Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 29 September 2020

NHL highs and lows: Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?

There were dozens of moves in the week leading to the NHL trade deadline but in some ways this is the lousiest part of the season, writes Rob McKenzie.

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1. Trade deadline

The loyal man is an anomaly.

In today’s NHL, as the March 1 trade deadline approaches each year, a great many players want to be traded from middling teams to top contenders, and a great many general managers are ready and eager to discard tried-and-true workers.

And so it was again this year. In all there were 36 trades in the week running up to the midnight Wednesday deadline. The saddest trade of all …

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2. Goodbyes

... was Arizona sending Martin Hanzal, a veteran of 10 seasons with the woebegone Coyotes, to Minnesota for three draft choices, who will no doubt be traded to a contender circa 2021 if they turn out to be any good.

It’s not so sad for Hanzal — in the final year of his contract he went from a bottom-feeder to the Western Conference points leader. But sad for Arizona, for their remaining fans, and for their captain, Shane Doan, whom Hanzal described as “like a second father to me” and who has been with this one franchise for 21 seasons.

In an interview after the Hanzal trade, Doan looked and sounded defeated: “You can’t really replace him, and ... [shakes his head, stares off into space] ... The fact that we just continue to seem to go — I don’t know, it’s hard to understand exactly — I mean, you understand that people’s hands are tied. Just don’t get it.”

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3. Professionalism

So what did Doan, the most loyal man in hockey, do that night when the Coyotes played the visiting Buffalo Sabres?

He went out and skated his usual 15 and a half minutes as the Coyotes came back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to win 3-2. And then after it was over, Doan and the younger Coyotes gathered at centre ice to raise their sticks and salute their fans.

Alistair Cooke once said: “A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”

Shane Doan says: “There’s 25 people that get to win the Stanley Cup, but it’s not too often that you get to play 15-, 20-plus years with one organisation. That means a lot to me, too.”

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4. Gordie’s jacket

It wasn’t always this way: it used to be worse. In the postwar era trades were how you would punish a man like Ted Lindsay who agitated for better conditions for the players, who were being robbed blind by the owners. Case in point: when the great Gordie Howe signed with the Red Wings, he was paid $2,700 a season. The kid acted as his own agent and thought he did well by getting the team to agree to throw in a Red Wings jacket (leather sleeves, alpaca lining). Gordie thought the jackets looked great. When he was sent down to the Wings’ junior-league team in Galt, which lies between Detroit and Toronto, he would stand at the railroad station because he actually expected the team’s general manager to stop the train and give him his jacket. It took two years before the team held up its end of the deal. Big, gullible Gordie.

If loyalty is not a prime value in pro sports today, there’s a reason for it; and so the anomaly becomes all the more remarkable.

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5. Loading up

The biggest trade at this year’s deadline was Kevin Shattenkirk going from St Louis to Washington for futures, including a 2017 first-round draft pick. Shattenkirk is an offensive-minded defenceman who is strong on the power play. He adds scoring punch to the Caps’ blueline and increases their defensive depth — and if you don’t have that your weakness is sure to be exposed in the playoffs, as Washington learnt last year.

Shattenkirk has reportedly vetoed earlier trades to Edmonton and Tampa Bay because those would have included a contract extension and he wants to be a free agent this summer.

But for Washington this might be their best chance to win the Cup in the Ovechkin era, so they’re willing to fork out for Shattenkirk as a “rental”. One scenario: the New York state native signs with the New York Rangers a few weeks after the Caps eliminate the Rangers in the playoffs.

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6. Other trades

The deal that paid the quickest dividend was Ottawa getting the veteran forward Alexandre Burrows from Vancouver for a prospect. In his first game as a Senator, Burrows scored twice as the team beat lowly Colorado 2-1 on Thursday.

Ottawa’s rivals in the Atlantic also acquired reinforcements, everyone seeking an edge in a tight race.

Toronto got Brian Boyle from Tampa for a prospect and a second-round draft pick. Boyle is a two-way forward with playoff experience and is strong on face-offs. Indeed it was his face off win on Thursday that led to the goal that gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead in LA (Toronto ended up losing in a shoot-out).

Montreal made five trades in the run-up to the deadline, picking up role players who are not stars but who add grit their line-up: Steve Ott from Detroit, Jordie Benn from Dallas, Dwight King from LA, etc. Florida acquired Thomas Vanek from Detroit for a draft pick and the young defenceman Dylan McIlrath. Vanek had 38 points with the Wings this season.

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7. La la land

The Los Angeles Kings lie outside the playoff picture and their deadline trades seemed desperate.

The weirdest deal was acquiring Ben Bishop from Tampa. The Kings already have Jonathan Quick in net.

Barring a Quick injury, Bishop might play no more than eight regular-season games for LA. The pending free agent was fine in his Kings debut. He made 28 saves but the team lost 2-1 to Calgary in overtime. But in his second game, versus Vancouver on Saturday, he let in four goals in the first two periods as LA lost 4-3.

LA also acquired Jarome Iginla (age 39, eight goals this season, minus-21) from Colorado for a fourth-rounder. Iginla is chasing his first Stanley Cup in what might be his final season.

Iginla has had a very good career and even though he has not won a Cup he was instrumental in bringing it to one city: Dallas. The December 1995 trade in which the young Iginla was traded to Calgary for Joe Nieuwendyk — who was still in his prime but wanted more money from the Flames — was a milestone on Dallas’s path to winning the trophy in 1999. It also gave Calgary their leader for a decade and a half. That was an exemplary trade: one that neither the players nor the teams would want to undo.

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8. Meanwhile, on the ice ...

There were two big games last week.

On Wednesday two Cup contenders faced off, Pittsburgh visiting Chicago. Patrick Kane led the Hawks to a 4-1 win with his second hat trick in three games.

The Hawks seemed off during the first part of the season but really they were gestating. The line of Kane, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov can be counted on to score points. But one line is not enough. And what happened is Jonathan Toews, captain and centre, was working with his linemates Richard Panik (previously waived by Tampa and Toronto) and Nick Schmaltz (a rookie with loads of potential) to reach the point where Chicago has two strong lines. It took most of the season but now they are there. Panik got the Hawks’ non-Kane goal on Wednesday and it was a beauty: dekes past Evgeni Malkin by deflecting it off his own skate, blasts it top corner behind Marc-Andre Fleury.

Chicago and San Jose rank as the Western conference favourites, with Washington and Pittsburgh out front in the east.

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9. The greater loyalty

Big fat tears rolled down PK Subban’s cheeks on his return to Montreal.

Thursday’s game marked his return to the city whose jersey he wore for six seasons, until the team traded him to Nashville for Shea Weber in a summertime shocker.

Subban, never one to hold back, let loose the tears before the game as a highlight reel of his time in Montreal played out on the scoreboard: the team drafting him in the second round a decade ago, him winning the league’s best-defenceman trophy for 2012/13, him leading the Habs to a playoff win over Boston and flattening Brad Marchand with a body-check, and him donating $10 million to a Montreal children’s hospital.

The fans chanted “PK! PK!” and did not want to stop.

In sport as in life, the greater loyalty is not to a team but to its people.

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10. In summation

If the playoffs started today: Washington, the league leader with 95 points, would meet the New York Islanders; Columbus would play Pittsburgh; Montreal would meet the Rangers; Ottawa would play Boston. The west matchups would be Minnesota-St Louis; Chicago-Nashville; San Jose-Calgary; Edmonton-Anaheim.

Standouts: The stats leaders are Connor McDavid with 74 points, four ahead of Kane; Sidney Crosby with 34 goals; Ryan Suter at plus-35; Dustin Byfuglien with 27.24 of ice time per game; and Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki with 122 penalty minutes. The leader in both goals-against average (1.89) and shutouts (eight) is Braden Holtby.

Stand or fall: Calgary has won seven in a row to move up the wild-card standings; Montreal has won five in a row to shore up their lead in the Atlantic division; St Louis entered Sunday’s game on a five-game skid but then beat miserable Colorado 3-0; the lucky Blues have six more games against the Avalanche.

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Updated: March 6, 2017 04:00 AM

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