The Biggest MoverÖ Literally
As of Sunday night, the Bruins sit in sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern conference, just three points ahead of the Panthers and four ahead of the Flyers. With just three wins in their past 10 games, the Bruins sit on shaky ground without many reinforcements on the way, a result of losing many key players over the past few seasons without adequately replacing them through free agency or the draft.
Perhaps the biggest revelation to come out of Boston recently is the idea that captain Zdeno Chara may be shipped out in the hopes that he can earn a second Cup ring, and perhaps kick start a much-needed re-tooling for the Bruins' roster. Short-term, the Bruins are still a competitive team, but with a core of five players whose cap hits are at least $6 million each, the team is in a long-term cap crunch. Even the teamís rookies on cheap, entry-level contracts, save for perhaps David Pastrnak, have really failed to make a significant contribution.
The rule is ďnever say never,Ē but the soon-to-be 38-year-old has been a fixture on the Bruins' blue line for almost a decade, and having won a Cup for the franchise for the first time since 1972, he deserves to retire a Bruin. Thatís not mentioning that Chara has three years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of almost $7 million, a luxury most teams canít afford. Did I mention Chara has a no-trade clause that he is most certainly unwilling to waive unless itís to go to a heavy Cup favorite?
Even if the Bruins do trade Chara, it would be difficult to get a return package that would be of good value. Chara is physically irreplaceable, being the only 6-foot-9 player in the league, and even if his feet have stopped moving, he still takes up a large portion of the defensive zone. As a veteran leader, his minutes (team-leading 22:57 TOI) and leadership will certainly be missed, and with Kevan Miller (18:02 TOI, including 2:48 SH) out for the season with a dislocated shoulder, Chara's presence is even more needed. Consider rumors of Chara leaving Boston as just that, since the amount of white noise and heavy speculation tends to increase as the trade deadline looms. The real beneficiaries in this situation will be Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, and perhaps even Adam McQuaid or Matt Bartkowski (averaging 19-20 minutes in his past three games), both of whom will be looking for lucrative contract extensions this summer.
The Rattling of the Sabre
At certain times, Tim Murray seems intent on making the Sabres finish last, such as the trade with the Jets last week when they acquired a player who was already out for the season (Evander Kane), but at other times, by some strange force, it seems the Sabres are just destined to finish last.
On Sunday, the team announced that veteran defenseman Josh Gorges (lower body) will be out for the remainder of the season, and in the interim will also be without the services of Mike Weber (upper body), Tyson Strachan (illness), and Nikita Zadorov (team suspension). That has forced the remaining defensemen to log all the minutes, and in Sundayís game in which the Sabres miraculously conceded just one goal to the league-leading Predators, Zach Bogosian logged 28:07, Andre Benoit 27:25, and Andrej Meszaros 25:14. Benoit has seen a huge increase in ice-time since being paired with Bogosian on the top pairing, but that Meszaros is playing well over 20 minutes just shows how dire the situation is in Buffalo.
Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk, who were called up from Rochester prior to Sundayís game, played 10:00 and 16:51, respectively, indicating that even though the team has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and the focus is clearly on the future, head coach Ted Nolan still isnít keen on playing the kids. The obvious exception is Rasmus Ristolainen, who is in his second year with the Sabres and has been a fixture on the blue line all season.
McCabe, the former captain of the Wisconsin Badgers and the U.S. national team at the World Juniors, has been one of AHL Rochesterís best defenseman, scoring 25 points in 49 games in his first pro season. Heís a strong two-way player with good prospects of becoming a regular NHL defenseman with his ability to change the game with an open-ice check or a well-placed wrist shot.
If McCabe is the ultimate gamer, a player who is willing to take risks to blow the game wide open, then Pysyk is the ultimate observer, a steady defenseman who prefers to let the play develop and make the right play, as opposed to making a play and hoping it develops into something. He skates well and possesses a good first pass to move the puck up the ice, but as far as NHL-caliber ability and potential goes, McCabe has much more upside.
Itís unlikely that McCabe or Pysyk will provide any fantasy value to poolies, but they certainly are two names to keep in mind for the future, especially when both players vie for a roster spot next year. McCabe and Pysyk had strong training camps but both suffered injuries, which hastened a re-assignment to the AHL where both have played the majority of the season.
Money, Money Everywhere
When it comes to defense, the Flyers can hit a few home runs, such as Chris Pronger or Kimmo Timonen or even Michael Del Zotto, but for the most part, it has been three-pitch strikeouts. On Wednesday, the Flyers extended Nick Schultz for two more years at an average cap hit of $2.25 million per season. Thatís a pretty good price to pay for a depth defenseman, except Schultz is 32 years old and averaging 19:07 per game because the Flyers have no one else. Heís been durable and heís having a relatively good season, but he wonít make the Flyers any better today, much less two years down the road, and itís odd to think that there will be no better solutions this summer. Though this is the same team that gave Andrew MacDonald $5 million per year, so the teamís internal gauge for valuing defensemen is already quite skewed.
At least Marc Methot, who signed a four-year extension with the Sens, is younger and coming off productive seasons. Heís appeared in just 20 games this year due to injuries, but the Ottawa native is a good fit on that team, and in the future, may play a leadership role like Chris Phillips. Methot did take a little less to stay in Ottawa, but the market for his services this summer may not be as robust given his injury-plagued year. Fantasy-wise, neither Methot nor Schultz should make an impact this season or going forward.
Elsewhere Around the League
The Habs got Jarred Tinordi back after he was forced to get dental work following a fight with Vancouverís Andrey Padan in the AHL. The 6-foot-6 defenseman is developing into a physical player, but Tinordiís enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of him, making him bite off more than he can chew. Despite having acquired a handful of defensemen already this season, Marc Bergevin is reportedly still in the market for another.
The Panthers will get Dmitry Kulikov back following a four-game suspension for his dirty hit on Tyler Seguin. Even though it seemed like Gerard Gallantís men had fallen out of the playoff race earlier this month, sitting eight points back of a wild-card berth, theyíre right back in it now, sitting three points behind Boston. Kulikovís return comes just at the right time. Shane OíBrien was sent back to the AHL to make room.
The Starsí Patrik Nemeth has begun his conditioning assignment in the AHL after recovering from a laceration on his arm that was originally believed to be season-ending. The 23-year-old has played just parts of the past two seasons, appearing in 52 games in the NHL and AHL combined. Nemeth is a marginal contributor at the moment but the Stars could use some extra bodies.
The Wild and Canucks have also bolstered their blue lines, calling up Christian Folin and Bobby Sanguinetti, respectively. Folin, signed as an undrafted free agent after two years at UMass-Lowell, is expected to be a regular for the Wild going forward, while Sanguinetti is a short-term fix and may end up leaving at the end of the season. The Canucks already have Alex Biega pulling some minutes with Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev injured.
Columbus could move Cody Goloubef and/or Jordan Leopold, while the Wild may have interest in Arizonaís Zbynek Michalek or Carolinaís Andrej Sekera. The Pens, Lightning, Blues and Canucks are also reportedly looking at Sekera, while Jeff Petryís days in Edmonton are up after failing to come to terms on an extension. This can only be good news for Petry. Columbusí James Wisniewski and Washingtonís Mike Green continue to be staples in the rumor mill, but neither team is likely to give them up for short-term fixes.
An assist Sunday night against the Lightning and a three-point game before that gives Barrie four points in his past two games and three goals in his past six. Heís the Avsí best offensive defenseman and should have plenty of good seasons ahead of him in Colorado given their firepower.
Brodin continues to be a steady presence for the Wild and now has an assist in four straight games after Sundayís 6-2 win over Dallas. The Wild are vying for a playoff spot and Brodin has been a big minutes-eater for them. Points will come few and far between, but heís clearly got a hot hand right now.
This was to be expected after leaving the black hole that is the Sabres, but itís been confirmed that Myers still has plenty of untapped potential. The 6-foot-8 rearguard has points in four straight games as he tries to help the Jets soar into the playoffs.
Heís still getting a lot of minutes on a team that lacks bodies on the blue line, but heís minus-8 in his past three games, all of which have been losses. Heís got 26 points on the year, which is a disappointing total for him.
With four games left in February, Yandle has yet to score a goal this month, and though he has just one assist in his past four games, heís still a hot commodity on the trade market. He has 40 points this season but is dragged down by his unsightly minus-27 rating.
You can only ask so much of your teenaged defensemen, but the standards for Ekblad are much higher, and going pointless in three straight games and scoring just one assist in six games is very subpar. The Panthers have a fighting chance for a playoff spot and if they want to clinch it, Ekblad will have to play a big role and produce more.