sitting on their hands hoping that their current makeup is good enough to deliver a playoff berth or a long run in the postseason? Will anyone make the acquisition that pushes them over the top for a Stanley Cup title? Needless to say, it will be an interesting two weeks leading up to the deadline to see if any marquee players are going to find new zip codes for the postseason run. Let’s take a look at some of the big stories rippling through the NHL and the hockey world in general this week.
Phaneuf Marquee Name in Nine Player Deal: Most of the time in the NHL these days, the majority of trades that are made are either in the offseason, normally near the draft, and at the deadline. There had been just 10 trades since the start of the regular season until the beginning of February and only two, the deal that sent Seth Jones to Columbus and Ryan Johansen to Columbus along with the trade that sent Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings, featured marquee names. Both of those deals were made on January 6.
As opposed to most big deals, which tend to be salary dumps in order to remain compliant within the salary cap, there was an actual massive deal made between two division rivals no less that actually was a straight hockey deal. The Toronto Maple Leafs dealt captain Dion Phaneuf along with Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and Cody Donaghey to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday. In exchange, the Leafs received Jared Cowen, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Tobias Lindberg and Ottawa’s second round pick in 2017.
The deal works for both teams: Ottawa picks up a top four defenseman that can step right in and log big minutes. He doesn’t have to worry about being the focal point of the defense like he was in Toronto as Erik Karlsson is the clear #1 blueliner for the Senators. If Phaneuf plays to his norm, he brings a solid, stabilizing presence that improves Ottawa’s defensive unit. The Maple Leafs shed the salary of Phaneuf, who has a cap hit of $7 million for the next five seasons. After dealing Phil Kessel and David Clarkson last offseason, the Leafs have opened up nearly $21.5 million in cap room for next season before they deal away veterans near the deadline. That could open up money for a guy like Steven Stamkos should he decide to test the free agent waters this summer. Either way, Toronto’s dug itself out of cap hell.
Wild Drop the Axe On Yeo: It’s been a slow season as far as head coaches getting the axe in the NHL. Only two coaches had bit the dust before the All Star break this season. Todd Richards was canned by Columbus after seven games this season with the Blue Jackets sporting a 0-7-0 record on October 21. John Tortorella took his place the same day. On December 12, despite the Penguins posting a 15-10-3 record in the first 28 games of the season, Pittsburgh made the decision to fire Mike Johnston. He was replaced by Mike Sullivan, who was the Penguins’ minor league coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL.
The latest coach to end up getting canned came Saturday when the Minnesota Wild made the decision to fire head coach Mike Yeo. Minnesota was just 1-7-2 in their last 10 games prior to his firing and had lost eight straight games. The Wild is 23-22-10 on the season and sat five points behind Nashville for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. Yeo finished his tenure in Minnesota with a record of 173-132-44 since taking over the role at the start of the 2011-12 season. Minnesota replaced Yeo with John Torchetti on an interim basis. He was coaching the Iowa Wild of the AHL before getting the call: Torchetti had posted a 36-68-5-5 record in his tenure with the team.
It’s unfortunate that Yeo is the one paying the price for Minnesota’s struggles. He has a team with a pair of highly paid players in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The talent pool drops off after that and goaltender Devan Dubnyk can’t stand on his head every night to keep the Wild winning. Minnesota is slumping right now and it will take a hot streak to get back in the playoff race. Whether Torchetti is the one that can ignite that flame remains to be seen.
Injuries Taking Toll: One thing that you can inevitably count on as the season wears on is that injuries will have an impact on teams battling for a playoff spot. There will be key pieces for teams trying to make a postseason push that will suffer injuries that will take them out of the lineup for a period of time, in some cases for an extended period that could really derail a team’s chances. This past week has been no exception for such incidents.
Toronto’s acquisition of Milan Michalek has been tempered by the fact that he’s on IR with a fractured finger but the Leafs aren’t a playoff contender as they continue to rebuild. Mark Borowiecki of Ottawa suffered facial lacerations Saturday in the Senators’ matchup with Columbus but he’s a role player at best. The Kings placed Marian Gaborik on injured reserve Saturday after he was injured in a collision with Dominic Moore of the Rangers Friday night. Gaborik has talent but he’s not as big of an impact player as he used to be at 34. Marian Hossa, who at 37 is no spring chicken and is a shadow of his former self on the ice, suffered a leg injury after being checked by Hampus Lindholm of the Ducks Saturday night and found himself on injured reserve. He’ll miss at least seven days with that designation.
Perhaps no team was belted harder than the Vancouver Canucks, who lost a pair of key personnel in their Tuesday win over Colorado. Alexander Edler suffered a broken fibula in the victory and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. That is a major blow to the Canucks’ blue line group, which could be an issue for a Vancouver team that is five points behind Nashville for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Couple that with Brandon Sutter needing surgery for a broken jaw, which will take him out for up to six weeks and Vancouver has another hole to fill. That may prove to be too much for the Canucks to overcome as they aren’t an overly deep team and has been offensively challenged.
Those are the biggest stories around the league this week. We’ll see if there are any big moves going on in the week that comes and keep you updated!
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