NHL trade deadline buyers given more incentive to go for it

Sportsnet Feb 24, 2020

@dixononsports

How was that for a tasty appetizer?

The natural order of things is the weekday grind leading into a weekend of fun. But in the case of the NHL trade deadline, this past weekend just whet our appetite for what’s to come on Monday.

Friday kicked off the fun as the Boston Bruins parted with a first-round pick to get a player — albeit one presently on injured reserve — who will still be a restricted free agent at the end of his deal in 2021 in the form of Ondrej Kase.

Things were pretty quiet on the trade front Saturday, so we had to settle for Alex Ovechkin joining the 700-goal club and a Zamboni-driving beer-leaguer beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada.

The action picked back up on Sunday night, though, as the Montreal Canadiens shipped Ilya Kovalchuk to Ovechkin’s Capitals and the Edmonton Oilers — right after welcoming Connor McDavid back into the lineup — acquired Calgary native Mike Green from the Detroit Red Wings to add a little right-shot veteran savvy to the back end.

If there are any potential buyers still perched on the fence, this weekend did a lot to tip the scales in favour of “just go for it.” Tyler Toffoli netted his first two goals with the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night during a 9-3 dismantling of the league-leading Bruins. (Toffoli actually has six goals in his past four contests.)

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Then there was defenceman Alec Martinez — he of one goal in 41 games with the Los Angeles Kings — scoring for the second time three games into his Vegas Golden Knights career during a wild 6-5 overtime win for his new club over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

On the flip side, the Canadiens — who picked up a third-rounder for Kovalchuk to go with the second they got from St. Louis earlier in the week for Marco Scandella — now possess 13 selections in a 2020 NHL Draft they will host. The payoff for sellers obviously works on a much different timeline than buyers, but the possibility for short- and long-term hope is what makes trade deadline day — and the weekend leading up to it — so much fun.

Other Weekend Takeaways

• Seriously, McDavid comes back and goes 1-2-3 in a crucial Oilers win over the Kings; ‘Ovie’ scores No. 700 and NHLer-for-a-day David Ayres has every aspiring screen writer flipping open their laptops. What a weekend. (Related, EBUG — emergency backup goalie — is my new favourite acronym.)

• The New York Rangers may suddenly be the most interesting team to watch for the next few hours. The Blueshirts are now 7-1-0 in their past eight following Saturday’s 3-2 win over San Jose. Chris Kreider has long been the most desired winger on the rental market, yet there’s always been some notion — albeit a fading one — he could re-sign to stay in a place he loves with a team that values him. All this unfolds against the reality that the Rangers now sit just four points back of the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth.

• Elvis Merzlikins’ game logs page on Hockey Reference is becoming quite a place. Here’s the line from his first 10 appearances this season: 0-4-4, .889 save percentage. Now have a peek at games 11 to 24: 12-2-0, .953 with five shutouts. Here are the past seven, concluding with Columbus’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Predators on Saturday: 0-3-4, .892.

Win of the weekend might go to the Arizona Coyotes, who got a desperately needed 7-3 ‘W’ over the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. The Coyotes entered that game coming off a 14-shot effort in a 1-0 loss to St. Louis. They flipped the numbers around versus Tampa, firing 41 pucks at Andrei Vasilevskiy. Clayton Keller scored two goals, perhaps finding some offensive life following an awful 20-game stretch that saw him net just one goal and four assists.

The Coyotes also recalled goalie Darcy Kuemper from an AHL conditioning stint. The man who finished fifth in last season’s Vezina Trophy voting was having another strong year when he went down with a lower-body injury just a couple days after Arizona acquired Taylor Hall.

My personal ranking of feel-good stories in terms of teams trying to make the playoffs: 1. Arizona 2. Columbus 3. Edmonton.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Vancouver Canucks (33-22-6): Quinn Hughes registered two assists on Saturday, giving the rookie 41 on the season. The only blue-liners with more helpers than Hughes this season are Victor Hedman (42), Roman Josi (43) and John Carlson (57).

2. Edmonton Oilers (33-22-7): All told, the Oilers went 3-2-1 without 97. Also, Mike Smith got the win on Sunday and is 10-1-2 with a .922 save percentage since Jan. 4.

3. Calgary Flames (32-25-6): The Flames kicked off a five-game roadie with a 4-2 win over Detroit. Joke all you want, nothing is certain in this league and getting two points when you’re playing the worst team in the NHL is critical.

4. Winnipeg Jets (32-27-5): Newcomer Cody Eakin made his debut on Sunday, but couldn’t help the Jets stop an alarming trend; Winnipeg has surrendered the first goal of the game in eight consecutive outings.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (32-23-8): This week felt like a microcosm of the entire up-and-down Leafs season. At what point do we just accept this talented team is going to be life-and-death to make the playoffs? It just seems like every time they put it together for a small stretch, the next crisis moment is still only a terrible loss or two away.

6. Montreal Canadiens (29-27-8): It was great to see all-time good guy Karl Alzner get into his first game of the year during Saturday’s win over the Ottawa Senators. Buried in the AHL, Alzner has played just 10 NHL games combined the past two years.

7. Ottawa Senators (21-30-11): All the focus will be on who the Sens sell today, but it sounds like Thomas Chabot — who left Saturday’s game with an injury — could play Monday night in Columbus.

In Your Ear

It’s a big week on Tape to Tape. We’ll be recording a couple of hours after the swapping ends and we’ll drop that episode early on Tuesday morning, identifying all the winners and losers from the 2020 deadline.

The Week Ahead

• Trades! And along with that, some fun debuts with new clubs.

• There are a few intriguing matchups on the slate this week. Two sunbelt teams trying to make the post-season battle Tuesday in Arizona when the Yotes host the Florida Panthers and there’s an Islanders-Rangers contest the same night that suddenly has higher stakes with the Rangers’ charge.

• Vancouver swings through eastern Canada, as Montreal (Tuesday), Ottawa (Thursday) and Toronto (Saturday) will all get a look at the surprising Canucks.

Dave

Dapper Dave keeping you informed on Sports News for Canada