NHL Trade Deadline Preview

As we head into the final weeks before the NHL’s March 2nd trade deadline, the rumour mill has run amok with a plethora of scenarios, many of which have very little chance of coming true. There are two types of teams in this conversation. The Buyers are looking to improve their teams in hopes that they actually make the playoffs and go deep. Then there are the Sellers who are teams not heading for the playoffs, and will try to offload hefty contracts of under achievers, or obtain prospects or building components for players becoming UFAs at the end of the season and will not be resigned.
The Buyers will be wary of mortgaging away the team’s future by trading draft picks or young prospects to obtain a rental player to help them in their quest to hoist Lord Stanley in June. The Buyers must also keep in mind the Cap situation as they may not be able to re-sign UFA’s they obtain. The Cap plot thickens as the Loonie plummets. In the June 2014 League meetings, Gary Bettman estimated that the current 69M Cap would increase to 73M next season. In December Bettman stated that if the Loonie holds at .80 cents compared to the US buck, the Cap will be closer to 71M and possibly lower. This has a huge impact on the trade deadline, since many teams were counting on a 4M increase, and may now have no Cap space to work with.
Despite all the challenges, there will still be player movement in the next few weeks. Even though we have about 30 games left in the season, the playoff picture is starting to look pretty clear, particularly in the east.
The Arizona Coyotes have made it clear that they will be rebuilding next year, so we can expect them to be shopping some highly touted UFA’s such as Martin Erat, Zbynek Michalek, and Antoine Vermette. GM Don Maloney is looking for top prospects and high draft picks of course, so none of these players will come cheap. There is also a lot of interest in Keith Yandle, but the 28 year old two way defensemen with two years on his contract will likely cost a top prospect and a high draft pick.
The Edmonton Oilers who are competing for the first round draft pick once again, and have fans wearing bags over their heads and burning their jerseys will obviously be sellers. The Oilers need to move out some of their offensive talent and improve the second worst defense in the league. RFA Nail Yakupov and UFA Derek Roy are available for teams looking for a low cost scoring boost. UFA Jeff Petry is a solid defenseman who has no plans of resigning with Edmonton in July, so he is available for a high pick or prospect. Many think Jordan Eberle is also available for a first round pick. UFA Goaltender Viktor Fasth is also available however the only team with any interest may be the Minnesota Wild.
The Buffalo Sabres are having a dismal season and will be trying to improve their team by trading UFA forwards such as Chris Stewart, Drew Stafford, and Torrey Mitchell. Both goalies Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth are UFAs and will be available. There is a lot of interest in Tyler Myers but the Sabres see Myers as a cornerstone to rebuild the team around so it is highly unlikely he will move.
The Carolina Hurricanes will also be trading off some talent. Andrej Sekera the 28 year UFA defensemen, is a solid stay at home type, and would make a fine addition to any team looking for rearguard help in the playoffs. The Canes will also consider trading Cam Ward and his 6.7M salary with just one year left. The Wild may be interested in Ward, and they have the Cap space. If the Wild are looking like a playoff team as March approaches they could make an offer. Jiri Tlusty is another UFA that will not resign with the Canes in July, so look for him to move to a team that needs help at Center. There are rumours around Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but with 4 years left at 6.5M most teams don’t have the Cap space, and won’t be willing to pay the high price GM Don Maloney will want for Ekman-Larsson.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are having a disappointing season after last year’s impressive playoff performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Jordan Leopold is a 34 year old UFA in July, and will likely move to a team needing defensive help in the short term and will not have to pay a high price.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will definitely be selling after another inconsistent season they will miss the playoffs again. They may want to trade Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul but expensive long term contracts will make it very difficult to move these players. Dallas is interested in Phaneuf, but they would have to offload some Cap space. The Leafs will likely be able to move some of their UFAs like Santorelli, Winnik, and Franson. RFA Nazem Kadri may get moved as well, possibly to Nashville.
There are many teams looking for help on defense, starting with the Wings looking for a solid D man to support work horse Niklas Kronwall. The Montreal Canadiens could use some youth on defense to help out P.K. Subban and the cast of aging warriors like Gonchar, Markov, and Weaver. The current Montreal defensive corps cannot take them deep into the playoffs. Both teams will be looking at Franson, Michalek, Sekera, and possibly Jeff Petry. Other teams interested in Cody Franson are the Preds and Bolts.
The Ducks would like to strengthen their defense and improve their chances to make a run for the Stanley Cup. They have some Cap space available so they could make a move at someone like Dion Phaneuf. Colorado is another team in the market for a defenseman to fill in for injured Erik Johnson, but have no Cap space so it would have to be a rental player that they would lose in the summer like a Sekera or Michalek. Pittsburgh may try to improve their defense by going after Jeff Petry. With no Cap space the Pens would probably not be able to resign in the summer. The Pens are hungry to advance deep into the playoffs since that Stanley Cup they won is a distant memory now, and with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not getting any younger the time is now.
The list of teams looking for some more offensive juice going into the playoffs is led by the old foes Boston and Montreal. Both teams are fairly solid and have great goaltenders, but are hovering at about 130+ goals and are not exactly filling the net. Boston is interested in Chris Stewart, and Montreal is one of many teams looking at Antoine Vermette. Vermette is probably the most intriguing player at this trade deadline and with so many teams interested, the price will be high.
Vancouver is in a similar situation and is trying to work out a deal with the Leafs for Santorelli. Like any GM, Jim Benning wants to see his team in the playoffs, but realizes that this team will not go far, and they will not sacrifice young prospects or draft picks for a long shot.
Winnipeg appears to be playoff bound but with the sudden departure of Evander Kane, they are in need of a forward to fill his spot. Rumour has it they are looking at Leafs UFA Daniel Winnik, but will have to compete with the New York Islanders for him. Winnipeg would like to get rid of Kane, but will not be able to do so until the off season after Kane’s surgery is completed, and a proper evaluation can be done
There are rumours that the Calgary Flames could be interested in Mike Richards as they are on pace to make the playoffs with their best showing in a decade. The Flames have the Cap space and need a veteran with experience like Richards for their run. They would not have to give up future prospects; just pay the ~20M on his contract for the next 5 years. In order for this to work, the Kings would have to pay 30% of his salary. This is the only likely destination for Richards, and it could be a good fit for everyone.
The trade speculation is endless as we approach the deadline. We could see a flurry of activity in the upcoming weeks, and there may be very little action. The difference with past seasons is that in the Eastern Conference, the picture is much clearer, so rather than having just a handful of teams looking to sell, there could be as many as 7 in East and 2 or 3 in the West.

NHL Expansion Candidates

NHL Expansion is once again a hot topic around the league, particularly among hockey fans and stakeholders at potential locations. In some of the scenarios, fans and media are talking like potential expansion sites are a done deal. Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his right hand man Bill Daly have been quoted in recent interviews, saying that none of the rumors are true. In fact Bettman clearly stated during the All Star break, that they were not in a position to expand at this time, and any talks of team relocation were completely untrue. However, we all know the league is bound to confidentiality and will not divulge its plans until they are 100% confirmed.
As hockey fans, we love to speculate about this topic, especially when some of the potential destinations may be near and dear to our hearts, and may bring a team to a nearby community. Even though the league has stated there are no imminent plans for another team, we all know there is a list of front runners, and some cities that have a dream, but no real chance of getting a team. When evaluating potential locations, we have to understand league priorities. Bettman has stated that the first criteria is being in the west, since there are currently 14 teams in the Western Conference, and 16 in the East. This creates an unfair advantage as western teams have greater odds of making the playoffs, which has huge financial implications. Expansion in the west also reduces the imbalance in travel schedules between the conferences. The league has wanted a US based TV deal for years, so expansion into more US geographies increases the likelihood of securing that elusive US TV deal.
#1 Seed is Las Vegas due to a very strong and financially solid ownership team lead by William Foley. The team would land in the new 20K seat facility being built by MGM resorts and AEG (Owners of the LA Kings) to be completed in 2016. The league, the fans and even the players are stoked to have a team in Sin City, the number #1 tourist and convention destination in North America. As Foley states, LV is not just a tourist destination any more, there are 2.2M residents working not just in hospitality, but a variety of industries. In Las Vegas there are no other major professional sports franchises to compete with, however locals and tourists do have a multitude of other entertainment options, and if the team struggles on the ice, one wonders if the local fan commitment would be sustained in a desert based community. Foley has obtained permission from the league to conduct a ticket drive, this is a key indicator that the league is very serious about this ownership bid. Las Vegas is also in the west.
#2 Seed is Quebec City due to the new 18,482 seat Quebec Amphitheatre scheduled for completion in 2015. Taking the approach, build it and they will come will definitely aid the Quebec City bid, but they still need to solidify an ownership group. Currently Quebecor, would be the first choice, with a possibility of a partnership. Quebec also has community support in its favor, as there is no doubt the team would be well supported for the long haul, as it is with the other seven Canadian franchises. Also, working in Quebec‘s favour is the new 12 year, 5.2B TV deal the league now has with Rogers, who will want to see more Canadian content for their money, so they can sell more TV packages. One big hurdle for the Quebec bid is being located in the east. If there was an expansion in the east, Columbus or Detroit would have to move back to the Western conference which is very unlikely. The other possibility for Quebec would be if an Eastern team wants to relocate, or sell due to financial struggles. The obvious candidate here is the Florida Panthers, who last year sought financial aid from local governments to offset 25M per year in losses. Florida will always be Football, Baseball, and Basketball first and hockey will always struggle. Move this team to Quebec City, there will be a natural synergy with Dale Tallon, Gerard Gallant, and even Roberto Luongo. The Panthers would be loved in Quebec City.
#3 Seed is Seattle due to its North West coast location which balances the conferences, and brings exposure to a region where there is not a US based team currently. However, Seattle does not have a NHL ready arena in place, being built or even approved. There is currently a bid to bring an NBA franchise to Seattle, and if that happens the City has committed to building an arena. Seattle has been flaky about using taxpayer dollars to fund venues in the past, and there is not an NHL ownership bid in place in Seattle, so even though the league would like to place a team in Seattle, I do not for see this happening anytime soon.
There is a long list of hopefuls, but these are bids that are a long way from serious consideration by league for various reasons. Markham/GTA has expressed interest but has no arena in place. Hamilton are also interested, but the aging Copps Coliseum no longer meets NHL standards. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres cannot veto, but both would oppose these bids, plus they are in the east, so lots of hurdles to overcome. Kansas City and Milwaukee have also rumbled about NHL teams, but have arena and ownership issues to address before being seriously considered. 

The league is a lot more diligent now about their vetting process, due to a long list of past failures. Each time a team folds & relocates it costs the league and the owners millions of dollars. In the short term, there are only two locations that are ready for a team, Las Vegas and Quebec City, both of which will be great locations for NHL hockey.

What to do with the NHL All-Star Game?

This weekend the city of Columbus, Ohio will host the 2015 NHL All Star Game. The event spans three days starting with the NHL All Star Fantasy Draft on Friday January 23rd at 8pm ET. The draft has captains Jonathan Toews and Nick Foligno picking from the group of players that have been selected for the ASG.  Toews is joined by assistants Ryan Getzlaf and Rick Nash, while Foligno is joined by Patrick Kane and Drew Doughty. This is a fun event for the players and fans alike, where the main objective for the remaining 36 players is not to be selected last as Phil Kessel was a couple years back, which he has not been able to shake to this day.

This year’s event also features 6 rookies (Johnny Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad, Jiri Sekac, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, and Filip Forsberg), who will only compete in the Skills competition on Saturday. Another interesting component this year is there will be fan voting via Twitter for the Breakaway Challenge.

The player selection process can be controversial to say the least and this year is no exception. The first six players selected are voted by the fans. Five of these players are from the Chicago Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook). Each of these players received between 1-1.2M votes, meaning Chicago fans went online and voted. The player with the highest number of votes (1.5M) is Sabres’ center Zemgus Girgensons, from Lativia. Zemgus is a popular player, but he his 120thin league scoring, so he made the team pretty much because Latvian and Buffalo fans went online and placed their votes. 
After the fan vote, the league then selects 36 players and if we take into account that they chose 3 players from the Blue Jackets to represent the host city, it meant they had to pick 33 players from 27 different teams. After that there’s the obvious duo of forwards who are in the top 11 in NHL: Malkin / Crosby (neither of them will take part in the game because of injuries but both were originally selected), Voracek / Giroux and Johnson / Stamkos. Finally there’s the Nashville duo Rinne/Weber who both dominate at their respective position and finally Vladimir Tarasenko (9th in scoring) and Kevin Shattenkirk (2nd among defensemen in scoring). Once you put all that together, the only other two players who came from the same team are Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty from the Los Angeles Kings. Could either of those have been replaced by Nicklas Backstrom (10th in scoring), Henrik Zetterberg (14th), Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban? Probably, but you could argue for or against anyone of those guys.
This leads to the next questions: is it really pertinent to have one player from every team and is the fan voting really necessary? If the purpose is to showcase talent, the best players should be there no matter what team they play for. If the purpose is to get the highest audience, I think there’d be much better ratings if Backstrom, Zetterberg, Subban and Datsyuk had been there instead of names like Justin Faulk, Erik Johnson, Patrik Elias and Zemgus Girgensons. The other option would be to take out fan voting which would have allowed the league to remove a few Chicago Blackhawks players from the roster and add a second player, from other teams, who may be more deserving. You thought the league would have done this back in 2007 after Rory Fitzpatrick was 24,000 votes shy of being voted into the game. I know it’s a way to give fans a say but the voting system just doesn’t work. It’s time to move on and try to give a better show to those who just want to watch the game and don’t take the time to vote hundreds of times for their favourite team’s players.
The all-star games in pretty much every major sport are becoming less and less popular except the NHL. The MLB’s attempt to make the game matter hasn’t done anything for TV ratings and the NFL’s attempt to move the game or add a fantasy draft hasn’t worked either. I don’t think a major change is needed, the all-star game is meant to see the best players showcase their talent so I think the only tweaking that needs to be done is to make sure the best players are there.