Every Monday, Sean McIndoe looks back at weekend play in the NHL and the league’s biggest storylines. You can follow him on Twitter.
Opening faceoff: Triple threat
The big NHL news from the weekend came off the ice, when the Senators, Predators and Avalanche combined to make a blockbuster three-way trade that finally ends our long national Matt Duchene sweepstakes nightmare.
Well, the news came off the ice for the Senators and Predators. The Avalanche were actually in the middle of a game when the news broke, which lead to the somewhat-bizarre scene of Duchene sneaking away from the action. You don’t see that often in the NHL, but given how long he’s had to wait for this move to go down, it’s amazing Duchene didn’t cartwheel off the bench and down the hallway as soon as it was announced.
The trade sees Duchene head to the Senators, Kyle Turris go to the Predators, and a haul of seven picks and players go to the Avalanche. Nashville then signed Turris to a six-year, $36-million extension, which will keep him from his scheduled date with free agency next summer.
The trade itself was hardly a surprise, given that the key details being discussed had leaked out on Friday. At the time, we were told the deal was dead, and maybe it was. But it’s one thing for there to be rumours about a deal, and another for actual names to spill out. Once that happened, it felt inevitable that the teams would come back to the table. As it turns out, it didn’t take long.
So who wins? From the Avalanche perspective, there has to be a certain relief at finally getting something done at all. The situation had been dragging for over a year, and GM Joe Sakic had received plenty of criticism over that time for his lack of action. According to reports, his asking price had been high – maybe too high – and he didn’t get any established NHL help in this move. That seems like a disappointment, especially with the Avs off to a strong start. But it may also buy the beleaguered GM some time before anyone can really declare him a winner or loser here.
As for the Predators, this ends up being fairly straightforward: They get better right now. After last year’s near-miss, Nashville is clearly looking to win it all, and are willing to sacrifice a bit of the future to do it (including giving up the best young player in the deal, Samuel Girard). The Turris extension wasn’t cheap, but was a reasonable cap hit that they didn’t have to go to seven or eight years to get. Like most contenders, the Predators are focused on getting better today and will worry about the rest of it down the road.
That brings us to Ottawa — and here’s where things get interesting. On one level, your thoughts about this deal from a Senators’ perspective will come down to whether you see Duchene as a significant upgrade over Turris. Clearly, the Ottawa organization does, since they gave up a decent premium to swap the two players, including a first-round pick (albeit one with top-10 protection). The hockey world would seem to agree; remember, Duchene was viewed as good enough to play for Team Canada at the Olympics just a few years ago. Then again, the numbers suggest the two players are closer than you might think.
The other factor here is financial. The Senators apparently didn’t like their odds of getting a deal done with Turris, for whatever reason. But Duchene will be in the same situation a year from now, and if he really is a better player then he should cost them even more. An extra year of team control is certainly worth something, especially to a budget team like Ottawa. But you wonder if they won’t be right back here this time next year, looking to move a guy they don’t want to pay.
That’s for down the road, though. In the meantime, Duchene and the Senators head to Sweden to face the Avalanche on the weekend, which makes that whole expedition a lot more interesting. The Predators should have Turris in the lineup tomorrow in Columbus. And seeing Duchene go off the market could put extra pressure on teams like the Hurricanes, Islanders and Canadiens who were rumoured to be in on him.
For now, these three teams have given the whole league plenty to chew on. On to the power rankings…
Road to the Cup
The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.
5. San Jose Sharks (8-5-0, +5 true goals differential*): They’ve won four straight and haven’t allowed more than two goals in six. Next up: a showdown with the Lightning on Wednesday.
3. Los Angeles Kings (10-2-2, +16): Christian Folin’s tricky fake dump-in goal helped the Kings get a point out of Nashville:
2. St. Louis Blues (11-3-1, +13): They beat the Kings this week, so it’s only fair that they nudge past them into second spot.
(*Goals scored minus goals allowed, without counting shootouts like the NHL does for some reason.)
With one month down, our top five seems to have settled in. The Lightning hold down the top spot for the third straight week, the Blues and Kings swap places in second and third, and the Blue Jackets stay in fourth. The only big change is the Sharks moving into the fifth spot as I try to temporarily detox myself from including the inconsistent Penguins every week no matter what. Other than that, this week’s list is pretty straightforward.
But speaking of ranking things, you may have noticed something unusual about this weekend’s schedule. It was busy, featuring 19 games in all. But only two of those featured matchups were between teams from the same division. In a league where the schedule is weighted towards divisional games, it’s rare to see so few in a weekend.
And it also presents us with an opportunity for a debate: Which of the four divisions is currently the league’s best?
There are a few ways we can approach the question. The most obvious is to just look at the combined records. By that measure, the Central has been best – they’re averaging 1.19 points per game, a little better than the Metro’s 1.14. The Atlantic and the Pacific are each hovering at just a shade over a point per game.
But those figures include games where division rivals are playing each other, so maybe that doesn’t help us. If we take out the intra-division games, the Central moves out even further ahead. They’re averaging 1.29 points per game outside the division, well ahead of the Metro’s 1.12, while the Pacific sits at 1.04 and the Atlantic drops to dead last at just 1.00 point even.
(Yes, everyone is at least at a point per game, which means all four divisions are .500 or better. This is your regular reminder that the loser point ruins everything.)
But maybe that approach isn’t fair to the Pacific and Atlantic divisions, who are weighed down by a handful of the league’s worst teams. If your definition of the “best” division is the one that’s most likely to win the Cup, maybe you ignore the Sabres and Panthers and nudge up the Atlantic based on the Lightning, or forget about the Coyotes in the Pacific and worry more about the Kings.
That starts getting subjective, obviously, and if we’re going that route then we could just point out that the Metro has the two-time defending Cup champs and the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, and neither is even leading the division right now.
But let’s keep it simple and declare the Central the league’s best division… for now. We’ll check back on this one down the road, and ease back into the divisional games as the week goes on.
Road to the lottery
The five teams that look like they’re headed towards watching Rasmus Dahlin highlights and playing with draft-lottery simulations.
5. Colorado Avalanche (8-6-0, even): Two related questions: How does the roster feel about losing Duchene without any veteran help coming back? And does Sakic flip some of those picks/prospects for immediate reinforcements?
4. Florida Panthers (4-7-2, -8): They’ve lost four straight, and given up 20 goals over their last three games.
2. Buffalo Sabres (4-8-2, -17): They won a game this week. Sure, it was against the Coyotes, but that still kind of counts.
1. Arizona Coyotes (2-12-1, -22): Look on the bright side — they doubled their win total in a single weekend.
Did you feel it? Did a shudder go down your spine as the hour grew late on Tuesday night? Did you look up at a calendar reading “Oct. 31” and shriek with all-consuming dread?
No, not because of Halloween – that doesn’t scare anyone other than Phil Kessel. In the hockey world, the truly terrifying moment comes when the clock hits midnight and we officially find ourselves in a new month. Because Nov. 1 is the day when we can look at the NHL standings and start writing off the playoff hopes of the league’s struggling teams.
This all dates back to a fascinating stat unearthed by Elliotte Friedman several years ago: teams that are four points or more out of the playoff race on Nov. 1 almost never make it to the post-season. It sounds crazy – you’d think that two wins would be pretty easy to make up when you’ve still got 70 games or so left. But thanks to the age of hyper-parity and bonus points for losing, making up ground is harder than ever.
At the time of Friedman’s post, a comeback had only happened three times in the cap era. And in the years since, the ratio hasn’t improved by much. If you’re four or more back on Nov. 1, there’s a nearly 90 per cent chance that you’re done.
So which teams found themselves in that dreaded spot this year? And more importantly, which ones have the best shot at defying the odds?
We’ll start with the Coyotes, who were already nine back. That gap stands at 11 now, and it’s fair to say that they’re done. Next.
Two teams were sitting five points back, with both the Sabres and Oilers struggling out of the gate. That’s been par for the course in Buffalo, where a talented young team just can’t seem to put it together. It’s a bigger surprise in Edmonton, where many had picked the Oilers as a Cup favourite only to see them stumble early. They’ve lost even more ground since Tuesday and are currently seven points out. While it still seems too early to write off a team with as much talent as the Oilers, that day might be getting closer.
Finally, two more teams hit the four-point mark exactly. The Panthers have quietly been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, and have since dropped down to share last place in the East with the Sabres at six points back of a wild-card spot.
And then there are the Canadiens, whose slow start has been covered extensively, here and elsewhere. Carey Price’s absence will make things tougher, but a pair of weekend wins have them just three points back today. That’s still a long way to go given how many teams they have to pass, but if you’re looking for a team to join that 10 per cent comeback club, the Habs sure look like your best bet.
Quick shifts: 10 more notable moments from around the league
• The turnaround continues in Montreal, where Max Pacioretty‘s overtime winner in Winnipeg gives him a share of the Canadiens’ all-time lead and Charlie Lindgren had one of the best goaltending debuts in franchise history.
• Vancouver remains an early-season surprise, earning a 4-2 win over the Penguins on the strength of rookie Brock Boeser‘s hat trick.
• The Maple Leafs’ have dropped five of six after a 6–4 loss to the Blues on Saturday. They return home to face the Knights and Wild this week before an old-school home-and-home with the Bruins.
• The hit of the weekend goes to Dan Girardi, who rocked Matt Calvert:
• Things could be getting even uglier for the men’s Olympic tournament. They’re already missing the NHL, as you may have heard. Now the KHL is threatening to pull out, too.
• The Coyotes might be terrible, but this was a nice story.
• If you missed it on Saturday, this HNIC feature on Evgeni Malkin is worth your time.
• And finally, here’s Jonathan Drouin pulling down his pants on the bench. Yeah, I have no idea either.