RotoWire Partners

From the Press Box: Wings in Unchartered Territory

Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno

Known in sports media as The Beast and The StatsMan, Paul is a 23-year veteran of the STATS INC reporter network, scoring play by play for the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. Appears regularly on 120 Sports, providing Fantasy Hockey analysis. President of both the Society for International Hockey Research and Canadian Football Research Society. In 1992, invented in-game statistics that are tracked in the NHL'S Real Time Scoring system. Contributing author of "Toronto Maple Leafs: Diary of a Dynasty, 1957-1967" and "CFL: Celebrating 50 Years of Memories".


Today, From the Pressbox:

We look at a couple of teams in the Western Conference and try to figure out their next moves and review some recent deals there, too. Then we examine the play of the Toronto Maple Leafs in January 2014.

Edmonton/Nashville Goalie trades

This is a team that boasts a series of recent first round (even multiple first overall draft picks). Last week they made a trade to reconfigure their goaltending. Ben Scrivens was acquired in exchange for a third round pick from Los Angeles. That trade came on the heels of a prior exchange where the Oilers shipped out Devan Dubnyk in favor of rugged winger Matt Hendricks.

Let's look at that second deal first. Last season Dubnyk put together his third straight season with a declining goals against average, with all three seasons well below the three goal per game mark, a standard that is regarded with a strong indication of quality performance. He was seemingly well established as the top goalie on the Oilers roster and figured to benefit from a maturing and talented roster. However, as this season has turned into a terrible downer for the whole team, it seems that Dubnyk has taken the fall, owing to his subpar numbers posted in 32 appearances (3.36 gaa and .894 save pct.).

He's still only 27 years old and now is clearly in a backup role with Nashville as long as Pekka Rinne is on the job in Nashville. Rinne is out long-term with a hip injury and only now has begun any weight-bearing exercises. So the skinny on Dubnyk is that he should get the bulk of the work in goal for the Preds over the schedule up to the Olympic break, with a team that is significantly better than the Oilers. Long-term, this could turn out extremely well or extremely poorly for Dubnyk. That path will be determined by Rinne's recovery.

On the flip side, Edmonton appears to be banking on the fine numbers that Scrivens had compiled with the Kings (2.09 gaa and .928 save pct.). There is little doubt that Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins' familiarity with Scrivens' history, while they were together in Toronto, was a factor in this decision.

Scrivens has never been a number one goalie in the NHL and apparently will share the net with Ilya Bryzgalov (3.25 gaa, .904 save pct., in 15 appearances). Bryzgalov's numbers are only marginally better than what Dubnyk was playing to, with the Oilers. That merely underscores the fact that the Oilers, while rich in offensive potential, have a ton of work to do in an effort to upgrade their defensive record. Until they address that issue, upgrading their defensive depth and committing to a two-way system, the Oilers will continue to be a non-playoff team.

To that end, they may have to consider trades that will accelerate the path to a more balanced lineup. Also, some cap flexibility will be afforded Edmonton management with the expiry of contracts to Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Jones and Nick Shultz, totaling $12.25 M that could be better spent this offseason.

In terms of trade chips, they won't be dealing their first-round draft choice because it could be the top overall selection. They are undoubtedly looking at the possibility of dealing away center Sam Gagner, who is a notch below blue-chippers Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. A more difficult decision could involve a potential deal for Nail Yakupov, who has tons of talent, but has really struggled as a sophomore pro (17 points and a -31 rating). How bad would it look if he realized his potential elsewhere?

Wings in danger and uncharted territory

The Detroit Red Wings have not missed the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 1989-1990 season. Heading unto action this week they find themselves in a battle with no fewer than five teams for the final wild card spot. To make matters worse this has been a season marred by injuries to stalwarts like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and most recently they found out that they would be without the services of number one goalie Jimmy Howard, for the second time this season. He is expected to miss a couple of weeks with a knee injury.

Offensive depth and experience on the blueline have been hallmarks in Motown but this year's edition just doesn't have those qualities as a transition and commitment to younger players is underway this season.

Apart from the above-noted players, only Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Kronwall have even topped the 20-point mark.

Among the younger players, Tomas Tatar has been the most prolific contributor with 10 goals and nine assists. He is yet another product of the quality European Scouting pipeline that has been a staple for the Red Wings for many years. Joakim Andersson is another talented Euro import who has cracked the roster in a bigger way (13 points) than his first two years as a pro. He has been pushed into a second line role largely due to the injuries and ineffective play of Stephen Weiss. Weiss' woes and a cap hit of $4.9M for the next four years looks like a big miss at this stage. That is uncharted territory for Detroit's current management team. Justin Abdelkader (16 points) and Gustav Nyquist (12 points) are two other forwards who are pushing for top six minutes.

This team has been written off a few times (in the last two playoff years mostly) but this may be the year that they fall short of the post-season. It just looks like they don't match up with competing clubs.

While this may not be their year, it might be wise to keep an eye on the development of some of the younger Wings we have noted. They may see a lot of ice time the rest of this season.

Maple Leafs fall…then rise…Which way will they wind up?

After defeating the Wings at the Winter Classic Game, the Maple Leafs proceeded to lose their next four games by a cumulative score of 21-7. These games were marked by some very lackluster efforts, which led to many questions and trade rumors.

Should they fire coach Randy Carlyle?

Was it time to give up on 23-year old center Nazem Kadri?

Should the club deal one of their two young defensemen, Morgan Reilly or Jake Gardiner?

None of these moves have been necessitated as the Leafs' fortunes have done a complete turn for the better in recent games. After Tuesday night's 5-2 win in Colorado, they have now won six straight games and have created some space in their pursuit of a playoff spot.

There is plenty to like about this team right now. Their top line is tearing up the league as Tyler Bozak continues to fit in as the productive first line center, between prolific wingers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. In this current streak, Jonathan Bernier seems to have grabbed the top goalie role here. He is quickly moving up among the top winners and has solid stats (2.58 gaa, .927 save pct.) and was possibly overlooked in many pools because of an expected battle with James Reimer for playing time there.

The young defense had been maligned for a lack of goal scoring, but Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson are firing on all cylinders of late and 18-year old Morgan Reilly is showing more flashes of his abundant skills. Another key development is toughness and solid defensive zone play of Tim Gleason.

The Leafs are starting to look like a team that is primed for a second straight playoff berth. They also hope that Dave Bolland and David Clarkson will bounce back from injury and that these roster additions that will further strengthen the overall depth of this roster. If they can get totally healthy, Toronto will be a difficult opponent for any team in the East.

There is a lesson here for poolies. Sometimes patience is a virtue. Having the faith in your team and not succumbing to the pressure of poor performance in a stretch where things are not looking good is a challenge for some. It could lead some fantasy owners to make panic trades. In those circumstances, it is hard to get good value in trades. In your fantasy leagues, do not give the perception of being anxious to make trades, when your team is struggling.