Today, in From the Pressbox:
The salary cap era has created a real rise in the number of trades in the NHL as teams that find themselves fading out of playoff contention are looking to acquire assets for players who are not likely to fit into their future plans and whose contracts are expiring at the end of the season. We also consider a surprising contract extension and the disappearance of one team's winning edge.
Trade talks are starting to heat up and some deals have already been made. We examine the impact of the completed deals as well and forecast others.
Dallas Deals Their Captain
On the surface, it is hard to reconcile the dealing of Brendan Morrow by the Dallas Stars. As of March 26, Dallas was ranked tenth in the Western Conference standings and only one point out of the final playoff spot. So, why did they do this deal with the Penguins?
The Stars have clearly decided that, from their perspective Morrow is a declining asset, as a battle-scarred 34-year old winger who has been impacted by serious injuries in three of his last six seasons. He is also in the final year of a contract that has a cap hit of $4.1 M, indicative of a stipend that he no longer merits, given his reduced productivity (6g, 11 pts. and a (-8) raring. Despite the success of last years' champs (Los Angeles) who snuck into the post-season by grabbing the last playoff spot, the Dallas team management realizes that their roster is several pieces away from being a serious contender.
That's why they took this opportunity to bolster their blueline, in acquiring defenseman Joe Morrow, a former first round draft pick in the 2011 draft.
They found a willing and motivated trade partner in the Penguins, who look at Morrow's history as a rugged checker with a scoring touch in a player who has plenty of playoff experience, to say nothing of his great leadership skills. Each of those components is a sought after commodity as teams ready themselves for the long playoff run that awaits serious contending teams. To find all of these qualities in one player makes that individual highly valued at this time.
The Penguins also added an experienced defenseman in picking up Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks. Murray is also playing out the final year of a contract that carries a $2.5M cap hit. The 33-year old rearguard gives the Penguins another veteran on their back end and that's another aspect of preparing for a long playoff run. Normally, teams will expect to deal with an injury or two along the way and that's why you'll see teams bolster their roster depth at the trade deadline-it becomes something of an “arms race”.
Jarome Iginla Submits Wish List
Another Captain may soon be on the move as the Flames long-time on-ice leader has apparently submitted a list of four teams, to Calgary's front office, for whom he would waive his no trade clause. They happen to be the last four Stanley Cup champs – Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
We've already noted that the Penguins have dropped the gauntlet in preparing for the postseason and they are alleged to have serious interest in adding Iginla, too. That's an intriguing possibility, given the chemistry he found in playing with Sidney Crosby at the most recent Olympics.
The other contending clubs in this bid are acutely aware of what the Pens have already done to their roster and it's unlikely that they will stand idly by in this situation.
They each have the assets to meet with the asking price that Calgary has set – a high draft pick, a roster player and a prospect in their system.
Of these teams, I believe the Bruins are the best fit because the Flames are probably less likely to want to strengthen a Western-based foe, given that Iginla will very likely be extended a contract for at least the next season (and possibly more by whichever club deals for him). In addition, the Bruins cannot give the perception that are “standing pat” while other teams (Pittsburgh) are getting stronger and deeper in their talent pool.
The Bruins need for another scorer, like Iginla, has been underscored during their current string of five games, during which time they have only scored eight goals.
The Flames should come out of this deal with a solid return on a very popular player and that really is the way that these types of trades should work out. One team is gaining an important piece to go forward, while another is gathering assets in a rebuilding mode.
A surprising contract extension in Carolina
When the Carolina Hurricanes signed the enigmatic Alexander Semin to a one-year $7M out of free agency, prior to this season, more than a few eyebrows were raised. The Hurricanes are not perceived as one of the league's high profile or glamour teams. Instead, GM Jim Rutherford has accumulated a group of hard-working players who tend to grind out games.
Semin has been known as a pure goal scorer throughout his NHL career, which has seen him notch between 21 and 40 goals in each of his first six seasons in the league-a total of 197 tallies in 469 games played headed into this campaign.
This one-year deal was clearly an opportunity for Semin to shed the label of a one-dimensional and sometimes selfish player, to redefine him as a bona fide high-end talent.
Through 30 games played in this season, he has only eight goals but has added 22 assists. More importantly, he has been deemed a good fit in the Hurricane's system as he has made enough progress in his overall game to post a +18 rating.
That's why Carolina rewarded him with a five-year extension at that same annual $7.5 M cap hit.
Count me among the skeptics here, because I see Semin as a player who recognized that he had t o make a strong impression in this circumstance and I don't see him playing with the same desperation to impress now that he's got the big contract. Besides, the bottom line for me is that he's only scored eight goals even with this new attitude.
I think the Hurricanes may well rue the day they made Semin a rich man.
Bruins losing that aura of invincibility and toughness
I have already touched on a sharp decline in scoring by the Bruins over the last couple of weeks and that's just one of a few observations that has me thinking that there are some real concerns about the state of this club.
They began the year with a schedule that included fewer games than any other club in the Eastern Conference, taking advantage of it to incorporate more practice time and adequate rest in between games. Both aspects were key elements in romping to a 17-3-3 mark.
However, as I did forecast a few weeks ago, I thought the schedule would catch up to them and to a certain extent it has done so. Through their last eight games, played in a span of 14 days, Boston has slumped to a 4-4 record and that has been highlighted by the afore-mentioned scoring drought. This decline and a surprising drop in the grinding, physical style they have been known for, was really exposed in a recent two-game set with the Maple Leafs.
The Bruins had dominated the Leafs by winning the last eight straight games in this rivalry and Boston fans certainly expected that to continue. However, the Leafs met a key initial challenge as they opened the scoring in the first game on a goal by Nazem Kadri, who is enjoying a tremendous breakout campaign, with 14 goals and 21 assists to date. On the ensuing faceoff, Bruins tough guy, Shawn Thornton challenged his Leaf counterpart, Colton Orr, to a bout. In that fight, Orr won a clear decision, which sent a message to both benches.
The Leafs were clearly not going to be bullied by their opponents and were ready to prove that they could compete on any level. In the ensuing play, they proved that point by carving out a 3-2 win.
Moving on to the rematch, played in Boston, the Leafs played with a greater confidence, knowing that they had exorcised some long-time demons, and they jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Though the Bruins would rebound and eventually win by a 3-2 score (after a shootout) this game was very evenly played and there was no edge in physical play that could be attributed to the home side.
That's a key element in my review of the Bruins because I did not see that swagger which they played with, throughout the early part of this season.
In addition, this condensed schedule has caught up to the B's on the injury front as well. They have seen checking forward go down with a broken leg and lost veteran defensemen Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk, which has led to some uncharacteristically lose defensive play.
The Bruins were thought to be the class of the competitive Northeast Division, but it now looks as though there isn't much difference between the top four teams in that group-all of whom should make it to the playoffs this season. After that, anything can happen.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).