- It appears that Carolina’s wait to get their starting goalie back is almost over. GM Don Waddell told Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News and Observer (Twitter link) that the Hurricanes are targeting next Sunday’s game against Florida for Petr Mrazek to make his return from a thumb injury sustained late last month that required surgery. Carolina has actually done relatively well without Mrazek in the lineup, winning nine of 15 games since he was injured (including the game it occurred) but having their number one back in the fold will give them a nice boost as they look to work their way up the division.
Over the offseason, Hurricanes GM Don Waddell had indicated that one of his priorities was to get winger Andrei Svechnikov signed to a contract extension. The pending restricted free agent is now in the final year of his entry-level contract and has been a big part of Carolina’s success over the past couple of seasons. However, he’s in a bit of a slump as of late with just one goal – an empty-netter – over the last 11 games. As his on-ice play has slowed down, so too have his contract talks, reports Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News and Observer.
Although discussions on this deal started back in the offseason, Svechnikov’s agent Todd Diamond indicated that it may take until the summer to get something done with the shortened season also acting as an impediment in talks:
Things are kind of status quo. There’s a time and place to have deeper talks. There’s just so many games right now, it’s not the right environment for it. It may take into the offseason.
While Carolina would certainly like to get Svechnikov signed to a long-term deal, a bridge contract certainly would seem to make more sense on the surface at this point. They already have more than $53MM in commitments for next season, per CapFriendly, and the 20-year-old is hardly the only one in need of a new contract. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is a pending unrestricted free agent while their goalie tandem of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are also UFA-eligible. Getting deals done to re-sign or replace them and round out the rest of the roster doesn’t make a long-term contract that buys out some UFA-eligible years the most viable of options. Team owner Tom Dundon acknowledged to DeCock that a bridge deal is the likeliest route they’ll take and is quite confident in getting an agreement in place:
It’s easy, because he’s ours, we’re going to pay him fair and get it done. That’s just when not if. We want to get it done. These are fairly easy deals to get done. The market, if you look at the bridge deals that have been done, it’s not that hard.
Svechnikov will be entering the RFA market this offseason without arbitration eligibility, something that he needs one more year of service time to reach. Even with the lower goal output as of late, he still has 16 points in 19 games to sit one off the team lead and had a 24-goal, 61-point campaign in 2019-20. Accordingly, even a short-term deal could creep into the $5MM range but that would still allow the Hurricanes to have enough cap flexibility to take care of some of those other free agents. It just looks like it’s going to take a little while longer for them to get a deal done.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour is one of a handful of head coaches around the NHL that are in the final year of their respective contracts. Carolina has certainly shown considerable improvement under his watch over his two-plus seasons there and not surprisingly, they have started talks regarding an extension, Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reported in a recent Insider Trading segment.
Given how strong the Hurricanes have been – they’re 96-58-13 since Brind’Amour was promoted to the position back in 2018 – the 50-year-old is well-positioned to land a sizable raise. Many recent deals handed out to proven head coaches have been in the $3MM to $5MM range though to be fair, a lot of those came before the pandemic and the economic environment is much different now.
Having said that, Carolina has been a team that has been a bit stingy when it comes to their off-ice personnel, instead opting to concentrate its financial resources on its on-ice talent, a strategy that has worked so far. But there are undoubtedly teams keeping tabs on this situation, LeBrun notes, and if Brind’Amour was to make it to the open market, he would get interest from elsewhere. In his latest column for The Athletic (subscription link), Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon expressed confidence that an extension will get done and Brind’Amour in the past has said that he only wants to coach in Carolina. Until that deal gets done though, he remains their most intriguing pending free agent.
Henrik Lundqvist underwent heart surgery last month, at the very least pausing his legendary NHL career for the moment. Earlier this month he let his fans know that things were going well in his recovery and today tweeted that he’s back on the ice. An attached video has him in full Washington Capitals gear, still an odd sight after spending his entire career to this point with the New York Rangers.
Lundqvist is still not expected to play this season, but his contract was not actually terminated and these updates at least open the door a crack for his playing career to continue at some point. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still great to see him healthy enough to get back on the ice.
More injury updates from around the league:
- The Carolina Hurricanes announced that Teuvo Teravainen has been diagnosed with a concussion, likely from a Nikita Zadorov hit on February 19. The star forward has already missed a pair of games and it is not clear when he’ll be cleared to return. If you haven’t been paying attention to Carolina, you might have missed that Teravainen has turned into one of the most consistent offensive performers in the NHL over the last few seasons. After breaking out with 64 points in 2017-18, he has scored 148 points in his last 162 regular season games, including nine this year. The 26-year-old is only in the second season of a five-year deal signed with Carolina in 2019.
- The Columbus Blue Jackets have placed Elvis Merzlikins on injured reserve for the second time this season, this time retroactive to February 20. He suffered an upper-body injury in that game and is considered week-to-week. Matiss Kivlenieks has been promoted from the taxi squad to serve as the backup for Joonas Korpisalo, but this will once again test the goaltending depth of the organization. Korpisalo hasn’t been good this year, registering an .889 save percentage in his 13 appearances, and Kivlenieks has just six games of NHL experience.
Fans of the NHL are sure to be familiar with the deeper meaning that American Thanksgiving holds each season. With unrelenting consistency, the NHL’s standings on the final Thursday of November have had great predictive ability when compared to the final regular season standings. In fact, over the past seven years the Thanksgiving standings have been about 75% accurate at forecasting eventual playoff teams, predicting 12 of 16 spots on average. Even though American Thanksgiving only rolls around less than two months into the season, three out of four teams in a playoff spot at that time will have retained their postseason berth when the season ends.
The 2019-20 season of course did not have a standard postseason, but if it had then the Thanksgiving trend would have proved even more prophetic in a shortened campaign. Last year, in which teams were limited to between 68 and 71 games apiece prior to the early termination of the regular season, the Thanksgiving standings would have predicted 13 of 16 playoff teams in the standard format. Of the three teams that would have slid out of the postseason, the Florida Panthers trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs by .014 points percentage in the Atlantic Division and the Winnipeg Jets missed out by a measly .001 points percentage behind the Calgary Flames as the final Western Conference wild card. The Thanksgiving standings were that close to predicting 15 of 16 playoff teams in the shortened season, with the unexpected slow start for the Vegas Golden Knights and hot start for the Arizona Coyotes being the other unsurprising course correction.
But how does this trend impact a season that didn’t even begin until well after American Thanksgiving? Based on total games played by Thanksgiving over the past few seasons, Thanksgiving represents about the 30% progress through the NHL season. In the current 56-game season, that comes out to about the 17-game mark. Although postponements and rescheduling have created a wide discrepancy in games played among teams this year, the league as a whole passed that 17-game average on Saturday: Happy Thanksgiving. Admittedly, the 2020-21 campaign does have a different playoff model as well, one that is somewhat stricter than the last few years without the fallback of a wildcard spot for a team on the fifth-place fringe in their division. Yet, it is still a 16-team postseason and the Thanksgiving trend should hold. Using points percentage to rank the standings (the stat may end up determining playoff position for a second consecutive season anyhow) and adjusting for the season’s makeshift divisions, here is the current “Thanksgiving” outlook:
North Division East Division
Toronto Maple Leafs (.789) Boston Bruins (.733)
Montreal Canadiens (.625) Philadelphia Flyers (.679)
Winnipeg Jets (.618) Washington Capitals (.594)
Edmonton Oilers (.600) Pittsburgh Penguins (.594)____
Calgary Flames (.472) New Jersey Devils (.583)
Vancouver Canucks (.405) New York Islanders (.559)
Ottawa Senators (.237) New York Rangers (.469)
Buffalo Sabres (.429)
West Division Central Division
Vegas Golden Knights (.700) Carolina Hurricanes (.781)
Colorado Avalanche (.679) Florida Panthers (.750)
St. Louis Blues (.611) Tampa Bay Lightning (.700)
Minnesota Wild (.571) Dallas Stars (.583)
Los Angeles Kings (.531) Chicago Blackhawks (.579)
Arizona Coyotes (.500) Columbus Blue Jackets (.526)
San Jose Sharks (.500) Nashville Predators (.412)
Anaheim Ducks (.417) Detroit Red Wings (.325)
Now this begs the question, especially seeing how accurate the Thanksgiving standings were in last year’s shortened season but also accounting for the many disruptions for a number of teams early this season, who is the trend currently overlooking? Which teams currently outside the playoff picture, if any, do you think will make the postseason when all is said and done later this season? Use the comments section below as well to discuss which teams may fall out of the postseason and whether you feel the Thanksgiving trend will apply this season.
In a season that has been disrupted by several COVID-19 outbreaks and historically-bad weather in Texas, the NHL schedule maker has been forced to constantly snip and edit things to fit in all 56 games. Today, the league announced that tomorrow’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes will be postponed to another date, with the Hurricanes taking on Tampa Bay Saturday night instead. The Lightning and Hurricanes were already set to start a three-game series on Monday, meaning they’ll now face each other in four consecutive games. The Blackhawks-Hurricanes game? It doesn’t have a date yet.
Some more updates from around the league:
- The Colorado Avalanche have almost everyone available for tomorrow’s outdoor game at Lake Tahoe, including captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Samuel Girard, who were recently on the COVID Protocol Related Absences list. That doesn’t necessarily mean Girard, who was still on the list as of yesterday, will play but he is eligible to. According to Dan Rosen of NHL.com, Cale Makar is still a game-time decision as he continues to deal with an upper-body injury.
- The Minnesota Wild also welcomed back several familiar faces to practice today, now that the team is down to just Andrew Hammond on the COVID Protocol list. Michael Russo of The Athletic reports that Dakota Mermis, Luke Johnson and Kyle Rau have all been sent to the taxi squad to make room for the returning players, though Calen Addison will currently stay on the active roster.
- Nate Thompson has been activated from injured reserve by the Winnipeg Jets and he is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the team faces off against the Vancouver Canucks. Thompson has played just four games for the Jets this season after signing a one-year, $750K deal in October. The veteran forward is expected to take the spot of Kristian Vesalainen, who is still looking for his first NHL goal.
Just like that, Alex Galchenyuk is on the move again. After being dealt from the Ottawa Senators to Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, Galchenyuk has been traded for the second time in about 54 hours. Although, he reportedly never even got the chance to leave Ottawa for Carolina, so he now has a much shorter trip ahead of him. The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced that they have acquired Galchenyuk from the Hurricanes in exchange for forward prospect Egor Korshkov and veteran defenseman David Warsofsky. Galchenyuk cleared waivers earlier today and is eligible to be assigned by Toronto to the taxi squad or AHL.
Galchenyuk’s propensity for being traded is becoming comical at this point. The 27-year-old forward, who once looked like he could be a long-term franchise cornerstone for the Montreal Canadiens, has instead become the NHL’s most frequent flyers over the past few years. From Montreal, he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes during the 2018 off-season. Exactly a year and two weeks later, his time in the desert was over as he was traded once again to the Pittsburgh Penguins. His time with Pittsburgh didn’t even last a full season, as he was moved before the trade deadline last year to the Minnesota Wild. When his contract expired this off-season, he signed a one-year deal with the rebuilding Ottawa Senators, almost ensuring that he would be traded yet again at some point this season. However, even he could not have seen this coming. Galchenyuk made it just one month to the day since the start of the 2020-21 season before he was traded on Saturday to the Hurricanes along with another free agent addition, Cedric Paquette, in exchange for Ryan Dzingel. Just two days later, he is now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When Galchenyuk was placed on waivers on Monday, it immediately raised suspicion that he might be moved again this season. Not only were the Hurricanes willing to let him be claimed for free on the waiver wire, but if he did in fact clear he would have even more value to another interested team having gained the flexibility to move to the taxi squad. In Galchenyuk, a dangerous offensive Maple Leafs team adds another intriguing weapon. Galchenyuk is not a consistent, high-effort contributor nor can he be relied upon for any defensive responsibility, but he does possess scoring focus and natural offensive ability and especially when surrounded by superior talent can produce at a high level. In Toronto, there is plenty of superior talent to go around and Galchenyuk appears to be an ideal fit as a top-nine depth option. Even more importantly, Galchenyuk is affordable for the cap-strapped Leafs. His entire $1.05MM cap hit can be buried if he is assigned to the taxi squad or AHL and is not a major burden should he stick with the NHL roster, though it will still require some cap acrobatics by the Leafs front office. Moreover, Galchenyuk is also a quarantine-free acquisition for Toronto. While Paquette took off for Carolina right away following the trade, Galchenyuk stayed behind in Ottawa in case he was claimed on waivers by another Canadian team. He wasn’t, but just a few hours later he ends up with a Canadian team anyway and by all accounts had not yet left the country. He should be able to join the Maple Leafs immediately.
In exchange for providing the Maple Leafs with a player who checks a number of boxes, if he plays that is, the Carolina Hurricanes land a package that includes an AHL depth player and a question mark prospect. Warsofsky, though a respected veteran and leader in the AHL, has not played in the NHL since 2017-18 and has just 55 NHL games on his resume. Barring a mass amount of injuries to the Carolina blue line, one of the deepest units in the league, Warsofsky is nothing more than an experienced addition to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves (where his brother is head coach) to help provide some guidance to the Hurricanes’ minor league prospects. Thus, the true value for the ’Canes in this deal lies with Korshkov. The 24-year-old winger was a second-round pick in 2016 and has size, skill, and a track record of goal-scoring success in the KHL and just last season in the AHL. In fact, the past two years have been the best of Korshkov’s career. He recorded 16 goals and 25 points in 44 games with the AHL Marlies last year, adding a goal in his first and only NHL game with the Maple Leafs as well, and is currently having a career year on loan in the KHL with 16 goals and 31 points in 53 games with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. However, therein lies the problem as well. It took Korshkov nearly three years to make it to North America after being drafted into the NHL, even as an overage selection, and after just one season he returned to Russia and opted to remain there rather than return once the NHL and AHL returned to play. The key to this deal for the Hurricanes is being able to convince the power forward to commit to playing in North America and to adopting an NHL style of play. If they succeed with Korshkov, his long-term potential greatly outweighs the value that Galchenyuk might have provided as an injury substitute for the remainder of the season.
Despite some major names being available on the waiver wire over the past 24 hours, all five players have cleared. Montreal’s Paul Byron, Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser, and new Carolina acquisition Alex Galchenyuk were all waived for roster flexibility and will be reassigned to their respective taxi squads. Young Columbus defenseman Gabriel Carlsson has been reassigned to the taxi squad for now but will soon join the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters in order to get some play time. Boston’s Par Lindholm has signed a new contract with the SHL’s Skelleftea AIK and will see his NHL contract terminated. No new players have been placed on waivers today.
Of the group, the player who was quietly the most likely to be claimed was Carlsson. The big 24-year-old blue liner, a 2015 first-rounder, lost his waiver exemption this season and the Blue Jackets did not want to risk him on the wire earlier this season. However, through the first quarter of the campaign he has not seen any NHL game action sitting behind a deep Columbus defense corps. With the AHL season now up and running, the team opted to take the chance with Carlsson in order to get him some play time in the minors and it paid off. The stay-at-home defenseman has played in at least one game for Columbus in each of the past four seasons and will likely be back with the team at some point this year. However, the team will try to avoid another trip through waivers as they might not be so lucky a second time putting the sturdy and affordable defender back up for grabs.
Of course, the bigger names available were Byron, DeKeyser, and Galchenyuk. The Montreal Canadiens, short on cap space but not on forward talent, have been playing Byron in a checking role, making him an expensive fourth liner. The club had been trying to trade the veteran, but there were no takers on his contract despite his solid career numbers. The team hoped that Byron would clear waivers so that they could retain the player, who is absolutely still a serviceable top-nine forward, while also opening up some salary cap space by transitioning him to the taxi squad. Galchenyuk was in fact traded already and just on Saturday as a matter of fact. The skilled forward was dealt by the Ottawa Senators to the Carolina Hurricanes as part of a three-player deal. Playing on an affordable and expiring contract, Galchenyuk was a risk-free acquisition for the ’Canes but was even more valuable if he could be stashed on the practice squad and used in case of emergency in a scoring role. Their plan succeeded and now Carolina simply has to decide whether the now-flexible Galchenyuk is worth more to them on their taxi squad or as a trade asset to flip to another team. The surprise inclusion was DeKeyser, one of the few holdovers of the most recent Detroit Red Wings’ powerhouse teams. DeKeyser has been in decline for several seasons now, but playing for a rebuilding club – especially with limited ice time this season – and dealing with injuries does not make for flattering statistics for anyone. A player who still has the support of his coaches and teammates may end up on the taxi squad but is likely to still be a prominent presence for the organization, especially with another year remaining on his current contract.
Lindholm was the outlier of the bunch. After clearing waivers earlier this season, the underutilized veteran was placed on the wire again to begin the process of a contract termination. Lindholm was not expected to be claimed and even if he had been, there still would have been a conflict with the multi-year contract he just recently signed in Sweden. Lindholm may actually be capable of being a reliable fourth line center in the NHL, but that opportunity was not available in Boston and seemingly nowhere else in the league at the current time, so the veteran will return home.
Yesterday’s surprise trade that saw three impending free agents swapped, with Ryan Dzingel returning to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for role players Cedric Paquette and Alex Galchenyuk moving to the Carolina Hurricanes, provided more questions than answers. Speaking on Sportsnet’s broadcast of Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday, Chris Johnston tried to provide some explanation or at least some projection on what it could all mean. Johnston clarifies that the centerpiece of the deal is really Paquette, who is expected to stabilize the Hurricanes’ fourth line over the remainder of the season and very likely into the playoffs. As for Dzingel and Galchenyuk, he warned that they should not “get comfortable”. Not only are both, as well as Paquette, very likely heading to the open market this summer, but Dzingel and Galchenyuk could be on the move again before the end of the season.
Dzingel specifically is somewhat of a suspect acquisition for the Senators. Previously a two-time 20-goal and 40-point player for Ottawa, Dzingel’s stops in Columbus and Carolina since departing the Senators have been less than inspiring. In his final season with the Senators, Dzingel was scoring at a 63-point full season pace; in his 96 games since, Dzingel is scoring at a 38-point pace. Perhaps Senators GM Pierre Dorion feels that a return to Ottawa and to a top-six role for Dzingel can reignite his offensive prowess. The team needs scoring and Dzingel could be the solution. However, if Dzingel continues to struggle or, alternatively, if he succeeds but is unwilling to re-sign in Ottawa, the rebuilding Senators have no use for his expiring contract. They would would very likely put him back on the trade block and hope that they could recoup the trade capital they might have received for renting out Paquette and Galchenyuk. Considering he must quarantine for two weeks before joining the Senators in this shortened NHL season, Dorion and company will not have much time to make a determination on Dzingel, but still felt the calculated risk was worth the potential long-term payoff.
- As for Galchenyuk, Johnston’s premonition that he could be on the move again could prove true far sooner than he likely expected. With Galchenyuk being placed on waivers today by Carolina, it could be that by tomorrow afternoon he has a new team for the second time in 48 hours. Of course, Galchenyuk is no stranger to frequent movement. After six seasons with the Montreal Canadiens to begin his career, he is now on his sixth team in four year and has been traded in-season in back-to-back years. Once a rising star in Montreal, Galchenyuk has been reduced to a one-dimensional hired gun goal-scorer due to his defensive struggles and many inconsistencies. Galchenyuk still has value as a substitute in case of a top-nine injury, but has not proven over the last year that he is worthy of being handed an everyday role. As a result, it is no surprise that a cap-strapped team like the Hurricanes would rather move Galchenyuk to the taxi squad, thereby burying his entire $1.05MM salary, and simply use him as depth down the stretch. There may very well be a team out there however who also likes the 27-year-old forward for that role and has the roster flexibility to claim him and keep him active. Even if he does clear waivers, that would only improve his value due to the added transactional flexibility and if the Hurricanes don’t like what they see, they could still flip him before the deadline.
- Galchenyuk’s placement on waivers has also changed the travel plans for Carolina’s latest acquisitions. Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported on Saturday that Paquette and Galchenyuk planned to skip the required quarantine that accompanies commercial air travel by instead joining the Senators on their team flight to Toronto today and then making the 13-hour drive to Raleigh, potentially even in time for the Hurricanes’ Monday night home game. The new plan, as revealed by Carolina beat writer Michael Smith, is for Paquette to make the solo trek from Ottawa to Raleigh today, a similar 13-hour drive, again with the expectation that he will be available on Monday. Galchenyuk meanwhile will remain in Ottawa until waivers clear tomorrow. Not only did he not want to make the long trip only to be claimed by a different team, but he also did not want to leave the country in case he was claimed by another Canadian club. If Galchenyuk clears waivers and is assigned to the taxi squad, he will presumably then make the drive to Raleigh himself and would be available for the ’Canes as early as Wednesday.
The Columbus Blue Jackets announced they made a small trade, acquiring the signing rights to Swiss forward Gregory Hofmann from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a 2022 seventh-round pick. Hofmann is expected to stay with his NL team for the rest of his season, but The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that he could join the Blue Jackets after his season ends, if that is before the Blue Jackets’ regular season ends.
This isn’t a trade, however, for the signing rights to a college player who doesn’t want to sign with the team that drafted him. Hofmann is 28 years old and was drafted in the fourth round by the Hurricanes back in 2011. Because he is Swiss, the forward’s rights never left Carolina. Hofmann has never played in North America and has not signed with the team all these years, spending his entire 12-year career with the NL, including the last two years with Zug EV.
What makes him even more intriguing for Columbus is that he spent four years playing with Blue Jackets’ goaltender Elvis Merzlikins with Lugano from 2015 to 2019, which could be the main reason that he has expressed interest in playing for Columbus. Portzline notes that the timing to Hofmann joining Columbus this year will be quite tight as the Swiss League regular season ends on May 4 and Zug EV is currently in first place in the league and likely to go to the playoffs.
Hofmann has dominated as a top forward in the past few seasons, scoring 70 goals in 132 games over the past three years. He has had eight seasons of double-digit goals.
Michael Smith of NHL.com was the first to report the trade.