While the Zack Kassian for Ben Scrivens trade was interesting, and the Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley swap noteworthy, they were blips compared to Wednesday's earthquake of action. It's not every day a #1 centre is traded for a projected top-pairing defenceman, and it's certainly no longer every day that Vincent Lecavalier has reason to smile.
Winnipeg may not have been directly involved in any of the week's dealings, but I'd say some of them are sufficiently newsworthy to take a looksie of our own (apologies to Emerson Etem, but this article is long enough already). Let's begin with both the biggest trade and and the one which impacts the Central Division:
A Tale of Two Cities
To Columbus Blue Jackets: Seth Jones
To Nashville Predators: Ryan Johansen
And folks sometimes say that the hockey trade is dead. Considering their respective contexts, Nashville and Columbus combining in this way made complete and utter sense. What's shocking is that NHL GMs recognized this and actually moved the high-profile names involved.
Nashville was dealing from a position of, well, positional abundance. The team has 25-year-olds Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm locked up for no fewer than three seasons after this one, to say nothing of the Shea Weber contract which lasts until the end of time. It's no wonder GM David Poile felt enabled, given their embarrassment of riches and contractual security. The one big name on the Preds blueline who wasn't locked up? Seth Jones.
At 6'4", 208 lbs and in possession of a rather complete skill set, Jones is the kind of young defenceman scouts and bloggers alike salivate over. The 4th overall selection in 2013 was averaging 19:38 per game with the Preds, including 02:24 on the power play and 01:37 shorthanded. Already in his 3rd NHL season, to say that the 21-year-old's CV is impressive would be putting it mildly:
It's going to be an absolute blast watching Seth Jones spread his wings in Columbus. pic.twitter.com/KhHmJx8SVS— Philip Iver (@PhilipAIver) January 9, 2016
The only thing arguably keeping Jones from stardom was the d-corps depth surrounding him. Each special teams contribution still left him third on the team behind Weber and Josi, while also trailing Ryan Ellis in overall ATOI. It's going to be a while yet before any Predators RHD steps out from Shea Weber's shadow, and Ellis' solidification beside Ekholm on the second pairing made Jones an extremely valuable yet expendable piece.
With all due respect to Columbus' Veeti Vainio, Seth Jones instantly became the organization's best RHD. One would need a rather high opinion of Zach Werenski to keep Jones from the title of best CBJ defenceman, period. Ryan Murray, whose career has been derailed by injuries and is still very much an NHL question mark, will have a chance to find his game skating beside the star-in-waiting. It will be fascinating to see what impact the latter can have on the former.
Between Jones, Murray, Werenski, Gabriel Carlsson and David Savard, the hope is that this currently lacking blueline will feature a solid core in a year or three. With luck, they may even have a Ryan Johansen replacement as of June 24th, 2016.
That said, I like the move for both. Defense is terrific, with Jones, Murray, and eventually Werenski. If they get Auston Matthews, awesome.— Jason Ki Joon Byun (@jvl101993) January 6, 2016
In Nashville, Poile has assembled a decent team with one glaring weakness:
Pekka Rinne star power at centre. It's a plight he himself acknowledges: "Our offence has been inconsistent and we needed to find that No. 1 centre. We’ve been trying basically my whole career here in Nashville to get that top centreman." While it cost one heck of a defenceman, the effect is dramatic:
Predators lines vs. COL: Wilson-Johansen-Neal Forsberg-Ribeiro-Jarnkrok Salomaki-Fisher-Smith Nystrom-Gaustad-Watson So it begins.— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 9, 2016
During his time with the Predators, Mike Ribeiro has fared surprisingly well in the 1C slot. He now yields the position to Johansen, placing himself in perhaps an even better position to succeed. Nashville also addresses Mike Fisher's decline by pushing him down the depth chart, rather than having to shift a player like Craig Smith to second line centre. What was an underwhelming lineup earlier in the week suddenly looks neat and proper.
For a team looking to improve offensively, solidify their playoff position and then make some noise in the postseason, Ryan Johansen makes a lot of sense. The best part might be how Ryan Johansen is not just a move for the here and now. As a 23-year-old signed through next season and still an RFA after that, Poile addressed a current need without completely mortgaging the future. While Johansen will hit his UFA years before Jones, this big and talented centre still provides the security of a controllable asset.
As James O'Brien rightly points out, this is the kind of trade which might be "assessed for more than a decade". And with each having now made their respective debuts, thus begins the body of work upon which they'll be judged. Seth Jones played 03:13 min on the power play, 03:03 min shorthanded and 22:31 min overall in a 4-1 loss to Carolina on Friday. 21:37 of this came beside Ryan Murray, so I think we can guess what the defensive pairing plan is (at least until Zach Werenski arrives).
Meanwhile, Ryan Johansen's first impression caused jaws to hit the floor, mine included:
Now that's putting your best foot forward. Johansen led all Nashville centres in minutes played with 17:46, while dominating the fancy stat battle. Unfortunately, undisciplined play ultimately doomed the Preds to a 5-3 defeat at the hands of Colorado, but c'est la vie. Despite each debut ending in a loss, both fanbases have good reason to be excited moving forward.
Seth Jones was buried on a deep d-corps. Ryan Johansen did not seem long for Columbus. Via this one trade, the Predators and Blue Jackets addressed different needs and holes in their lineup, and it's perfectly reasonable that both might walk away as winners.
Ryan Johansen's goal at 2:35 was the third-fastest in franchise history by a player making his Predators debut, via @EliasSports.— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 9, 2016
Ron Hextall is a Wizard, Confirmed
To Los Angeles Kings: Vincent Lecavalier, Luke Schenn
To Philadelphia Flyers: Jordan Weal, 2016 3rd round pick
Vincent Lecavalier was untradeable in the worst possible way. And then Flyers GM Ron Hextall traded him. All it took was a phone call to his old boss Dean Lombardi, some cap retention and an apparent retirement promise.
The idea of adding depth is quite understandable from Los Angeles' perspective. They are going to the playoffs; it's just a matter of how deep their run will be. They've been an obvious buyer for at least a month if not two, and that was before Matt Greene's injury was declared season-ending.
Despite this playoff certainty (seriously, have you seen the Pacific Division?), the fringes of LA's roster were still in flux. With Nick Shore seemingly entrenched as the team's young, talented, underused centre, there was simply no room at the inn for Weal. Yes, I know theirs is a lineup featuring Jordan Nolan and Andy Andreoff, but this is also the Los Angeles Kings we're talking about. They do things a certain way, for better and worse.
Weal sat 7 of last 8 and sat 21 games prior to then. Kings wary of putting him thru waivers and losing him for nil. hence, a trade— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) January 7, 2016
At the AHL level, Weal is a stud player. Not sure Flyers could get him thru waivers. But he's an NHL-AHL tweener right now.— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) January 6, 2016
The Kings logjam and questionable ability to see Weal clear waivers conspired to make him at least a mildly attractive trade chip. As for the draft pick, while it's easy to assume it'll be late in the 3rd round, that still provides tangible value.
Even if Los Angeles wins the Stanley Cup and the pick is dead last in the 3rd, here are players picked in the 4th round in 2015: Jonne Tammela, Caleb Jones, Alexandre Carrier, Dmitri Zhukenov, Parker Wotherspoon and our very own Czech star Michael Spacek. There are gems to be found in the 3rd round; no pick should be thought of as a throwaway. Hextall can use it on a goalie.
It's been awhile since Schenn was likely to be in Philadelphia's long-term plans, and getting Lecavalier both off the roster and 50% off the books is addition by subtraction for the Flyers. If Weal turns out to be more than nothing, it may be simply icing on the cake:
And what kind of "depth" are the Kings receiving in return? Lecavalier has been a mild-to-moderate nightmare for longer than just his stay in Philly. With that said, it's not outrageous to think he might have one last gasp in him. Considering the surrounding talent and heavy playing style less dependent on speed, a limited but regular role might suit him in LA.
LA will cover up Lecavalier's flaws as it did Richards.— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) January 6, 2016
At the very least, his first impression was a positive one:
Meanwhile, there's evidence professing to show that Luke Schenn isn't a complete bum. Should Los Angeles hold him to the Matt Greene standard (and they are), Kings fans may be pleasantly surprised. With Schenn heading for unrestricted free agency in the summer, the risk on his end is effectively zilch. If the surrounding scuttlebutt proves correct, this lack of risk extends to Lecavalier as well:
@ChrisBayee In short, Kings think Schenn can replace Greene. Took Vinny because Philly wanted him off books. No implications beyond this yr.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) January 7, 2016
@ChrisBayee Right...and he told Kings he's retiring after this season.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) January 7, 2016
That is, so long as he does indeed retire at season's end. Things might get a little awkward if he doesn't.
Vouching For Mike Richards
Washington Capitals sign Mike Richards to a 1 year contract worth $1,000,000 (prorated)
The Washington Capitals are on an absolute tear this season. Their record is an unreal 31-7-3, a full 16 points above 2nd place NYR in the Metropolitan Division. Franchise goaltender Braden Holtby "is 19-0-2 in (the) past 21 decisions". At this point they, like the Kings, have an eye towards the playoffs and what depth is needed to go all the way. Enter Mike Richards, apparently.
When casually observed in isolation, Richards' fancy stats don't seem all that wretched. But all one has to do is put them within the context of Los Angeles, where favourable-to-dominant possession numbers are an obligation, in order for Richards to look a whole lot less attractive. Seasons have come and gone since Mike Richards was the poster boy for two-way excellence.
Richards isn't without defenders, however. Justin Williams being in his corner seems to have been invaluable, and Gary Lawless tweeted that the "view from many NHL types is Mike Richards has elite hockey sense".
Washington also looks to be putting their new acquisition in a position to succeed. Like Jordan Weal with Philadelphia, the Capitals are taking their time easing Richards into the situation. A conditioning stint in the AHL remains a possibility, and Trotz seems to have the 4th line in mind. They aren't asking Mike Richards for the moon and stars.
On surface it's cagey move by Caps signing Richards but his foot-speed in LA was troublesome, off-setting on-ice smarts.— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) January 6, 2016
Washington signing Mike Richards makes no sense. Guy can't skate. Jarret Stoll had similar resume and got cut because he couldn't skate.— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) January 7, 2016
Mike Richards "worked on getting quicker" but has no idea if it worked or not. This experiment could end poorly. https://t.co/um6zfKuOcP— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) January 7, 2016
Richards had options, apparently four additional offers worth. But considering the depth role he's slated for, Washington has options as well. The money, while better than some alternatives, remains negligible. Should things go pear-shaped, Washington still has Brooks Laich, Michael Latta and Jay Beagle. And if things work out, Caps fans may have mercifully seen the last of Zach Sill. That right there is what I'd call high reward.
The Capitals got Mike Richards, which is nice bc they haven't openly antagonized Sidney Crosby in quite some time.— James O'Brien (@cyclelikesedins) January 6, 2016
Richards should be motivated. So should Lecavalier. I bet Luke Schenn will be motivated too. Before, they were never motivated.— Jason Brough (@JasonPHT) January 6, 2016
Whether Nashville have truly upgraded their stock as Stanley Cup contenders will largely depend on goaltending and continued excellence (see: health) from the top-four. But a more balanced Nashville just makes the Central Division that much tougher. At least five out of seven teams now have their one-two punch down the middle set in stone:
(and Benn if necessary)
Take your pick of:
Colorado would make it six, but Duchene has looked darn good on MacKinnon's wing, leaving (brace yourselves) Grigorenko and Soderberg to duke it out as 2C. If I'm Minnesota, I seriously begin questioning whether my duo of Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund is enough for the home stretch, with the emphasis on Granlund. Pominville is 33, Koivu is 32, Parise 31 and Suter 30; this team can't exactly dilly dally with its window of opportunity. Our frenemies at Hockey Wilderness don't exactly see Granlund through rose-coloured glasses, either.
The discussion still smolders: https://t.co/edDZjMvsBJ— Barry Campbell (@BJVCampbell) January 8, 2016
In Los Angeles and Washington, we have legitimate (if not preeminent) Stanley Cup favourites having seen enough to begin building for the playoff grind. Redemption projects make a lot of sense for these well-oiled machines; the impact will be relatively peripheral regardless of success or failure.
Prices are being set, the market is beginning to warm, brain trusts are coming to conclusions on what they are and what they can be. As things stand, there are multiple contenders and even more pretenders. The Winnipeg Jets can reap the rewards of being a seller in this sea of buyers, if only GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and his team have the gumption to make that call. The clock is now ticking.
Thanks for reading, folks!