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Blue Line Buzz: Deadline On The Blue Line

Jason Chen

West Coast bias.

The NHL trade deadline was quieter than expected, but there still wasn’t any lack of intrigue. Some of the big names stayed right there they were, but enough changed places to make the playoff picture a little more interesting.

Biggest splash: Dallas landing Kris Russell from Calgary for Jyrki Jokipakka, forward Brett Pollock and a conditional second-round pick (could become a first-round pick).

Russell is an underrated defenseman and stabilizing presence on the back end. He blocks a ton of shots (174, second in the league), a trait that’s probably more valuable to the Stars than any other playoff team – you want Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi to see as little rubber as possible. It’s too high a price for a rental and Russell alone is not worth more than a first-round pick, which presumably means the Stars intend to re-sign him. Russell’s stock in fantasy leagues just skyrocketed, since he’ll be skating with the league’s best offense.

Jokipakka will step into the Flames’ lineup right away, but will likely only play a depth role. He’s big and physical, so he’ll certainly be an option on the penalty kill, but at even strength he’s a third-pairing defenseman at best. Dougie Hamilton has a chance to prove he’s the clear-cut No. 3 defenseman in Calgary now that there’s no Russell or Dennis Wideman (suspension).

Best poison pill move: The Leafs swallowing Brooks Laich’s contract, but also getting Connor Carrick and a second-round pick in exchange for sending Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick to Washington.

Carrick has 68 points and 182 penalty minutes over 120 games in the AHL with Hershey, a testament to both his skill and tenacity, but his size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and decision-making ability hold him back. Looking past that, the fifth-round pick from 2012 is a highly intriguing prospect, and for a team such as Toronto that’s stockpiling all sorts of young players, he’s a potential gem if they can develop him right. There’s a very good chance the Leafs bring Carrick up for a late-season audition, but he’s a brilliant addition to their AHL affiliate as well. The Leafs have done a great job flexing their financial muscle, taking on bad contracts in return for some valuable draft picks and prospects.

Best “I’m sorry” move: The Penguins acquiring Justin Schultz from Edmonton for a third-round pick.

See, if the Penguins hadn’t dealt Simon Despres, Scott Harrington or even Adam Clendening, they wouldn’t have had to settle for a 25-year-old reclamation project who will have to unlearn all sorts of terrible things he picked up in Edmonton. Schultz may fare better in Pittsburgh and take some pressure off Kris Letang, but he’s still got a lot of work to do before he solidifies himself as top-four defenseman. The Pens head into the upcoming draft with no picks in the first or third rounds, and they’re not at the point where they can afford to do that.

Best “I’ve given up on you” move: Detroit sending Jakub Kindl to Florida for a sixth-round pick.

The Red Wings have been extraordinarily patient with Kindl. A first-round pick from 2005, the 29-year-old never seemed to have a firm grasp on a roster spot and has spent time in the AHL over the past two years. He’s been waived twice this season, and while he’s capable skater, he’s just not very consistent. He will get his chances in Florida, and the Wings will save some valuable cap space while giving a few young guys – including Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Robbie Russo and Joe Hicketts – their turn.

Best “You’re not the right guy” move: The Kings trading Christian Ehrhoff to the Blackhawks for Rob Scuderi.

This is a hockey trade. Ehrhoff’s style doesn’t quite mesh with the physical Kings, and he should fare better in Chicago, where the emphasis is more on skating and passing the puck. Scuderi’s a lost cause, an aging veteran who no longer can provide quality minutes, but if there’s anyone who can squeeze the most out of a broken player, it’s Darryl Sutter. Heck, Scuderi already has an assist in two games with the Kings.

Best “I know this guy” move: The Canucks dealing a fifth-round pick to Edmonton for Philip Larsen’s rights.

Larsen appeared in 125 games with the Stars and Oilers before leaving for the KHL. It’s the true the Dane has been excellent for Jokerit Helsinki this season, but he’s had issues with consistency as well as the speed and physicality of the NHL game in the past. The Canucks are going after players they’re familiar with, and there’s usually nothing wrong with that, but the problem with retreads is that you end up losing an opportunity to find someone new. Markus Granlund was acquired after assistant general manager John Weisbrod, formerly a member of the Flames’ front office, gave his stamp of approval, and no doubt head coach Willie Desjardins and assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, both previously members of the Stars’ organization, gave their stamp of approval for Larsen.

Best sneaky move: The Avalanche acquiring Eric Gelinas from New Jersey for a third-round pick.

Gelinas is 24 years old and signed to a favorable contract under team control for another year; on a team that needs more defensemen, so why not? Francois Beauchemin and Erik Johnson will return next year, Tyson Barrie should get re-signed, and a bottom three of Gelinas, Nick Holden and Chris Bigras doesn’t sound like a bad mix.

Underrated depth move: The Capitals acquiring Mike Weber from Buffalo for a third-round pick.

Weber couldn’t crack the Sabres’ roster on a nightly basis, but he’s been a loyal soldier for 10 years and never hesitates when blocking shots. Barry Trotz already said Weber is highly unlikely to have a regular role on his blue line, but he’s still a pretty good insurance policy in case injuries occur in the playoffs, as they often do. If Weber blocks a few key shots in the playoffs, the trade will have served its purpose. Kudos for the Sabres getting a third-round pick.

Biggest overpay: The Sharks sending two second-round picks and Raffi Torres (sitting out the season) to Toronto for Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling.

Polak is slow and does nothing with the puck except throw it off the boards. He’s a depth defenseman at best and hardly a game-changer for the Sharks, who will face either Anaheim or L.A. in the first round and then Chicago in the next round. Does Polak turn the tide? Not at all. He barely moves the needle. Those second-round picks will come in handy for the Leafs, however, should they wish to package a few of them (they have five in the next two drafts) for a first-rounder.

Annual minor league swap: Buffalo moves skating defenseman Jerome Leduc to Ottawa, with stay-at-home defenseman Michael Sdao part of the return in the seven-“prospect” trade.

Leduc, a third-round pick and point-per-game player in major junior, made strides last year, collecting 25 points in 76 games for AHL Rochester, but a lack of size and consistency has hurt his development. Sdao, who has 18 points and 306 penalty minutes in past 123 games with AHL Binghamton, is a stay-at-home defenseman who doesn’t offer much in the skill department. Both are restricted free agents at the end of the season and neither was a key piece in this swap.

Last week’s top five performers:

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ – With two assists in a 4-1 win against Vancouver on Sunday, Vlasic now has a career-high 37 points, 16th among NHL blueliners. He’s well on his way to his first 40-point season, and although he trails Brent Burns by 14 points among San Jose’s defensemen, his plus-11 rating leads the group. Usually steady but unspectacular, he’s been a surprise in fantasy this year and deserves a spot on all rosters.

Mark Streit, PHI – The veteran defenseman had three helpers in a 4-2 win over Arizona, the Flyers’ third win in four games, and also picked up his 400th career point. At 38 years old, his best days are clearly over, but when healthy, Streit’s still quite effective. He has four points in the last two games and will have opportunities to add to that in upcoming games against Calgary and Edmonton.

Dustin Byfuglien, WPG – The Jets have lost five of their past six games, so it’s safe to say they’re probably not going to make the playoffs, but Big Buff is going down swinging anyway with a five-game assist streak. He has 39 points and 187 shots on goal this season, and in leagues that count peripherals such as hits (170, 17th in the league), he’s been one of the best fantasy defensemen this season. The 30-year-old’s dual position eligibility as a right wing in some leagues is also a huge bonus.

Andrei Markov, MTL – The Habs have won three of their past four games, including a road match against the heavily favored Capitals, and Markov has eight points in his past seven games. It’s probably not a coincidence. Despite the encouraging news that Carey Price (lower body) is now skating in full gear, the Habs are still probably going to allow more goals than they’ll score for the rest of the season, and that’s not good news for their defensemen. It’s been a good week for Markov, but with a tough Western Conference road swing coming up, the momentum will be hard to keep.

Sami Vatanen, ANA – He notched two assists Sunday against crosstown rival Los Angeles, giving him three goals and six assists during the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak. Word on the street is that Vatanen is the centerpiece of a deal that could see Jonathan Drouin go to Anaheim, but if the Finn keeps it up, Bob Murray should hang up the phone. Why give up one of the hottest players in the league for an unknown quantity? The Ducks certainly don’t need scoring help right now, and since nobody is beating the Blackhawks when it comes to forward depth, having a deep defensive corps just might give Anaheim the edge in the playoffs. The series last year was closer than people seem to remember.

Top five trending up:

Ryan Murray, CLM – If the Blue Jackets want to make the playoffs next year, they’ll need Sergei Bobrovsky to stay healthy, but also for Murray to take the next step and become the No. 2 guy behind Seth Jones. Murray’s doing his best recently, though, with three assists in his past four games; he also skated 28:54 in Saturday’s win against Florida, the third time he’s exceeded 28 minutes this season.

Jaccob Slavin, CAR – He had five blocked shots Sunday against St. Louis and 19 this past week to lead all defensemen, a sign that he could become the next Kris Russell or Chris Tanev. With the ‘Canes in selling mode, expect the losses to pile up and the defense to face more shot attempts, giving Slavin plenty of opportunities to be a human shield. He’s part of a promising young defensive core that includes Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy.

Kevan Miller, BOS – A solid first full NHL season continued for Miller when he scored the Bruins’ lone goal in Sunday’s loss against the Lightning, giving him three points in the last five games and 18 on the season. Likely nothing more than a lower-end, second-pairing defenseman, the 28-year-old’s outlook for the rest of the season isn’t particularly noteworthy, but he’s at least carved out a regular role for himself in Beantown.

Brandon Davidson, EDM – Is it any coincidence that the day the Oilers traded Justin Schultz, they snapped their seven-game losing streak? Even though all eyes are on Darnell Nurse, Davidson has quietly emerged as one of the league’s most reliable young defenseman. At 24 years old and playing on one of the league’s worst defensive teams, the former sixth-round pick has a plus-4 rating and eight points in 46 games. He matured quite a bit over two seasons with AHL Oklahoma City and plays a simple style that coaches love. Burning question: Why can’t the Oilers develop all of their prospects this well?

Matt Carle, TB – The elder statesmen on this list, Carle has played much better of late after sitting out as a healthy scratch for stretches during the season. He snapped a 42-game drought with a goal and an assist Feb. 20 against the Penguins, and has scored all three of his season’s points in his past five games. The Lightning are now in a groove with six straight wins, which means Carle likely won’t come out of the lineup anytime soon.

Top five trending down:

Mark Giordano, CGY – The Flames have lost seven of their past eight games and allowed 15 goals in their past four losses. Keeping the puck out of their net has been a big problem for the Flames this year, but pinning everything on poor goaltending would be unfair. Giordano hasn’t scored a point in three straight games and has a minus-4 rating in his past four.

Shea Weber, NSH – Fantasy owners need their key players to stay healthy during the stretch drive, but Weber has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury. The good news is that the Predators are 3-0 in his absence; it may be time to wonder whether Roman Josi has surpassed Weber. Much more missed time and Weber will have a lot of trouble hitting the 20-goal mark.

John Carlson, WSH – After returning from a lengthy absence earlier this year, Carlson’s on the sidelines again – he’ll be out for the next four weeks with a lower-body injury, which would send waves of panic throughout the organization if not for the Caps’ huge lead in the Eastern Conference. Still, Carlson will be missed, and Barry Trotz will have to lean heavily on Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner again until he returns.

Justin Faulk, CAR – Faulk played 16:51 in a 3-1 win over the Flyers after a six-game absence due to a leg injury, then missed the next three games with and currently has no return date set. With the ‘Canes obviously looking to next season already, there won’t be any reason to rush Faulk’s return, but be prepared for a dip in the team’s power-play production. On the other hand, this could be a great opportunity for the team to see what Noah Hanifin can do.

Dan Boyle, NYR – He hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 17 and has just 17 points on the season. At 39, Boyle’s age is clearly showing – he gets progressively worse as the games go on, which makes him a specialist at best, but not even a good one anymore. The decision to keep Keith Yandle, even if he doesn’t re-sign, is a smart one as the Rangers gear up for what they hope is a long playoff run.