The trade deadline is quickly approaching and the first big deal of 2019 has already happened. Plus, the death of the World Cup of Hockey.
1. Trade Season is Beginning
The NHL All-Star Game serves as an important benchmark during the season. Not only does it give the players a much-needed break from playing games, but it also serves as a mid-season celebration of the NHL. For the league’s General Managers, it is the official start of the trade season as the deadline is only one month away.
Our first big trade of the season has already happened. Last week, Minnesota traded Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask. This was a bit of an odd trade for both teams. Most trades during the deadline follow a similar formula. That formula usually includes an All-Star caliber player on the last year of his contract playing for a team out of the race. The team on the other side of the trade is usually a contender looking to add the missing piece that will help them win it all. During last year’s trade deadline, Evander Kane was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the San Jose Sharks. Kane was on the last year of his deal and was most likely not going to re-sign in Buffalo. The Kane trade serves as the perfect example for our formula.
This trade is a bit odd. Both Niederreiter and Rask are relatively similar players in similar spots in their career. They are a year apart in age. They are both having below-average seasons. And they both are two or three years into modest $20 million-plus contracts. The big difference is that Minnesota is in position to make the playoffs and Carolina is not. The only way I make sense of this trade is if Minnesota truly believes a change of scenery will spark Rask. If Rask is able to elevate his play and help the Wild in the playoffs, it might be worth it. What troubles me is that Niederreiter is more of a known commodity and is more consistent. Why give up a guy who you know and know what he is going to give you for a guy having a terrible season? This trade doesn’t make sense to me for the Wild.
I love the trade for the Hurricanes though. They know that this year isn’t their year to make a playoff push. They have a ton of young talent and are building for the next two to three years. A really solid player like Niederreiter is a perfect guy to add to your team to add depth. I’m declaring this trade a win for the Hurricanes as of right now unless Rask significantly helps the Wild down the stretch.
2. Unloved Team: Ottawa Senators
If it makes anyone feel better, I’m running out of awful teams to use as my unloved team. Ottawa is one of the few bad teams left. Like the Rangers, it wasn’t too long ago that they were playing in the Conference Finals and looked to be on the brink of contending. After last season’s debacle and trade of Erik Karlsson, they are clearly rebuilding. The currently sit in second to last place in the Eastern Conference in front of Detroit.
Ottawa has two things going for them, they don’t have many awful contracts and they have trade chips. Yes, Bobby Ryan’s albatross of a contract isn’t going anywhere until 2022, and they are still paying Marion Gaborik for another 2.5 seasons. But those are the only two players with a cap hit over $4 million that are under contract for another two seasons. Rumor has it that the Sens did just offer Matt Duchene an eight-year contract worth $64 million. That deal most likely won’t hurt as much because unlike Ryan and Gaborik, Duchene is still and productive.
In regards to their trade chips. Mark Stone is having a fantastic season with 22-28-50 in 49 games. He’s on the last year of his contract. If Ottawa can unload him for picks and prospects, that will be a huge step toward their rebuild. Clarke MacArthur and Cody Ceci are two guys that could always be attractive assets on the trade market. If Ottawa can make a few good trades this February, they could really accelerate their rebuild.
I couldn’t write about Ottawa without mentioning Thomas Chabot. He is having a breakout season with 10-29-30 in 41 games and was named an All-Star. Those are awesome numbers for a defenseman, especially one on such a poor team. If Chabot develops into a top blue-liner, that will be huge for Ottawa’s rebuild. Not to mention he’s 21-years-old.
3. No World Cup of Hockey
The NHL and the NHLPA met on Wednesday and confirmed that the World Cup of Hockey would not take place in 2020. If you remember, the league revived the World Cup in 2016 due to speculation that NHL players would not take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics. I for one was excited for the World Cup in 2016 and actually went to the first game of the tournament when Team USA played Team Europe. I thought the tournament was cool and I was excited to see international hockey. Many were not a fan of the tournament because of the existence of Team Europe and Team North America.
Team Europe was created to ensure that Anze Kopitar would play in the tournament. Kopitar was, and still is, the only active NHL player from Slovenia. So, the league had an idea to form a team of players from many of the smaller countries in Europe that wouldn’t have enough high-profile players to field their own team. Team Europe featured the likes of Kopitar, Tomas Vanek, and Frans Nielsen. As much as people were not fans of Team Europe, they made it all the way to the finals and were beat by Team Canada.
Team North America was by far one of the most exciting parts of the tournament. Seeing as Team Canada was so stacked and Team USA appeared to be stacked, there were many great players from both countries that weren’t going to be able to play. So, they created a team for those players that were all under age 23. That team had a few future stars like Johnny Gaudreau, Auston Matthews, and Connor McDavid. They might not have won the tournament, but they were definitely the most exciting team to watch.
As of right now, the NHL and NHLPA are in talks about the current CBA and if they plan to opt out in September of 2020. With all that’s going on in the NHL, both sides agreed that 20 months was not enough time to plan for the next World Cup. I for one am disappointed that the next World Cup won’t take place. But, if it means NHL players get to participate in the 2022 Olympics, I’ll feel a bit better.
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Hall of Famer?I haven’t written enough about goaltending for Blake’s Takes, so I decided to take a look at the league’s leaders at the position. I saw that Marc-Andre Fleury is leading the league in games, wins, shutouts, and minutes. It made me realize that Fleury has really revived his career in Las Vegas. Coming off a storybook season last year, Fleury has continued his play as a top-flight goaltender. So much so, that I took a look at his career resume. He’s won three Stanley Cups and has played in five. It’s true that he was backing up Matt Murray during their victory during the 2015-16 season and wasn’t the full-time starter during the next year’s Cup win. He was still the number one goalie on three teams that made it to the final. He is also a three-time All-Star and won a Gold Medal with Canada during the 2010 Winter Olympics, but not as the starter.
Fleury’s resume may be a bit inflated by the fact that his teams have won when he didn’t play. His stats, when he did play, are impressive in their own right. He has recorded seven seasons with 35+ wins, and it looks like he will make it eight seasons this year. He is ninth all-time in wins and ranks in the top 40 all-time in save percentage and shutouts. Fleury wasn’t always a dominant player, but at 34-years-old, if he puts together another three or four great seasons, the Hall of Fame could come calling.
5. Rookie Spotlight: Carter HartI’m sure most of you have heard about Carter Hart by now. He was one of Philadelphia’s top prospects and one of the few top goaltending prospects in the NHL. He has officially arrived and looks to have taken over as the starter in net for Philly. Hart was the 48th overall pick in the 2016 draft and made his debut against the Red Wings on December 18. Since then, he has played in 12 games, all starts, and is 6-5-0-1 with a 2.66 GAA and a .918 save percentage. If Hart can quickly mature and become a force in net for the Flyers, then Philly might be back to their winning ways sooner rather than later. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.