Rink Fries: Players of interest in the Pacific Division

Calgary Flames left wing Matthew Tkachuk takes a shot at the net in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars in Dallas, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

What you’re about to read is not a trade blog.

Now, some of the players may have the whispers of a trade around them, but what I thought I’d do, over the next little while, is isolate one player from each team who holds the most curiosity for me. It might be a player who has a contract tornado on the horizon or maybe it’s someone whose career has popped and is forcing his GM to make a move to accommodate his development, or maybe it’s someone I just find interesting or catch myself wondering about.

It’s a four-parter, so bear with me.

For this mini-series, I’m joined by the great Shayna Goldman, who you’ve either read here on this web site, heard on my radio show or follow on Twitter. Shayna’s a weapon – super smart, well-researched, delivers and is my late night/early morning Olympic women’s hockey texting sparring partner. There’s a big bag of dill pickle chips riding on the gold medal game this time around.

We’ll go division by division, starting with the Pacific.

Anaheim Ducks: Hampus Lindholm
For new GM Pat Verbeek, is there a bigger player issue than Lindholm? The high-end defender is on an expiring contract, has been one of the best defenders in the Western Conference for years and is crucial for the development of young defencemen such as Jamie Drysdale. Few pairs have been together for more ice time than Lindholm-Drysdale, with over 700 5-on-5 minutes under their belts. This is a duo that helps the Ducks get out of their own zone frequently; among the team’s defence, they’re first and second in controlled exits thanks to both of their abilities to carry the puck out.

While not the flashiest player, the strength of Lindholm’s game is his defensive stability, which adds balance to the shifty and creative Drysdale. Catch him making strong defensive plays in all three zones to support his team, and denying opponents from gaining the zone.

You have to re-sign Lindholm, right? If you don’t, you’ll spend how many years looking for another player like him (spoiler – they don’t exist)? And then there’s the question of how this affects a player such as netminder John Gibson. How does he feel about a blue line without Lindholm? Is that what he signed up for? It’s a legit concern in Anaheim.

I know Anaheim is mainly following the Trevor Zegras-Mason McTavish-Drysdale timeline – and there’s reason for red flags about extending a 28-year-old to anything with significant term with aging curves in mind – but having the right veteran players around the kids is crucial. And the Lindholm’s steady and consistent play makes him a fit for that role.

Lindholm is represented by Claude Lemieux, so that’s a good boardroom scrap – Lemieux vs. Verbeek. Put that on PPV.

Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk
Not only is he one of the most interesting players in the league, but also people in the NHL. Tkachuk plays on the NHL’s top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm – a line that, ahead of their matchup against Vegas this week, ranks as one of the most consistent in the league, with 511 minutes of play together, a 69 per cent expected goal rate and 77 per cent of the goals share. But storm clouds are on the horizon, with Gaudreau’s contract expiring and Tkachuk one year away from unrestricted free agency himself.

Tkachuk plays hard, lives and dies with every game (some would say every shift), and drives other teams crazy with his combination of high skill and face-in-the-glass intensity. He’s one of the most frequent shooters in Calgary, and clusters most of his attempts to the home-plate area in front of the blue paint. At 5-on-5, about 55 per cent of his shots come from the slot at a rate of 9.49 per 60 that ranks 16th in the league. Along with some skillful shooting and hand-eye coordination, he can move the puck to the dangerous areas of the ice too, making his game that much more dynamic.

But as we’ve discussed many times, Tkachuk could take his qualifying offer at season's end and walk to free agency. Or the Flames could do a long-term deal with him, but the numbers would be high. The Tkachuks are scrappers, on the ice as well as in contract negotiations, and as Matthew told me and Elliotte Friedman at the NHL players tour in Chicago, if you negotiate with one Tkachuk, you negotiate with all of them. This is a team effort. The family knows the business, knows their value and will battle every step of the way.

Edmonton Oilers: Evan Bouchard

A shooting option from the point on the power play? Bouchard is a potential dream come true for the Oilers as Tyson Barrie is a distributor on the PP and not a threat to fire it. Few move the puck around the offensive zone as much as Barrie on the power play, with a league-leading 183.6 successful passes per 60 in those situations. But he shoots at the 30th-highest rate among all defenders with at least 50 minutes of play on the man-advantage.

Bouchard is that shooting threat, although he hasn’t had much power play opportunity to show it -- he’s played just 25 per cent of the available ice time on the man-advantage, compared to Barrie’s almost 70 per cent. But at 5-on-5, Bouchard’s already one of the most frequent shooters in Edmonton, trailing only Darnell Nurse, so it’s easy to see how it would translate to the power play if given the time. And he’s able to get pucks through -- and as we all know now that is more valuable than just having a bomb from the point.

Of all the players on the Oilers, Bouchard may benefit most with the coaching change. He excelled in AHL Bakersfield under Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson, who both helped transition his game to the pro level. Reuniting with Manson should be a boon for Bouchard.

Not saying it happens by this trade deadline, but somewhere down the road, maybe as early as this off-season, I’d look for the Oilers to move Barrie to a team in need of a QB for their power play. Montreal and Seattle make some sense here. Are there some areas of Bouchard's game that need massaging? Sure, but his emergence has opened up a couple of options for the Oilers and it will probably make Barrie expendable.

Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown

A King for life?

Retire the jersey?

I think Los Angeles hopes so.

Still a very effective player and the Kings love him with Quinton Byfield on their third line. The goal scoring hasn’t been there, but it’s not like he’s not getting chances. Before accounting for his finishing ability, he’s expected to have at least two more goals than he does on the season. But that usage could be playing a part here. Along with a slight decrease in 5-on-5 play, his power play time has dwindled a bit too, as he’s playing about 44 per cent of the available minutes versus the 55-plus per cent of the time he’s been accustomed to the past few seasons.

I know he’s on an expiring deal, but I don’t have any indication that either he wants to leave or the Kings want to move on. Is it possible he spends the rest of his career on evergreen deals? Just one year at a time? Possibly.

As we talked to Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf about on the 32 Thoughts podcast three weeks ago could Brown be the last man standing from the legendary 2003 draft? Getzlaf told us it wouldn’t be him so that opens the field up a little more.

San Jose Sharks: Mario Ferraro

While most of the questions in San Jose revolve around Tomas Hertl and if the Sharks will re-sign the talented forward or move him at trade deadline -- and that does hold interest for me too -- I’m also curious what the next deal for Ferraro will look like. He’s a restricted free agent so the team still has control, but they know he’s a key piece of the Sharks future and leadership group, and is one of those players who makes it fun to come to the rink.

The Sharks’ leading shot blocker, Ferraro plays almost 24 minutes a night on the first pair with Brent Burns, in a pairing that leads the league in minutes together with 725 at 5-on-5. That duo gets deployed against top competition on a nightly basis, and sees the lowest percentage of O-zone starts among defence pairs in San Jose.

An 82-game season is a grind and guys like Ferraro make it manageable. San Jose has yet to engage with Ferraro’s representatives on an extension, but it’s believed Ferraro is looking for something long term probably in the neighbourhood of six years so he’d still have one more shot at a big deal before he enters his 30s.

Seattle Kraken: Joonas Donskoi

We know scorers are streaky, but Donskoi is taking it to a new level.

One goal in 46 games isn’t going to get you much interest around the league come deadline time, but the Finnish forward has shown he can score -- look no further than his last two seasons with Colorado (especially 2020-21 where he put up 17 goals in 51 games) -- even though he did outscore expectations by about five goals last year while shooting at an uncharacteristically high 19.8 per cent. Still, this year he should be further than just one goal on the season; the value of his shot attempts equates to an expected goal total of 7.4 in all situations, and that’s before factoring in shooting talent.

What might be behind this drop? Besides playing on a less offensively dynamic team, at 5-on-5 he’s shooting less in terms of volume (down about two shot attempts per 60) and quality (two fewer slot attempts per 60). If his career-low shooting percentage of 1.8 starts to rebound -- and it should regress closer to average -- the scoring should come. He has another year left on term ($3.9 million cap hit) and some wonder if a team looking for some bottom six production might take a chance.

Carson Soucy is another player I’m curious about. The left hand shot defender has one year left on his deal (and a reasonable $2.75 million cap hit) and has a skill set based around defending which come playoff time is of high value.

Vancouver Canucks: Bo Horvat

Look, we all know the Canucks are going to be moving out forwards. We’ve heard JT Miller’s name (and a million takes on why he’s a fit for the New York Rangers), Conor Garland and Brock Boeser as well. But how deep into the roster do they go? If the Canucks are following the timeline of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes where does that leave the captain? Not for any discussion right now, but can you imagine the haul Vancouver could get if they put Horvat to market?

Moving Horvat could make sense in the long-run, but would have quite the impact until someone steps up to fill that void. The Canucks are a better offensive team while he’s on the ice, both in terms of quantity and quality at 5-on-5. Vancouver creates the most from that high-danger inner slot area while Hortvat’s deployed, thanks to a combination of his shot contributions and passes to the slot.

Vegas Golden Knights: Chandler Stephenson

The poster child for how a change of scenery can change a player. But maybe that’s the story of the Golden Knights in general – doesn’t everybody who goes there get better?

Stephenson never averaged more than 12 minutes per season with the Capitals. That quickly changed in Vegas; now, over the past two years, to compare, he’s been averaging closer to 19 minutes. From bottom-six depth player on the Capitals to top dog in the middle for the Golden Knights, Stephenson’s career has taken off and he hasn’t looked out of place at all playing on the Knights' top line between elite wingers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. As much as a boost in teammates has done wonders for his game, he’s complemented them too with his speedy skating and transitional play; no one carries the puck into the zone at a higher rate than the centre’s 13.8 per 60. If he’s not creating a scoring chance himself, he’ll often set his teammates up off the rush.

But what happens when Jack Eichel joins the mix? Where does Stephenson slot? The easy answer is he drops down to the third line, but considering he’s excelled with top-six minutes does his play make a player like William Karlsson available? We’re all guessing what GM Kelly McCrimmon’s salary cap plan is, but Stephenson has given him another option.

Data via Sportlogiq, collected to Wednesday night’s matchups

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