There are two defencemen out West who will command attention, but you might be surprised at who brings back the most at Monday’s Trade Deadline.
Among a group of scouts and executives we spoke with this week, Calgary’s Kris Russell was deemed a more valuable UFA Deadline pickup by most than Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis. It’s a dangerous exercise: My sources could be the minority, and it only takes one GM to overpay and blow a theory out of the water.
But we spoke with more than five different NHL people, and only one said he would said he would acquire Hamhuis ahead of Russell, given a choice between the two with equal trade compensation. Both are considered to be solid No. 4 defencemen on a good team, and there’s no doubt that Hamhuis has had a more decorated career.
“Most of us don’t like small players,” said one scout, “but (Russell) is the biggest small player you’ll find. Top 4 defenceman, good passer, can handle pressure. Great vision and anticipation and sense. Hard to hit…”
The age difference — Russell turns 29 in May, Hamhuis turned 34 in December — is a difference maker, as is Hamhuis’ serious face injury. More than one scout thought he was playing a lighter game in the aftermath of that, while wearing full face protection is always considered a hindrance.
One scout thought opposing players were even going a tad easier on Hamhuis due to his jaw injury, due to the respect he commands from players. That will boomerang in the playoffs, he thought, where teams will go out of their way to pound Hamhuis if they feel like he may be protecting an injury.
Russell’s game lends itself to the postseason, was the overriding sentiment.
“You’d think he’d have problems around the front of the net, but he positions himself so he never gets in a high-end strength situation where he has to outmuscle someone,” another scout said. “I love the guy. I wish he was 6-2, 210 lbs. But his heart? It’s that big.”
One executive echoed what so many say about Russell, who led the NHL in shots blocked last season. “Why’s he blocking so many shots? Doesn’t he ever get the puck out?”
It will be interesting to see which player garners a greater return. I’ll be watching – if only to see if my sources know what they’re talking about. (Kidding.)
A Ladd To Pay
As we saw Winnipeg scoop up a largesse for Andrew Ladd, one executive lamented the fact that he looks at the mercenary pending UFA a lot different now then when he was a player hoping to cash in on just such a situation.
“The rental thing just kills me now,” he said. “It was perfect when I was a player, to go to a contender. But to do something just to say you did it doesn’t make sense for our (Eastern Conference) organization. It’s just not worth jumping at a guy.”
The feeling I get from the marketplace is that the very few true contenders — Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Anaheim, maybe the Rangers — can justify trading first-rounders and prospects away. But the next tier of teams — the hopefuls like St. Louis, Florida, Pittsburgh or Dallas — is becoming less and less likely to give up a substantial piece of the future for today’s run.
Blame it on the cap system. First round picks and genuine prospects are simply more valuable today than they were a few years ago.
Speaking of Pittsburgh, if I know GM Jim Rutherford, I’m thinking the Penguins won’t be very busy at this deadline. His theory has always been to identify your target early on and make the trade several days ahead of the deadline.
Rutherford always believes that the prices go up as Deadline Day approaches. And as of Friday afternoon, the Penguins have been silent.
It was a nice surprise for defenceman Philip Larsen to learn the Vancouver Canucks had traded for his rights while he was toiling over in Jokerit, the only Finnish team in the KHL. They gave the Edmonton Oilers a fifth-round pick in 2017 that converts to a fourth-rounder if Larsen reaches certain levels of productivity.
“He always thought he’d be back,” said Larsen’s agent Kevin Epp. “The surprise is, just how and when it happened. You kind of think these things happen in the off-season, not during the season.
“The Oilers' rights expired after next season, so this might have come a year earlier than Philip expected.”
Larsen is fifth in the KHL in points by defencemen with 11-25-36 in 52 games. Careful with that, however. Cam Barker leads all KHL D-men with 40 points, and he is not considered to be an NHL player anymore. (We recall the 2012-13 KHL Defenceman of the Year Anton Belov — the Pocca Pylon — who is back vying for that award again after failing miserably to adapt to the NHL game in Edmonton.)
One thing with Larsen: he played for head coach Glen Gulutzan and assistant coach Willie Desjardins with the American League Texas Stars for 61 games from 2010-12. Today, Gulutzan is Desjardins’ assistant in Vancouver. So there is some favorable history there on Larsen’s side.
“He’ll finish the season (in Finland) and figure out a deal over here after July 1,” Epp figured. “I think he wants to get back to the NHL and play.”
Don’t rule out a Dennis Wideman deal at the deadline. Especially if the Flames were willing to eat some of his deal.
Wideman still works the power play well, so much so that the Flames have been able to save more of T.J. Brodie’s minutes for even strength this season. If the Flames took back a chunk of his $5.25 cap hit for next season, he could give a team like Toronto or Edmonton a useful power-play defenceman next season, then become a valuable trading piece at next year’s deadline.
It would only work for teams that need players, have cap space, and aren’t afraid to rent a player for one year. We suspect Calgary would be pleased to have as much of Wideman’s salary disappear as possible.
From Russia with ???
From the team that brought the NHL Miroslav Satan (drafted by Edmonton in 1993), we give you Ziyat Paigin, a seventh-round pick of the Oilers last spring who is progressing nicely in the KHL. He recently led his team in minutes among defencemen in a KHL playoff game for Sochi, where Paigin is under contract for next season.
Now, we’re pretty dubious when it comes to KHL defencemen (see Philip Larsen item above). But this kid is listed at six-foot-six. He’s had 9-18-27 in 40 games since joining Sochi, where he counts as teammates Nikolai Zherdev — Doug MacLean’s favorite first-round pick in Columbus — and Andrei Kostitsyn.
Offer Sheet Time?
One school of thought making the rounds, as the Toronto Maple Leafs stock up on draft picks in a fashion never seen before, is that Toronto plans to make a Group II offer sheet in the next year or two.
Let’s say they target Calgary’s Sam Bennett, whose entry-level contract expires the year after Calgary will have given new deals to Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. The Leafs have their own picks to make good on the compensation, and they have enough other picks to still make six or seven selections at the draft.
Or what about this one: Two seasons from now the Oilers will have to fork over the maximum salary number to Connor McDavid. There won’t be a lot of negotiation there — it’ll be long-term and at or near the NHL maximum salary.
But Leon Draisaitl’s second contract comes due the year before that. The Oilers will likely try to sign Draisaitl to a bridge deal that gets both parties to his final year of restricted free agency.
|Average annual value||Compensation|
|Less than $1,205,377||Nothing|
|$3,652,659-to-$5,478,986||First and third-round picks|
|$5,478,986-to-$7,305,316||First, second and third-round picks|
|$7,305,316-to-$9,131,645||Two firsts, a second and third-round picks|
|$9,131,645 or greater||Four first-round picks|
Could the Leafs use a big, 21-year-old centre to join the program? They’ll have the draft picks (see chart) to pull it off, and could really put the pressure on Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli if they drive up Draisaitl’s cost the year before McDavid is due.