We’ve reached a critical point in the NHL season.
A quarter of the games are through, and teams are starting to see where they stand in the playoff race. The trade deadline is coming into view on the horizon. Contenders, rebuilders and teams in between will all face some important decisions in the following two months.
For time’s sake (and our copy editors’), we've narrowed these down to the five most intriguing questions requiring answers as the season plows forward. A few of them are more pressing than others, but the discussions are fascinating to hold either way.
New York Islanders: Fire Jack Capuano soon or dive into the lottery race
This might not end up as an either/or question. Getting rid of Capuano doesn’t guarantee the Islanders will dig themselves out of the hole they’re in. And it’s a substantial one: Dead last in the league with 18 points, the Islanders have a measly 7.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. They are the odds-on favorite to win the lottery and draft Nolan Patrick first overall.
So why is Capuano still around? GM Garth Snow gave him a vote of confidence on Nov. 16, but the Islanders haven’t improved since. When the Isles trail after one period, they lose. Very few teams play worse with a lead than the Islanders late in games.
So the decision is this: Does Snow hang on to Capuano based on past successes? After all, this is a team with multiple 100-point seasons under Capuano. Or does he try and stop the bleeding and move on soon, hoping for a miracle turnaround? That worked wonders for the Penguins last season.
I don’t envy Snow’s position right now. Nor do I envy Capuano’s, considering the roster decisions Snow has left him with. But a choice must be made soon if the season is to be salvaged from loss limbo.
Vancouver Canucks: Figure out how to trade the Sedins
The Canucks are bad. This is unsurprising. Vancouver has been trending the wrong way for years now, and honestly it’s about time the franchise sinks so it can refresh itself with youth. Whether their general manager realizes this is the big question, of course.
But if he does, then he should already be thinking about how to handle the most difficult player personnel decision in franchise history: whether or not to trade the Sedin twins.
Daniel and Henrik are not what they once were, but they certainly aren’t bad. Daniel has 13 points in 22 games and sits on a pretty healthy 52 percent Corsi For Percentage. Henrik’s stats are similar: 12 points in 22 games and a 53.1 percent CF% at even strength. The twins aren’t producing a ton of points, but they aren’t a drain on possession either, which makes you think they could be important contributors on a better team.
They are a drain on the Canucks’ salary cap, which makes trading them worth considering. Vancouver is right up against the cap right now, and the Sedins’ combined $14 million hit would be quite a burden lifted if they’re jettisoned. But it’s also an obstacle for any move.
If they agreed to waive their no-movement clauses, would the Sedins agree to play on different teams? If not, how does Jim Benning possibly convince a franchise to take on a $14 million cap hit that doesn’t expire for two years? And are the Sedins of any value if they don’t play together? Such a complicated situation requires discussion sooner rather than later, even if a decision isn’t made anytime soon.
Carolina Hurricanes: Go all-in for the playoffs
At this point, the Hurricanes are projected to just barely miss the playoffs. Naturally, that presents a conundrum for a franchise that’s rebuilding: Go for it or stay the course and hope for the best?
They have pieces to move. Ryan Murphy and Eddie Lack come to mind, and there will be teams in need of defensive depth or desperate for a goalie by the trade deadline. Canes Country suggests such a trade: Murphy for Patrick Sharp. Though the Stars would likely want to offload a defenseman before adding one.
But as long as any trade involves shedding excess and not important future pieces, the Hurricanes should consider it. As the deadline nears and desperation rises, we’ll see if they get tempted to make a bigger splash.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Trade Ben Bishop for less than you’d like
I wrote about this situation a few weeks ago and came to the conclusion that the market for Bishop is nowhere near as potent as Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman would like.
A lot of that is Bishop’s own doing. His even-strength save percentage is at its lowest point in six years and he’s throwing out less quality starts than he has since he was a rookie. Meanwhile, his heir apparent is enjoying the best season of his young career.
So as we continue to circle this saga for different scenarios, the situation remains the same: The Lightening must trade Bishop before the deadline so they don’t lose him for nothing in the expansion draft. What that means now is recouping less than their trade partners’ best defensive prospects. No Julius Honka or Esa Lindell from the Stars. No super-high draft pick from the Sabres.
Yzerman’s reasonable expectations will be lowered by circumstance, making this as difficult a decision as any going forward.
St. Louis Blues: Decide on a price for Kevin Shattenkirk
The marketplace for Shattenkirk’s services hasn’t changed. The Rangers could use him, even though they seem to be thriving without Keith Yandle this year. Boston would love him as it phases out of the Zdeno Chara era.
The difficulty here is deciding how hard Boston wants to push either team to fill the hole at center. David Krejci seems like the obvious Bruins name. J.T Miller and Brandon Pirri might be worth discussing with the Rangers. But as Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, the Blues will be barking up the wrong trees:
Look at the good (centers) around the league: Toews, McDavid, etc. ... all drafted by their teams. If the Blues want one, they're going to have to make a trade, and you're not getting one of the top guys. So you're looking at a guy like David Krejci from Boston. Is he available? It doesn't sound like it. We could keep exploring here, but I've already taken up too much time answering this. Point is, good ones aren't available, who is available and what are you willing to give up?
In other words, are the Blues prepared to give up a prized commodity in Shattenkirk for a center of lower value than Krejci or Derek Stepan? GM Doug Armstrong has called a move for the sake of a move “illogical,” so it doesn’t seem like it.