Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Destroying Any Hope

Today should be circled on most hockey fans' calendars as the day that two teams basically doomed themselves to a future of lottery picks and mockery. There were a couple of signings today that made a lot of sense financially for both sides as two players returned to the teams that owned their rights, but the two trades that happened today should have the general managers of those respective teams locked away from mental instability. It's hard to understand why these two men would, if I may, saw the legs off of their own teams by making questionable deals - not to mention undermining their fanbases' hopes of being a playoff team in the immediate or near future - but the dust has settled and it's clear that two Canadian teams may have taken steps backwards today in their pursuit of moving forward.

The Good

I'll start with the smartest moves of the day. Columbus went ahead and did the right thing in re-signing Seth Jones. The Blue Jackets couldn't afford to let their best young defenceman get any closer to restricted free agency nor could they underpay him on a bridge deal that would prompt him to walk in a couple of years.

Instead, GM Jarmo Kekäläinen got Jones' signature on a six-year deal worth a very cap-friendly average annual salary of $5.4 million US. As a potential top-two defenceman, Jones' signing could prove very prudent a couple years down the road if Columbus can continue to develop its younger players - Zach Werenski in particular - to compete the core of the Blue Jackets.

To make the numbers work, Kekäläinen had to make a move to reduce his cap hit, so he bought out underperforming and oft-injured Fedor Tyutin from his deal. Yes, it's still a cap hit that the Blue Jackets have to eat, but it's better than the $4.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons. It also opens a roster spot for one of those younger players, and I wouldn't be surprised if Werenski makes the jump to the NHL level after his impressive AHL campaign.

Minnesota also shored up their blue line with a very manageable signing of Jason Zucker. Zucker's deal is a two-year, $4 million contract which is excellent value for a second-pairing defenceman like Zucker. There was thought that he may take a one-year deal with his hometown of Las Vegas joining the league next season, but Minnesota secured his services for the next couple of seasons at a very nice price. Kudos to GM Chuck Fletcher on getting Zucker signed.

San Jose went and brought back a good young player in Tomas Hertl at another smart number, extending Hertl for another two years at $6 million. Hertl had all the making of being a sniper before a knee injury sidelined him in his rookie campaign, but he's been a very productive forward for the Sharks since returning. GM Doug Wilson deserves some credit for inking Hertl to a very good contact for his salary cap while Hertl gets the security of another couple of years in a Sharks uniform.

Finally, the biggest signing of the day goes to the Tampa Bay Lightning who brought back Steven Stamkos for eight years at $68 million - $8.5 million per season - and has a full no-movement clause. In other words, Steven Stamkos will be a member of the Lightning for eight years unless he decides otherwise.

In a state with no state income tax, Stamkos will enjoy the majority of his money unfettered. Had he signed in Toronto, for example, the Leafs would have had to pay Stamkos about $12.5 million per season to equal the same $8.5 million he will be receiving in Tampa Bay. Stamkos legitimately made a smart financial decision in sticking with the Lightning, and Steve Yzerman has to be happy to have his sniper back in his version of the blue-and-white.

The Bad

In what has to be one of the strangest moves I've ever seen, the Montreal Canadiens traded all-star defenceman and former Norris Trophy winner PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for all-star defenceman Shea Weber. To say that this made one shake my head is being polite. And I'm a Shea Weber fan.

Look, I get that Montreal feels it needs to be grittier this season. They already brought in Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks, and it was expected that the conversations that GM Marc Bergevin about Subban at the draft contained mostly hot air as fans of the Canadiens began to like their new-look team. However, it appears that the lure of Weber was enough for Bergevin to sacrifice Montreal's best defenceman for what appears to be leadership and slightly more grit.

Weber is three years older than Subban. Both are right-handed shots, and both play the first pairing on their respective teams. Both bring an element of leadership, and both can play a physical game. However, Subban is slightly more mobile and speedy than Weber, and I'd stress that Subban is a bit more risky with his decisions with the puck. That being said, I still can't fathom why Bergevin would trade for a guy who might be safer with the puck, but brings less mobility and speed.

For Montreal, this trade was a wash when you look at overall impact that Weber brings to the lineup. Again, I like Weber. Always have. I just can't find any factors that make Montreal better with Weber on the blue line than Subban.

For Nashville, they get younger, they get the charisma of Subban to pair with the safety of their talented blue line, and they get themselves a new leader for the defensive corps where a mistake won't be blown into national disaster proportions. Combined with the other excellent defencemen that Nashville has - Ellis, Josi, Ekholm, and eventually Fabbro - the Predators are still deep, still talented, still have a cannon from the blue line, and they now have another weapon who can push the puck deep and almost play as a fourth forward.

The Central Division got tougher and the Nashville Predators got better in this trade. The Montreal Canadiens had better be prepared for the backlash after a fan favorite, a big community guy, and a helluva hockey player is headed to Music City. That's not say that Weber won't have a big season in Montreal or won't play well. He will. He always does. But for the first time in his NHL life, Shea Weber has some huge shoes to fill.

The Ugly

If there was one team who needed a shot in the arm more than any other, it would be the Edmonton Oilers. They had Jesse Puljujarvi fall into their laps at the NHL Entry Draft, altering their plan to draft a defenceman with their pick, but you don't pass up a talented winger like that. However, in doing so, they were now stuck with a plethora of left wingers so someone was bound to be traded.

Taylor Hall earns the most of all the left wingers the Oilers have, but he's also their most productive and certainly their most talented left winger. Patrick Maroon and Benoit Pouliot are capable wingers, but won't fetch a top-two defenceman that the Oilers covet. Matt Hendricks, Lauri Korpikoski, and Luke Gadzik are interchangeable as depth wingers at this point. My guess would have been that either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov would have been the first to go with Hendricks, Korpikoski, and Gadzik finding themselves in Bakersfield with the addition of Puljujarvi.

The Edmonton Oilers made a trade today, acquiring defenceman Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils. To get him, GM Peter Chiarelli inexplicably traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in a one-for-one swap of players. I'm still shaking my head as I write those words. I have no explanation, rationale, or justification for this deal other than this has to be the first of many moves this summer for the Oilers. Only time will tell, I guess.

With Larsson, the Oilers get a guy who can be good enough to play on their top pairing, but has moments where he's best fit for the press box. Yes, he's still a young player, but he hasn't shown enough to make him a top defenceman on any team. His posession numbers are excellent from an analytics standpoint, but that hardly makes up for the loss of offence in Hall given away to the Devils. I just don't get how Chiarelli sees this as an upgrade to his team.

The Devils will get a solid scorer in Hall who should make them better upfront. He has some deficiencies defensively, but I expect head coach John Hynes to correct these quickly. Hall's speed and skill will fit into the less physical Metropolitan Division where the Penguins proved that smart, quick forwards can carry a team far. Trading Larsson opens up a roster spot, but it's not like Larsson had done anything to secure a spot as an unmovable piece as it was.

I just can't understand this move unless the Oilers have indeed secured in principle deals with both Milan Lucic and Jason Demers. Adding both changes the dynamic of the Oilers dramatically, and combined with the Larsson deal gives the Oilers four decent defencemen with which to open the season.

If there are more trades to come, perhaps Larsson is another chip in a bigger trade. It was reported that there were teams who were interested in Nail Yakupov, but balked at the asking price. Perhaps adding in a player like Larsson - a young defenceman who can improve - can ease those concerns over the asking price.

If that is the master plan, though, why trade Hall for virtually nothing when there were probably 28 other teams who would and could have offered more for Hall's services? If the Oilers are revamping their entire blue line, why not flip Hall for, say, Trouba in Winnipeg if the goal was to sign Lucic and Demers while keeping Larsson? Again, I am puzzled by Chiarelli's deal and wonder if there isn't more going on behind the scenes that will prevent fans of the Oilers from torching his office and running him out of town.

We've already witnessed a playoff season without Canadian teams involved for the first time in my life, and these deals today by the Canadiens and Oilers almost guarantee that those two teams will struggle again this season. I think that the Canadiens will be somewhat better with the likes of Weber and Shaw in their lineup and a full season with Carey Price stopping pucks, but I'm starting to get a sense that the Oilers enjoy picking in the top-four at every draft.

If there is one thing for Canadiens and Oilers fans to remember, even Wayne Gretzky was traded twice. Granted, it was under entirely different circumstances and the return was much different the first time Gretzky was traded, but the best player in the world was traded twice. You'll get through this, but it just might take a long time to see a recovery and you'll probably have to endure a lot of tough moments.

Hang in there, guys. I'll reference a line by John Milton from Paradise Lost because it seems to be appropriate at this juncture for your teams: "Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light." Don't give up hope no matter how far away it seems.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: