Welcome to the second annual edition of NHLfaketrades.net, our imaginary website in which we helpfully conjure up trade possibilities for NHL general managers who need an assist to get the pieces moving in advance of the actual trading deadline, 12 days from now.
A little background for all the newcomers here: Last year, we had a great deal of fun making up trade rumours. The germ of the idea came during a chat with an NHL GM about trade rumors and how, in the weeks before the trading deadline, he needed to set aside time almost every day to put out fires, created by the trade chatter on the Internet.
I laughed and told him that the problem for everybody in the industry, mainstream media and the larger blogging world, was that if a rumour had even a whiff of plausibility, it would be difficult to dismiss without at least making a check. And thus, it became a never-ending circle. You hear a name, you check it out and then you hear something else and it just keeps going round and round. Every year, some player rockets to the top of the charts – Rick Nash last year, Jarome Iginla this year. I concluded by issuing him a challenge: Name me any two NHL teams and I would conjure up a trade rumour between them that was so reasonable and made so much sense that a) you'd think it came from a primary source; and b) nobody could dismiss it out of hand, without first thinking 'hmmmm.'
The best part of the story is what happened next: Not 72 hours later, one of the imaginary trade rumours – Pavel Kubina from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Philadelphia Flyers – actually came true. But I was happier with one that ended up being wrong, but didn't miss the mark by match. We suggested that the Kings, with their depth on defence, should move Jack Johnson to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for James Van Riemsdyk. The Kings did actually trade Johnson, not to Philly, but to Columbus and got, not Van Riemsdyk, but another ex-Flyer forward Jeff Carter, in exchange. And later in the summer, the Flyers did trade Van Riemsdyk to Toronto and got, not Johnson in exchange, but another young defenceman who plays a physical style, Luke Schenn, in the deal.
Close right? The names might have been different, but the commodities that teams were seeking were not all that difficult to pinpoint. That's what makes unbridled rumor-mongering so much fun. It is easy to identify what teams need at any given moment in their development – and almost as easy to anticipate where they're looking for that help. The hard part is for two GMs to get together and pull the trigger on the deal, because so much is riding on every transaction and more often than not, being too aggressive to remake your team at the trading deadline can backfire on a team in a meaningful way.
The Nashville Predators represent the object lesson here. Last season, they were – as general manager David Poile put it – all in. They had a pending unrestricted free agent, Ryan Suter, than in hindsight they should have moved at the deadline. But they kept him because the team was playing well and the West looked wide open. They added – Alexander Radulov from the KHL, Andrei Kostitsyn and Hal Gill from Montreal – and they sent a signal, to the team and to the NHL, that they were in it to win it. It all looked good (except for maybe that niggling suspicion that they were moving away from their identity as the Little Team That Could) until it all blew up in their faces, Radulov and Kostitsyn being suspended for a playoff game against the Phoenix Coyotes for a curfew violation and all that good will and chemistry that they'd painstakingly worked so hard to develop gone – up in a puff of smoke. And this year, the Suter-less Predators have not been able to regain that identity and all the players that were bit parts elsewhere but suddenly became valuable useful players in Nashville, well, they look like bit parts again.
Former Toronto Maple Leaf general manager Brian Burke used to say that the NHL trading deadline was the one day a year when his peers lost their collective minds – and history shows he is right. And the peculiar limitations of a 48-game season may even make it worse. In a full 82-game schedule, the cream eventually rises to the top and early-season sensations generally have time to find their (lower) level. But in a 48-game push, all of a sudden, a whole lot of unexpected contenders, from the Maple Leafs and the injury-riddled Ottawa Senators, to the perennial sad sacks in Long Island and Columbus, think they've got a shot this year. So it makes for a seller's market and realistically, any team such as Calgary or Buffalo that isn't trying to extort high returns for their available players isn't doing the job properly.
This is the opposite of the Boxing Day clearance sale. This is the night before Christmas and anxious shoppers are willing to do whatever it takes to get the right presents under the tree so there's a happily-ever moment on Christmas Day. The bills show up in January, of course, and there's always lots of time for after-the-fact buyers' remorse.
So let's help out here and find some new homes for NHL players – and begin with the defending champion Kings, who didn't do much in the off-season to shore up for their title defence.
The Kings have been linked to Calgary and the Iginla availability and will make an inquiry, if they haven't already. Kings coach Darryl Sutter has a history with Iginla and would love to add him to the mix. Sutter believes the team has been weak on the wings ever since he's arrived and Iginla would shore them up there. Iginla, you'd have to think, would be rejuvenated by a move and the chance to play for a Stanley Cup contender. But the trading deadline isn't just about wishing and hoping, it is about a realistic fit and realistically, the Kings need more help on defence than they do up front – which is why the No. 1 player on GM Dean Lombardi's wish list should be another ex-Sutter player, Robyn Regehr, currently with the Sabres.
Regehr played for Sutter on the 2004 Flames team that went to the Stanley Cup final and he represents a big physical body on defence, something the Kings have been lacking this year because of injuries to Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene, two big physical bodies on defence. Last year, Sutter used Mitchell and Greene as his No. 1 penalty killing pair. Most coaches try to divide a two-minute penalty into three 40-second intervals, and come back with the No. 1 unit for the first and final 40 seconds of any successful kill.
In the absence of Mitchell and Greene, Sutter has needed to use Drew Doughty in that situation, and it has affected Doughty's points total this year – to be played so heavily in defensive situations (the Kings use Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin as their No. 1 power-play pair). So getting a defensive defenceman would help and Regehr would be a much better fit in the more plodding Western Conference, where the Kings could face centres with size along the lines of Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim) and Joe Thornton (San Jose) in any Cup defence. And if Regehr is unavailable, Calgary has Jay Bouwmeester (a minute-muncher) and Cory Sarich (a physical defenceman) also potentially available. One of those three and/or Iginla could end up in L.A., and if it's more than one, we're talking blockbuster city.
Regehr's teammate in Buffalo, Jordan Leopold, is also on an expiring contract and he was twice been traded at the deadline – in 2009 and 2010 – so he too could move again. Last summer, two players in the final years of their contracts, Mike Ribiero and Derek Roy, were both traded (by Dallas and Buffalo) respectively. Ribiero's current team, the Washington Capitals, are close to falling out of playoff contention, while Roy's team, the Stars, are right on the bubble. For any team seeking a temporary fix at No. 2 centre, either or both would fit the bill. Hello Vancouver! Beyond Roy, the Stars also have the poor man's Iginla, Brendan Morrow, their long-time captain, likely in his final season with the team, and a possible addition in the Mark Recchi mode, a veteran player who really wants to win. And of course, the Stars have Jaromir Jagr, who can still bring it on the power play, on an expiring contract – and he'd be an intriguing fit on any team that needs scoring.
Among other players on expiring contracts, it is likely that Alex Semin, Patrick Elias, Michael Ryder, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Pascal Dupuis, Sergei Gonchar, Matt Cullen, David Clarkson, Vinnie Prospal, Nathan Horton or Daniel Alfredsson aren't going anywhere because they mean too much to their current teams.
There is greater uncertainty about Ryane Clowe (unrestricted this summer, but hampered by injuries all year); and Brad Boyes of the Islanders because he too has a history of moving at the deadline.
In the end, usually the sorts of trades that occur are the ones involving the likes of Matt D'Agostini, who was swapped by the St. Louis Blues to the New Jersey Devils for a conditional mid-round draft choice. The Blues needed the roster spot because T.J. Oshie is ready to play again and the Devils figured D'Agostini was a worthwhile gamble because two years ago, he scored 21 goals in 82 games for St. Louis. That's decent production if he can ever get close to those numbers again.
THIS AND THAT: NHL teams went 7-1-1 on the road Thursday night. The only home team to win was the Nashville Predators. They defeated Calgary, which lost its eighth in a row on the road. Overall, road teams have had a decent winning percentage this year, according to nhl.com (197-200-53). The two main exceptions are Calgary (3-8-2) and Philadelphia (4-12-0), both of whom have been abysmal away from home – probably the biggest reason they're going to miss the playoffs this year … The game of the week – the NHL's No. 1 team overall Chicago vs. the No. 2 team overall Anaheim – went to the Ducks this past Wednesday, and it was a good one. Playing in front of a Honda Centre record crowd of 17,610, Anaheim erased a 2-1 third-period deficit by scoring a pair of late goals, both set up by a flu-stricken Ryan Getzlaf, and then iced it with an empty-netter. It marked the fifth time already this year Anaheim won a game in which it trailed after 40 minutes, a rare occurrence in the era of parity. Anaheim played without Corey Perry, serving the final game of his four-game suspension, but the Blackhawks were without two key injured players as well – Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. The teams meet again next week in Chicago for the final time this regular season and if they end up meeting in a conference final some time in June, the battle between Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews could be a tong war … Their loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this week, plus a growing injury list that includes Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and now goaltender Anders Lindback, means that the Tampa Bay Lightning could be sellers at the trading deadline as well. Lindback was injured in relief of starter Mathieu Garon and if his injury is a high ankle sprain, that could mean an extended period on the sidelines, this after he'd finally gotten back on track in the past half-dozen appearances. In the meantime, Cedrick Desjardins is up for the minors to replace him. Among the bottom 15 teams in the NHL standings, Tampa is the only one that has scored more goals than it has given up (plus-8).