• Why the Los Angeles Kings are a team to watch on the trade market
• Could Erik Karlsson really be dealt in-season?
• And the biggest sports story no one is paying attention to
First, a note to settle Islanders fans overwhelmed by John Tavares flashbacks: I don’t think there’s much chance the Islanders would do this trade without a legit level of confidence they could extend Bo Horvat.
The joke Monday night was GM Lou Lamoriello might not announce it until September.
Lamoriello had real reason to move as quickly as possible. It’s a struggle to score. The Islanders are 25th in goals per game, at 2.85. The lowest-ranked playoff teams, Colorado and Minnesota, are at 3.06. Horvat, on pace for a career-high 52, will breathe life into New York’s impotent power play, second-worst in the league.
He’s tied for ninth in the NHL with 11 man-advantage goals, six more than the Islanders’ current leader, Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He’s also got the second-best power-play face-off percentage in the NHL (65). Saves a lot of chasing the puck down the ice.
Also, there were teams — Columbus, Detroit (depending on the Dylan Larkin negotiations) and Seattle, as examples — who might not have thought it was sensible to trade assets for Horvat, but could have been serious summer free-agent bidders. Boston would be another one, assuming they didn’t trade for him. Now, the Islanders have the inside lane, and it’s expected they will capitalize.
Horvat is represented by Newport, which also negotiates on behalf of five other Islander forwards. One is Pageau, who signed a six-year, $30-million extension the day he was traded there from Ottawa. That’s a lot of familiarity.
Six months ago, this didn’t seem possible. At last summer’s draft in Montreal, the Canucks prioritized signing their captain, and the general consensus was it would get done. But it never got close, with Vancouver’s initial offer believed to be in the low-$6-million range. In late August, they pivoted to J.T. Miller, getting his $56-million extension signed just days after negotiations resumed.
“I thought I’d be a Canuck for life,” said Horvat, doing his media availability from a family vacation in Disneyland. “It hasn’t been an easy year.”
Horvat, who proudly represented the Canucks without the slightest whiff of scandal, chose to bet on himself. It wasn’t Aaron Judge hitting 62 home runs — probably the greatest contract year in history — but still a massive performance under uncertainty. The best thing for him is that Stage 1 of this saga is over. No more trade rumours.
It will be interesting to see Vancouver’s plans for Anthony Beauvillier. He’s got one more year under contract before becoming a UFA, so this could be a test drive. But the biggest determination of how successful this will be for Vancouver is the draft pick and Aatu Raty. Lamoriello used the phrase “option” during his Monday media conference, which is the tell that the Islanders can choose to protect this year’s selection if in the top 12. If they do, it’s unprotected for 2024.
That’s a very interesting gamble for both teams. If you look at the bottom of the standings, there’s no one playing net at Ilya Sorokin’s level.
GM Patrik Allvin indicated Raty will go to AHL Abbotsford, which several sources thought was the right move. He’s very talented, but in his first full North American season. There will be a lot of pressure on him and the Canucks to prove his worth, which makes it even more critical there’s a proper plan in place.
Rushing to validate this move is bad, bad, bad.
1. Where does this leave Vancouver? Clearly, the Canucks have identified their core — Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Miller, Andrei Kuzmenko. Things can change if someone gives them reason to pivot, but actions speak and these are the key Canucks. (There are conversations about extending Ethan Bear.) Other than that, they’re listening on a few interesting things.
Let’s see how things play out when goaltender Thatcher Demko returns. The fact he’s signed with a bit of term makes him attractive, and teams will want to get a feel for what Vancouver is thinking. Buffalo, Columbus, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh all make sense. The Sabres and Blue Jackets can afford to be patient — they are thinking long-term — but others would need to know he can make a spring 2023 impact, particularly with the price to be paid. Will there be enough runway before March 3 to convince buyers Demko is ready?
There are repeated rumblings linking Brock Boeser and Minnesota, but the math doesn’t make sense as things stand. I do think there are teams who like Tyler Myers’ nastiness, but in a tight cap world, that might wait until the summer.
2. Not convinced Tampa will be Luke Schenn’s next home, but conversations about him continue. If anyone’s status changed under new head coach Rick Tocchet, I thought it might be Schenn — simply because Tocchet values what the defenceman brings.
3. Found four previous examples of All-Stars traded right before the event. The most famous is John Scott, who played for the Pacific Division even though he was traded from Arizona to Montreal in 2016. Bernie Nicholls was dealt from Los Angeles to the Rangers during the 1990 skills competition (can you imagine the bleepstorm if that happened now), and dressed for the Campbell Conference even though New York played in the Wales. Bob Kudelski went from Ottawa to Florida before the 1994 game.
The one player who did offer a level of civil disobedience was Sandis Ozolinsh in 2003. Traded from Florida to Anaheim, he refused to attend the skills competition, because it would have meant wearing the Panthers logo. Horvat could set social media ablaze by intentionally scoring on his own net.
4. Carolina wasn’t adding Horvat without the possibility of an extension. Depending on how roles shake out on Long Island, would the Hurricanes pivot to Pageau? Certainly feels like a Rod Brind’Amour-esque player.
5. So, when does Winnipeg put the “C” on Josh Morrissey?
6. Another team I’m watching is Los Angeles. This goes under the “past behaviour predicts future behaviour” mantra. GM Rob Blake’s history is to get work done well ahead of time. He did trade Jeff Carter to Pittsburgh on deadline day in 2021, but that was for picks. The Marian Gaborik-Dion Phaneuf deal went down 12 days before the 2018 deadline. Jake Muzzin was sent to Toronto four weeks before trading ended in 2019. In 2020, there were three trades in advance: Jack Campbell (19 days), Tyler Toffoli (seven) and Alec Martinez (five). The Kings are looking for a left-shot defender and possibly a goalie. Blake’s biggest decision might be what he’s willing to give up to get what he desires.
7. Boston is also believed to be in the left-defence market. Would not be surprised if they’ve checked in on Jakob Chychrun and Vladislav Gavrikov, among others. They’ve got special chemistry, and tampering with that can be dangerous. But this is an absolute go-for-it year because you don’t know how long the group will be together. You also don’t know how long you’ll have your top two centres combining for $3.5 million against the cap — an absolute gift from Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. (Yes, they’ll have to deal with bonuses next season, but it’s still a gift.)
8. Don’t sense anything new on David Pastrnak, although I think the Bruins know they’re going into uncharted territory for their organization. Pastrnak’s pretty confident in his own skin; he knows what he wants.
9. When Jake Muzzin went down, I thought for sure Toronto’s top priority was finding the best possible “Muzzin replacement.” The way their defencemen have played, I’m not completely convinced that’s still going to be the case. What it sounds like they are looking for are the best possible pieces to complement their core. That could be a forward, it could be a defenceman, it could be both. But previous acquisitions along the line of a Zach Bogosian or an Ilya Lyubushkin — we might not be headed in that direction. And when Muzzin got hurt, I thought that was a guarantee. I still don’t believe they’re trading their first-rounder (or any of their top prospects) for a rental, either.
10. As part of reshaping their franchise, San Jose is asking about goaltending prospects. They drafted OHL Sarnia’s Benjamin Gaudreau 81st overall in 2021. He was the backup on Canada’s recent World Junior gold medallists, but the Sharks seek to add more depth.
11. I wouldn’t say New Jersey is the team to beat on Timo Meier, but it’s clear teams know the Devils are very much in it. The biggest balancing act for them might be their salary structure. It sounds like they prefer to have no forwards above Jack Hughes’ $8-million AAV — or at least not blowing that out of the water. That’s not only a consideration for Meier, but also Jesper Bratt.
12. Erik Karlsson leads all NHL defencemen with 2.49 five-on-five points-per-60 minutes this year. Adam Fox is second at 1.82, a difference of 0.67. There are 30 defencemen within 0.67 of Fox, which only illustrates the craziness of Karlsson’s year. The difference between one and two in this stat is the same as the difference between 2 and 32. While I think there is much more likelihood any Karlsson move comes in the summer, least one GM believes this performance won’t prevent a team or two from trying.
13. Edmonton has asked Arizona about Nick Bjugstad, but the Oilers aren’t alone. It’s an easy number for cap-crunched teams to handle ($900,000), excellent value for 10 even-strength goals and one more shorthanded. Depending on the true level of interest (separating tire-kickers from legit inquiries), one GM guessed second- or third-rounder for him. There’s been a lot of attention on Chychrun for the Oilers, but it’s believed they’ve also asked about Shayne Gostisbehere.
14. Think the Oilers have also looked at the Blues’ Noel Acciari, but so has Vegas. Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy had Acciari with Boston and AHL Providence. It’s an obvious fit, but no guarantees until it’s done. Acciari isn’t the only Blue linked to Vegas, the other is Ivan Barbashev. Loved him during the 2019 run.
15. The biggest challenge for the Golden Knights is mental. They went through this last year, seemingly safe in January, only to get riddled with injuries and cap pressures, completely submarining their season — missing the playoffs. Calgary is five back with a game in hand, Nashville eight with three in hand for the wild card. It’s not DEFCON 1, but four points in their last eight games brings back the bad memories, the jitters, the doubts, “Are we doing this again?” You’ve got to block out the negative. Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll had a great saying: You don’t have to be extraordinary. You just have to do the ordinary things extraordinary well.
16. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews get all the love — for obvious reasons — but the most popular Blackhawk might be Sam Lafferty. Signed for another year at $1.15 million, plays hard, would fit in a depth role with a good team. Chicago has also fielded calls on many of their defenders.
17. Commissioner Gary Bettman has his annual media address on Saturday. I’d expect him to say something along the lines of, “We’re going to figure it out,” or “I’m not worried” when it comes to the Bally’s/Diamond Sports potential bankruptcy, but teams across the NHL, NBA and MLB warily eye this storyline.
Bloomberg reported last week that Sinclair, which owns the company and holds $55 billion in sports media rights, is prepared to skip a $140-million interest payment next month. The big question is: where does this take us? In the NHL, Bally’s broadcasts games for Anaheim, Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. There are a lot of unanswered questions, first among them being: Will Sinclair try to cut back payments or cut contracts outright under bankruptcy? If so, what could that mean for payments to teams and, as an extension of that, the salary cap?
A couple of sources indicate that there isn’t a clear answer to these questions, but the affected teams are prepared for the possibility of some financial pain. We all knew that cord cutting would push teams closer to their own streaming plans. We’re moving closer to that, but the worry has always been if streaming your own content will ever make “rights-fee” money. MLB in particular did big business off the regional television model because it’s the big summer sport. Fills up hours and hours of programming when there’s not a lot of competition. One exec called this “the biggest sports story no one is paying attention to.”
18. The NHLPA will hold an executive board meeting during All-Star weekend. That’s the 32 team representatives. Not all will be in Florida, some will be online, but those players were asked to make themselves available. I’m not sure we will get a vote or an announcement of the union’s new executive director, but we are getting close to the end of this process.
Under the leadership of Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo, the search committee’s done a great job of keeping things secret. It sounds like we’re down to the last two or three candidates. As mentioned, one is believed to be former player agent and Vancouver GM Mike Gillis. I had heard there was an external candidate, possibly someone with a career in the American political world, but that’s been disputed, so, admittedly, I don’t know what to make of that. Could be misdirection. It hasn’t been easy to gather information.
19. A couple of things I do believe about the NHLPA’s search: the players are motivated to grow the business in ways they have the power to do so, and it doesn’t sound like they are actively looking for a CBA fight. They want to be prepared for it and they don’t want to run scared from it, but that’s not the first option. I do believe medical care (Jack Eichel, Tanner Pearson) is going to be a big part of the next negotiations.
20. As we head to All-Star, I know not everyone loves the selection process. I’ve had this debate with Bettman about one player from every team, and he believes quite passionately that you can’t allow one of your markets a reason not to turn on the game. No doubt it bothers him the Kraken are unrepresented, especially considering what a revenue powerhouse they are.
Once I saw Seattle was on break, I knew finding an in-house replacement for the injured Matty Beniers was going to be trouble. Brian Elliott abandoned a beach vacation to play in 2015, but not everyone is similarly wired. One GM said it’s harder than you think to find those who want to go. It’s interesting how different the NHL and NBA players are when it comes to this weekend. The basketball guys love it. Example: Kevin Durant.
21. I thought of Durant, too, when Max Pacioretty was injured. It was eerily similar to the NBA star’s injury during the 2019 Finals. Pacioretty is a physical freak of nature. Hope to see him back on ice.
22. Would expect the 2024 All-Star announcement this week. We’re all thinking Toronto, let’s see if we’re right.
23. Seeing the social media explosion as Wrexham played Sheffield United to a 3-3 draw in the FA Cup, there’s no way whoever buys the Ottawa Senators can’t offer Ryan Reynolds a share in the team.
24. Years ago, some of the Red Wings said that Scotty Bowman used to keep stats of who wins puck battles. I was always interested in that, and wished there was more data available as to who is good at this and who isn’t. I recently learned during a Toronto-Florida broadcast that SportLogiq does keep track of this. As of last week, Aleksander Barkov led all forwards with 4.1 puck battle wins per game, ahead of John Tavares (3.7), Patrice Bergeron (3.5), Anze Kopitar (3.3) and Robert Thomas (3.2). (Thomas recently pushed ahead of Auston Matthews into the top five.) Among defencemen, it’s Devon Toews and the injured Zach Werenski (2.5), Chris Tanev (2.3), Mikey Anderson and Noah Hanifin (2.2).
25. One of the obvious questions from that: Is there a plus/minus to give us a better idea of not just battles won, but a player’s overall won/loss record? There is, sort of. SportLogiq’s Mike Kelly explained that a win is defined as when a player “engaged” in the battle comes out with the puck. If a teammate of either player ends up with it, both of the originals are given a loss. Basically, that means everyone is under 50 per cent. So, it’s not perfect, but it gives us some idea.
26. Colorado and Columbus played in Finland a month into the season, and the feedback was, “This has to happen at the beginning of year” (as happened with Nashville and San Jose). Teams feel doing it in-season takes too long to recover from, especially if you’re not on the East Coast.
27. Statistical anomaly: six teams don’t have a shutout this season — Calgary, Columbus, Edmonton, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Vancouver. The NHL record is seven, from 1981-82, when the NHL was a 21-team league. Last year, every team had at least one. Thank you to Stan Nieradka for the help with this.
28. You’ll be shocked to hear that Connor Hellebuyck named Corey Perry as one of the most annoying forwards to deal with in-tight. “Always around the net doing dumb stuff … to me,” Hellebuyck said, laughing. “He probably thinks it’s great. Jamie Benn. He’s good in front of the net. He’s always in there, too. Right on that edge. And Tkachuk.” Which one? “We’ll throw both of them in there.”
29. Apparently, before Bruce Boudreau’s last game as coach of the Canucks, he addressed the players by saying, “We’re getting more attention than the Prime Minister. Now let’s do this one more time!”