NHL Teams jockey for the future on Trade Deadline Day

Another NHL trade deadline day has come and gone with the 2021 edition being relatively quiet when compared to other years. The day saw just 17 official deals made which involved 26 players and numerous draft picks. The number of trades made was the fewest since 2013 and the number of roster players moved was the fewest since 2000. However, there were several trades made in the week or two leading up to deadline day.

The reasons for fewer trades this year could be players having to quarantine themselves after moving to a new city due to the Coronavirus pandemic as well as the NHL’s flat salary cap. In addition, teams also need to keep surplus players on their rosters to expose for the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft to stock the lineup of the new Seattle Kraken club.

When the official trade deadline arrived at 3 p.m. ET, just two points separated the NHL’s top six teams in the standings while the top nine clubs were only four points apart.

Arguably, the best player to be dealt was Taylor Hall, who went from the Buffalo Sabres along with fellow forward Curtis Lazar for forward Anders Bjotk and a second-round draft pick. Hall racked up 39 goals and 54 assists for 93 points in 76 while playing with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18 and won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. However, he struggled mightily this season with the Sabres with just two goals in 37 games along with 17 assists.

Some teams preferred to remain quiet while others decided to make several moves to bolster their squads for a long playoff run.

Below is is a list of all NHL trades during the month of April, including several three-way deals

Anaheim Ducks acquire defenceman Haydn Fleury from Carolina Hurricanes for defenceman Jani Hakanpaa and a sixth-round pick in 2022 NHL Draft.

Boston Bruins acquire forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from Buffalo Sabres for forward Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in 2021 NHL Draft.

Boston Bruins acquire defenceman Mike Reilly from Ottawa Senators for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Colorado Avalanche acquire forward Carl Soderberg from Chicago Blackhawks for forward Josh Dickinson and the rights to forward Ryder Rolston.

Colorado Avalanche acquire goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the San Jose Sharks for defenceman Greg Pateryn and a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Colorado Avalanche acquire forward Patrik Nemeth from the Detroit Red Wings for a fourth-round selection in 2022 NHL Draft.

Florida Panthers acquire defenceman Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Chicago Blackhawks acquire forward Adam Gaudette from Vancouver Canucks for forward Matthew Highmore.

Chicago Blackhawks acquire forwards Brett Connolly and Henrik Borgstrom, defenseman Riley Stillman and a 2021 seventh-round draft pick from the Florida Panthers for defenceman Lucas Carlsson and forward Lucas Wallmark.

Chicago Blackhawks acquire forward Vinnie Hinostroza from the Florida Panthers for forward Brad Morrison.

Edmonton Oilers acquire defenceman Dmitry Kulikov from New Jersey Devils for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022 NHL Draft.

Florida Panthers acquire forward Sam Bennett and a 2022 sixth-round draft pick from Calgary Flames for forward Emil Heineman and a 2022 second-round draft pick.

Montreal Canadiens acquire defenceman Erik Gustafsson from Philadelphia Flyers for a 2022 seventh-round draft pick.

Montreal Canadiens acquire defenceman Jon Merrill from the Detroit Red Wings for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and forward Hayden Verbeek.

Nashville Predators acquire defenceman Erik Gudbranson from Ottawa Senators for defenceman Brandon Fortunato and a 2023 seventh-round draft pick.

New Jersey Devils acquire defenceman Jonas Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals for a conditional third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

New York Islanders acquire defenceman Braydon Coburn from the Ottawa Senators for a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

New York Islanders acquire forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils for forwards A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst, a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins acquire forward Jeff Carter from the Los Angeles Kings for conditional draft picks in 2022 and 2023.

San Jose Sharks acquire forward Alexander Barabanov from Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Antti Suomela.

Tampa Bay Lightning acquire defenceman Fredrik Claesson from San Jose Sharks for the rights to goaltender Magnus Chrona.

Tampa Bay Lightning acquire defenceman David Savard from the Columbus Blue Jackets, as part of a three-team trade with the Detroit Red Wings, in exchange for the Lightning’s first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs acquire defenceman Ben Hutton from Anaheim Ducks for a 2022 fifth-round draft pick.

Toronto Maple Leafs acquire goalie David Rittich from the Calgary Flames for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs acquire forward Nick Foligno from the Columbus Blue Jackets and forward Stefan Noesen from the San Jose Sharks for a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 Draft going to Columbus and a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft going to San Jose.

Toronto Maple Leafs acquire forward Riley Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 2022 conditional seventh round pick in the NHL Draft.

Vancouver Canucks acquire defenceman Madison Bowey and a fifth-round pick in 2021 NHL Draft from Chicago Blackhawks for a fourth-round pick in 2021 Draft.

Vegas Golden Knights acquire forward Mattias Janmark, defenceman Nick DeSimone and a fifth-round pick in 2022 NHL Draft from Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick in the 2021 Draft and a third-round pick in the 2022 Draft. San Jose receives a fifth-round pick in the 2022 Draft.

Washington Capitals acquire forward Michael Raffl from Philadelphia Flyers for a 2021 fifth-round draft pick.

Washington Capitals acquire forward Anthony Mantha from Detroit Red Wings for forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick

Winnipeg Jets acquire defenceman Jordie Benn from Vancouver Canucks for a 2021 sixth-round draft pick.

Minnesota Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov adjusting well to the NHL

Although he’s not an inexperienced teenager, 23-year-old Kirill Kaprizov of Russia is still turning heads with his superb play in the NHL in his rookie campaign. The young winger was drafted in the fifth round with the 135th pick overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2015 despite being just 5-feet-9-inches tall. However, at a solid 200 lbs, he’s enjoying a fine season with 10 goals and 25 points after 29 games and is a front-runner for the 2020-21 Calder Trophy.

Kaprizov hasn’t been overwhelmed in his own end of the ice either as he possessed a plus-6 rating and had chipped in with two power-play goals, two game-winners and an overtime winner. He’s been impressive in even-strength situations while outscoring some of the league’s biggest stars while playing 5-on-5. The creative Kaprizov is considered by many Wild fans to be the team’s most exciting player since Marian Gaborik.

While he may not be the speediest skater, Kaprizov has plenty of hockey sense and a tremendous vision for finding open teammates. However, it took him several games to find linemates which were on the same wavelength as him. He then found himself playing with Mats Zuccarello of Norway on the top line and the two have provided the chemistry that head coach Dean Evason was looking for.

Zuccarello didn’t make his season debut until Feb. 16 due to injury but the team has greatly improved since he returned as the fellow winger has notched five goals and 20 points in his first 18 games. Zuccarello soon realized that while Kaprizov may be playing just his first season in the NHL, his experience in the KHL with CSKA Moscow and other teams has greatly paid off. In fact, the Russian racked up 113 goals and 230 points in 293 games while playing in his homeland for the past seven years.

He won a gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea as Russia’s youngest player as well as a bronze at the 2019 World Championships while winning a silver medal at the 2016 World Junior Championships and a bronze at the same junior event the next year. He played in five KHL All-Star Games and won the league’s Gagarin Cup championship in 2018-19. Kaprizov tallied 31 points in 47 KHL playoff games and posted 26 points in 22 junior games with Russia and has 19 points in his first 23 outings with the senior side.

Kaprizov was chosen first overall in the KHL junior draft by Metallurg Novokuznetsk before being drafted by the Wild a year later. He signed a three-year deal with Metallurg Novokuznetsk in 2015 and was traded to Salavat Yulaev Ufa a year later. He then joined CSKA Moscow in 2017 and helped the club reach the Gagarin Cup finals in 2018 and 2019. Kaprizov netted a career-best 33 goals, 29 helpers and 62 points in 2019-20 in just 57 games and led the league in goals for his second straight season.

He became the youngest player in KHL history to score 100 goals in October, 2019 when he was

22-years and 172-days of age. He inked a two-year, entry-level contract with Minnesota in July, 2020. Kaprizov then debuted with the team on Jan. 14, 2021 and notched three points against the Los Angeles Kings including the overtime winner in a 4-3 triumph. This feat saw him become the first NHL player to tally three points and an overtime marker in his first league outing and the third to score an overtime winner in his debut.

Kaprizov has had no problem adjusting to the NHL and his low centre of gravity has enabled him to become quite durable whenever the going gets tough on the ice. He has the ability do bounce off of physically bigger players without losing a stride and is already considered to be one of the league’s best playmakers this season. The Wild still have a long way to go to clinch a top-four playoff spot though as they sat in third place in the West Division on March, 22nd with 37 points from 29 games. They were five points ahead of the fifth-place Los Angeles Kings with 27 regular-season games remaining in the schedule.

Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane proving he’s still able

Patrick Kane’s no spring chicken when it comes to playing hockey as the 32-year-old veteran forward was originally drafted first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007. The native of Buffalo, New York tallied his 400th career regular-season goal in early March at home against the Detroit Red Wings in a 7-2 triumph. The goal meant he became the ninth American-born player to reach the plateau and the 100th overall.

Kane is enjoying one of his finest seasons as he had racked up 11 goals and 27 assists after 26 games for 38 points. That ranked him second in league scoring behind Connor McDavid’s 43 points and second to McDavid’s 38 assists. Kane also had an impressive plus-8 rating. He’s now in his 14th season with the team and will reach the 1,000 regular-season game mark the next time he steps on the ice.

After 999 outings he had posted 400 goals and 660 assists for 1,060 points with a plus-77 rating. This included 63 game-winners and 110 power-play markers. Incredibly though, he has yet to score a shorthanded goal. When he does reach his 1,000th  game he’ll become the first player drafted in 2007 to do so.

When it comes to the playoffs, Kane has helped Chicago win three Stanley Cups in 2009-10, 2012-13 and 2014-15. He’s chipped in with 52 goals and 80 assists for 132 points in 126 postseason contests and has five overtime winners and a team-record 11 game-winners overall. His most famous came against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009/10 when his goal at 4:06 of overtime in game six gave Chicago the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.

That goal also saw Kane become the youngest NHL player to score a Stanley-Cup-winning overtime marker. He also won the 2012/13 Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP when he captured his second Stanley Cup. He then assisted on the game winner for his third championship in 2014-15.

His fast start to the current season is his best since 2015-16 when he posted 35 points in 23 games. He went on to capture the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, the Ted Lindsay Award for being the best player as voted by his peers, the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring and was named to the First All-Star Team.

The 5-foot-10-inch Kane’s play has given the Hawks a realistic chance of making the playoffs even though they’re playing with eight rookies including goaltender Kevin Lankinen. The team is also playing without its top-two centres in Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach. Kane has more or less carried the team on his back lately and might need to keep it up though if they’re going to lock up a playoff spot. He hasn’t exactly been a one-man team this season but he’s been close to it. If the team does make the postseason, Kane should certainly get some consideration for the Hart Trophy once again.

His NHL career definitely started out on the right foot as Kane won the rookie of the year award for 2007/08 when he netted 21 goals and 51 assists and made the All-Rookie Team. His 2015/16 campaign saw him become the first American-born player to win hoist the Hart Trophy and the first to lead the league in scoring when he posted 46 goals and 60 helpers. He also recorded a 26-game scoring streak that season which was the longest since 1992/93. This consisted of 16 goals and 24 assists to snap the previous club record of 21 games which was by Bobby Hull two decades earlier.

The Blackhawks didn’t really take much of a gamble when drafting taking Kane first overall as he was the Canadian Hockey League’s leading scorer and rookie of the year in 2006/07 with 62 goals and 145 points 58 outings with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. He’s lived up to his potential in the NHL and international competition with numerous individual and team honours and nobody should be surprised if he adds some more silverware to the trophy cabinet before he hangs up his skates.

Sidney Crosby finally reaches 1,000-game mark

For many hockey fans it may seem like Sidney Crosby has been around forever. Therefore it comes as a bit of a surprise to that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain didn’t reach the 1,000 regular-season game milestone until Feb. 20, 2021.  After an emotional pre-game ceremony before the historic game, Crosby then went out and earned a pair of assists in a 3-2 home victory over the New York Islanders.

With Crosby being drafted first overall from Rimouski Oceanic in the 2005 NHL Draft it seems like he should have hit the 1,000-game plateau quite some time ago. This would have been the case had he not endured three injury-plagued seasons from 2010-11 to 2012-13 in which he missed a total of 113 games. Most of the absences were due to problems with concussions and he also missed 29 games in 2007-08 and another 28 last season.

The native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia is now 33 years old and has been one of the most successful players in the history of the game. After winning numerous accolades in minor and junior hockey he’s continued that same tradition in the NHL. Crosby has set many Penguins’ club records and NHL milestones and has a room full of silverware to show for it.

So far in the big league alone, Crosby has racked up a berth on the NHL All-Rookie Team and has played in eight All-Star Games when he’s been healthy. He’s led the league in scoring on two occasions to earn the Art Ross Trophy and has also taken home a pair of Hart Memorial Trophies as the most valuable player to his team in the league. A trio of Ted Lindsay Awards have been won for being the most valuable player in the league as voted by his fellow players.

Crosby has been named to the season-ending NHL First All-Star Team four times and to the NHL Second All-Star Team four times. He’s won three Stanley Cups and twice led the league in goals to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. We can also add on a pair of Conn Smythe Trophies for being the most valuable player in the playoffs and two Mark Messier Leadership Awards.

When it comes to international hockey, Crosby has also shone on the world stage by winning a World Junior Gold Medal, a World Championship Leading Scorer award and being named the best forward at a World Championship and to the tournament’s All-Star Team. He’s also led Canada to a pair of Winter Olympic Gold Medals as well as a World Championship Gold Medal and a World Cup of Hockey Gold Medal. In addition led the World Cup of Hockey in scoring in 2016 and was named the event’s Most Valuable Player.

There isn’t much Crosby hasn’t accomplished throughout his life with a pair of ice skates attached to his feet and with six goals and 15 points in 16 games this season there’s no reason to believe he’s in the twilight of his career. After 1,000 regular-season outings, the centre had accumulated 468 goals and 810 assists for 1,278 points. He had a +176 rating with 66 game-winning goals and another 142 on the power-play. Crosby has also chipped in with 68 goals and 121 helpers for 189 points in 168 postseason contests with a +18 rating.

But for all Crosby has achieved in the NHL, there have been rumours that the Penguins have recently had thoughts of trading. Of course, if Wayne Gretzky was traded during his days as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer then anything’s possible. With the team hiring Ron Hextall as its new general manager and Brian Burke as the president of hockey operations, Crosby has been aware of the rumours swirling around.

He’s signed until the end of the 2024-25 season and currently ranks second on the club’s all-time scoring list behind Mario Lemieux but  Crosby is the first to play 1,000 games with the team. He admitted that dealing with trade rumours is something new to him but told the media he hopes to spend the rest of his playing days in Pittsburgh. He claimed the rumours are out of his control though and what happens during the remainder of his career may not be entirely up to him either. But no matter where Crosby ends his career, he’ll always be regarded as a hockey hero in both Pittsburgh and Canada.

Colorado’s Nazem Kadri making the most of the NHL playoffs

Usually by this stage of the playoffs, Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri is sitting on the sidelines with a multi-game suspension. At least that was the case when the 29-year-old played for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Boston Bruins in the 2018 and 2019 postseasons.

Although Kadri showed character and heart on a Maple Leafs squad that apparently lacks much of both, general manager Kyle Dubas pulled the trigger on a trade in July, 2019 which saw him head to Denver. In return, the Leafs picked up defenceman Tyson Barrie and forward Adam Kerfoot. And Even though Barrie’s one of the NHL’s premier offensive blue liners it’s a deal which Colorado looks to have already won hands down.

Kadri was the longest-serving member of the Leafs when the trade came down and a fan favourite even with the playoff bans on his resume. He racked up 167 goals and 357 points in 561 games for Toronto with 10 points in 19 outings. He also posted two consecutive 32- seasons even though he was often used as a checking pivot.

When he arrived in Colorado, Kadri had a reputation as a gritty player but a hot-head who would sometimes cross the line. However, he fit like a glove with the team and produced 19 goals and 36 points for the squad in 51 games this season despite missing 19 contests due to injury. His presence helped Colorado place second in the Central Division and earned the team a bye from the playoff qualifying series.

Since the NHL resumed play in this Covid-19-riddled campaign, Kadri has been one of the league’s top scorers as he’s chipped in with four goals and nine points in seven games with a league-leading four power-play markers and three game-winners. In addition, his Corsi numbers show that the Avalanche definitely outplay their opponents and have greater puck possession while he’s on the ice.

Unless the Avalanche collapse like the Maple Leafs have been prone to do, Kadri should find himself in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his pro career. They have a 3-1 series lead over the Arizona Coyotes and are on the verge of getting the job done with a  lot of help from their new centre.

His success won’t come as a surprise to Maple Leafs’ fans since players they trade away typically find the grass to be greener elsewhere and thrive with new teams. Players such as Carl Gunnarson, Alex Steen, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, James van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner, and Kadri are all competing in the playoffs this year while the Leafs polish their golf clubs.

The Avalanche and their fans weren’t really sure what they were getting though as Kadri’s reputation as something of a troublemaker preceded his arrival in the Rockies. They’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased with the results and with the team having an abundance of youthful talent there’s a chance the franchise will capture its third Stanley Cup this year.

And if it does, Kadri’s sure to get the accolades he deserves as long as his history of playoff suspensions doesn’t repeat itself one more time.

Tampa captain Steven Stamkos out for rest of regular season

The Tampa Bay Lightning will have to battle for first place in the Atlantic Division and the league without the services of their captain Steven Stamkos for the rest of the regular season. The Lightning, who won the President’s Trophy as the league’s top regular-season team in 2018/19, have an outside chance to hang onto their crown this year but it’ll be an uphill climb.

As of March, 2nd, the day Stamkos is set to undergo surgery in St. Louis, Tampa Bay sat third overall in the league table with 87 points from a record of 41-19-5 but had won just one of their last four games. They trail the Boston Bruins for first place in both the Atlantic Division and the overall league standings by seven points with a game in hand on the Bruins.

Tampa shouldn’t have a problem hanging on to their playoff spot though as they were sitting 14 points ahead of the fourth-place Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand. However, with the Lightning announcing that Stamkos will miss from six to eight weeks of action, there’s a good chance he won’t be ready for the first round of the postseason.

The 30-year-old Stamkos needed surgery to repair a core muscle problem after apparently aggravating it in a 4-3 home defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 25th.  Stamkos, who scored a career-high 60 goals in 2011/12 had 29 goals and 37 assists for 66 points after 57 games this season. This ranked him second on the squad in both scoring categories behind Nikita Kucherov who had 31 goals and 49 assists for 80 points in 60 games.

Stamkos was the first overall draft pick in 2008 and he’s spent his entire NHL career with Tampa Bay. He’s played 803 regular-season games in the NHL up to now with 422 goals and 410 assists under his belt for a total of 832 points. He also has 155 power-play goals to his name along with 61 game-winners. The 6-foot-1-inch, 195 lb center from Markham, Ontario has added 23 goals and 30 assists for 53 points in 70 playoff contests with 11 power-play markers and a pair of game-winners.

This is the third time Stamkos has missed a considerable amount of playing time due to injury. He played just 37 games in 2013/14 due to a broken tibia and only 17 times in 2016/17 because of a torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee. He’s still managed to win two Rocket Richard Trophies as the league’s top goal scorer in 2009/10 and 2011/12 and is a two-time Second Team All Star. In addition, he’s scored the most career points for any NHL player born in the 1990’s.

Stamkos holds numerous Tampa Bay Lightning records and milestones as a player and will likely be headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame when he retires and becomes eligible. His absence will be a big blow to the club as it tries to make amends for last season’s dismal playoff performance. The Lightning won 62 games in 2018/19 to tie the Detroit Red Wings of 1995/96 for the most wins in a single season. However, they then fell apart in the playoffs and were swept in four straight games by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the very first round.

Columbus netminder Elvis Merzlikins is king of the crease

Luckily for the Columbus Blue Jackets they aren’t paying rookie goaltender Elvis Merzlikins his true worth this season. The 25-year-old native of Riga, Latvia, who was named after Elvis Presley, is making just $874,125 this campaign but has been one of the top goalies in the NHL lately.

Many Columbus fans expected the worst when two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky left the team as an unrestricted free agent last summer and signed a huge multi-year, contract with the Florida Panthers. This left the club with Joonas Korpisalo and Merzlikins as the team’s two untested goaltenders by default this season.

However, Korpisalo was injured at the tail end of December and Merzlikins has been on fire ever since replacing him as the number-one. Merzlikins posted his fifth shutout in eight games on Feb. 7th when he blanked the Detroit Red Wings 2-0 at home. It was also his second straight shutout and fifth of the season which is currently the tops in the NHL.

The victory against Detroit was the eighth in a row for the young goaltender but his streak was halted the next night with a narrow 2-1 loss at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. Since taking over as the Blue Jackets’ starter, the rookie has posted an impressive record of 12-3. The eight-game winning streak is the longest in the club’s history for a rookie goalie and the longest for any rookie in 2019/20.

Washington Capitals’ newcomer Ilya Samsonov won seven straight outings earlier in the campaign between Dec. 27th and Jan. 31st. Merzlikins is now one of just nine rookie goalies in NHL history to post an eight-game winning streak. Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues managed to reel off nine straight victories last season.

In addition, Merzlikins became just the sixth NHL netminder since 1930 to post five shutouts over a span of eight games. The last goalie to achieve the feat was the Phoenix Coyotes’ Brian Boucher in 2003/04. In fact, Boucher recorded five straight shutouts in his streak. However, just one other rookie has managed to pull it off and that came back in 1938/39 when the Boston Bruins’ Frank Brimsek managed it.

Due to the fine play of Merzlikins, Columbus has a record of 30-17-9 season for 69 points and is 9-1-1 over their past 11 games. They have also gone 19-3-5 since December 9th with 43 of their points coming since then. As of Feb. 9th they were hanging on to the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, just one point ahead of the New York Islanders and two in front of the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes.

Perhaps the play of Merzlikins shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though. The 6-foot-3-inch, 180 lb goalie was taken in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by Columbus with the 76th overall pick. He then won several awards while playing internationally for Latvia and for HC Lugano in the Swiss National League. He was named the league’s top goalie in 2015/16 and 2017/18 and then signed with the Blue Jackets last March.

Merzlikins made his NHL debut in October of this season and was shelled for seven goals by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was then sent down to play in the American Hockey League with the Cleveland Monsters in November before being recalled. He caught a big break when Korpisalo was injured on Dec. 30th and Merzlikins won his first NHL game on New Year’s Eve with a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.

As of Feb. 9Th, Merzlikins was top-five in the NHL in goals-against average at 2.19, first in save percentage at 93.0 and first in shutouts with five. Unless he completely goes of the rails the rest of the way this season it looks like Merzlikins should be in for a big raise since his current contract is for just one year.

William Nylander contract could be a bargain for Toronto Maple Leafs

When William Nylander didn’t sign a new contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs until the very last minute in December, 2018 many fans felt the team highly overpaid the young forward. Nylander inked a six-year, $45 million deal worth a yearly average of $6,962,366 against the salary cap and then proceeded to score just seven goals and 20 assists in 54 contests over the remainder of the season.

If we fast forward to the current campaign though we see the 23-year-old is certainly earning his pay cheque. As of February 2nd, Nylander had posted a career-high 24 goals along with 23 assists for 47 points in 52 games. That placed him third in team scoring behind Auston Matthews’ 61 points and Mitch Marner’s 51. Nylander has served just eight minutes in penalties this year and his 18 even-strength goals ranked second on the team.

Nylander has achieved all of this while playing more than two minutes per-game less than Matthews per night and over three minutes fewer than Marner. Nylander’s game picked up following last season’s playoffs when the Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games and he headed to the IIHF World Hockey Championships. He led the tournament in scoring with 18 points in eight games ( 5 goals, 13 assists) and the confidence he gained there has carried over to the 2019/20 NHL season.

Supporters of Nylander feel he isn’t playing any differently this season but he’s finally scoring the goals he deserves. The main reason for this is due to his shooting percentage being a consistent 16.0 per cent which means he’s having more luck around the net. This is more than double last year’s total of 7.69 per cent while his career average is approximately 11 per cent.

He’s among the top Leafs in all scoring stats and has been silencing his critics by scoring most of his goals from the slot. In the past, he’s been accused of playing around the perimeter and being afraid to drive to the net. However, those claims have been proved wrong this season and in recognition of his fine play Nylander was named the Comeback Player of the year at mid-season by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

He started his career with back-to-back 61-point campaigns before last year’s disappointing numbers but that should have been expected since he missed the first 28 games. The winger was determined to prove to fans that last season was a fluke and he’s certainly been good to his word this year. Like several of his teammates, Nylander has also been much more effective since Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as the team’s head coach in mid-November.

He recently scored goals in five consecutive outings and posted a string of 13 goals in 16 games. As long as he stays healthy down the stretch Nylander should easily set a new career high in points this season. If there is room for improvement it would be on the power play. Nylander’s already one of the better players in the league when it comes to 5-on-5 production and his numbers could easily grow with more contribution on the power play.

So far this year he’s scored six goals and seven assists for 13 points with the man advantage which isn’t too shabby. But as a rookie he posted 26 points on the power play to rank 13th in the NHL for forwards and first on his squad. Nylander managed just 12 points with the extra man in 2017/18 and just six last season. He’s on pace to rack up 20 points on the power play this year but if he can improve on that number next season he could easily become a point-per-game NHL’er.

At his young age and with added confidence, fans who were demanding the overpaid Nylander be traded last year have suddenly become quiet. And at an average salary cap of just over $6.9 million per season the Leafs may actually have a bargain with his contract. Only time will tell over the remainder of the deal, but Nylander’s certainly been on a hot streak so far in 2019/20.

Washington Capitals’ defender John Carlson’s hot as a pistol

Washington Capitals’ defenceman John Carlson is on a torrid scoring pace this season as he leads all blue liners as of December 22nd with 47 points from 13 goals and 34 assists in 37 games. The 29-year-old from Natick, Massachusetts co-leads the league with six game-winning goals and is on pace to register 104 points in 2019/20. If he manages to keep up the pace he’ll definitely be joining some elite defencemen when it comes to scoring statistics.

Since the NHL began the 100-point barrier by a defenceman has been reached just 14 times and only five players have managed to achieve it. These are Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Denis Potvin, Brian Leetch and Al MacInnis. Orr did it six times while Coffey pulled it off five times and the rest reached 100 points or more once each. Leetch was the last rearguard to do it in 1991/92. For Carlson to join those legends he’ll need to score 53 points in his next 45 games.

No NHL defenceman has scored more than 90 points since 1993/94 when Ray Bourque did it and just three blue liners have notched more than 80 points since the 1995/96 campaign. These were Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks in 2018/19, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators in 2015/16 and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings in 2005/06. Carlson had a 13 point lead over Dougie Hamilton in blue line scoring on Dec. 22nd and was tied for seventh overall in the league.

Carlson has recorded a point on 37 per cent of his team’s goals sop far this year while Hamilton was next for a defender at slightly more than 30 per cent. Since 2017/18, Carlson has been on quite a roll with 41 goals and 144 assists for 185 points in 199 regular-season outings. This ranks him first or second for defencemen in goals scored, assists, total points, game-winning goals and even-strength goals. He now has 103 goals and 347 helpers for 450 points in 725 games while averaging 23:30 of ice time per night.

Many high-scoring defencemen are sometimes a liability in their own end but Carlson is a plus 101 for his career and is third in the league this season at plus 21. He’s also proved to be quite effective on the blue line once the playoffs start as he’s racked up 18 goals and 42 assists for 60 points in 107 postseason encounters. He chipped in with five goals and 20 points in 24 encounters in 2017/18 to help the Capitals win their first ever Stanley Cup.

It seems Carlson doesn’t just chip in with a point here and there as he’s already registered 14 multi-point games this season which is almost double any other blue liner in the league. The 6-foot-3-inch 220 lb rearguard was drafted by Washington in 2008 with the 27th overall pick in the first round and then registered 16 goals and 76 points in 59 games for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League the next season to prove the Capitals had made the right choice.

With 70 points last season and 68 the year before it looks like Carlson’s now hitting his peak. He doesn’t come cheap as he inked an eight-year deal in the summer of 2018 for a total of 64 million. This averages out to $8 million a year but if he keeps scoring at the same pace for the next few seasons it may well be money worth spending.

Restricted free agents have limited options in NHL

With NHL training camps scheduled to open in mid-September, time is running out for some teams to sign their big-name restricted free agents. But although they are “restricted” the players are still unsigned and free to play elsewhere such as Europe and Russia if they don’t agree to terms with their NHL clubs.

Free agency can be confusing to some fans since there are unrestricted and restricted free agents. Players are eligible for unrestricted free agency when their contract runs out after turning 27 years old or playing in the NHL for a minimum of seven years. As for restricted free agents, it is ruled by a combination of their age when being signed to their first professional contract as well as their amount of experience in any of the world’s pro hockey leagues.

Those who ink their first contracts from the age of 18 to 21 will be restricted free agents following their first three seasons of pro experience. Players who first signed at 22 or 23 become restricted free agents with two years of pro experience and if signing your first pro deal at the age of 24 or older you qualify as a restricted free agent following the first year of experience.

In today’s NHL, most youngsters who are drafted end up signing a three-year deal known as an entry-level contract. This is a league-wide standard contract which is set at a specific amount of dollars. However, there are also one and two-year entry-level contracts and all players entering the league must sign one if they’re under the age of 25. The length of the contract depends on your age with shorter deals for older players. Typically, a drafted player will sign a three-year entry-level contract and will become a restricted free agent when it expires.

When the contract is over their NHL club has to give them a qualifying offer for a new one-year deal after the entry draft in June. This enables the team to retain negotiating rights with the player. If a team doesn’t send a qualifying offer then the player is eligible for unrestricted free agency. Depending on the player’s previous salary, qualifying offers must include a raise of five or 10 per cent unless they were making over $1 million a season. In this case, the qualifying offer has to be at least equal to the previous salary.

A player has the right to decline a qualifying offer and remain a restricted free agent. Those who turn the offer down can negotiate a new contract with the club but won’t be able to play in the NHL if they haven’t agreed to terms by December 1st. Restricted free agents are eligible to speak with other NHL clubs and allowed to sign an offer sheet with a team if one is received. If an offer sheet is signed, his club has the right to match it within seven days but isn’t allowed to trade him or negotiate a contract during this time.

If the offer sheet is matched and the player stays, his team isn’t allowed to trade him for a year. If an offer sheet isn’t matched, the team that signs the player must give up draft picks as compensation. The exact draft picks and the number of them are determined by the average annual dollar-size of the contract over five years . The more the contract is worth the more draft picks have to be given up. Restricted free agents can also sit out the season if they don’t sign or in some instances can have an arbitrator rule on their salary.

Restricted free agents who have played in the NHL for a minimum of four years or signed their first professional contract at 20 years of age or older are eligible to request salary arbitration. The player’s club also has the right to request arbitration in this case and their salary offer can be up to a maximum 15 per cent lower than the previous salary The team and player give the arbitrator a dollar amount for a salary and after hearing arguments from both sides the arbitrator will rule on the amount. If the ruling favours the player and the player requested arbitration, the team must decide within 48 hours if it wants to pay the salary or let the player qualify for unrestricted free agency by walking away from the deal.

If the team requested arbitration they can’t walk away and have to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

When a player is scheduled for arbitration, no other clubs can sign him to an offer sheet however the player can still negotiate and sign with their own club if they hope to avoid arbitration. It’s not the easiest process to follow but it means there’s still a chance some of this summer’s top restricted free agents may sign before the season starts. However, if they haven’t inked a deal by December 1st they’re out of luck as far as the 2019/20 NHL campaign is concerned.