Our NHL experts tackle the questions left unanswered after the trade deadline, including what’s next for John Tavares, where Erik Karlsson might land and which team most directly improved its Stanley Cup chances.
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Where will John Tavares play in 2018-19?
Greg Wyshynski, senior writer: One of the most interesting things about the trade deadline was watching some teams — the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks seemingly among them — add and subtract players based on the possibility of landing Tavares. And I think the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Montreal Canadiens are going to be in on Tavares, driving his price up. In the end, I still can’t envision Tavares leaving the franchise he loves — as I’ve often said, NHL players never want to move their stuff. They like where their stuff is. But if he does leave, I’ll make the Sharks the favorite.
Kaplan: The Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a team that is finding its stride at the right time, and it got a whole lot better by adding Derick Brassard as its third-line center. Sidney Crosby–Evgeni Malkin-Brassard might be the toughest 1-2-3 punch in the league. After the Pens won the Cup last summer, they had to part with Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen, making center depth the biggest area of concern. Now that has been addressed … and the rest of the league is on notice. Again.
Peters: The Lightning. If there was one area where Tampa Bay could use some improvement (and it didn’t need a ton), it was on the blue line. Nabbing Ryan McDonagh for their top four suddenly puts the Lightning in the conversation with the Nashville Predators for one of the best defensive corps. J.T. Miller also gives Tampa Bay a player with comparable production to Vladislav Namestnikov, who was traded away, while increasing the grit factor a little bit. Being able to swing a deal without having to lose Sergachev or Brayden Point was some outstanding GM work by Yzerman.
Allen: The Jets. We’re grading on a bell curve here, as the Lightning couldn’t improve their already exceptional chances much more. Stastny allows the Jets to both absorb an injury down the middle and confidently roll three dangerous lines at all comers.
Which acquisition is a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit?
Wyshynski: Thomas Vanek will slot into the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ top nine, and will see copious amounts of power-play time. That’s great. So what doesn’t quite fit? That would be Thomas Vanek playing for a very not-Thomas Vanek-type coach in John Tortorella. Even though Torts doesn’t get quite as volcanic as he used to, I wouldn’t want to be in the blast radius of his first critique of Vanek’s defense. No less an authority than Marian Gaborik had a chuckle about it.
Kaplan: Ryan Reaves in Las Vegas. He was never a true fit in Pittsburgh, and Penguins GM Jim Rutherford admitted the mistake by dealing the enforcer, for whom he had traded a first-round pick to acquire. Reaves also doesn’t make much sense with the Golden Knights, who roll out four lines evenly. (Reaves was averaging 6:45 minutes a game with the Penguins.) He does bring an edge the Golden Knights might feel they need in the playoffs, as the Western Conference tends to be more physical than the East. The real fit issue to me is the price Vegas paid in order to acquire him.
Peters: Nick Holden with the Bruins. There’s a saying that you can never have enough depth on defense. While that may be true, I don’t know that the Bruins made a significant improvement over what they already had. Boston has Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and rookie Matt Grzelcyk down the left side, and it seems to be working. It traded away 24-year-old Rob O’Gara, however, who had been spotting in here and there, and a third-round pick. I can understand the Bruins want to get a more experienced safety net in the mix, but I thought their D corps could have used an extra right-handed shot over a lefty. That’s pretty hard to find, though.
Allen: Markus Nutivaara has been a perfectly serviceable sixth defenseman this season. Unless the Blue Jackets firmly believed they were trading Jack Johnson on Monday morning, I don’t understand the acquisition of Ian Cole.
How many first-round draft picks will the New York Rangers actually select this June?
Wyshynski: I think they use one. It’s a rebuild, and the Rangers acquired an impressive amount of construction materials for that rebuild. But New York needs impact players, and the higher one drafts, the more the impact. So the Rangers will package the Bruins and Lightning picks to move up.
Kaplan: Two. Let’s be honest, three is just excess. I think one can be used for currency before the draft to pull off a trade for a roster player. It feels like New York GM Jeff Gorton is exercising patience in his rebuild, meaning the Rangers won’t resort to their old ways and say, get in on the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes. Then again, it’s the Rangers. Two first-round picks might just be the going price from the Senators for Karlsson.
Peters: I could see them using two. They’d likely keep their own and could potentially package the other two to move up in the draft order if there’s a player they like enough. That said, once we get further down the draft board, there are a lot of comparable players in terms of value. In that scenario, they’d be best served to hang on to all three unless they got an offer that fits into their rebuilding plans. That could even include trading down to stockpile more draft picks.
Allen: Two of the picks are going to be very late in the first round, so if any tangible, proven assets are offered up, either of those two picks could be traded away in a heartbeat.
Which teams will make the playoffs this year?
Wyshynski: Eastern Conference: Washington Capitals, Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Blue Jackets, Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Bruins. Western Conference: Predators, Jets, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Golden Knights, Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings.
Kaplan: Eastern Conference: Bruins, Blue Jackets, Devils, Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Capitals. Western Conference: Calgary Flames, Stars, Kings, Wild, Predators, Sharks, Golden Knights, Jets.
Peters: Eastern Conference: Lightning, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Capitals, Flyers, Penguins, Devils, Blue Jackets. Western Conference: Predators, Golden Knights, Jets, Wild, Sharks, Kings, Stars, Flames.
Allen: Eastern Conference: Flyers, Capitals, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Lightning, Florida Panthers, Blue Jackets. The Panthers have enough games in hand to steal New Jersey’s spot, and Cory Schneider‘s continued absence is concerning. Western Conference: Predators, Jets, Wild, Golden Knights, Sharks, Ducks, Blues and Kings. There’s still enough time for the Blues to pull out of their tailspin.