Monday, October 12, 2020

Vegas signs Pietrangelo, trades Schmidt to Vancouver


       The Vegas Golden Knights have signed defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to a seven year deal with an AAV of $8.8 million dollars. To make room for Pietrangelo, they traded defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2022 3rd round pick. 

       The Golden Knights signing Pietrangelo seemed inevitable after he reportedly took a trip to Vegas. While he has never been a Norris finalist, he finished 4th in 2019-20, and has scored double digit goals in each of the last four seasons. While Schmidt was a fan-favorite, he is a top-4 defenseman, while Pietrangelo is easily a top-pairing guy. A big concern with him is that he is 30 years old, turning 31 next January. Seven years is a lot for a guy who is not exactly young. But Vegas definitely needed a right-handed defenseman, with Zach Whitecloud currently being their next best righty. They could move Shea Theodore to the right side, and have defensive pairings of Alec Martinez and Pietrangelo, Brayden McNabb and Theodore, and Nick Holden and Whitecloud. That will definitely do. Schmidt is good, but his contract looks like it could soon be a nightmare. Pietrangelo is a leader, who was the captain of the Blues when they won the 2019 Stanley Cup. 

         Pietrangelo, 30, scored 16 goals with 36 assists for 52 points in 70 games for the St. Louis Blues in 2019-20. In his NHL career, all in St. Louis, Pietrangelo has 109 goals with 341 assists for 450 points in 758 games. 

          The Canucks get a good player in Schmidt. He can play either the right or left side, and play on the first or second pairing. However, he is at the tail-end of his prime, and his contract does not look good. Schmidt has a $5.95 million cap hit, running for the next five seasons. While it might be better than the Tyler Myers deal (although it is only $50k less for one extra season), that is not good by any means. But the production that Schmidt will give them for the next 2-3 years will likely be better than anything a third round pick can give you, unless Vegas really hits the jackpot. 

           Schmidt, 29, scored seven goals with 24 assists for 31 points in 59 games for the Golden Knights in 2019-20. In his NHL career for Vegas and the Washington Capitals, Schmidt has 29 goals with 111 assists for 40 points in 396 games. 

NHL Trade Review: Avalanche acquire Toews


       The Colorado Avalanche have acquired defenseman Devon Toews from the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2021 second round pick and a 2022 second round pick. 

       Toews is a two-way defenseman on the verge of a breakout, but he is also an RFA. With under $9 million in cap space, the Islanders could not afford Toews when they also need to sign Mat Barzal and Ryan Pulock. Despite just finishing his second NHL season, Toews is not young, and a short term deal was expected, which would send him into unrestricted free agency. While he has shown that he can be a contributor both offensively and defensively, a weak playoff run followed by an arbitration case that the Islanders weren't confident in persuaded them to go with the trade route. While he can be a very valuable player, two second round picks is a good return, although the team's last impact second rounder was Scott Mayfield in 2011, and before that, Mikko Koskinen (who is just making a difference in the league now) in 2009 and Travis Hamonic in 2008. One or both of the picks could go to unloading salary to sign Barzal and Pulock.

        The Avalanche get a pretty good deal here. After trading Nikita Zadorov to Chicago they were looking for an upgrade, and they certainly get one here in Toews. They have the cap space to sign him, and he will be a good second pairing defenseman for them. They needed a right-hander, but they could move Ian Cole to the right side, maybe to play with Toews, and have the recently-extended Ryan Graves play with Erik Johnson on the third pairing, with Cale Makar and Sam Girard up top. Judging by last year's Brady Skjei trade and the amount of teams looking for a top-4 defenseman, not giving up a first rounder is good. 

         Toews, 26, scored six goals with 22 assists for 28 points in 68 games for the Islanders in 2019-20. In his NHL career, all in New York, Toews has 11 goals with 35 assists for 46 points in 116 games. 

COLUMN: Trying to Make Sense out of Taylor Hall Signing with the Sabres

     NHL free agency has gotten off to a slow start, as only one of the biggest players on the board signed on day one, with Torey Krug going to St. Louis. But between the big two free agents, Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo, it took until the night of day three for one of them to make their decision. That was Hall, one of the premier left wingers in the game, who has played for lowly franchises in Edmonton and New Jersey for most of his career. Hall, who just experienced a first round exit with the Coyotes, was expected to go to a legitimate contender for the first time in his career. Instead, he went to one of the seven teams that did not make the expanded playoffs, the Buffalo Sabres. 

        Even though it was known that Hall would sign a short-term deal with Buffalo, it was a weird signing. In the end, he agreed to a one year deal worth $8 million, which is something that other teams could probably top. Even if you evaluate the other six teams that didn't make the playoffs, Buffalo doesn't have the history of Detroit, the lovely weather like any of the California teams, the familiarity of New Jersey, or even Ottawa, which isn't close to Hall's hometown of Calgary but is at least in the same country. All of this, plus New York's high state tax, makes for a confusing decision by a 28 year old. But, there are some upsides. 

          Hall, a scoring winger who is also a great playmaker, is coming off of an injured season, and a down year. In 2019-20, he scored 16 goals with 52 total points in 65 games. His 0.25 goals per game was the lowest of his career, and this is a guy that was 19 in his rookie season. His 0.80 points per game was also his lowest since 2016-17, and this is coming off of two seasons with a points per game well over 1.00. The former Hart winner has always had one issue: being on teams with a lack of star power. In New Jersey, he played with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, who are good, but not exceptional. In Arizona, he wasn't a top line guy, playing with Conor Garland and Christian Dvorak. In Buffalo, Hall will finally have a linemate that will bring his stats up, and not the other-way-around. 

          So far, the Sabres have completely wasted Jack Eichel's career. As the soon-to-be 24 year old enters his prime, he has not played in a playoff game. He is coming off of a season with a career high 36 goals in only 68 games. For most of the year his wingers were Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson. While both can be consistent 20 goal scorers, they are not on the level of Hall. Eichel has shown that he can boost a player's stats, as when Jeff Skinner came to Buffalo in 2018-19, he scored 40 goals on Eichel's wing after a 24 goal campaign. When Eichel had new linemates, Skinner's production dipped, down to 14 goals. 

         Hall's plan seems to be to follow Skinner's path, but without the year two struggles. Playing with Eichel, both forwards could get to 100 points, even in a 70 game season. He could definitely eclipse his career high 39 goals and 93 points set in his Hart winning 2017-18. He also has a full no-move and no-trade clause, which means that if the Sabres struggle like they are expected to, he can control who he is traded to. If Hall has a strong year, then he can bait a team like the Sabres to give him a deal similar to the eight year, $72 million contract they gave Skinner after his 40 goal season. He also has familiarity with Buffalo Head Coach Ralph Krueger, who coached Hall with Edmonton in 2012-13. 

         However, there is a bit of a risk involved here. If Hall is injured, or doesn't perform with Eichel, then he isn't going to get the money he wants long-term. But even if he does score around 40 goals, then teams have an excuse to balk at a price that Hall would want, since he probably won't want another 1-2 year deal. Skinner's success with Eichel followed by a sudden downfall after being paid shows a sign of caution around doing it all again with Hall. While Hall still has a pedigree that Skinner doesn't, keep in mind that he will be 30 in November of 2021, the first year on his new contract. When Skinner signed his eight year extension, he had just turned 27. Whether it would be an eight year deal with the Sabres or a seven year deal with someone else, it is unlikely that a smart team would go the max distance with Hall. If the salary cap stays flat, that makes it even more unlikely. The Seattle expansion draft can help a team, as the Kraken would be a franchise that would take an unwanted contract for draft picks. 

          This deal is a no-brainer for the Sabres. They increase popularity with a former MVP, and they can see an increase in ticket sales (if that is a thing in 2020-21) thanks to Hall. The increased publicity leads to more money all-around. While Hall might be using them, they can ship him off for a first round pick and more like the Devils did last year. This also gives Eichel another star to help improve the team, and keep Eichel's morale up, as there were trade rumors weeks ago surrounding the center. 

          Overall, for Hall, this deal still raises question marks. But if Hall gets a Skinner-like deal next year, whether it is with the Sabres or another team that currently had interest in him, then everything about his tenure in Buffalo is worth it. If he gets injured or underperforms, this could be the mistake of a lifetime. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

NHL Trade Review: Devils acquire Johnsson


       The New Jersey Devils have acquired forward Andreas Johnsson from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward Joey Anderson. 

       The Maple Leafs' salary cap issues are no secret, and they got just a little bit worse when they gave Wayne Simmonds and TJ Brodie a combined $6.5 million in free agency. Johnsson being traded was inevitable, as he is a player that can be replaced, and he has a $3.4 million cap hit. The Maple Leafs decided not to trade two decent RFAs last year in Kasperi Kapanen and Johnsson when they had cap issues, and now both are in the Metropolitan division, as Kapanen is a Penguin. In return, they get Anderson, who can be a defensive forward on the right wing. Anderson had a successful AHL season last year, scoring 15 goals with 34 points in 44 games. The former 3rd rounder played in some NHL games over the past two seasons. He is currently an RFA, but his next deal likely won't eclipse $1 million and might be a two-way deal. 

        Anderson, 22, scored four goals with two assists for six points in 18 games for the Devils in 2019-20. In his NHL career, all in New Jersey, Anderson has eight goals with five assists for 13 points in 52 games. 

        The Devils are taking advantage of the Maple Leafs' salary cap situation, and they get pretty good value for Johnsson, who is signed for three more years. He scored 20 goals in 2018-19, but knee injuries hurt his 2019-20. He is a young left wing option for Lindy Ruff's squad. Their next order of business should be to get a defenseman. They have five NHL defenseman, and Damon Severson is the only signed past 2021-22 (he is a free agent after 2022-23). 

         Johnsson, 25, scored eight goals with 13 assists for 21 points in 43 games for the Maple Leafs in 2019-20. In his NHL career, all for Toronto, Johnsson has 30 goals with 37 assists for 67 points in 125 games.