Every Friday, a trio of SI.com staffers sits down for a discussion of the hockey world’s hot-button issues. This week, Michael Blinn, Sam Page and Al Muir dig into the trade deadline, failed management, World Cup rosters, bad contracts and more. First up:
Now that the trade deadline is behind us, which recently acquired player is going to do the most to help his new team?
Sam Page: Dan Ham…oh, wait...
I think Andrew Ladd will help Chicago balance out its forward lines. He’s the perfect third guy for that Toews-Hossa line. I was kind of expecting there would be a better answer to this question, but it was a sleepy trade deadline.
Al Muir: Ladd's the obvious choice, but since you took him I'll go with an under-the-radar addition: Jamie McGinn. The Ducks are going to make some noise this spring, and his style perfectly complements the way they play the game. He's a guy who's willing to plant his feet just outside the crease and pay the price. If you saw that goal he scored against the Habs in his first game with Anaheim, that's exactly what he'll bring to the table in the playoffs.
Michael Blinn: I think Jiri Hudler is a pretty good fit for this Panthers team. He hasn’t had as much puck luck this season as he did when he scored 31 last season, but he’ll add some offensive depth behind Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov along with Teddy Purcell. Possibly the most important part of this deal is that GM Dale Tallon got him without giving up any first-round picks or top prospects.
More than a few general managers spit the bit ahead of the deadline. Who would you say failed the hardest?
MB: Holy crap, did Jim Benning punt this trade deadline pretty hard (though, as Al has pointed out before, it might not be entirely his fault…). His biggest move was an unnecessary one, getting Markus Granlund for Hunter Shinkaruk. For a team that’s supposedly rebuilding, Benning finished the deadline with Radim Vrbata, Alexander Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Dan Hamhuis still on his roster. Granted, they all have no-trade clauses, but Hamhuis was reportedly willing to waive his and still, nada.
AM: Yeah, it was Benning, but Boston’s Don Sweeney wasn't far behind. A year ago, he wouldn't (or couldn't) move picks for immediate help at the deadline. This year? He's giving 'em away like cheap candy at Halloween, swapping four to acquire a pair of rentals. There's nothing wrong with John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak. In a vacuum, both are honest players and solid deadline additions. But this team is going nowhere, and wasting futures on them makes no sense. Neither does holding on to Loui Eriksson, who'll either be overpaid on an extension or walk for nothing on July 1. The only thing worse than being mediocre in the NHL is being directionless and that's what exactly what the B's are.
SP: Benning is the obvious answer, but I’ll take the flip-side of that whole Hamhuis saga: Stars GM Jim Nill. If he truly chose between giving up the same package for Kris Russell or Dan Hamhuis, he picked poorly. Hamhuis ain’t no spring chicken, but he’s still a solid borderline first-pair shutdown defenseman. Russell tends to make his partners worse.
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World Cup 16-man rosters are out. Now that you've seen the early selections, who's your favorite and who's your dark horse?
SP: Canada’s the favorite because they have to be. My dark horse is Team North America. Aaron Ekblad, Seth Jones, Jack Eichel, Nathan Mackinnon, Brandon Saad, and Connor McDavid are all good enough to play for their country’s big boy teams. I also like that, for an under-23 team, they have a lot of size and two-way ability. The Seans (Couturier and Monahan) can play a checking line role against Sidney Crosby. Hockey, like war, is a young man’s game. Too often national team appointments are treated like lifetime achievement awards. The kids have all of the talent and none of the pressure.
MB: You took all the good answers, Sam. Not fair. It’s also not fair that Canada can put together a 16-man roster that doesn't include P.K. Subban and still be the prohibitive favorites. I do think Russia will have a pretty big chip on its shoulder after a series of poor tournaments. It’s hard to count out a team with Alex Ovechkin when he’s playing some the best hockey of his career, and I expect this tournament to be Andrei Vasilevskiy’s coming-out party to the hockey world—think Tuukka Rask during the 2006 WJC.
AM: Don't care who's in net for Russia if he's playing behind that defense. That's an ugly, ugly group. I suppose they can try to win 6–5 every night, but that's not going to work against Sweden and Canada. And yeah, Canada is the favorite, but I don't think there's much distance between them and Sweden. With Henrik Lundqvist in net and that defense—Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson—they can win on any given night, and maybe even take two-out-of-three. Maybe.
And I'd like to say Team North America is the dark horse because I think it will put on a pretty good show and maybe even win a couple of games, but ultimately the experience factor is going to be the difference. They just can't stand up to a steady diet of Crosby, Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron. They can't.
Probably the only team that has a shot against Canada and Sweden is Team USA. It doesn't have the depth to match those two, but once the playoffs start, anything could happen.
As of Wednesday, the Blackhawks, Stars and Blues were tied atop the Central Division. Who do you like down the stretch?
SP: If you’ll allow me to wear my gold pajamas for this question, the Predators lead the Central in Fenwick percentage and are 7-0-3 in their last 10 games. I think the Blackhawks reach the finish line first, but don’t count out a four-team race if Pekka Rinne gets it together.
AM: Come on, Sam. You're talking Fenwick and not the possible arrival of the cavalry, AKA Jimmy Vesey? You're not fit to wear those pajamas.
MB: Yeah, put me down for the Blackhawks, too. They have the best remaining schedule in my eyes—nine of their last 16 are against teams that are struggling to stay in the playoff race, if not already out. If they can maximize their points in remaining games against St. Louis (twice) and Dallas (twice), this should be a pretty open-and-shut case.
Finally, there are plenty of bad contracts in this league, but only one can be the worst. Who would you say has done the least to earn his paycheck this season?
MB: Somehow, Dustin Brown is making $7.25 million this season to score eight goals and 23 points. That’s some top-line money for bottom-six production right there. No matter how many of the “little things” he does right, they don’t add up that kind of payday.
AM: I think it breaks down to a million-five for production and the rest is pure intangibles.
SP: I would have said Niklas Backstrom, but somehow he wound up being traded, so ...
AM: Mike Smith has to be up there. Or how about Eric Staal? The guy is taking home $9.5 million this year and he was getting outscored in Carolina by Victor Rask. Maybe the Rangers can get some value out of him with the Canes retaining part of that horrible contract.