Right Side, Best Side
The parade of defensemen changing addresses this season hit another season high this week with two major swaps. The Jets and Sabres kicked off the festivities Tuesday in a seven-player blockbuster that sent Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, prospects Brendan Lemieux (son of Claude) and Joel Armia and a first-round pick to Winnipeg for Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and prospect Jason Kasdorf. Then, a day after Valentine's Day, the Leafs and Predators consummated a trade that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli south of the border for a first-round pick, prospect Brendan Leipsic and Olli Jokinen, who is expected to be moved later because the 17-year, Cup-less vet is not happy going from a Cup contender to a "re-building" team.
The beauty of the Sabres-Jets deal is that it could really work for both sides. The teams are trying to accomplish vastly different goals, and it was a timely fit. Kane had become a distraction in Winnipeg and the Sabres fielded a good offer, trading future risk for some known commodities, perhaps speeding up the Sabres' grand plan.
But the intrigue lies in Myers, the 6-foot-8, 2009-10 Rookie of the Year whose decline in point production -- 48, 37, 23, 8, 22, 13 -- became more and more like rocket crashing down to Earth than a blip on the radar.
In Buffalo, Myers was the No. 1 guy almost by virtue of being there the longest. (Not hard to do these days.) But in Winnipeg, where Paul Maurice can insulate him with Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, in theory Maurice can deploy Myers more efficiently and generate better results. There's also the question of Myers' inherent talent, and whether he can still become a No. 1 defenseman and two-way threat, something Bogosian is unlikely to do.
Myers averaged 25:03 per game in Buffalo, including a team-high 19:13 on even strength, but through two games with the Jets has averaged 22:10 total per game and 17:21 on even strength. Those numbers might not stick, depending on where Byfuglien plays, but Myers' production should improve on an underrated team. He already has two assists in two games. Adding Myers' size gives the Jets an imposing group on defense, and one that can really skate, too.
Despite what Myers has or hasn't accomplished for the Sabres, his departure leaves a gaping hole on the right side, an overwhelming burden for a young defenseman even as impressive as Rasmus Ristolainen. Bogosian will keep the spot warm on the top pairing until he's ready, but as it stands, Bogosian likely will be the Sabres' biggest minutes eater for this year and next year. He's also from Massena, N.Y., so there should be an added boost for playing in his home state.
Bogosian had 13 points in 41 games prior to the trade, a below-average total, but could maybe do a little more with a bigger role, like in 2011-12 when he had 30 points in 65 games, averaging more than a minute more of power-play time that season (2:27) than now (1:06).
The big risk with Bogosian is health, as has never played a full schedule and has missed 15 games with the Jets already. Bogosian is going to play a lot of tough minutes on a team that won't be good for a least a couple more years, so there's more injury risk. In his Sabres debut against Philadelphia, Bogosian played 24:49, including 2:46 on the power play, and registered 11 hits.
Hopefully, David Poile's all-in this year will pay off. Three years ago, Poile put all his chips on the table, but his plan ultimately backfired. Re-uniting the Kostitsyn brothers and luring Alexander Radulov from the KHL ended up torpedoing the season, and Ryan Suter, whom the team was trying hard to convince to stay, left in summer. It's a different kind of pressure now with the likely Presidents' Trophy champions, but the stakes are the same.
Sunday morning, the Preds added Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Leafs while giving up a first-round pick, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a spare part in Olli Jokinen. The Leafs help their re-building cause with a first-round pick, which might allow them to move up in the draft, while Nashvile strengthened its squad for a long playoff run.
Starting Monday, the Preds will feature Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Franson down the right side. On the left, it'll be Roman Josi, the underrated Mattias Ekholm and the serviceable Victor Bartley. Ryan Ellis, who hasn't played since early January and whose prolonged absence may have precipitated the trade for Franson, hasn't been ruled out for the season yet and is likely to return. Franson, it should be noted, is dealing with a hip injury, though it's believed to be minor.
Franson's been a consistent offensive threat since coming up with Nashville, a team known for drafting and developing good defensemen. Since breaking into the NHL in the 2009-10 season, Franson has scored 21 to 33 points every season, including at least 25 assists in each of his last three seasons. Peter Laviolette plays an up-tempo style, which means Franson should be a huge offensive weapon. Given his experience and talent, he may end up being the team's No. 2 scoring option behind Weber.
It'll be interesting to see what happens when Ellis returns, giving Laviolette four right-handed defensemen who are worthy of a lineup spot. Ellis can play the opposite side, but it may end up being Franson, who played on the left side in Toronto because the left-shooting Dion Phaneuf much preferred playing on the right side. Just as how Phaneuf likes playing on his opposite side because of how much easier it is to shoot one-timers, if Franson moves to his opposite side, he might generate more offense, providing an even bigger boon to fantasy owners.
There's no word on how long Alex Edler will be out for the Canucks after leaving Saturday's game against Calgary with a lower-body injury. The blue line is already banged up with Kevin Bieksa (hand) out for another few weeks, though Adam Clendening has filled in adequately.
If Edler's injury is serious, the implications can be huge. The smooth Swede is Vancouver's minutes leader in nearly every single situation, save for the penalty kill where he trails defensive partner Chris Tanev by six seconds. Clendening and Dan Hamhuis will have to step up on the power play, and Yannick Weber, if and when he plays, will be the triggerman on the second unit, with perhaps Luca Sbisa logging some minutes as well.
The Canucks' power play ranks 18th, their goals scored in 5-on-5 situations is 20th and they sit dangerously close to losing their playoff position. Not having Edler will hurt in every facet.
Central Division Arms Race
Nashville knocked down the first domino with Franson, and it's believed division rivals Chicago and St. Louis are looking to add depth on defense as well.
In Chicago, Kyle Cumiskey, David Rundblad and Michal Rozsival just can't form a reliable pair. The former two are unproven commodities and Rozsival is just too darn slow. There's not a lot of depth, either, with Tim Erixon, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Stephen Johns all too green.
The Blues are looking for something similar, but their needs probably aren't quite as dire, though it would be interesting to see what would happen if the two teams target the same player, just to see the lengths each would go to prevent the other from winning.
It's unlikely a Western Conference team will trade to either, but a team out of the playoff race couldn't care less; it just wants the best return. Whoever gets traded, however, gets rewarded with a chance to win the Cup and an upswing in fantasy value.
Veterans to consider: Andrej Meszaros (BUF), Andre Benoit (BUF), Andrej Sekera (CAR), Tim Gleason (CAR), Jan Hejda (COL), Jordan Leopold (CBJ), Jeff Petry (EDM), Marek Zidlicky (NJ), Peter Harrold (NJ), Marc Methot (OTT), Nick Schultz (PHI), Carlo Colaiacovo (PHI).
Dmitry Kulikov will be suspended for his low bridge on Tyler Seguin that will sideline the Stars forward the next 3-6 weeks. It was a dangerous hit, and even the notorious Keith Ballard (returned to the ice Sunday) can claim that he never hit guys that low, that blatantly. The Panthers will miss his presence on defense, but Willie Mitchell will return soon, which should offset things a little.
Erik Karlsson, Senators - It's about time the fleet-footed Karlsson showed some life. He's on a three-game point streak, including back-to-back two-assist games. This could be a bit of late-season redemption for a disappointing season.
Dustin Byfuglien, Jets - Big Buff continues to do it all. He's on a four-game points streak with seven points in that span. No coincidence Jets are winners in three of their past four.
Kevin Klein, Rangers - He found an offensive game under Alain Vigneault with 23 points on the season. Six of those have come in his last six games.
Zdeno Chara, Bruins - Not a good time for the big fella to go quiet with five-game pointless slide and a minus-6 rating in his last three games.
Johnny Boychuk, Islanders - Offensive spurt was an anomaly early on, but still, eight games without a point is pushing it.
Justin Schultz, Oilers - He hasn't scored in six games, which is also coincidentally how long Taylor Hall has been hurt.