The NHL business landscape can change quickly.
Consider the events of the past three days. New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh gets punched in the head. The Minnesota Wild forget how to win a hockey game. Dustin Byfuglien, the most coveted potential trade chip on the back end, signs a five-year extension to remain ice fishing in Manitoba. And the Ottawa Senators asserted themselves as a buyer by taking on Dion Phaneuf‘s contract.
Though few would mistake Big Buff with a butterfly, it is interesting to see how one transaction can have a ripple effect across the league.
With less than three weeks remaining until the Feb. 29 trade deadline, we take a look at the latest rumours circulating around the league.
Schultz on the block
This is the time of year when the phrase "healthy scratch" morphs easily into "this guy is about to get traded."
Schultz, a restricted free agent on July 1, is in play, but a deal has yet to be found for the defenceman, whose production has dipped for the second consecutive season.
"He needs to watch a game and reflect on his play and what his impact is both offensively and defensively," McLellan told reporters.
Vrbata good as gone?
Contending teams looking to pick up some scoring potential (we see you, Nashville and Minnesota) will no doubt be kicking tires on Vancouver Canucks winger Radim Vrbata, whose contract expires this summer.
A 30-goal man last season, the veteran's production has dipped (11 goals and 11 assists through 50 games) and coach Willie Desjardins hopes new linemates (Derek Dorsett and Brandon Sutter) can get him going. He's scored just one goal in his past 17 outings, and the consensus is he'd fetch no more than a second-round pick if/when he's shopped.
GM Jim Benning maintains that the playoffs are still the priority this season, but let's be real; the Canucks sit five points behind Anaheim for the final spot in the Pacific, and the Ducks have a game in hand. Plus, Vancouver will have to leapfrog Arizona as well.
Vrbata, who carries a $5-million cap hit, spoke to Ben Kuzma of The Province about the deadline.
"You know it’s out there, but you don’t have too much control over it,” Vrbata said. “You have some protection in the contract [a modified no-trade clause], but all you can do is play and see how it shapes up.
“I signed for two seasons and have no desire to leave, even though this season is not going as well. You sign up for something, you have to deal with the good and the bad. If it [a trade] happens, it happens, and you go from there.”
How McDonagh injury effects Yandle
Popular belief has the New York Rangers parting ways with UFA-in-waiting Keith Yandle, but the notion that the sides could cut ties this month is all but dead.
With captain Ryan McDonagh out indefinitely with a concussion, New York is leaning on Yandle to log more minutes on the blueline.
"If McDonagh’s symptoms persist, the Rangers obviously cannot even think about dealing Yandle, who led the team in ice time both against the Flyers and the Devils, getting 27:33 and 25:19, respectively," writes Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
Said Yandle: “Missing a guy like [McDonagh], it’s one of those things where you have to rise up and want to be a part of the solution.”
The Rangers have won three straight and are in a dogfight with the cross-bridge Islanders and surging Penguins for home ice in the Metropolitan.
What does Byfuglien mean for Ladd and other D-men?
Kudos to the Winnipeg Jets for keeping Byfuglien's term low (five years). Now, re-signing captain Andrew Ladd will be the real trick here. With the Jets far from contending and the theory that Winnipeg can't keep its stars disproved, Ladd becomes somewhat expendable.
Last we checked, the winger had asked for a six-year deal worth at least $41 million and negotiations had gone colder than the NBA All-Star Weekend forecast in Toronto. Ladd is suddenly playing with a hot stick, though, and has goals in each of his last three games.
The Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks are two clubs looking to rent a forward for a run at the Cup. If the Jets believe keeping Ladd is out of the question, a draft pick plus a prospect would be a nice return. (The Blackhawks do not have a second-rounder in 2016 to offer.)
Just as compelling as the implications for Ladd is how Byfuglien's (and Phaneuf's) removal from the board ups the trade value of other defencemen who could be available. Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis and Calgary's Kris Russell just saw their stock rise.
With the Islanders looking as strong as ever, I find it difficult to see Travis Hamonic getting moved in-season. He's too valuable to Garth Snow's club.
The Los Angeles Kings want another defenceman for their upcoming run at the title.
Lucic keen to retire a King
Negotiations between Milan Lucic and the Kings have been continuing now that the Anze Kopitar business is finished, but the impending UFA told the Los Angeles Times there is nothing to get excited about just yet.
"There's been two or three little talks here and there," Lucic said. "My plan is to remain a King and hopefully finish off my career here. Like I said, I go day-by-day and you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.
"If I could look eight, nine, 10 years down the road, hopefully I play that long. I hope it is right here in L.A. and that something can get done and conversations can get picked up in the near future because I really have enjoyed my time this season and love being a King and living here in L.A.
"Hopefully, it can last more than one season."
Ear muffs, James Reimer
The most coveted goaltender on the open market should he remain unsigned on July 1 is blocking out the trade chatter.
“I watch the highlights and when they start talking about different things like that I usually just change the channel,” Toronto's Reimer told the National Post. “I try not to focus too much on any of that.”
During his conference call to discuss the Phaneuf trade, Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello played things typically tight to the vest. He said Toronto is looking at everything, "A to Z," in order to build a winner, but if another deal was imminent, it'd be done already.
Lamoriello did stress how important it was to the club's five-year plan to clear Phaneuf's cap hit, opening up space for long-term deals for worthy prospects coming off entry-level contracts.
"We did not retain any salary. That's extremely important," he said. "We're certainly going to do whatever we can to make ourselves better."
Cue up another round of Steven Stamkos speculation.