Facing Off is a weekly column debating five of hockey’s hottest topics each and every Monday. From current events like trades and hat tricks, to bigger-picture stuff like scandals and expansion — you name it, we’re debating it. Albeit, not always with a serious tone. We’re keeping this column light, so keep that in mind when reading, and feel free to join in on the fun by leaving a comment.
Wow, what a week that was.
General managers across the NHL must have got a New Year’s memo that it is now time to start conducting business — you know, doing their jobs.
With the calendar flipping to 2016, they surprised us with multiple trades — more in seven days than the previous seven months combined? — and even a controversial signing.
I’m joined this week by Dan Mount — a regular Facing Off contributor and THW’s beat writer for the Nashville Predators — to catch up on all (or most) of these headlines.
So, to steal a line from my buddy Regan Bartel, the Kelowna Rockets’ play-by-play man — pitter, patter, let’s get at ’er!
Finally, your Predators and the Blue Jackets pulled the trigger on a trade that made too much sense — Ryan Johansen to Nashville, Seth Jones to Columbus. Is this a win-win deal? Or do you see a winner and a loser?
MOUNT: I think it’s one of those rare trades where both teams are winners. Both clubs addressed a need that the other had. Johansen was languishing under the iron fist of John Tortorella. I think you’ll see him enjoy life being the top-line center that Nashville hasn’t had since Jason Arnott was there. He’ll love being with guys like Filip Forsberg, Colin Wilson and James Neal.
I think Seth Jones will also do well in Columbus. He wasn’t going to unseat Shea Weber or Roman Josi to get onto the top pair. There’s always some worry if Jones will re-sign after this entry-level deal runs out, but I think he’ll relish the chance at being the man. He’s only starting to reach his potential. Both fan bases should be thrilled with this deal.
FISHER: Not to brag, but I totally called this one in our Dec. 28 edition of Facing Off. We know Jarmo Kekalainen is a THW reader, perhaps David Poile is too. Whatever the case, they signed off a deal that, indeed, should be thrilling to both fan bases. Ryan Johansen scored his first goal as a Predator less than three minutes into his Nashville debut Friday, finishing with two points, while Jones got off to a less flattering start with Columbus the same night, posting a minus-two rating and just a single shot on goal in more than 22 minutes of ice-time. Both teams wound up losing, but both should be winners in the long run here.
That said, I’m going to take a side and say the Blue Jackets got the more impactful player for the future. Defencemen play more minutes on a nightly basis, and budding top-pairing studs like Jones are nearly impossible to acquire and almost always have to be drafted and developed from within. So this is quite a coup for Columbus, to be able to pull off a rare 1-for-1 in landing the perfect complement to Ryan Murray. Dougie Hamilton took a while to get his bearings in Calgary, but he’s coming on strong now. Don’t be surprised if Jones goes through similar transitional pains in Columbus before taking off and becoming a perennial All-Star. This might be looking like a win for Nashville in the short-term — through the end of this season — but I see a long-term victory for the Blue Jackets once Jones realizes his potential.
Third Man In
JEFF PONDER (St. Louis Blues writer and NHL news editor for THW since January 2012): I will admit that both of my counterparts are correct in their answers . . . just not completely correct. Both teams won the deal. Columbus is getting a future All-Star defenseman in Jones, while Nashville is getting the top centerman they have needed since the Clinton administration. But, in the long run, Nashville wins this deal. It’s a small win, though.
For the foreseeable future, Jones will be the puck-moving defenseman that most of the 30 teams will envy. He has enormous potential in this area, and the 21-year-old is destined for — dare I say — 60-70 point seasons. However, if history proves anything, these tremendous campaigns don’t last forever for offensive defensemen. When looking at defensemen of this caliber, such as Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Mike Green, the time span for success can be short-lived (although players like Erik Karlsson and Kevin Shattenkirk are out to disprove this theory). However, if Jones can continue to see his defensive game progress, he could continue to be a valuable asset well into his thirties.
Yes, Johansen has proven to be unmotivated and even lazy at times. The best example has come this season, as coaches Todd Richards and John Tortorella would stress. But this lazy and unwilling player still posted 26 points in 38 games with Columbus — not his best stuff, but decent numbers for any forward on a bottom-of-the-barrel team. Just ask Tyler Seguin and the Dallas Stars what a change of scenery did for a player who was not exactly well liked by his previous coaching staff.
Johansen has unmatched talent that we could see flourish in the Music City. If he can find chemistry with James Neal, the NHL could be seeing yet another dynamic duo to add to the list of best linemates in hockey. Johansen is looking at a fresh start and could easily surpass his 71-point career season as early as 2016-17. With a coach who stresses taking risks in the offensive zone, Peter Laviolette, Nashville may have just added the final piece to its forever-long quest to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Speaking of trades and transactions, which former All-Star is going to help his new team more in the second half of the season — Mike Richards in Washington or Vincent Lecavalier in Los Angeles?
MOUNT: I think the Kings got a good deal getting Lecavalier. Granted he’s not the same player that terrorized the league years ago, but he’s very experienced. I always trust Kings GM Dean Lombardi when he makes a deal. Richards could still be a good player, but there’s a lot of baggage surrounding him. One thing that’s certain is Caps’ coach Barry Trotz won’t tolerate any foolishness. This could be the best place for Richards to land, but I’m taking a wait-and-see approach.
FISHER: I can’t wait to see what Richards brings to the Capitals. Lecavalier has already made an immediate impact for the Kings, assisting on the game-winning goal in his debut and making a strong enough impression on Darryl Sutter to earn a shootout opportunity with the game on the line in just his second appearance. Those are huge strides in comparison to Philadelphia, where Lecavalier was making a permanent indentation in the press box. That was an intriguing trade because Jordan Weal definitely has some offensive upside, but Lecavalier and Luke Schenn add some much-needed depth to the Kings’ roster and make L.A. more of a Cup contender.
As for the question at hand here, if I had to pick between Richards or Lecavalier for the rest of the season, I’d take my chances with Richards — “baggage” and all. He’s five years younger than Vinny and has two Stanley Cups (2012, 2014) to Lecavalier’s one (2004). Sure, Lecavalier was a four-time All-Star to Richards’ one, but neither has played in that showcase for seven years, so both are past their best-before date . . . obviously. Both will be motivated by these second (and last) chances they are being given, but I think Richards has a little more to offer in terms of intangibles and is better suited to a bottom-six checking role. I could see Richards becoming to Washington what Jarret Stoll was to Los Angeles on those Cup-winning teams. The common link to the Capitals is Justin Williams, who won with Richards and would have vouched for him, or at least endorsed that signing. I could see Trotz pairing them on a line, perhaps with a banger like Tom Wilson, and a trio like that could potentially do some damage starting this week.
Jonathan Drouin and Kerby Rychel have the potential to be future All-Stars. Both have requested trades. Do you see either of them moving between now and the Feb. 29 trade deadline? If so, where are they going and what are their current teams getting in return?
MOUNT: I definitely see both guys getting moved. I trust Steve Yzerman when it comes to clearing out people that don’t want to be there. (We all remember the Marty St. Louis deal.) However, Stevie Y is a tough negotiator that will get fair value. I see Montreal ending up with Drouin, but they’ll have to pay with a few prospects and possibly an active roster player. (The asking price will be even higher since it will be an interdivision deal.)
Columbus is prepping for the future and could get a nice haul for Rychel. I’m just a little more unsure about where he ends up.
FISHER: I guess the hard part here is determining the value for Drouin and Rychel. I mean, could Columbus really get a good haul for Rychel? And is it even in their best interests to move him, now that they have already moved Johansen? Is Sonny Milano a lock to be a top-six centre as early as next season? Are the Blue Jackets banking on winning the Auston Matthews sweepstakes, to replace Johansen and render Rychel redundant? Is Rychel even a centre, or is he a winger going forward? Maybe, just maybe, Columbus should make nice with Rychel and let him have a big-league audition from now through the end of this season — play him in prominent roles and at least try to bolster his trade stock if that is the end game. I’m not convinced Rychel is traded before the deadline unless it is for another underachieving prospect wanting, or needing, a change of scenery. And, no, I’m not referring to Drouin. I don’t foresee any negotiations between Columbus and Tampa Bay centered around those two. The Blue Jackets would need to add a couple more significant pieces, and Drouin might not be worth it to them. If Rychel ends up moving, I think it’ll be at the draft for a first-rounder in that 15-25 range.
Depending where the Devils finish in the standings, I could see them having interest in Rychel, along with the Wild. Vancouver, San Jose, Carolina and Buffalo will likely inquire too — they’d be silly not to. But would the Blue Jackets trade Rychel to New Jersey for Reid Boucher and a second-round pick? Or to Vancouver for Hunter Shinkaruk and a third-rounder? Those are the kind of proposals that Kekalainen is probably fielding in the present, so it might be best to hold off. Now if he could get Nikolay Goldobin or perhaps Timo Maier from the Sharks, then by all means pull the trigger and move on. I’m guessing Columbus is refocusing on the Rychel front because many of the previous offers were likely built around defencemen, but now that Jones is in the fold, the Blue Jackets might prefer a forward swap.
As for Drouin, I see even more teams expressing interest in him — at least half the league — so I do think Tampa will find a suitor sooner than later, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Dan’s right about Montreal. That thought crossed my mind too, especially with Drouin being a Francophone from Quebec, but I can’t see Yzerman keeping him in the division or trying to find the kid a “happy” new home. Drouin doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so Yzerman could send him to Siberia if an NHL franchise existed there. Yzerman can send him wherever he sees fit, whether that’s Carolina or Buffalo, Calgary or Winnipeg. Realistically, Yzerman won’t have a shortage of options and I don’t think teams will be low-balling him knowing the amount of competition.
With half a season still to go, the Lightning are going to push for the playoffs, so they might be more interested in a win-now return. I’m not suggesting Tampa would take back a rental — say Vancouver’s Radim Vrbata — for a promising youngster like Drouin, but could that be a starting point? What if the Canucks took back Matt Carle as a salary dump? Drouin and Carle for Vrbata, Shinkaruk and a playoff-protected first-round pick in 2016 or 2017? If Vancouver misses the playoffs this year, then the Canucks could choose to defer that pick to 2017 much like Garth Snow did in the Thomas Vanek deal, but that comes with the inherent risk of an even worse finish in 2017. Either way, that package probably isn’t enough in Yzerman’s eyes and Vancouver wouldn’t top my list of landing spots for Drouin.
Montreal might be higher on that list, but a team like St. Louis could be a prime destination too, especially if the Blues were willing to part with Shattenkirk. Drouin and Carle for Shattenkirk and Ty Rattie, is that fair? Don’t laugh at Winnipeg, either. Kevin Cheveldayoff was very active at last year’s deadline and if he doesn’t have extensions lined up for Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, and if the Jets are long-shots to make the playoffs, would Cheveldayoff trade both those pending unrestricted free agents to Tampa Bay for Drouin and Carle, or a younger defender like Nikita Nesterov? The Lightning would likely need to send back more salary than just Nesterov, unless the Jets retained some of the remainder on Ladd or Byfuglien in order to get a better second piece as part of the return. That sounds crazy because the Lightning probably couldn’t afford to keep Ladd or Byfuglien past this playoff run, thus having little to show for Drouin long-term, but if it brought a Cup to Tampa, would Yzerman or anybody else care? Would Steven Stamkos at least want to stay there? It’s a proposal with more questions than answers, but I wouldn’t rule out Winnipeg. Imagine Drouin on a line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele next season? Wow, they’d be fun to watch.
Third Man In
MARK SCHEIG (Blue Jackets beat writer for THW): I certainly see both players having the potential to move prior to the trade deadline. In both situations, it comes down to how each player is being utilized. They each feel they are ready to contribute at the NHL level now, while their respective teams are wanting a more patient approach.
In Rychel’s case, he has been back and forth between the AHL and NHL for the second straight season. Even when opportunities for call-up were presented, other players were chosen before him. Thanks to injury at the NHL level now, Rychel was finally called up to the Blue Jackets and, to his credit, played well in the limited time he’s had. But from his perspective, consider what has happened since he was drafted. Rychel was one of three first-round picks of the Blue Jackets in 2013. Alex Wennberg and Marko Dano each got more NHL playing time than Rychel. Then most recently, his AHL teammate Josh Anderson got the first call before him. In his mind, he likely feels slighted. Therefore, it’s really no surprise he asked for a trade. The next thing to consider is his value. Rychel has value, but probably not what the Blue Jackets think he’s worth. Earlier reports indicated that the price was too high for teams to consider a trade. He’s a left-winger, with top-six upside. There are several teams that, in the right scenario, would consider a move. I think of a team like Ottawa who could use someone like him. Kekalainen recently said he will do what’s in the best interest of the team. Now that Rychel is playing in the NHL, we’ll see if that means the trade talk goes down, or if it only ramps up as teams start to scout him more.
In Drouin’s case, there will be a high demand for him. There’s no denying his talent. Like Rychel, Drouin has been back and forth between the AHL and NHL. According to reports, he was very unhappy with his recent demotion and was seen showing his displeasure as he was leaving for the minors. I think a trade is a matter of when, not if. I’m of the belief it will be to a Western Conference team. Not sure trading Drouin within the division is wise. I think of someone like the St. Louis Blues who could use his talent and offensive upside. How about Minnesota? I think of good, solid defensive teams who could use an offensive infusion. Winnipeg is another potential destination. Those seem like logical trade partners for Drouin. Stay tuned, the fun is just beginning.
Why all this talk about All-Stars? Because the rosters have been revealed for the inaugural 3-on-3 tournament. So which division are you putting your money on to win the title? Do you see any notable omissions or surprise inclusions? Could that have altered the outcome or your prediction?
MOUNT: I’m going with the Metropolitan Division or the Central to win it. The Metro has Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the team. Plus, Braden Holtby is a fantastic goalie. The Central has Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Shea Weber and Roman Josi. If you had to make me choose, I’ll go with the Central.
I’m surprised that Corey Crawford got left off. He’s so underappreciated because of the team in front of him. John Klingberg should be there also.
FISHER: Dan is a wise man, singling out the two best rosters, by far, in the Metro and Central. Well played by him to mention the Metro first as to avoid looking like a total homer when he eventually picked the Central to win, with three Preds on that squad and the game being played in Nashville. Home-ice advantage will give that trio — Weber, Josi and goaltender Pekka Rinne — added incentive, so I’m also considering the Central to be the favourites.
That Metro lineup just looks strange without Sidney Crosby. If he could have been subbed in for Brandon Saad, the Metro would be the team to beat in my opinion. Crosby deserves to be there on name value, but not necessarily on his performance to date this season. Crosby’s absence is still surprising to me, that he wasn’t the fan-voted captain for the Metro, getting beat out by his long-time rival and nemesis Alex Ovechkin. That’s telling in the sense that perhaps Crosby’s star has lost some of its shine even in the eyes of fans.
Then again, the fans voted in John Scott as Pacific Division captain, so what do they know? I’ve been grinding that axe for a while now, but seriously look at those rosters — Scott stands out like a sore thumb, like a total bum. So does Leo Komarov, to a lesser degree, but at least he’s in the midst of a career year. It’s hard to take the Pacific or the Atlantic seriously with those guys on their rosters. Some felt Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl was more deserving than Anaheim’s Corey Perry too — sure, I can see the case there upon comparing stat-lines — but that’s not nearly the injustice of Scott over, well, any of his Arizona teammates. Literally, any and all of them would have been more worthy, starting with Coyotes captain Shane Doan.
Scott as an All-Star is a joke, everybody knows that. But should the league take away how much power the fans have in voting?
MOUNT: I think you have to limit the fans’ power. I understand having them be a part of the game, but some of these voting crusades they go on are a little nuts. I feel for a guy like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or a Max Domi that won’t get to go to the All-Star Game because of this John Scott movement. If I wanted to see a boxer fall down a lot, I’d keep watching the video of Mike Tyson falling off of his Hoverboard.
I think you should weight the vote between fans, players, coaches and media. This will hopefully get the right players to the game.
FISHER: Umm, for lack of a better word . . . duh. Not to worry, that’s likely the last we’ll see of the fan vote, unless stipulations are added in the future. Such as, you know, the player getting your votes can’t be a freakin’ healthy scratch more often than not! Captaincy candidates should meet some basic requirements and probably should be within the top 10 — or at least the top 30 — in scoring for their respective positions. The other three captains — Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Jaromir Jagr — are all acceptable choices based on that criteria. I actually thought Jagr was quite deserving of that honour, and this will, in all likelihood, be his final All-Star Game, so good on the fans for giving him that send-off. But shame on those other so-called “fans” for their Scott stupidity that will inevitably take the power — or the freedom to choose — away from the people. They ruined it and have only themselves to blame, not Gary Bettman.
Finland is a country of 5.5 million people. How impressive is it that the Finns beat Canada (36 million), Sweden (10 million) and Russia (145 million) en route to winning gold at the world juniors?
MOUNT: It’s awesome. I may be dating myself, but I did a report on Finland in sixth grade, so I’ve had a healthy appreciation for the country. They’ve got a great developmental system and some excellent players. It really is a testament that they contend every year with other hockey powers. However, it’s a hockey-mad nation that continues to put out some of the best players in the world.
FISHER: There you have it, Dan is smarter than me. He’s known Finland’s population since the sixth grade, and I just learned of it last week — at the age of 31 while watching a hockey broadcast. I knew Finland and Sweden were “smaller” countries, but I just assumed “smaller” was in the same ballpark as Canada or at least the 20-million range. So I was blown away by this fact, and jumped on the Finnish bandwagon as soon as they beat Canada. For as proud as we are of our hockey heritage here in the Great White North, Finland is, per capita, the best talent producer in the world right now. I currently live in the province of British Columbia, with a population of 4.6 million, and I grew up in Saskatchewan, with a population of 1.1 million. Combined, that’s 5.7 million — essentially, the equivalent to Finland. It’s safe to say, Team B.C.-Sask. would get stomped by Finland in any age range, be it at the world juniors or the Olympics. So colour me impressed with that country’s golden performance, and yet I wouldn’t be shocked to see Finland topping the Olympic podium sooner than later with the talents they are producing, including this next batch of draft-eligibles Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine and Olli Juolevi. If you weren’t watching the world juniors — you missed out — but remember those names, you’ll be hearing a ton about them in the years to come.
Who won this round of Facing Off? Feel free to weigh-in with your opinions in the comments below. We will be checking in periodically to both defend and expand on our initial answers. If you want to see us face-off over a topic, we’re open to suggestions as well.
Dan Mount is a sports reporter for the Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, New York, and the Nashville Predators beat writer for THW. Follow him on Twitter: @DanMountSports.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, and has been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.