Puck Daddy Bag of Mail
Big week for old hockey guys.
Jagr is out! Mike Fisher is back in! Some other ones might need new homes!
But moreover, all these player transactions seem to have people thinking good and hard about the machinations required before the deadline, which gets pretty important now that it’s less than a month away. So yeah, the same number of questions as always, but a little more focused in on a singular topic: What are teams gonna do in the next month?
So let’s hop to it, folks. These questions ain’t gonna answer themselves:
Eric asks: “How does adding Mike Fisher back to the lineup impact the Preds?”
I mean, they had the big presser yesterday and said he only started skating on his own recently. Plus, even in his age-36 season last year, he was only pretty good as a No. 3 center (42 points, weirdly, but only marginally positive possession numbers).
One suspects that maybe there’s an inflated sense of his value because of the minutes load he got in the stretch run of the playoffs, and that kinda paints over how ineffective he was in the postseason: no goals and just four assists in 20 games.
So yeah, what’s the impact of a 37-year-old depth center who hasn’t played this season getting added to the lineup before the deadline? I guess the asnwer is probably, “Not much.” The Preds are good and deep enough at the position that he’s not going to play anywhere near the prominent role he did last year — with Bonino added this summer he’s the No. 4 at most in an ideal lineup — and that’s for the best.
This doesn’t move the needle but it’s a nice story for the player and the franchise I guess. No harm, no foul. They still need help up front but there’s no way they think this is the move there.
Xaroc asks: “What is the Caps’ biggest need headed into the trade deadline?”
Their biggest need, I think, is for a defenseman, which is why all that Mike Green talk happened over All-Star weekend.
He is, in fact, probably exactly what they need: A guy who can move the puck and not be too expensive both in terms of salary and his actual trade cost. Detroit probably isn’t asking the moon for them and he certainly fills a need, especially on the power play. Green having a no-trade clause that allows him to dictate his destination probably helps.
But a sneakier need the Caps have, which I’m not sure they can fill with as much ease, is in scoring depth. Alex Ovechkin has a huge percentage of the team’s goals this year (we’ll talk more about Ovechkin later) and it would be nice to spread the offense out a little bit more, just to ensure they don’t do the Classic Caps thing of running into a team that can shut Ovechkin down in the playoffs and just flat-out stop scoring goals.
This is probably a better team than most people will give them credit for, but they definitely have holes for Brian MacLellan to address.
Matt asks: “Why don’t we hear much hype about Aleksi Heponiemi? He just turned 19 and 93 points in 39 games in the WHL seems wild even for juniors.”
I literally think it has something to do with the fact that he’s a Panthers pick, which is never gonna be too sexy to the, ahem, gatekeepers who keep tabs on these things. Also that he’s Finnish. And also that he’s listed at 5-foot-10 and just 150 pounds.
But yeah, let’s really talk about Aleski Heponiemi’s season. He’s the leading scorer on his team despite 12 fewer games played than the guy over whom he has one more point. And that player — overager Glenn Gawdin — is having a breakout season in his own right.
How about this for a stat: Heponiemi’s season output to date — 24 goals and 69 assists for 2.38 points per game — is currently 31st in WHL U20 single-season per-game scoring all-time. To your point, he’s just a ’99 birthdate (he turned 19 on Jan. 9), and no one else in the top 75 of scoring on that list has scored at this level in the Dub since Heponiemi was born.
A few others have approached it since the turn of the century, including Heponiemi’s teammate Tyler Steenbergen (75 points in 37 games so far this season), as well as Oliver Bjorkstrand in ’14-15, Sven Baertschi in 2011-12, and Sam Steel last year.
If Heponiemi keeps this up, we’re looking at something historic. By the end of the season, everyone will be talking about it.
JD asks: “What does Vegas do at the deadline? What should Vegas do at the deadline?”
All indications are that they’ll be cautious and maybe attempt to get a little better but not sell the farm to get help. That seems reasonable given where they’re at and the fact that they’re not likely to drop off too much from their current spot in the standings, just given how many points they’ve banked.
What they should do is start selling off every productive pending UFA over the age of 26 because, frankly, most of these guys are never gonna have value like they do right now, ever again. Imagine what Vegas would probably be able to get for James Neal right now, rather than lose him for nothing or maybe a middling pick this summer? An expansion team should be selling that player, no matter where they are in the standings.
One imagines that won’t happen for reasons that are both understandable and obvious, but nonetheless, that’s what they should do.
Kelley asks: “Who would you consider buyers and sellers in the Central?”
I think there are three distinct groups here.
Honestly at this point it seems like everyone could be a buyer but Chicago. Stan Bowman must understand his team’s position, and see its chances slipping away. Everyone acknowledges there are no trades to make that puts this team back in a playoff position for real. So let’s list them as maybe “neither buyer nor seller, but leaning toward selling if they can.” Which, probably, they can’t.
Colorado and Minnesota are more borderline cases, obviously, but given their position and how they’ve been playing lately, you gotta think they’ll make a move. Minnesota, in particular, might as well go for it because this is likely to be one of their last few kicks at the can with this core group. Not that they’re anything close to a true Cup contender, but whatever. I’d list them both as “maybe buying.”
The rest — Dallas, St., Louis, Nashville and Winnipeg — are almost certainly buyers, as well they should be. They’re all very good teams that, if things go right to one degree or another, could push into the Western Conference Final without much difficulty.
Bower asks: “Since the Rangers are selling, should they free Lundqvist? Are there any good-fit teams where it wouldn’t be weird to see the King in another jersey?”
Yeah they should sell Lundqvist, sure. Now to take a look at the list of buyers with a need in goal, then check on their cap space, and see what Lundqvist’s contract looks like, just as I take this big sip of water.
Ah yes, Lundqvist has four years left at $8.5 million and he’s turning 36 in a month, and not having a particularly good season. Tough to see who takes on that deal without the Rangers really making it worth their while; we’re talking eating salary, providing picks and prospects, taking back bad deals, etc. Probably a combination of those efforts.
It doesn’t matter about “it would be weird to see him in a _______ jersey.” Trade him to the Islanders if the Islanders will take that contract! Good lord. If the Rangers are going into a real and full-on rebuild, why not try to dump that deal on anyone dumb enough to take it?
Nicholas asks via email: “Does the WCHA have any chance of getting two teams to the NCAA tournament?”
Well Nicholas, first of all thanks for asking a college hockey question.
Second, it’s very possible.
Right now, Minnesota State — which seems to me to be as good as just about any middle-of-the-pack NCAA team in the country — is the only WCHA team in the tournament and unless it goes through a pretty big drop-off against a weak league schedule the rest of the way will get an at-large bid. As well it should. This is a good team.
But even the best teams in weak conferences are by no means guaranteed a walkover in the conference tournament. So it’s totally possible for them to have a bad game in the conference semifinal or something, and then someone like Bowling Green or Northern Michigan ends up winning the automatic bid instead.
That’s very plausible.
But if you’re asking if two teams get at-large bids? Unless BGSU or NMU — which right now sit 17th and 18th in the Pairwise — go on absolute, never-lose-again tears, it would be difficult for them to get into the top 14. I just don’t see it, mathematically.
Ovechkin is probably going to hit 600 this season, maybe even before he plays 1,000 career games. That’s wild.
But 800, as so many players have found, is almost impossible for anyone to hit. Ovechkin still isn’t the kind of shot-generation king he used to be so it’s hard for him to generate as many scoring opportunities as he used to. The idea that he’d keep scoring 50 or anything close as he ages into his mid-30s is dicey.
Basically what you’re asking is, “After this year, can Ovechkin average 40 goals a season until he’s almost 38?”
Ah, man, I gotta say no. However, 700 is absolutely and positively within reach even if he drops off to the kind of down years he’s had before. His worst-ever output for a full season is 32 goals, and if he does that for three more seasons, that’s 700.
Only seven guys have ever scored 700, and only two are north of 800. To get to top-five all-time, Ovechkin needs to clear Marcel Dionne at 731. Getting to 732 is probably within striking distance, but I can’t see him adding another 68 after that.
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.