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The Stretch Drive: Handicapping The Rest Of The Season

In Hockey on March 16, 2010 at 12:45 pm

The Olympics are now over and the sprint to the finish line begins. In true Campbell and Wales style, Duke (West) and Wagman (East) are here to lay it out for you.  Without further ado, here are our takes on what to expect in the NHL’s stretch run.

Wales Conference – by Ryan Wagman

With one team already guaranteed a spot (and a top-three seed) and three teams seeing their slim mathematical hopes dwindling every day, there is relatively little to project in the Eastern Conference down the stretch. That said, there is nothing guaranteed in this game and each team still has games to play, and with those games, keys to that organization’s success, either now, or in the future. Rankings are through games of March 14.

1)      Washington Capitals (101 pts, 13 games remaining) – With 101 points, the Capitals have already sewn up the Southeast Division, a top three seed and home ice advantage through the first round of the playoffs – at least. With a 14-point lead on the 2nd ranked team (each with only 13 games to play), they are also odds-on favourites to end the regular season as the top seed in the Wales. As today’s incident reminds us, the key for the Caps may be to keep Alex Ovechkin in check so he is ready for the second season. The other key thing to watch during the Caps’ remaining games is who they play in net. According to GVT, Semyon Varlamov has been the better goalie this year (5.9 GVT in 19.5 games, while Theodore has trailed with 4.4 GVT in 34.7 games. Each tender played two of the Caps last four games, Theodore winning both of his and Varlamov losing his starts. Pay attention to how Boudreau allocates his stars the rest of the way. If either goalie starts to see more than half the ice time, it may be the sign that he will be the man (at least initially) for the playoffs.

2) Pittsburgh Penguins (87 pts, 13 games remaining) – Although 4 points in front of the 4th seed Devils, Jersey has two games in hand and it would not be a shock for them to win those and force Pittsburgh’s hand. If the Penguins can get a good result in New Jersey this Wednesday, they should be able to control their own destiny. Outside of Washington, the Penguins are the best scoring team in the East, and with stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Jordan Staal in the lineup, it is to be expected. The Pens’ accomplishments this season have been felt throughout the roster, as only three even semi-regular players (Craig Adams, Eric Godard and Maxime Talbot) have put up cumulative GVT’s below 0. Going forward, it should be interesting to see how new top-6 forward Alexei Ponikarovsky continues to mesh with his new linemates before the playoffs begin. With six of their last seven games against teams that are currently on the outside looking in, I expect the Penguins to finish the regular season with the Atlantic Division title and the number 2 seed for the playoffs, setting us up for another series pitting Crosby and Ovechkin. Hockey fans win again.

3)      Buffalo Sabres (82 pts, 15 games remaining) – The Sabres have a three point lead on the Ottawa Senators for the Northeast Division with two games in hand as a bonus. Considering a large part of the Senators’ current position comes from their earlier 11-game winning streak, it is fair to say that the Sabres have been the better team this year, game-in, game-out. One factor that may test this team before the playoffs is that 10 of their remaining 15 games are on the road, including the next four against the underbelly of the southeast (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina). The Sabres have only been 15-12-4 on the road this season, so they will have to play at least a little bit better than that to close the season to ensure themselves of home ice and the third seed for the 1st round. Also look for Patrick Lalime to spell Ryan Miller at least four more times (they have four more back-to-back sets), if not more, as the Sabres need Miller to be fresh to advance in the playoffs. The Sabres will win the Northeast

4) New Jersey Devils (83 pts, 15 games remaining) – After a slow start to his life as a Devil, Ilya Kovalchuk has stepped up his game with two goals and two assists in his last two games. In his only career playoff experience, Kovalchuk has two points in four games as the Thrashers were swept back in 2007. Four points behind the Penguins for the division lead, the Devils are also four points ahead of the Senators in fifth and I expect them to maintain their hold of home ice in the first round. Like with the Sabres above, the Devils will want to try to give Martin Brodeur a few more nights off before the playoffs. Allowing four goals to the Islanders on Saturday will not make Jacques Lemaire any more confident in his abilities to produce going forward.

5) Ottawa Senators (79 pts, 13 games remaining) – Since winning 14 of 16 prior to the Olympic Break, the Senators have fallen a little bit flat since returning to action, picking up only 3 points in six games while being outscored 18-8. Like their division rivals from Buffalo, the Senators play most of their remaining schedule on the road (8 of 13 games), where they have been sub-par this season (14-18-1). Their 8 point cushion should keep them in the playoffs, but unless they turn things around quickly, they may be primed to drop a few spots in the seedings and end up with a first round matchup against Pittsburgh. And it says right here that that is what they will do. Ottawa will finish in 7th in the Wales.

6)      Philadelphia Flyers (76 pts, 14 games remaining) – If Ottawa falters, Philadelphia is primed to replace them. Michael Leighton will continue his Cinderella run at establishing himself as a bona-fide NHL goalie and play ten of the Flyers` 14 remaining games. His traditional and advanced statistics have been phenomenal since joining Philadelphia, with a .922 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. With only one shutout in 25 games, we can also see that he is consistent, not balancing perfection with blow-outs. According to GVT, Leighton has put up an otherworldly 11.1 GVT in 23 games, putting him ahead of US Olympians Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick. Speaking of Tim Thomas, there are some similarities in their narratives. Both were late draftees who took circuitous routes to starting jobs when they were already all but written off as NHLers. It’s hard not to root for guys like Michael Leighton. At least for one year. The Flyers will finish in 5th place in the East to play New Jersey in the first round.

7) Montreal Canadiens (76 pts, 12 games remaining) – Only 12 games to go, but unlike some of the preceding teams, the Habs get an even split between the Bell Centre and the rest of the league. Their travels will also be made lighter by playing four games against teams not currently holding a playoff spot. With six wins in their seven games since the Olympic break the Canadiens know that there is little time for finding their feet if they want to play past the middle of April. If they can maintain the power play efficiency, ranked second in the NHL as of the Break (1 goal per 392.188 power play seconds – behind only Washington), they should be able to hold their spot. With Ottawa stumbling, I think they can go one better, and will finish the regular season ranked 6th in the conference, opening the playoffs against Buffalo.

8)      Boston Bruins (72 pts, 15 games remaining) – Matt Cooke’s shoulder may end the Bruins season early. Their offense was already the worst in the conference, having scored only 167 goals so far, 7 less than anyone else in the East. Savard, leading the Bruins in offensive GVT (4.7 – not really that special, which says alot about this team), will be missed dearly, especially if he will miss the rest of the season, which seems more likely each day. They will need a few more games like that against the Flyers on the 11th if they are to make the playoffs. I don’t think they have it in them. Bruins fans can take some solace in owning two picks in or around the top ten in this summer’s draft. The Bruins will finish 9th, just out of the playoffs.

9) New York Rangers (71 pts, 13 games remaining) – While the Rangers are in the best position to take advantage of a Bruins’ slump, I don’t think they are the team for that measure of decisiveness. Henrik Lundqvist has been fallible this season and Marian Gaborik, has little offensive support, his 36 goals currently doubling that of runner-up Ryan Callahan’s 18 tallies. Their remaining schedule includes a six-game road trip, a number of games against other teams still jockeying for playoff position and ends up with a home and away against the Flyers. The Rangers will finish 10th in the East and miss the playoffs.

10) Tampa Bay Lightning (68 pts, 14 games remaining) – They have done themselves no favours picking up only 4 points in 7 games since returning from the Olympics, the Lightning are my dark-horse team to make a late run and finish the season in a playoff position. Between Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St.Louis, Steve Downie and Alex Tanguay, they should have two lines of proven scorers (some performing better than others this year). They have a big and talented blueline featuring veteran Mattias Ohlund, phenom Victor Hedman and the emerging two-way threat of Kurtis Foster (leading Lightning D-men in GVT with 8.8 – tied with Lecavalier). To help with their stretch run, the Lightning need to commit to Antero Niittymaki, who has vastly outplayed Mike Smith this year. They have played a near-equal amount, but Antero’s GAA is better by 0.37, his save percentage is better by .012 and his GVT is 11.9 higher. Assuming Niittymaki is given the reins, the Lightning will begin their rise to the playoffs. Mind you, as the 8th seed, it should be a short ride against the Capitals, but a worthy one nonetheless. Pay attention to their game on the 25th in Boston. A poor result there may negate the aforementioned prediction.

11)   Atlanta Thrashers (67 pts, 14 games remaining) – As Don Waddell promised after dealing Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils, the Thrashers were not sellers at the deadline. With their big move being a trade for Clarke MacArthur from the Sabres, I wouldn’t exactly call them buyers either. If a top team is willing to trade a guy, it is a pretty good sign, he wasn’t highly thought of. After a great start to the season, the comeback story named Johan Hedberg has come to an end. The Thrashers are leaking goals, allowing more than everyone in the Wales, but the basement-dwelling Maple Leafs. At some point soon, John Anderson will turn to Ondrej Pavelec and preview their goaltender for next year.
12)   Florida Panthers (66 pts, 15 games remaining) – Tomas Vokoun kept the Panthers in the hunt for most of the season, but there was no one on hand to consistently put pucks past the opposition goalies scoring more than only the Bruins. After their upcoming three game homestand against high-flying Washington, Phoenix and Buffalo, the Panthers would be well served by looking to the future over the last 10-12 games. Look to see youngsters Keaton Ellerby, Dmitry Kulikov, Kenndal McArdle and Shawn Matthias get more ice time from here on out.

13) New York Islanders (65 pts, 13 games remaining) – With four points in two nights against the Devils and the Maple Leafs, the Islanders want us to believe. We shouldn’t. Rick DiPietro may or may not return to play this year. It doesn’t really matter. The Isles will need him for next year, when Martin Biron will be playing somewhere else. Next year Matt Moulson will have to answer questions about whether this year was a fluke. John Tavares will have to show more consistency and a more well-rounded game. Rob Schremp will get more chances to finally show that he belongs in the NHL. Josh Bailey will continue to develop into a top-six forward (sleeper pick for fantasy next year), as will Kyle Okposo. Another good draft this summer will push the Islanders much closer to being a team to be reckoned with seriously going forward. But not this year.

14) Carolina Hurricanes (64 pts, 14 games remaining) – With a five game winning streak heading to the Olympic break and 8 points in 7 games since returning, the Hurricans are certainly making things interesting, even after selling off most of the roster (excluding the Abominable Snowman, Ray Whitney). Next year Cam Ward and Eric Staal will presumably be healthier. Brandon Sutter will continue to stake his claim to a top line spot. Zach Boychuk will get an extended run. And with less than $42 million tied up in salary for next season, there is plenty of room to bring in reinforcements, particularly on the blue-line, where only Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen are signed for 2010-2011. As I expect them to be picking in the top five in this summer’s draft, their newest member stands a good chance to jump right up into the NHL as more and more first year draftees are now wont to do.

15) Toronto Maple Leafs (58 pts, 13 games remaining) – Without a first round pick this summer, the Leafs have no reason to lose, but no chance to win. The remainder of this season will be about measuring what the young guys have. Jonas Gustavsson will be a restricted free agent and he should get around half of the remaining starts to give GM Brian Burke an idea of what kind of contract to offer him. Youngsters including Luca Caputi, Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg and Carl Gunnarsson will vie to create expectations for themselves going into camp next year. The core of a future winner may be here, but it’s hard to say just when that future will start.

Campbell Conference – by Bill Duke

-All stats and standings as of Tuesday, March 16

The Campbell (nee Western) Conference playoff picture is slightly less muddled at this point in the season than it has been in year’s past, but there should still be plenty of drama between now and the beginning of the postseason.

San Jose and Chicago are the clear cut class of the conference, ranking in the top 3 in terms of goals for and the top 5 in goals against.  They are virtual shoo-ins for the conference’s top 2 seeds.

Positions 3 through 10, on the other hand, are going to see a lot more action.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Campbell Conference playoff picture as it currently stands with slightly less than a month remaining in the regular season.  I’ve listed the teams in order of their current standings and included my prediction for their final seeding.

1) San Jose Sharks (96 points, 14 games remaining): I’ve written in the past that San Jose is my pick to win the Stanley Cup this year, and I have no reason to waiver from that assertion.  Well, maybe one little, teensy-weensy reason: the sub par play of Evgeni Nabokov of late, including the Olympic tournament.  He wasn’t just bad at the Olympics, he was terrible in Russia’s quarterfinal loss to Canada.  However, forwards Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley were terrific in helping Canada to the gold medal (Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle were serviceable).  Such a confidence boost might be just what the doctor ordered for Marleau and Heatley, who will need to equal their Olympic performance if San Jose is to hoist the Cup this June.
Final playoff seeding: 1

2) Chicago Blackhawks (94 points, 14 games remaining): The ‘Hawks suffered a very disheartening loss to the Flyers on Saturday when Chris Pronger scored the game winner with just more than 2 seconds remaining in the third.  It was the kind of game that exposed the subtle flaws in what many consider to be a bulletproof team: Huet, while not terrible, failed to come up with the big saves when needed; the defense suffered two breakdowns that directly led to Philadelphia goals; Patrick Kane was terrific between his own blue line and the top of the circles in the Flyers’ end while ordinary everywhere else; and finally, the ‘Hawks seemed to take their foot off the gas once they went up by a goal.
But surely they followed that downer with an inspired performance at home to the Captials on Sunday, right?  Not exactly.  They coughed up 3-0 lead and lost in OT.  Am I nitpicking here?  Maybe a little.  The ‘Hawks did play a back-to-back in which they traveled from Philly to Chicago, and they did lose blueliner Brian Campbell to an injury in the first period of Sunday’s game (granted, Alex Ovechkin was given a game misconduct on the play, thus taking the best position player in hockey out of the game), but the goaltending concerns are real, as is the fact that the ‘Hawks are young and may be prone to similar mental breakdowns in the playoffs.  It says here that the Blackhawks will live to regret the fact they didn’t make a move for a goaltender (Martin Biron? Dwayne Roloson? Tomas Vokoun? Marty Turco?) at the trade deadline.  I just don’t trust either Cristobal Huet or Annti Niemi to come up big when the games matter most.  They also could be without Campbell and his 11.6 overall GVT for the balance of the season.
Final seeding: 2

3) Vancouver Canucks (89 points, 13 games remaining): The Canucks look to be peaking at just the right time.  A case can be made that Vancouver should be lumped in with Chicago and San Jose as the top teams in the conference.  In fact, Puck Prospectus’ Tom Awad has them ranked a smidge above the Sharks and Hawks in his latest power rankings.  They have fantastic goaltending, plenty of skill at forward, a great powerplay and just enough grit to go toe-to-toe with anyone.
One thing they lack is great depth.  An injury to either Sedin would sink their Stanley Cup hopes, as would seeing Willie Mitchell (who is currently hurt) or Kevin Bieksa miss significant time.  Bieksa in particular has been prone to injury the last few seasons, so much so that one must wonder if he drinks enough milk, gets enough sleep and takes his vitamins.
With Calgary underperforming this year and Colorado having plateaued, the Northwest Division is Vancouver’s for the taking.  And take it they will.  Eight of Vancouver’s remaining games are on home ice.  They play some tough teams (San Jose x3, Detroit, Colorado, L.A.) but are 5-1-1 since the Olympic break and boast the gold medal-winning netminder.
Final seeding: 3

4) Phoenix Coyotes (89 points, 13 games remaining): The ‘Yotes were as aggressive as anyone in improving their team at the deadline, mortgaging their future (at least to some degree) in order to acquire playmaking forward Wojtek Wolski and veteran defenseman Derek Morris.  They have been a real surprise this year, thanks primarily to the stellar play of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and are a lock to qualify for their first postseason since 2002.  However, their remaining schedule is as difficult as it gets – of their 13 remaining games, only 3 come against opponents currently at .500 or below.
Final seeding: 5

5) Los Angeles Kings (85 points, 14 games remaining): L.A.’s success this year is a surprise only to those who weren’t aware of the fantastic young talent GM Dean Lombardi has been stockpiling over the past handful of years.  Anze Kopitar is rapidly blossoming into a superstar (12.1 offensive GVT, 17.1 overall) and netminder Jonathon Quick has been a revelation between the pipes.  But the real heart and soul of the Kings is Drew Doughty, who is a +16 with 52 points in 68 games.  Not too shabby for a 20-year-old defenseman.  Thanks to a much easier remaining schedule (7 games against non playoff teams) the Kings should jump up and claim home ice in what promises to be a very close first round series with the Coyotes.
Final seeding: 4

6) Colorado Avalance (84 points, 14 games remaining): As much as the Wolski deal made sense for the surging Coyotes, Avs fans were left to wonder why their front office would deal away their fourth best forward (according to overall GVT) during a season in which they have a real shot to win a playoff round.  However, after 6 games in an Avalanche uniform, budding forward Peter Mueller has 8 points and looks as though he may really benefit from the change of scenery.  The real key to Colorado’s success has been the excellent season turned in by goaltender Craig Anderson.  When Colorado got off to their hot start (10-2-2 in October), it was largely due to Anderson’s stellar .939 save percentage and 2.0f GAA.  He suffered through a mini-lull shortly thereafter, but has rebounded nicely and the Avs are a lock for the postseason.
Final seeding: 6

7) Nashville Predators (81 points, 13 games remaining): As of Tuesday, the Predators have given up 198 goals this season, the most by far of the top 10 teams in the conference.  That, coupled with their inability to score (only 193 goals on the season) make them ripe to collapse down the stretch and relinquish the playoff position they’ve held for most of the season. Nashville’s strength is their defense corps, as Shea Weber (10.1 GVT) and Ryan Suter (7.3 GVT) are the type of young studs that any team would be happy to have.  However, any time a team’s top scorer is Martin Erat (43 points, 7.6 GVT), their validity must seriously be questioned.  Goaltender Dan Ellis has been merely okay this year, posting a .908 save percentage and a 2.72 GAA to go along with his middling 3.6 GVT.  Add it all up and you get a 9th-place team.
Final seeding: 9

8 ) Detroit Red Wings (80 points, 13 games remaining): It’s been shocking to see Detroit hover around the middle of the Conference this season after their dynasty-like run of excellence.  However, they do seem to be putting it all together just in time to earn a postseason berth.  With super-rookie Jimmy Howard between the pipes, Detroit may actually be in better shape at the goaltender position than they have been the last few seasons.  It looks like the Wings are destined for a 7th or 8th-place finish, which would set up a dandy of a first round series with either the Sharks or the Blackhawks, neither of which would be very happy with the prospect of turning in an excellent season only to face the defending Conference champs right off the bat.
Final seeding: 7

9) Calgary Flames (77 points, 13 games remaining): While it’s a tough task to make up 4 points on any team in only 13 games, the Flames should be able to turn the trick and overtake Nashville.  Calgary is a better team with the likes of Matt Stajan (whom they have resigned long-term), Niklas Hagman, Ian White, Jamal Mayers and Christopher Higgins in the lineup than they were with Dion Phaneuf, Freddie Sjostrom and Olli Jokinen.  The new Flames’ GVT numbers may not be as good as the departed players’ (the highest rating of the new acquisitions belongs to Ian White and his 2.0 overall) but the team has been more consistent and better at doing the little things since their wheeling and dealing.  More importantly, Calgary has been getting much better production out of Jarome Iginla since the deals.
So far the only duds have been Steve Staios (-0.4 GVT) and Ales Kotalik (-0.4), the latter of which may find himself out of the starting lineup sooner than later.  Their remaining schedule is tough, but given that they play Washington, San Jose and Chicago late in the season (once they will have clinched their division titles), they are unlikely to get those teams’ best shots.  Expect the Flames to see a lot of backup goalied down the stretch.  With continued brilliance from Miika Kiprusoff,  Iginla and Mark Giordano, the Flames will be play just well enough to be bounced in round one for the fifth straight year.
Final seeding: 8

10) St. Louis Blues (73 points, 14 games remaining): After shocking the hockey world last season by sneaking into the playoffs, the Blues have proven that with youth comes inconsistency.  The Blues are still a team on the right track, however, and this blip should be considered only a minor setback rather than the beginning of a trend.  Surprisingly, St. Louis’ struggles this season have come on home ice, where they’ve posted a record of 12-16-5.  Compare that to their stellar road mark of 20-11-4 and it becomes obvious that, had the Blues taken care of business on home ice, they would have been well on their way to back-to-back playoff appearances.
Final seeding: 10

11) Minnesota Wild (72 points, 14 games remaining): With a new coach and a new, offensive style of play, the Wild should be at least a little pleased with their modest success in this transition season.  Mikko Koivu (62 points in 68 games) is well on his way to being a star, while backstop Nicklas Backstrom, despite a disappointing season, looks to be a reliable starter for years to come.
Final seeding: 11

12 and 13) Dallas Stars (71 points, 14 games remaining), Anaheim Ducks (70 points, 14 games remaining): Given their level of talent, both these veteran teams must be very disappointed with their play this season.  They have given up the third and fourth most goals in the conference, respectively, and have only the draft to look forward to at this point.  In the case of the Stars, it will surely be a relief to see Marty Turco’s $5.7 million cap hit come off the books this offseason, however their summer mission will be to find a suitable replacement as backup Kari Lehtonen has proven he cannot be trusted.  Anaheim already made a move to shed their biggest goalie expense when they dealt the underperforming Jean-Sebastian Giguere to Toronto just prior to the Olympics.  Both teams have a lot of upside, but sufficient tinkering with each roster will be a necessity to ensure success next season.
Final seedings: Dallas 12, Anaheim 13

14 and 15) Columbus Blue Jackets (67 points, 12 games remaining), Edmonton Oilers (49 points, 13 games remaining): There are disappointing seasons, and then there are abject disasters.  File 2009/2010 in the latter category for both these clubs.  The only upside is that Columbus and Edmonton will likely be picking in the first five picks of a top-heavy draft. It will take a lot more than a single player to turn either of these franchises around, however, as both clubs have many glaring holes.
Final seedings: Columbus 14, Edmonton 15

Trader’s Special: Campbell and Wales Take on the Deadline

In Hockey on March 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm

After a thrilling Olympic tournament (not just the hockey), a packed schedule forces us all right back into the swing of things in the NHL. A few players are already back in action tonight as Mike Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings take on Paul Stastny and the Avalanche in Denver.

The NHL trade freeze also lifts, for around 72 hours. In light of this abbreviated window, a few GMs got their deadline day shopping done early, with Lou Lamoriello picking up Ilya Kovalchuk from the Thrashers along with Anssi Salmela and a 2nd-round pick for a package consisting of Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Elbows Cormier, and 1st and 2nd rounders. Similarly, Brian Burke got a head start in re-building the Leafs, shipping Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake to Anaheim for JS Giguere, and sending Matt Stajan (now re-signed long-term), Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and touted prospect Keith Aulie. The Sutters continued their makeover by shipping Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the Rangers in exchange for Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik. Of somewhat less immediate significance, the Thrashers dealt the disappointing Kari Lehtonen to the Stars, where he will likely be seen as the goalie of the future in exchange for young offensive blueliner, Ivan Vishnevsky. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have began their anticipated dismantling, shipping Matt Cullen to Ottawa and Nic Wallin to the Sharks. The Panthers also put one leg into the seller’s pool by dealing Dominic Moore to the Habs for a 2011 2nd rounder.

So what’s left to be moved? In true Campbell and Wales style, we will be breaking up the action by conference, with Bill “Campbell” Duke handling the Western events and Ryan “Wales” Wagman with his eyes on the East.

The Campbell/Western Conference

-Edmonton trades D Denis Grebeshkov to Nashville for a 2010 2nd round pick: You have to think that this is just the beginning of the Oilers’ housecleaning.  Had Sheldon Souray not hurt himself in a fight (again!) against Calgary’s Jarome Iginla on Jan. 30 he likely would have been the first Oiler defensemen dealt.
Alas, Souray proved again he is made out of porcelain and scotch tape, making it difficult to deal him.  So Grebeshk0v, set to become an RFA after the season, was shipped to the Preds.  Grebeshkov is an offensive defenseman, sort of, with a penchant for playmaking, sort of.  His numbers are less than overwhelming: 6 goals and 13 assist in 47 games played.  He is -16 and has but one lone PP goal.  According to GVT, Grebeshkov has a decent rating of  3.2, but what has to be concerning is his defensive GVT rating of 0.6, which is terribly low for a blueliner.
That modest number is likely due to Grebeshkov’s penchant for giveaways in his own zone.
So why would Nashville make a trade for an “offensive” defenseman with a low point total and a Phaneufian track record when it comes to play in his own zone?  That’s tough to say, especially since the Preds already boasted Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis and…oh wait, I guess that’s why they traded for him.  Anytime Cody Franson, Francis Bouillon and Kevin Klein are regulars in your roster, Grebeshkov is a welcome addition.  To put it in perspective, Bouillon has a GVT of 1.1 and Klein has a very meager rating of o.1.
As for the Oilers, they might as well stockpile draft picks since this season very quickly turned into an unmitigated disaster and Grebeshkov is an upcoming RFA.  The Oilers have a lot of young talent in the pipeline, and still could very well be a Cup contender in the not so distant future.

-Calgary trades G Curtis McElhinney to Anaheim for G Vesa Toskala: In his never-ending quest to find a suitable backup to overworked starter Miika Kiprusoff, Darryl Sutter has once again looked to an ex-Shark tender to round out his roster. It’s a curious move, considering that Toskala has had a rather abysmal season (3.66 GAA, .874 SV %, -15.4 GVT). But Toskala is a UFA at the end of the year, so this move allows the Flames some flexibilty when it comes to the summer’s free agent market.
As for the Ducks, they get a 26-year-old goalie who never really got a chance to excel in Cowtown.  C-Mac was played so sparingly that it was impossible for him to get into a groove. Still, his 3.22 GAA and .885 SV % aren’t great indicators that he deserved more playing time. McElhinney is also a UFA at season’s end.

-Phoenix trades F Peter Mueller and F Kevin Porter to Colorado for F Wojtek Wolski: Seldom does one see two playoff-bound teams make a deal such as this at the deadline. Mueller, a former WHL stand-out and first round pick of the ‘Yotes, was suffering through a down season in the desert. With only 16 points, it’s been a very disappointing campaign for the former Everett Silvertip, who registered 22 goals and 54 points his rookie season before regressing slightly to 13 goals and 26 points last year. According to GVT, Mueller has been performing slightly below replacement level this season, as has Porter in his limited opportunities. Both men have a GVT of -0.1.
Still, at 21 years of age it is somewhat surprising that the Phoenix brass have given up on Mueller.
Not that they’re trading him away for nothing. Wolski is a 23-year-old forward who is gifted offensively and having the best year of his young career: 17 goals, 30 asisists, +15 in 62 games. He should immediately improve a Phoenix powerplay that is currently operating at 14.9%, second-last in the entire NHL. Wolski’s GVT of 6.9 suggests he is a bona fide top-6 forward on any NHL team.

-Phoenix trades D Sean Zimmerman and a conditional 6th round pick to Vancouver for D Mathieu Schneider: Looks like the Coyotes are going fot it this year, doesn’t it? The strategy makes sense, given that the franchise needs to do everything in its power to win back its fans and keep itself from being shipped to Kansas City or Las Vegas. Schneider, who has been playing with the Canucks’ AHL afilliate in Manitoba since December, registered 5 points in 17 games. If he brings a better attitude to the desert than he did to Vancouver, Schneider may provide some valuable veteran leadership for a Phoenix theam that has precious little playoff experience on the roster.

-Edmonton trades D Lubomir Visnovsky to Anaheim for D Ryan Whitney and a 2010 6th round pick: Everyone knew the Oilers would be moving a high-priced defenseman before the deadline, but I bet hockey fans in Edmonton hoped it would be Sheldonn Souray. However, it makes perfect sense for this team to deal away Visnovsky, primarily because he is a 33-year-old defenseman with a $5.6 million price tag that runs through the 2012/2013 season. He has 32 points in 57 games this season and is a rather impressive -4 on what has been a terrible Oiler team. Visnovsky has tallied a GVT rating of 8.9 this season, good for top spot on the Edmonton blueline.
Whitney, on the other hand, just turned 27 in February and has arguably more offensive upside that Visnovsky. In 62 games this season Whitney has 28 points, but notched a career-high 59 in his sophomore season of 2006/2007 with Pittsburgh. He comes with a $4 million salary that runs through the 2012/2013 season. Whitney’s GVT so far this season is 4.0.
So why would the Oilers trade for a more expensive player who has slightly better numbers but undoubtedly less upside over the course of his contract?
Well, Visnovsky has slightly more points on the PP than does Whitney (17 to 13) and is considered a better breakout defenseman with more passing skill. And Whitney was perhaps overrated when he came to Anaheim, which has likey tampered the Anaheim front office’s enthusiasm for him. One interesting note – Whitney has notched 71 hits this season to Visnovsky’s 32.

-Calgary trades F Dustin Boyd to Nashville for a 4th round pick (TBD): The Calgary dressing room just got a little less curly.  Dustin Boyd and his infamous mini-fro have been shipped to Nashville for a draft pick. This is little more than a move by the Preds to acqurie some depth while Calgary ships off a forward for whom they have little use. Since acquiring Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik before the Olympic break, the Flames have really reduced Boyd’s ice time. In fact, Boyd has played less than 11 minutes in each of his last 5 games. With 19 points in 60 games, Boyd doesn’t exaclty light up the scoresheet, but he is an energy player who should be an effective third or fourth liner with the Preds. He has a GVT of 3.4 so far this season.

-Edmonton trades D Steve Staios to Calgary for Aaron Johnson and a 2010 third round pick: Can you say Adrian Aucoin part deux? The Flames pick up a 36-year-old defenseman with 0 goals and 7 assist who, for some reason, is still regarded as a guy with some playmaking ability. Staios is a character player who may or may not provide leadership in the Calgary room (were the Flames really lacking in that department?) but his GVT of -1.0 would indicate his best days of on-ice performance are long gone. And it’s not like Staios is cheap – he is due $2.7 million in salary next season.
The Oilers reasons for making this deal are obvious (save money, get younger) but the Flames’ motivations are beyond me.
As an aside, TSN is reporting that this is the first ever deal made between the Oilers and Flames. So there’s that.

The Wales/Eastern Conference

– Florida trades D Jordan Leopold to Pittsburgh for a 2010 2nd round pick: aka Florida trades the rights to Jay Bouwmeester for 61 games of marginally above average 4th defensemen play and the Penguins 2nd round pick in this summer’s draft (should be between 50-55 overall). According to Puck Prospectus’ GVT stat, Leopold has been a little bit above replacement level on both the offensive and defensive components of his game this year with the bub-par Panthers, but his relative plus/minus (+/- while focused on who he’s been playing with and against) has been poor at -6.2, the lowest-ranked d-man in Miami. As per a few more proprietary metrics from Gabriel Desjardins’ Behindthenet.ca, we can see that Leopold has been lined up against slightly better-than-average players, while playing with teammates similarly below the line of demarcation. Florida has called up big Luke Beaverton to make an early impression in his place, but I expect former 1st rounder Keaton Ellerby to get an extended look down the stretch.

For Pittsburgh, Leopold will likely get second-pair minutes, while potentially paving the way for the Pens to deal Kris Letang, a restricted free agent this summer, or Mark Eaton, an upcoming UFA. Leopold gives Pittsburgh an upgrade on Martin Skoula and provides more offensive punch than Jay McKee, both of whom may be relegated to the press box barring another trade. Assuming that the Pens move another D-man, I will reserve judgment on this deal, but I think the Panthers got a good return on a relatively marginal player, and some hope that the Bouwmeester era will come to some lasting good.

Atlanta trades AHL D Nathan Oystrick and a conditional 2011 draft pick to Anaheim for RW Evgeny Artyukhin: While I won;’t be making a habit out of commenting on trades between AHL depth guys, this does strike me as a little odd. While Oystrick has spent his entire season with Atlanta’s AHL affiliate in Chicago(41GP-7G-16A-23Pts-+6-74PIM), he was Atlanta’s #5 defenseman last year, but found himself out of a job this year with Atlanta’s additions of Pavel Kubina and Mark Popovic. Given a shot with Anaheim, Oystrick may be able to fill a similar role, as Puck Prospectus’ Vukota system had him pegged for 2.7 GVT (above zero is a contribution) this year in limited duty. So what do the Thrashers plan to do with Artyukhin? He’s off his usual pace of 3 PIM per game this year and provides something (willingness to use his size) that the Thrashers seemingly are already getting in spades with the likes of Eric Boulton, Chris Thorburn and Christoph Schubert getting regular ice time. Artyukhin has been scarcely above replacement level with the Ducks so far, even playing 4th line minutes against other 4th liners. I wonder what the conditional pick rides on.

NY Islanders trade D Andy Sutton to Ottawa for 2010 2nd round pick previously belonging to San Jose: We already have an overwhelming trend with these late trades. Top four defensemen in exchange for 2nd rounders. It is de rigueur for all so-called contenders. Sutton was a classic late bloomer, a huge man who took his time learning how to use his big body. Never drafted, Sutton was signed by the Sharks as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan Tech after a senior season that saw him raise his scoring high from 9 to 40 points. Four years later, he was a regular NHL blueliner, although one prone to miss 15-55 games a year due to some injury or other. He has been healthy so far this year and somewhat useful for the Isle, playing 2.7 goals above threshold (3rd among Islander d-men) with more than 60% of his value coming from his defensive play. He’ll be the 6th defenseman for Ottawa, and post-trade rumours say that this may be a pre-cursor to the Sens dealing Anton Volchenkov by 3pm Wednesday. Both Sutton and Volchenkov will be UFAs this summer.

Toronto trades RW Alexei the Poni to Pittsburgh in exchange for D Martin Skoula and AHL LW Luca Caputi: Ponikarovsky is an impending UFA and his departure from Toronto has been speculated upon for most of this season. In spite of his shortcomings as a player (he looks like he should be better, but inconsistency has prevented him from ever being more than a 2nd line winger), he represents great value as a late 3rd-round pick out of the Ukraine back in 1998. His 61 points last year are his career high (he has averaged just over 0.5 points-per-game over his NHL career) and he may yet approach that number again with 20 games playing alongside Evgeni Malkin (his new presumed Centre) in Pittsburgh. In fact, Ponikarovsky may now be Pittsburgh’s best winger. Ponikarovsky shows a willingness to throw his body around near the opponent’s goal-crease (in front and behind the net) and this should allow Malkin more space to create. Poni was Toronto’s second most productive forward this year according to GVT, at 8.1, with far-and-away the best relative plus minus (14.3). If Malkin sparks, and the Pens can get back to Conference Finals, this deal will have paid off for Pittsburgh.

From the Leafs’ end, this is about Luca Caputi. Skoula was a make-weight, allowing Pittsburgh to afford Poni’s salary over the remainder of the season. TSN’s Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) tweeted that the Leafs will try to flip Skoula off tomorrow. If that doesn’t work (or if Burke doesn’t unload a Finger or an Exelby), there’s always the AHL. Luca Caputi is the third top prospect acquired via trade by Burke this year, joining earlier trades for Philippe Paradis and Keith Aulie. All three feature in The Hockey News’ recent Future Watch issue. In a roundabout way, these three mitigate the gamble taken by Burke when he dealt away this year’s lottery pick (plus a 2nd rounder) and next year’s first rounder in exchange for Phil Kessel in September. Further judgment on the Maple Leafs will have to be reserved until the deadline passes and we will be able to see what Brian Burke has come away with. The price (the aforementioned draft picks and the waste of a season) has already been paid.

Update: Skoula dealt to New Jersey for a 2010 5th round pick: That makes the full deal Ponikarovsky for Caputi and a 5th rounder. How does Caputi compare to a 2nd rounder? Not bad at all. He is scoring in the AHL at roughly the same pace (approx. 0.7 points-per-game) as Ponikarovsky did at the turn of the century. He may be as little bit smaller than Poni, but has a reputation as a guy who sets up shop behind the net, making him look like a player who will be able to do the same things, maybe starting next season.

Montreal trades RW Matt D’Agostini to St. Louis for AHL RW Aaron Palushaj: I’m not sure why St.Louis wanted D’Agostini (the worst Canadien this year according to GVT at -2.3 and ahead of only Paul Mara in relative +/- at -13.9). I can guess that Montreal management did not see him as a valuable member of their push to make this year’s playoffs, and based on the aforementioned metrics, they could expect to receive significantly better production from a number of their minor leaguers. If not Palushaj himself, maybe Ryan White can make himself useful as the 5th RW. Or Georges Laraque might get to finish the year with the big club.

Boston trades D Derek Morris to Phoenix for a 2011 4th round pick: Didn’t Chiarelli get the memo? Top-four defencemen are worth current 2nd rounders this year. It’s easy to see why Phoenix would want Morris, as he gives them a very solid veteran top-four blueline core of Keith Yandle, Ed Jovanovski, Adrian Aucion and now Morris. So is Boston giving up on this season? Rumours abound that Tim Thomas may be dealt. I can’t understand why Chiarelli accepted so little for Morris. Lesser d-men like Andy Sutton and Jordan Leopold brought back 2010 2nd rounders, so why only a 4th rounder for Morris? And why only a 2011 4th-rounder? Morris has been Boston’s 2nd best defensemen this year, behind only Zdeno Chara. His output this year (0.43 points-per-game) matches exactly his career scoring output. He’s 30 and has played over 850 NHL regular season games, and only 14 postseason games. Morris is no stranger to Phoenix and that mostly explains his lack of playoff experience. Until this year, the Coyotes have been a fairly rancid franchise, on and off the ice. So Morris looks good to add to his personal playoff resume, while Boston gets next to nothing. Strange times.

Florida trades D Dennis Seidenberg and prospect D Matthew Bartkowski to Boston in exchange for AHL RW Criag Weller, RW Bryon Bitz and (surprise!) a 2010 2nd round pick previously belonging to Tampa Bay: Let’s start with Florida’s haul. Weller is just a guy, a 3rd-line AHL grinder at best. He’s already 28 and underwhelmed in the 95 NHL games with Phoenix and Minnesota. Bitz has struggled this year after a promising debut last year. A number of injuries may be to blame, but at 25, he may be to the NHL what Weller is in the AHL. Florida clears more space, now having traded both late off-season signings for futures with both Seidenberg and Moore now gone. Keaton Ellerby will be the beneficiary of the trade, and reports have surfaced that he’s already been called up to the Panthers. The remainder of this season will be about Florida testing its youngsters and jockeying for draft position in June.
The Bruins get Bartkowski, a marginal blueline prospect currently in his second season with Ohio State. He’s a few years away from AHL action. Seidenberg essentially replaces Morris’ role on the team. While Morris has been having the better season thus far, Seidenberg may be the better bet moving forward. He’s two years younger, and indications are that the Bruins would prefer to re-sign hm over Morris. Seidenberg has more playoff experience from last year’s Cinderalla-run by Carolina alone than Morris has in his career. How much did Seidenberg’s play in that series prompt this trade? Considering his availability on the free agent market last summer, probably not much. While this does not excuse the poor return for Morris, this looks like a good pickup by Boston at an eminently reasonable price. They still have a load of high draft picks over the next two years and are not likely to miss any of the pieces sent to Florida.

Carolina trades D Aaron Ward to Anaheim for AHL G Justin Pogge and a conditional 4th round pick: A very small part of the Hurricane bake sale, Ward has been marginalized (and marginal) most of the year with Carolina. Not much on the return, though. Pogge, once seen as the goalie of the future in Toronto (to the extent that they traded away Tuukka Rask) has since proven to be less than “all that” and failed to hold off Vesa Toskala in two NHL franchises. That says something. His new challenge will be for a place in the pecking order behind Cam Ward, fighting Justin Peters and 1st-year pro Mike Murphy. Further proof that it isn’t only the mighty who can fall from grace.

Carolina bake sale continues with RW Scott Walker moving to Washington for a 7th round pick: For a study on the expected value of late picks, check out Richard Pollock’s article from Puck Prospectus. It probably won’t amount to much. Much like Scott Walker will be able to provide the Caps. In limited playing time this year (a December shoulder injury cost him 21 games), he has been below replacement level and his contract will come off the books this summer. Walker may allow for the odd night off for Knuble, Fehr or Bradley, but his biggest contribution to his new team will most likely come off the ice.

Toronto trades AHL G Joey MacDonald to Anaheim for a 2010 7th round draft pick and LW/RW Lee Stempniak to Phoenix for AHL D Matt Jones, and 4th and 7th round draft picks in 2010. D Martin Skoula, acquired last night is forwarded to New Jersey for a 5th rounder, while a 2010 6th rounder is shipped back to Pittsburgh (handshake agreement kind of thing) in exchange for NCAA D Chris Peluso: The Leafs clear up a few more loose ends with this trio of trades. Stempniak has been a clear failure of the short-lived Cliff Fletcher comeback tour prior to Brian Burke’s hiring. While he showed occasional bursts of tremendous energy, he has more often been just a guy. The return for him is commensurate with his value as a 20-game rental. Joey MacDonald was the Leafs’ 3rd string goalie playing mostly in the AHL. As the Ducks don’t have their own AHL franchise (the only team thus handicapped), he may be able to remain with the Marlies while Curtis McElhinney backs up Jonas Hiller. As presumed, Skoula was acquired simply to be moved on. In an interview with Bob McCown today, Burke admitted that he had a provisional agreement with Penguins GM that if he would be able to peddle Skoula for a draft pick, Burke would send a pick one round lower to Pittsburgh in exchange for Peluso, an unsigned player the Pens have since given up on. The Leafs will scout him over the remainder of the summer and decide if they want to sign him in the next few months. Now the Leafs have plenty of draft picks for this summer’s draft, but nothing in the first two rounds.

In Skoula, the Devils get a guy who can slot in their third pair until Paul Martin returns from his broken arm and try to state his claim for continued action afterwards.

Buffalo sends F Clarke MacArthur to Atlanta for 2010 3rd and 4th round picks: MacArthur has been performing just barely above the minimal replacement level this year with Buffalo (1.1 GVT, team-low -14.7 relative +/-) and he will be a restricted free agent on July 1. I think one of those picks should have been enough, so kudos to Darcy Regier on getting the pair. MacArthur looks like a 4th line winger who doesn’t provide enough offense to be in the top-6, nor is he big enough for 3rd-line duties. Buffalo also had to get rid of him to make room for their big dead-line day acquisition.

Buffalo receives LW Raffi Torres from Columbus in exchange for D Nathan Paetsch and a 2010 2nd round draft choice: There was word floating around that the Jackets were seeking a first round pick for Torres which seemed a bit big. Paetsch (unless I missed a big injury) was an extra blue-liner on Buffalo, appearing in only 11 games so far this season. Torres is a rich man’s MacArthur. Big enough to play on the 3rd line, and provides enough offense to play on the second line. Torres contributed 5.2 GVT with Columbus, put up while often playing with lesser linemates, as shown by his below average “Quality Teammates” metric at Behind the Net. While Torres will be a UFA after the season, at the price paid by Buffalo, I expect them to make a run at re-signing him.

Carolina trades D Joe Corvo to Washington and receives in return D Brain Pothier, LW Oskar Osala and a 2nd round pick in 2011: This may have been the biggest deal of the day for Carolina as they were unable to deal Ray Whitney. Corvo, while he missed some time with injury has made a career as a solid #3 defenseman, able to man the point on the power play (12 PPG since the start of last season) and take care of his own end as well. His two long playoff runs in the last three seasons portend well for Washington’s hopes this spring.

In Pothier, the Caps gave up a body who, like Corvo, has an expiring contract. Pothier plays a solid two-way game, but has an injury-ravaged history and they weren’t counting on him for too much going forward. Osala is young enough, big enough and talented enough to turn into a Torres-type of player down the road. Maybe even next season. And you know how I feel about 2nd-round picks.

There were other trades. The Hurricanes bake sale also point the door for Stephane Yelle (along with a prospect to Colorado for another prospect and a 6th rounder), Andrew Alberts (to Vancouver for a 3rd rounder), Florida picking up some beef in D Mathieu Roy from Columbus for collegian Matt Rust, Tampa dealing veterany-goodness in Jeff Halpern to the playoff-bound Kings in exchange for a 3rd round pick and a 4th-line prospect (Teddy Purcell). The Rangers got blue-line depth in Anders Eriksson from Phoenix in exchange for an ECHL goalie. Finally, Washington solidified its team for a long playoff run by acquiring solid role players in the return of Milan Jurcina from Columbus (they must have missed him) and Eric Belanger (having a solid season with 35 points and a 7.1 GVT) from Minnesota for a 2nd round pick. The Caps are happy to trade a shorter draft for a longer playoff run. Let the stretch begin!