- With only a handful of games left before the All-Star break, the AHL transaction page hasn’t been as busy as usual this week. The Boston Bruins did make a move today however, recalling Jeremy Lauzon and assigning Steven Kampfer to the minor leagues. Lauzon will skate on a pair with Matt Grzelcyk, playing in an NHL game for just the second time this season.
For the past several seasons, the Bruins have headed into the trade deadline with an eye on upgrading their situation on the wing and it appears this year will be no exception. With that in mind, NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty mentions that Rangers winger Chris Kreider appears to be their top target between now and next month’s deadline.
While the interest certainly makes sense on the surface – a contending team looking at an impact power forward – the fit could be a bit tricky. Boston’s weakness up front is on the right wing while Kreider is a natural left winger where the team has some depth at that position in Brad Marchand, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, and Danton Heinen. The latter two have shifted to the right side in the past and acquiring someone like Kreider could certainly have one of them making that switch again.
The Bruins also find themselves with limited cap space. They’re currently using LTIR on defenseman Kevan Miller but he has resumed skating and is expected back this season so they’ll already need to ensure that they’re in cap compliance when he returns. Per CapFriendly, the team is projected to have $712 in cap room; even with a player getting sent down when Miller comes back, that’s far from enough space to add Kreider and his $4.625MM AAV, even if they were to retain the maximum 50% in any deal.
GM Don Sweeney will also have to be mindful of the potential for a bonus overage. Zdeno Chara has already reached $1.25MM of his bonuses while he’ll earn another $250K if the team makes the playoffs which is a safe assumption at this point. Making a move for Kreider (or a similarly-priced player) will basically guarantee an overage which will carry over onto the 2020-21 cap.
The Rangers aren’t entirely out of the playoff picture themselves and it’s quite possible that if they go on a run themselves, they could opt to hold onto Kreider. Having said that, it doesn’t appear as if they’ve had any discussions about an extension as of yet so a trade at this time still seems like the likelier scenario. Of course, there will be plenty of other teams vying for his services as he may wind up being the top rental player that’s moved over the next month.
It was only two seasons ago that the Bruins and Rangers made a rental deal of significance just before the trade deadline, one that saw Rick Nash go to Boston for a collection of picks, prospects, and players to help make the finances work. They may have to make a similarly-structured deal in order for Boston to land their top target this time around.
The Metropolitan Division is well represented in the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week, as the league announced that the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin and the Blue Jackets’ Elvis Merzlikins have been named the first and second stars, respectively. Ovechkin is no stranger to the honor, but was certainly deserving of recognition once again with a whopping eight goals in three games, including back-to-back hat tricks. The 34-year-old trails only David Pastrnak in the NHL goals race right now and is eight goals away from cracking 700 in his career. Meanwhile, Merzlikins is brand new to both the NHL and any sort of league recognition. The young goaltender, who dominated the Swiss ranks for many years, got off to a rocky start this season after signing with Columbus last spring. However, he has performed admirably in the place of injured All-Star Joonas Korpisalo, including winning each of his past four start with three shutouts mixed in. In 20 appearances on the year, Merzlikins is now up to a .928 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in an impressive rookie campaign. The third star of the week belong to another familiar name, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. Toews shook off a cold spell, recording three goals and nine points in four games this week, extending his point streak to six games. As Toews goes, so do the Blackhawks, who have been surging of late back into the postseason conversation.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins are among the top-five NHL teams in man-games lost this season and first in lost production due to injury. However, they have weathered the storm, not just maintaining through their losses, but actually improving. Now, they are getting healthy once again, with Sidney Crosby now back (and red-hot) and defenseman Justin Schultz getting close, per a team report. Schultz was cleared for full participation in practice today and appears ready to go, but stated that he and the team will be “smart” with the decision, especially with the All-Star break approaching and the opportunity for even more rest if they opt not to rush him back this week. Meanwhile, after leaving Sunday’s game, Dominik Simon has avoided any lasting injury, the Penguins The same can’t be said for Dominik Kahun, who suffered a head injury and has entered the concussion protocol. That just seems to be how things have gone for Pittsburgh this year though – for every player back to full strength, there’s another player sidelined.
- One of the Penguins’ biggest rivals for the Eastern Conference title could be getting a somewhat forgotten player back in the mix. The Boston Bruins, after not having an update on defenseman Kevan Miller for some time, surprised the media by stating that he returned to the ice with the team yesterday. Miller has not played a single game this season, nor has he even been part of the active roster. The veteran defenseman has suffered multiple setback in his return to health after a litany of injuries last season. Should he reach the point that he is fully able to return to action, the Bruins would welcome him back, despite their logjam on the blue line, as Miller would bring the physicality and checking ability that the team has been missing too often this year. Of course, his return could pose some cap problems in addition to roster questions, but given Miller’s inability to get healthy this season, that is a bridge that the team will cross if and when they come to it.
How the tables have turned already for Ilya Kovalchuk. The veteran forward was unemployed entering the new year after having his contract terminated by the Los Angeles Kings. Despite his decorated history in pro hockey, he was left scouting the market for a minimum contract with a team that maybe had a chance at the postseason in 2019-20. He landed in Montreal, signing a one-year, pro-rated $700K contract with a team heading in the wrong direction for playoff contention because that was his best option at the time. Just two weeks later, Kovalchuk’s stock has skyrocketed. The 36-year-old has eight points in eight games with the Canadiens and has looked phenomenal, especially compared to his play in L.A. When he first started scoring, many Habs fans were excited at the prospect of the team flipping him for assets at the trade deadline.
While this remains a distinct possibility, as Kovalchuk continues to produce many other are asking whether Montreal should instead look to re-sign the winger. Not only has Kovalchuk been an impressive offensive contributor, but he provides the veteran presence and star power that the team is lacking in its forward corps, which plays a part in why Kovalchuk has been such a hit with fans so early in his tenure. Yet, Kovalchuk has been so successful in such a short time with the Canadiens, that his camp is already thinking about cashing in, mere weeks after settling for the smallest NHL contract possible. When asked about the prospect of Kovalchuk re-signing in Montreal, agent Pat Brisson told TVA Sports that it is too early to talk extension. While he admits that Kovalchuk is enjoying his time with the team, Brisson states that the focus is only on making the playoffs, which – when spoken by an agent – is a strong indication that Kovlachuk will be looking to test the market or at least continue to drive up his price before talking contract with Montreal. A trade would also change the status quo and could afford Kovalchuk the opportunity to improve his stock even more with a postseason appearance, which seems unlikely in Montreal this season. While the veteran star is not going to land a long-term contract this season, his sudden resurgence all but guarantees that he will be back in the NHL next season and making significantly more than his current $700K cap hit.
- Ilya Sorokin is a name that has long been tied to the NHL, despite the player never having set foot on pro ice in North America. The New York Islanders prospect has long been one of the best goalies in the KHL, even at just 24 years old, yet he has been reluctant to sign with the team and commit to coming overseas. Reports earlier this season were that Sorokin wanted a clear shot to a guaranteed NHL job and has not been happy with the situation in New York, first with Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner last year, now Greiss and Semyon Varlamov this year, and at least Varlamov signed for several more years. Those reports indicated that Sorokin intended to stay in Russia unless traded by the Islanders. Some subsequent rumors believed that the team was considering moving Sorokin’s rights as a result. However, when KHL insider Igor Eronko approached Sorokin about the topic, a different sentiment came from the horse’s mouth. Sorokin expressed that he was surprised to read the stories about his trade demands and that the team was looking into moving him. He stated that he and the Islanders have a different understanding and he has not been told that the status quo has changed. Don’t be surprised if the Russian star remains Islanders’ property through the trade deadline after all.
- The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa writes that David Backes has five choices after being waived and demoted by the Boston Bruins. One option that might come as a surprise, not as a suggestion but as a concrete theory, is that Backes could retire rather than accept his assignment. Shinzawa reports that Backes seriously considered retirement after his concussion earlier this season, but was assured by a concussion expert that it was safe for him to return to action. Yet, after Backes failed to return to an NHL-caliber level of play, could he decide to play it safe and call it quits? He would forego the remaining salary on his contract, but would protect himself from the risk of long-term harm with another injury, one that would especially be a shame while merely competing at the AHL level. Shinzawa suggests that Backes could instead decline his assignment and see his contract terminated, which would make him a free agent where he could at least try to find a worthwhile job elsewhere in the NHL. The other option is that he simply accepts his assignment to AHL Providence, which could also lead to a trade request down the road or further consideration of retirement or contract termination before the end of next season.
Many have noticed that the play of Florida Panthers newly signed goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t started his tenure the way everyone had hoped. The 31-year-old, who signed a seven-year, $70MM contract this summer, has put up very pedestrian numbers for a player the Panthers believe to be a franchise goaltender. In 35 games with Florida this year, Bobrovsky has posted a 3.22 GAA and a .898 save percentage — far from his 2.58 GAA and .913 save percentage with Columbus last season.
However, The Athletic’s Alison Lukan (subscription required) breaks down the play of the netminder and notes there are several reasons for Bobrovsky’s early struggles beside just the fact that he often struggles early in the year as well as the fact that he’s already 31 years old. However, the scribe believes that the biggest difference is that he is still adjusting to life without Columbus’ top defense. The Florida Panthers defense has increased Bobrovsky’s workload to levels he isn’t used to, which has forced the goaltender to change the way he plays. Between Bobrovsky making adjustments and the eventual hope that coach Joel Quenneville will re-design the defense into something more impressive down the road, the hope is that the goaltender should bounce back.
- In a mailbag piece, the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James suggests that one of the biggest reasons the team has not recalled top prospects Michael Rasmussen and Mortiz Seider to aid the struggling franchise, is the success that the AHL team, the Grand Rapids Griffins, is having. The team remains poised for a playoff run, but with Seider back from the World Junior Championships and Rasmussen finally back from a two-month long back injury, the team has a chance to make a run, which could be good for both their long-term development. Rasmussen, in particular, is training to return to the center position before returning full-time to the NHL.
- Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy revealed that defenseman Connor Clifton is expected to be out until at least February, according to Matt Kalman of WEEI.com. Clifton has been out with an upper-body injury since Dec. 29 and has served the team as a third-pairing defenseman. While the 24-year-old doesn’t provide much offense (two goals in 30 games), Clifton has provided a physical presence with 85 hits already this season.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning have always considered forward prospect Alexander Volkov as a mystery, who has the talent to be a top-six forward, but has struggled with consistency throughout his career. The team hoped to change that when they brought up Volkov on two separate occasions, but after assigning him to Syracuse on Friday, the 22-year-old responded with a hat trick, which The Athletic’s Joe Smith (subscription required) feels might be a sign that the forward is starting to come around.
Saturday: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that both Backes and Schenn cleared waivers. NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin adds that Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Backes will be given the same break that all NHL players are getting for the all-star break before the team decides whether it will send him to the AHL.
Friday: The Boston Bruins have decided to place veteran forward David Backes on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to the minor leagues. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet adds that Luke Schenn has also been placed on waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Backes, 35, has finally worn out his welcome with the Bruins. The former St. Louis Blues captain signed a six-year, $36MM contract with Boston in 2016 but was almost immediately a disappointment. He failed reach the 20-goal mark in his first season with the Bruins, a threshold he had met in each of his previous five full seasons (not counting the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign). Still, at that point he was still at least adding some secondary scoring and providing a physical presence in the lineup on a nightly basis.
Injuries started really affecting that contribution however, which made many look at the deal as a potential problem. By the time the summer of 2019 rolled around Backes was a buyout candidate, and now he finds himself on the way to the minor leagues.
Backes’ $6MM cap hit will not be entirely buried by heading to the AHL. Only $1.075MM is covered by sending him down, and the Bruins will still be on the hook for the entire actual salary. This transaction couldn’t have been done last year when Backes still had a no-movement clause, but this very well could be the end of his time in the NHL.
For Schenn, this the second time he’s found himself on waivers since signing a one-year deal with Tampa Bay. He cleared just before the season began, but now that teams are dealing with injuries there is a chance he gets grabbed for a short-term fix. The 30-year old has 749 games of NHL experience under his belt, though is obviously not an extremely effective option at this point in his career.
The final Saturday before the All-Star break features a busy schedule with a dozen games on the docket which means there should be plenty of roster movement throughout the day. We’ll keep tabs on those here.
- The Bruins have reversed yesterday’s goaltender flip, recalling Dan Vladar from AHL Providence while sending Maxime Lagace down, per the AHL’s Transactions page. It appears that Friday’s roster move was solely designed to get Vladar a start to keep him fresh as he made 24 stops in a 2-1 loss to Bridgeport.
- With its defense numbers down with their extensive injuries, the Winnipeg Jets announced they have recalled defenseman Nelson Nogier from the Manitoba Moose of the AHL. The 23-year-old played one game for the Jets last season and did make a 10-game appearance back in 2016-17. He has no goals and six assists in 42 games with the Moose.
- The Philadelphia Flyers announced that they have assigned defenseman Mark Friedman to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL. The 24-year-old blueliner has only played in five game for the Flyers, but has appeared in 28 games for the Phantoms, tallying two goals and 10 points there. He is expendable with the return of Justin Braun.
- The Edmonton Oilers announced they have assigned defenseman William Lagesson to the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. With the upcoming all-star break approaching, it’s likely the team wants Lagesson to get more work in. The 23-year-old has only appeared in two games for the Oilers since being recalled on Dec. 29. He has three goals and 18 points for the Condors in 21 appearances.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning announced they have assigned forward Mitchell Stephens and defenseman Luke Schenn to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. Neither are expected to report, however, as The Athletic’s Joe Smith writes that both are paper transactions to save the team some money over the All-Star break and the team’s bye-week.
- The Anaheim Ducks have decided to shake things up in their forward corps, announcing the demotions of Max Jones, Daniel Sprong and Chase De Leo and recalling Blake Pietila. This will be Pietila’s Ducks debut if he draws into the lineup. The veteran has 14 points in games with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls this season.
- Alexander Yelesin has been returned to the AHL’s Stockton Heat, the Calgary Flames have revealed. The young defenseman did not see any NHL action while on recall with the Flames, but has played well in the AHL in his first season in North America.
Alex Ovechkin stole the show on a busy night for the NHL with his 25th career hat trick and 687th, 688th and 689th career goals. That takes him within one of Mario Lemieux who sits as the barrier for the top-10 all-time, a mark the Washington Capitals superstar seems ready to blow past over the last part of the season. Ovechkin has recorded at least 30 goals in each of his 15 seasons and is showing barely any signs of slowing down. As the rest of the league marvels at the Great Eight, we’ll keep track of all the minor moves:
- After just a day with the NHL club, Dan Vladar is on his way back to the minors. The Boston Bruins have sent Vladar to the AHL while recalling Maxime Lagace under emergency conditions, who at least has a bit of NHL experience.
- Yakov Trenin, Alexandre Carrier and Jarred Tinordi have all been sent to the AHL by the Nashville Predators, who have one final game tomorrow evening before a long break. The trio will continue to get playing time in the minor leagues for the time being.
- With their blue line taking another beating lately, the Winnipeg Jets have recalled Cameron Schilling from the AHL. The 31-year old defenseman has just ten games of NHL experience but has been a solid player in the minor leagues for nearly a decade.
- Ivan Prosvetov has been returned to the minor leagues by the Arizona Coyotes, who recalled Kyle Capobianco with the extra roster spot. Goaltending has been an interesting position for the Coyotes all season, often carrying more than two on the roster.
- Otto Koivula has been assigned to the AHL by the New York Islanders, after playing his seventh game of the season earlier this week. The 21-year old is still looking for his first NHL point.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning have sent Alexander Volkov back to the minor leagues, where he has spent the majority of the season. The 22-year old forward has flashed moments of brilliance in the NHL, but still has plenty of work to do to become a regular.
Thursday: Both players have cleared waivers according to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic.
Ritchie, 26, hasn’t been a good fit for the Bruins this season after signing a one-year, $1MM deal in the offseason. Unqualified by the Dallas Stars, the big-bodied forward was a free agent looking for a landing spot and the Bruins needed some secondary scoring and size on the wings. That scoring has been nowhere to be found when it comes to Ritchie, who has just two goals and six points in 27 games while bouncing all over the lineup. For a team expected to contend for a Stanley Cup, his play simply hasn’t been good enough.
Stewart meanwhile is beginning to look like a failed experiment of his own. After spending last season in the EIHL with the Nottingham Panthers, the veteran forward returned to the NHL and signed a one-year $750K contract with the Flyers in order to give them a little more physicality at the bottom of the lineup. He’ll likely play tonight for the team, but with just one point in 15 games there’s not a ton Stewart is providing the club at this point.
Like many of the names that grace waivers during the season, Ritchie and Stewart may find themselves unclaimed tomorrow and headed for the minor leagues. That is of course unless another team wants to add some size and will take a chance on one or the other. Both cap hits can be completely buried in the AHL.
The Boston Bruins announced several roster moves today, including the placement of Tuukka Rask on injured reserve. Rask suffered an upper-body injury expected to be a concussion on Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. In his place the team has recalled Dan Vladar from the AHL under emergency conditions, and Karson Kuhlman as a regular call-up.
Rask was already set to skip the All-Star festivities at the end of the month, but now he’ll be nursing an injury while the Bruins are on break. The team has just three games remaining before they will be off for ten days, giving their starter time to recover. As luck would have it, the team already has a more than capable backup in Jaroslav Halak with plenty of experience leading a team.
Vladar meanwhile will get a chance to earn an NHL paycheck for a little while, a deserving candidate after his hot start with the Providence Bruins. The 22-year old goaltender has a .935 save percentage through 12 appearances, with a 1.84 goals against average.