With the deadline just a couple days ahead and the big catch having already slipped through our fingers, it's time to take another gander at what's realistically available to improve the team. The landscape has changed a bit since Phunwin checked in a month ago, though the needs havent, so to set the stage we'll largely be looking at third line wingers with a little bit of offensive ability and some reinforcements to the blueline, particularly addressing the second pair. The fourth line continues to be a train wreck in spite of popular fan
bias opinion, but we've already made a move to mend that. I'm largely going hunting for players who are being stifled by their coaches' misguided usage or who might shine given a chance to play in less demanding circumstances.
I'll not spend much time on identifying proposed trade packages - that's for you to tear each other apart in the comments - but I will be keeping the approaching cap crunch firmly in the back of my mind as I make suggestions beyond rentals. Safely guessing Rask coming in close to Price's price, I'm operating under the assumption that Horton and Ference aren't long for this team and we'll be eating ever so slightly into that Savard LTIR space just to ice a team. After a few tests on Capgeek's sweetass calculator, let's take as a critical assumption that we can't afford to bring in anyone carrying a price tag over 3.5m for next year.
(Don't worry folks, this isn't another April Fools post - I considered it, but then I remembered I'd still have to research, so no.)
WHERE WE STAND
To reiterate the sentiment in Sarah's reassuring post-Iginla post, this team is actually in remarkably good shape in spite of recent lackluster play. We continue to be a pretty dominant 5on5 team. We're 7th in scoring at evens with the sixth best goal differential. In the East, only Montreal and Pittsburgh are better and the Habs not by a gaping margin. LA and Boston remain in a class by themselves from a possession standpoint, with a Fenwick Close that just don't quit. As a result of all that puck-on-a-string action, we're also the rootin, tootin, shootinest team in the entire league, with 32/60 at even strength. Strangely, that "shoot" guy up in the balcony deserves our apologies - we dip to 18th with the man advantage. Our bad, brah! SHOOT indeed!
So with all indicators generally positive, surely our measly 5-4-1 run over the past ten games is the product of the hockey gods and percentages right? Alas, our PDO has caught up and amid our mid-season slump we climbed from the 992 of last we checked in to a pretty much on target 1004. Our shooting % has declined (coughMarchandcough) while the save % expectedly rose - that second part all the more argument for the stability in net people seem convinced is lacking. (No, idiots on the radio, we aren't making Khudobin the starter and we're not acquiring Kiprusoff's amazing technicolor .873 save percentage for his "veteran experience.") All said, we can't blame the recent stretch on luck or bad goaltending, it lies largely on the backs of depth scoring - the bottom six is only contributing 28% of the goals, a 10% drop from last year. When Peverley has an On-Ice shooting percentage below 5%, you know something's wrong with the depth.
Jarome Iginla stands to provide an upgrade on the first line, and while he's not and hasn't been a stellar possession player he should be bolstered by having one of the best centers he's ever played with setting him up
Fuck, last week sucked, eh? Well, we got Kaspars Daugavins at least, right? Yay?
Provided immigration ever lets him in the country (does the US have some sort of secret beef with Latvia?) we actually got a pretty useful piece, if only defensively. If Chris Kelly remains out for a significant stretch as expected, Daugavins has comparable experience facing tough QoC and defensive zone duty for Ottawa over the past couple years, receiving a decidedly upper-left quadrant deployment not dissimilar from Kelly's. And as a bonus, he's managed a positive Corsi while doing it. While Claude may give him a shot on the third line if further reinforcements aren't eminent (oh god, cold sweats at the thought), I'd expect him to stick on the fourth, replacing the struggling Shawn Thornton.Placing a positive possession player on a trio that doesn't face as talented opponents should result in a vast improvement to the fourth line. His offensive abilities are in question, though he may have some upside yet - based on his OHL and AHL numbers we're looking at a Jordan Caron comp, and it's unlikely that his double digit B-Sens shooting percentage would translate to an under-5% rate in the NHL long term. And we've seen what he's capable of in the shootout...
TARGETS ACQUIRED (OH GOD PLEASE ACQUIRE SOMEONE!)
With at least one piece of the dreadful Merlot line mended, lets wash our hands of them and move on to the major need at forward. With Chris Kelly out for at least a bit longer and having not had a legit 3LW for the entire year, the team remains in desperate need of depth scoring to bolster the third unit. With Daugavins, we're not really looking to replace the defensive specialist role, so lets look to players with offensive upside or pedigree.
RYANE "Too Many E's" CLOWE (SJ)- Ah the elephant in the room. Tired of hearing this one yet? Though there've been reports that we're already out of the market for zero goal scorer Clowe, lets consider him for a moment. He's having quite the well documented down year, suffering a terrible on-ice shooting percentage, yet he's contributing positively to the team, continuing to show good possession numbers, staying north of middle-of-the-pack on a fairly good Corsi team. He's not a single handed play driver, but neither he nor his linemates see much variation between their shared and OFF numbers among each other, so there's every indication that his abilities will translate across teams. Which would be a boon for a third line having difficulty generating much attack outside of Peverley. It bears noting that by dint of his linemates he sees pretty tough competition, so a move to a softer-deployment third line would serve him well, sheltering him to get that goal scoring touch back. Still in contention, San Jose would in my opinion be better served by retaining Clowe for his inevitable positive shooting percentage regression and perhaps even reaping the windfall of a cheap re-signing for his shitty contract year, but here's hoping they sell low with a modest price tag.
STEVE SULLIVAN (PHX) - Recently falling three points below the water line, it might be early to call the Coyotes sellers but they're going to have to face the music with a couple of their veterans and consider getting assets after letting Whitney walk in the offseason. Hired gun Steve Sullivan isn't looking too hot on the scoresheet, but he's firing a good bit below his rather impressive 13.6% career average while remaining a markedly positive puck possession player, leading all regulars in Corsi. His 6.01 On-Ice SH% is even more execrable than Clowe's, hence the team low PDO, but again the idea is to get him away from the toughs and see what he can do in less demanding ice time. He spent considerable time with Neal and Malkin last year but didn't seem to suffer too much away from them. With lesser linemates in Phoenix this year, the same holds true, so he doesn't require the top flight teammates in order to operate ala guys like, say, Brad Boyes who I've purposefully left off this list for just this reason.
LEE STEMPNIAK (CGY) - Lets assume Jay Feaster feels like an asshole and Chiarelli doesn't mind doing business with a moron again: Lee Stempniak could be up our alley. He's a good reclamation project for a lower-QoC line in need of an offensive shot in the arm, and moving him into offense heavy starts could further maximize his ability to contribute. Curtis Glencross may have the gaudier goal totals, but he's being propped up by his linemate, disappearing without him. On his own, he's quietly on a 60 point pace for a regular-length season while shooting below his career average. As with Sullivan, Stempniak shoots right, necessitating Peverley to go back to pivot (he excels at the dot anyway) or play on his off wing. He has one more year at 2.5m - which beats Glencross' two remaining - and though it would be difficult he could fit under the cap structure for next year. Not a lights-out acquisition, but an improvement that would put us back in line with Pouliot-level production on the third line.
BENOIT POULIOT (TB) - Speaking of... guess who's a rental. I would assume Yzerman didn't part with a pick so he could give an RFA right back to the team he acquired him from, but I wouldn't sneeze at the chance to fix our mistake and reacquire what was pretty close to an ideal bottom six forward. He produced and to continues to produce very efficiently for his minutes, exceeding 2/60 this year and last in his roughly 11 ES minutes per night. He's a routinely positive possession player and has a habit of getting more out of his linemates. If Chiarelli was playing moneypuck in his evaluation of Pouliot, he moneyfucked-it-up.
JUSSI JOKINEN (CAR) - I cannot believe that Jussi Jokinen escaped the waiver wire unscathed. If there's any will on Jacobs part to eat a buyout in the offseason, Jokinen would be a very good candidate with only 2 million to pay out on his ever so slightly overpriced deal. He doesn't fit long term - being yet another penalty killing 3C - but he'd be a versatile offensive upgrade on what's presently occupying the third line and yet another positive possession player facing decently difficult competition. Looking at his career average P/60, he'd clock in just below our top six forwards. If we're going to be all probablistic about this, Kelly's the one that would be the better buyout were we to acquire Jokinen, as the latter is far more likely to maintain 40 point production than Kelly based on career numbers. Carolina isn't definitively out of it, but they've made clear that Jussi is expendable. He might be worth trading for, rather than having wavier sniped, just to move some contracts around and keep under the contract limit with Soderberg potentially coming in.
PAUL GAUSTAD (NSH): Should his asking price come anywhere in the zip code of last year, run screaming. However, though he's that defensive type I said I wasn't going to focus on, he's being Trotz'd to death. Take a look at that usage chart: 22% O-zone starts! Along with it comes an on-ice SH% that's dropped so low from his time in Buffalo that Hermes Conrad can't limbo it. While yes, you could continue to use him as Kelly, he has a modicum of offensive talent. He shot over 10% on average in Buffalo, yet he fell off a cliff when he arrived in Nashville. Maybe it's all the country music grating on his nerves, but someone should rescue this man. Poile may have a hard time swallowing the loss of a 1st for what amounts to a rental, but thems the breaks when you have one last shot with your defensive core, and I can't imagine these are the grand plans he had in mind.
TYSON BARRIE (COL) - Quietly the best defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche for stretches of this year, organizational ineptitude in Denver has reared its head with Tyson Barrie, sending him down to Lake Erie for most of the month of March. He's made a pretty solid return, but it's possible that this last place team has no clue what to do with their prospects (ahem: O'Reilly). Further supporting this theory, Matt Fucking Hunwick is their ice time leader on D, just in case you were wondering how they're doing so poorly. Barrie on the other hand has been seeing almost as much time, facing the hardest QoC while driving play both from a Corsi standpoint and from his out of this world zone shift, starting the majority of his time in his own end and ending up on the other side 62% of the time. Adding a young buck who isn't the greatest in his own end (presumably from a negative +/- Rel) may not be just what the Bruins need, but he's good at getting the puck up ice and toward net and I'd be very intrigued by what he could do with softer minutes.
STEPHANE ROBIDAS (DAL) - As Dallas lingers two points out of the playoffs in the West, scouts are circling like vultures to snag some of their vetaran forwards. More overlooked is their defensive roster. With Brendan Dillon beginning to eat the tough minutes Robidas is accustomed to popping like candy, along with other young D like Oleksiak coming online, it's conceivable the Stars would be willing to trade the elder blueliner a year before his contract is up if the return is right. He's taken a dip in Corsi Rel this year, but still fares well at driving the play the right direction given the hard starts. He's been a solid if unspectacular contributor to the Stars' powerplay, providing another point option for the Bruins ailing special teams unit. I'm more inclined to go with the more seasoned option in Robidas given that he'll provide that second-pair-carrying stability should Claude decide to employ the Chara-Seidenberg shut down pair in the post-season. Even with Ference's well documented struggles this year, a Ference-Robidas pairing wouldn't cause heart palpitations.
JOE CORVO (CAR) - As with Pouliot, what's old is new again. Faring quite well in his return to Carolina, Ol' Corvover could be worth... ok, you can stop sharpening your knives, had to get a little in the holiday spirit at least. April Fools aside, looking at Carolina: JAMIE MCBAIN should be considered a top target. Continuing my obsession with right shooters for the second pair, he's having a bit of a down year offensively, likely due to a major shift in his deployment, seeing top QoC along with partner Joni Pitkanen. McBain sports a nice looking +/- Rel and best-on-team ON while maintaining positive Corsi. Carolina is still in the hunt and like Dallas and San Jose aren't full-on sellers, but they have announced that they're listening to offers. He's not exactly the wily veteran I'm looking for, but he'd be un upgrade on Hamilton at #2D from a defensive standpoint without totally sapping the offense.
SAMI SALO (TB) - Awk-ward! Another prime candidate for amnesty buyout, there's no sane world in which the ever-brittle Salo deserves 3.75m bucks in spite of his sharing top pair with Victor Hedman. That said, viewed from a rental standpoint Salo would be an ideal upgrade, again providing that steady hand to the second pair with the added bonus of a performance boost from softer deployment. Salo's been facing the tough d-zone minutes and appears to be carrying Hedman defensively,who falls apart in his precious little time away.He'd have to waive his modified NMC, so it would be quite the dick move to turn around and throw him away after a quarter-season's use, but he simply doesn't quite fit under next year's structure without moving another body.
CORY SARICH (CGY) - Scraping the bottom of the barrel, Cory Sarich is a "break in case of 7th defenseman" option, doing a fair job driving play with a bad team's soft minutes. He's a safer option than Johnson or Bartkowski, though not necessarily better given total absence of offensive talent.
(Side note: In scanning bottom feeder teams I can't find a damn thing on Florida worth acquiring - Shawn Matthias comes with a giant red flashing warning about his shooting percentage and Marcel Goc is yet another defensive forward we don't need.)
We can speculate til the cows come home, but it's hard to know the inner workings of the NHL's front offices - as we appear to have learned rather harshly last week. Above are some - Clowe aside - slightly under the radar possibilities with good underlying numbers or career-outlier performances that could fill that Peverley/Kelly/Recchi/Rolston/Seidenberg deadline acquisition role. The patented Chiarelli move: not flashy but a good fit. Don't be surprised or dismayed if you find one of such lesser-lights on their way to Boston soon. In Pete We Trust.