Slowest and most boring ever.
That’s about the only way to describe the trading period that started with the beginning of the NHL season and ended at 11:59 p.m. ET on Saturday with the annual Christmas trading freeze.
And that, folks, was it.
According to NHL general managers, there are all kinds of factors behind this, most of which have to do with the lack of roster flexibility created by the salary cap system. Teams are either at the cap or living within their own budget restrictions, and more and more of them seem to have discovered the value of being a few million shy of their maximum number.
There’s extraordinary parity, with few teams really out of playoff contention, and no teams want to trade their young players, knowing they’ll be needed down the road as affordable contracts.
More and more, teams build their rosters in July and August, and have to live with that roster until the NHL trading deadline in late February or early March.
We do know right now that New York Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic and Columbus Blue Jackets centre Ryan Johansen are available, but as one GM put it, that means “they might be traded in two weeks, or in two years.”
The Isles basically want an exact replica of Hamonic in terms of age, ability and cap hit, while the Blue Jackets are going to want a player aged 21-22 who is playing in the league now, and preferably a defenceman. Players like Seth Jones and Morgan Rielly might be theoretical matches, but it’s unlikely Nashville and Toronto want to part with those players just as they’re starting to establish themselves.
So good luck finding a match.
There are big names headed towards unrestricted free agency, like Steven Stamkos and Eric Staal, who in other years might be trade deadline bait. The difference is those players have total no move contracts, which means if they don’t want to be traded, they can’t be.
So that’s where we are, and it’s hard to see much changing in early January.
Sprong saga continues in QMJHL
It’s been a strange and disappointing season in Pittsburgh, and the Daniel Sprong story was strange indeed.
On Dec. 7, head coach Mike Johnston was publicly chastised by GM Jim Rutherford for not playing the 18-year-old Sprong, a second round draft pick last June.
Five days later, Johnston was fired. Seven days after that, Sprong was sent back to the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after spending all but 18 games of this first NHL season watching from the press box.
Even when he dressed, he barely played.
So why was Johnston questioned for not using the kid?
Hard to say. What we do know is Pens exec Bill Guerin called Charlottetown GM Grant Sonier on Saturday morning to let him know Pittsburgh was sending Sprong back to junior, and soon after that the first-place Rouyn-Noranda Huskies were calling Sonier to see if he'd want to trade Sprong to them.
“Not available,” is what Sonier said.
Charlottetown sits 17th out of 18 teams in the QMJHL, but Sonier said the plan now is to aggressively pursue some of the top names apparently available on the trade market. Quebec forward Dmytro Timashov won’t be one of them; it appears he’s already on his way to Shawinigan.
Sprong will play his first game back with the Islanders on Dec. 28th, but won’t get to reunite with former lineup Filip Chlapik until Chlapik returns from playing for the
Czech Republic at the world junior hockey championships.
Canadian World Junior team set, with a couple of surprises
In the end, Team Canada got only Jake Virtanen from Vancouver for the upcoming world juniors. There was hope right until Saturday that St. Louis might feel generous and send Robbie Fabbri to the Canadian team. Vancouver had made it clear a day earlier that Jared McCann wouldn’t be coming.
That left Canada to cut four players, and it was a bit of a surprise they chose to delete defenceman Noah Juulsen, as well as blueliner Jeremy Lauzon and forwards Jayce Hawryluk and Nick Merkley. Juulsen was thought to be a lock, but Maple Leaf draft pick Travis Dermott grabbed his spot.
Val d’Or sniper Julien Gauthier was the only 2016 draft eligible player to make Team Canada, the latest indication the ’16 draft might not be a strong one for Canadian-born players.
Kieffer Bellows, meanwhile, was a surprise cut from Team USA. Bellows is a sniper with the U.S. National Team Development in Plymouth, Mi and is the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows.
Stamkos quells rumours of his departure
Stamkos came through Toronto last week in the eye of a storm over his future, and didn’t have much to say.
But when he got back to Florida, he sure did, with the most newsworthy part being to say his camp and the Lightning are “definitely still talking” after much speculation there were no ongoing negotiations over a new contract.
Stamkos also told the Tampa Bay Times, “Like I’ve always said, I envision myself winning a championship here and want to do that. I’m the captain of this team and I want to be that leader.”
Stamkos said there was no truth to rumours that said he has already decided to leave Tampa, or that there’s a rift between himself and head coach Jon Cooper.
“That’s false,” he said.
Bernier gets his chance by default
We’ll see if Saturday’s shutout against L.A. was a turning point for Jonathan Bernier in the Toronto net.
But it really doesn’t matter. He’s the only goalie the Leafs have for now, and perhaps that’s the best news Bernier could get. He’s going to get a lengthy exposure as the undisputed No. 1 goalie in Toronto, whether he’s earned it or not, and that may be exactly what he needs.
Getzlaf playing his way off Team Canada
When Doug Armstrong accepted the job as Team Canada GM for next year’s World Cup, you can bet he figured that when he announced the first group of 16 players on March 1, Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf would automatically be included.
Well, we’ll see.
Now, it’s hard to imagine leaving Crosby off the team, both because of what he’s done for Canada in previous tournaments and because he’s the biggest marquee name in the sport. This tournament has a big job ahead re-selling itself as a competition that hasn’t been held since 2004, and it needs Crosby.
Getzlaf, however, might be a different case. He is in a terrible slump that began in the last quarter of last season and has continued into the first third of this season. Among Canadian-born centres, he ranks 27th with one goal (an empty netter) and 17 assists.
When you see a list of Canadian centres that begins with John Tavares, Tyler Seguin, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, and imagine that players such as Ryan O’Reilly, Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter and Sidney Crosby have to be accounted for, you can see the challenge that may like ahead for Getzlaf.
No punishment for Burrows after comments made to O'Sullivan
It appears the storm over an admission by Vancouver forward Alexandre Burrows that he aimed insults years ago at former NHL player Patrick O’Sullivan related to his history of being abused by his father has passed.
The NHL did nothing. The Canucks did nothing. The only lasting effect will be that Burrows has forever wrecked his own image and reputation. He’ll have to live with that.
Leafs tampering with Predators' prospect?
If the Maple Leafs are successful in signing Harvard forward Jim Vesey as an unrestricted free agent next year - many other teams will be prepared to bid as well - you can expect there will be allegations of tampering from Nashville.
Vesey is an unsigned Predators draft pick, and because he’s a senior, he can be a UFA next spring. Nashville GM David Poile is confident he can sign the 6-foot-3 centre, but the Predators were unsuccessful in doing so last summer.
The Leafs previously drafted Vesey’s brother, Nolan, and last summer hired his father, Jim Sr., as a part-time scout. The Preds feel like too much pressure has been brought to bear on Vesey Jr. to become a free agent. He had 32 goals in 37 games last season, and has eight goals in 10 games this year.
Canadiens missing Gallagher's presence
It was suggested here that while Carey Price is Montreal’s best player, the loss of Brendan Gallagher might have a more significant impact in mid-season because of the energy and emotion he brings to the Canadiens’ lineup each and every night.
When Gallagher was first lost, the Habs seemed okay, going 3-0-1. But now they’ve lost seven of eight, and are suddenly just three points ahead of fourth place Florida in the Atlantic Division. The fact that both Gallagher and Price are out makes it hard to discern the impact of each player’s absence, and the Habs probably don’t care. They just want them back soon.
Toews unlikley to ever win Lou Marsh
Price was a deserving winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year for 2015, and the only other hockey players to get any consideration were Chicago teammates Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith.
Toews has won three Cups as captain in Chicago in addition to all his international accomplishments. But it seems likely he’ll never put up the individual statistics to win the Lou Marsh, a bit of a shame. After all, at times many have argued he’s the best player in the game.