We’re beyond the one-quarter mark of the season now and with American Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror (an important milestone date in the big picture playoff chase) teams, for the most part, now have a better understanding of what they have, what they don’t, and what it means for the rest of the season.
A team like Arizona was always likely to sell pieces off and that remains so, but what about Montreal or Vancouver? One has undergone a big front office change, while the other is waiting on what seems like an inevitable move somewhere in the organization. Both have severely underperformed expectations.
And what of Seattle, one of the few teams with some cap space? Or Dallas, two years removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance and now on a five-game winning streak and in a wild card spot after a bumpy start? Jeff Marek mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada that one of their defencemen, John Klingberg, was garnering interest. Might be too early for anything that significant.
Both Boston and Philadelphia are on the outside looking in right now, but not by an insurmountable amount, so any big decisions they might face aren’t necessarily imminent.
Whether actual trades will begin to flow or not, Elliotte Friedman wrote in last week’s 32 Thoughts, the trade rumours could start picking up steam now.
“It might start to pick up now,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said Tuesday on the Jeff Marek Show. “You’re starting to hear more names that might be available. For us specifically it’s been hard to identify what we actually need because we’ve had injured players out…we’re still working out what are we identifying that we might need for the rest of the year. I’m assuming there are other teams doing the same thing. It might take a little longer for the trade market to open up than normal.”
Trade rumours give the most ardent of us armchair GMs something to debate and hypothetical deals to break down. So, as we begin to hear more in the rumour mill, here is some of the latest from around the league.
Jake DeBrusk requests trade out of Boston
Three years ago DeBrusk scored 27 goals for the Bruins and the plan appeared to be for him to become a key secondary scoring option to support the big line. DeBrusk followed up his career year with a 19-goal campaign and then had a very cold start to the shortened 2021 season. Through 26 games the left winger had just four goals and so the Bruins, looking to compete for the Cup, acquired another left winger, Taylor Hall, at the trade deadline.
That trade and the ensuing contract extension spoke volumes of where DeBrusk was at with the team.
This season, DeBrusk has started with three goals in 18 games and was made a healthy scratch in Sunday’s game against Vancouver. It was reported this week that DeBrusk had asked for a trade out of Boston.
“I believe there was a trade request in the summer too now,” Elliotte Friedman said on the Jeff Marek Show Tuesday. “The Bruins looked around but didn’t find anything they liked. I think Boston’s going to accommodate it.
“The question is the timeline. The Bruins aren’t just going to give him away…I don’t get the sense anything is imminent here, but this could work out potentially before the Christmas trade freeze.”
There are other factors at play for the Bruins right now that could make a quick trade more difficult. One is that top-line winger Brad Marchand was suspended three games for a slew foot on Vancouver’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and will remain out of the lineup for the rest of this week. Anton Blidh is injured and out of the lineup. And Boston doesn’t have the option of calling up players from the AHL right now, as Providence is dealing with a COVID outbreak.
So while the Bruins are open to finding a trade for DeBrusk, they also still need the player right now. DeBrusk returned to Boston’s lineup Tuesday night on the fourth line, played the second-fewest 5-on-5 minutes and registered one shot on net.
And of course, the Bruins still have their eyes on contending, so they’re not going to be eager to sell off NHL players for futures.
“Boston’s a team that’s battling to stay in the playoff race right now,” Friedman continued. “They’re not going to do anything that’s going to make them worse. This is not a year where they’re giving up on the season.”
One name Friedman floated to keep an eye on, for Boston or elsewhere, (“this is me spitballing”) is Seattle’s Mason Appleton. Following a 25-point season with the Winnipeg Jets, Appleton was squeezed out in the expansion draft not because he was underperforming, but because of the numbers game. The Jets were too deep up front to keep Appleton from the Kraken. But in Seattle Appleton has just three points in 11 games.
“I have to think there’s teams looking at Appleton,” Friedman said. “I’m not necessarily saying a DeBrusk for Appleton necessarily makes a lot of sense, but that’s the type of guy I could see Boston saying ‘you know what he was a good player in Winnipeg last year and could make sense for us.’ ”
Flyers GM Fletcher: “We’re not where we want to be”
The Philadelphia Flyers were one of those teams to watch in the off-season because of the potential they had for some serious turnover. GM Chuck Fletcher followed through by trading for Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Cam Atkinson, and giving a notable shakeup to the core.
Now, after an 8-8-4 start, the Flyers haven’t gotten the immediate pay off they would have liked from those moves. Ellis has been injured and out of the lineup for the past two-plus weeks and Kevin Hayes, a key forward at both ends, is also out of the lineup and has only played two games this season.
Interestingly, the Flyers have sort of shown two versions of themselves this season. They started well enough, going 6-2-2 in their first 10 games, but have sagged to a 2-6-2 record in their most recent 10-game stretch.
Fletcher spoke to the media Tuesday for a quarter-mark discussion and he was asked about how aggressive he might be in making further changes to the roster.
“I’d really like to see what we have before we start making changes. I don’t feel I’ve been able to see that to this point in time. But we’re always looking,” Fletcher said. “Right now if you just look at how we played the first 10 games versus the last 10 games, clearly one segment was way better than the other so we’ve shown the ability to play better than we are now.”
Things aren’t about to get easier on them.
The Flyers go to New York to face the Rangers, who have a .725 points percentage, on Wednesday. After that, Philadelphia plays five games in seven days next week, starting by hosting Tampa Bay and Colorado on back-to-back nights, then travelling to New Jersey (who got Jack Hughes back) and Vegas in the back half of the week.
“We weren’t perfect [in the first 10 games], we didn’t have the puck enough for me, we were chasing a little bit that way, but we were defending well,” Fletcher said. “Everything we talked about this summer, goaltending, defending, PK, competing, having the puck a little bit more, we were making progress in all those areas. The last 10 we’ve slipped back there’s no question. So now the onus is on our group to get it back. When injured players come back it makes it easier, but yet we can’t kid ourselves. We have to get better.”
Any number of options could be on the table here. Travis Konecny has 10 points and a minus-4 rating in 20 games, but is a key young piece (24 years old) signed for another three years. That would be a high-end and very bold move, but also a tough one to make and a likely long shot. Claude Giroux leads the Flyers with 17 points, but he’s also in the last year of his contract before becoming a UFA. Even though he has full control with a no-movement clause, could he be a possible player to move?
“I’ve wondered about him going to Ottawa before,” Friedman mentioned on the Jeff Marek Show. “I think if you’re the Flyers you kinda have to be thinking about is it time to say if they already changed a bit of their core last year, they have to be asking themselves do we need to go any further?”
Even head coach Alain Vigneault could be on the hot seat if things don’t start to turn around in Philadelphia.
“You get the sense the pressure is on there to do something,” Friedman said.
Will Patrick Roy be a candidate for Montreal’s vacant GM job?
One of the biggest stories of the week is the big shift in the Canadiens’ front office, leaving Jeff Gorton behind as the executive vice-president of hockey operations, with an eventual GM to work with him. The list of candidates for that job is long, and owner Geoff Molson confirmed the eventual hire will have to be able to communicate in both French and English.
Whenever Montreal’s GM chair opened up, Patrick Roy’s name was bound to be tied to it. So it was no surprise to see him surface on various candidate lists and for this topic to be a discussion around the Montreal market. Roy was asked about his interest in the job on Tuesday.
“What do they have to lose by giving me the chance to see what I can do with this club?” Roy told Le Journal de Quebec. “At the same time, I understand the situation. The club is owned by Geoff Molson and he’s the one pulling the strings. It’s his team and at the end of the day I might not be the guy for him. I accept that.”
The Hall of Famer and former Habs goalie great has been an NHL head coach, but his front office experience has all come in the QMJHL, where he’s led the Quebec Remparts for 11 seasons and won a Memorial Cup. The way in which he departed the Avs as head coach — when he felt his voice wasn’t being heard in player personnel decisions — has led to some question to how he would fit into this particular dynamic with the Canadiens, where Jeff Gorton figures to play a leading role. But Roy, in the same interview, said he’d be ready and willing to work with the new VP of hockey operations.
Another key component to the next GM hire is what their vision for the future would be. Geoff Molson opened the door to any possibility Monday when he said he wasn’t afraid of the word “rebuild” but ultimately wouldn’t interfere in any decisions the new front office team makes.
For his part, Roy said he doesn’t see a need for a full tear-down of the current team.
“For me, the Canadiens, it’s more of a reset that is needed,” Roy said. “Not a rebuild.”
What is the plan for Evander Kane?
Now fully vaccinated, Evander Kane cleared waivers this week and is practising with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. There has been no plan communicated with the public on when or if Kane will return to the Sharks, and his agent Dan Milstein said he was “looking at all the options” on his client’s NHL future, including the possibility of a trade.
“I think some teams have looked at it, but I don’t know how much is there,” Friedman said on Monday’s 32 Thoughts: The Podcast. “I haven’t been blown away by people saying ‘this team is definitely interested.'”
Even though Kane led the Sharks in scoring last season, he comes with a lot of baggage. There are the many off-ice issues following him, but also reports that he contributed to a souring Sharks locker room.
Kane spoke to the media after his AHL practice on Tuesday and downplayed the locker room concerns.
“I don’t think you’re going to have a group of people for, call it, I mean shortened season last year, 150 days, 160 days, get along perfectly,” Kane said. “But I think there’s been a big misconception of the entire team or multiple players. It’s funny, I had my end-of-year meeting last year and it was nothing but positive, positive, positive, and how great I was with the young guys and how great of a season I had. Apparently something happened in the summer I was unaware of, so it was all new to me.”
Kane said he wouldn’t play in the Barracuda’s next two games this weekend in Abbottsford against the Canucks’ affiliate, making a return to game action next week likely.
The Sharks are believed to be willing to retain salary in a Kane deal, perhaps as much as $3.5 million or so. And if a third team got involved as a broker in any deal, it could potentially knock down his cap hit further for an acquiring team and make a move more palatable.