Eric Staal may be just the right piece for the Maple Leafs
March 11 2021
As we approach the two month mark of the NHL season it is becoming clearer which teams will be buyers and which will be sellers come April 12 — this year’s trade deadline.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be buyers as we near the halfway mark of a season that may provide them with their best chance to contend for a Stanley Cup in recent memory. Their current three-game losing streak aside, the Leafs have dominated the rest of the opposition in the North Division for much of the season.
Toronto won’t have to face an opponent from another division until the third round, if they get that far. So, the idea that GM Kyle Dubas may push his chips to the middle of the table and go all-in this season makes sense. With that in mind, let’s take a look at which players make the most sense as trade deadline targets for a team looking to win its first Stanley Cup in over half a century.
Contending teams should be, and likely are, tripping over each other to make a pitch for the Nashville Predators defenceman. The Preds sit eight points out of a playoff spot in the Central Division and have some big decisions to make in terms of the short-term direction of their team. Ekholm has one year left on a contract with a cap hit of $3.75 million per year. At 30 years of age, he likely provides the Predators with the best possible return among players they may make available.
A left shot, Ekholm has experience playing both sides of the ice and could give the Leafs one heck of a shutdown duo on their second pair with Jake Muzzin. Ekholm plays all situations and has chipped in nine points in 19 games this season. He is a strong puck mover who snaps a good first pass out of the defensive zone.
Ekholm completes an average of 2.6 stretch passes per game, which ranks 15th among all defencemen. The Maple Leafs complete more stretch passes per game than all but six teams in the NHL, so this is a skill that would fit nicely with a team that likes to attack with speed. Overall, Ekholm ranks top-30 among defencemen in controlled zone exits and entries.
The Maple Leafs emphasize puck possession and Ekholm is a player who can move it out and up the ice efficiently. Ekholm also uses his skating ability to recover loose pucks, averaging 23.6 puck recoveries per game (38th) and he uses his size to push opponents off the puck, averaging 2.9 puck battle wins per game (37th).
What would it cost to acquire the versatile Swede? Likely a first round draft pick and a prospect, similar to what the Maple Leafs had to give up to acquire Muzzin.
There aren’t many teams that can boast the kind of firepower from their forwards Toronto can. While Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have played most of the season with either Joe Thornton or Zach Hyman on their wing, the second line left wing position has been more of a rotating cast of players. Alex Kerfoot, Jimmy Vesey and Ilya Mikheyev have all spent more than 40 minutes on the left side of John Tavares and William Nylander.
Enter Mikael Granlund of the Nashville Predators. Granlund is a bit of a Swiss army knife. He can play wing or centre, kill penalties, play on the power play and is in the final year of a contract with an annual average value of $3.75 million. Listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Granlund is a lot to handle in the offensive zone. He’s strong on the puck, has the skill to possess it at length, wins battles at a high rate and generates scoring chances off the cycle at a top-50 rate.
On a line with Tavares, who is almost impossible to knock off the puck, and Nylander, a skilled playmaker and scorer, Granlund could prove to be a nice fit. Beyond that, Granlund could also be used as a third-line centre. He’s seen time as Nashville’s top line centre this season, so he could be a nice fit on Toronto’s third line with Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev if Pierre Engvall falters.
The Maple Leafs definitely have existing options at second line left wing and third line centre, but Granlund would add more competition and insurance if others around him drop off in play or get injured.
Since Nazem Kadri was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, the Maple Leafs haven’t had a forward grab hold of the third line centre spot, perhaps until now. As mentioned, Engvall has found magic with Hyman and Mikheyev which may lessen the desire to look for a bottom-six centre. However, whether this line will hold up over the long haul and into the playoffs still remains to be seen.
Even if they do, the Maple Leafs haven’t had any issue adding players they feel can help the team win and finding a spot for them (see Joe Thornton). With that in mind, Eric Staal might still be a player of interest. A former captain and Stanley Cup champion, Staal has the type of experience that any contending team with a young core would find valuable.
Eric Staal may be just the right piece for the Maple Leafs
March 11 2021
Although he is having a down year in Buffalo — who isn’t — Staal is only one year removed from scoring 19 goals and 47 points in 66 games. With a better supporting cast around him, it would be reasonable to expect Staal to produce offensively at a higher rate than the nine points he’s collected in 24 games with the Sabres this season.
Staal has completed 22 passes into the slot at even-strength, which ranks 57th among all forwards. When he doesn’t have the puck, Staal is able to use his size and strength to get it back, ranking 22nd in puck battle wins in the offensive zone and 32nd overall. Again, for a team that thrives on puck possession, having forwards who can win the puck back and extend cycle plays and offensive zone time is never a bad thing.
Staal is in the final year of a two-year contract with an annual average value of $3.25 million. It likely wouldn’t cost much to acquire the pending unrestricted free agent who could prove to be a valuable add as a depth forward and insurance policy in case of injury to current Leafs roster players.
The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.
The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 12, 2021
The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.
After acquiring Hall @ 50% & Lazar for Bjork, the #NHLBruins added $772K Cap Hit for remainder of year.
They have $24K of Projected Cap Space; $100K Annual Cap Hit that can be added, w/ 24 Active on Roster. Sending players to taxi would create more room.https://t.co/2o0hsHzUIy https://t.co/rXiRKKk3lt pic.twitter.com/I7ZRUSmSQp
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) April 12, 2021
The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.
The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.
Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.
The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.
Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.
Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.
“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.
It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.
But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.
It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.
“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”
Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.
Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.
“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”
But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.
When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.
Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.
“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.
Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?
It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.
“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.
“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”
It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.
But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.
You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.
What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.
“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?
“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”
Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.
(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.
For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.
The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.
Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.
“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”
The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.
Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)