Post-trade Deadline: Is there a new favourite to win the Stanley Cup?
Biggest Trades at the Deadline
Last week’s trade deadline (and in the weeks leading up to it) saw a few significant moves that will change the outlook for multiple teams down the stretch.
The most prominent name on most trade boards, defenseman Erik Karlsson, was not traded. However, enough players switched teams to cause a bit of a shakeup in the league. The table below shows the biggest names traded this year.
|Rick Nash||LW||NYR||BOS||Ranks 4th among active players with 436 goals|
|Ryan Hartman||RW||CHI||NSH||Only 23, could be a long term piece in Nashville|
|Patrick Marron||LW||EDM||NJD||Scored a career high 27 goals in 2016-17|
|Michael Grabner||RW||NYR||NJD||52 goals since the start of the 2016-17 season|
|Derick Brassard||C||OTT||PIT||Averages 0.71 points per game in the playoffs|
|Evander Kane||LW||BUF||SJS||Second in NHL with three short-handed goals|
|Ryan McDonagh||D||NYR||TBL||Seven straight years of a +/- greater than 11*|
|Tomas Plekanec||C||MTL||TOR||26th on the active list for games played|
|Tomas Tatar||C||DET||VGK||On pace for his fourth straight 20+ goal season|
|Paul Stastny||C||STL||WPG||0.79 points per game career average|
*Prior to the 2017-18 season.
This season, the majority of the players traded were forwards. Outside of Ryan McDonagh, no defenseman made it into the list of the top-players traded this season. Most likely the price on mid and top-tier defenseman was too high for most teams and therefore, adding some depth to the forwards for much less was a better move.
Updated Stanley Cup Futures
Looking at the futures (available on Sports Interaction), there has not been much of a change at the top since the trade deadline. Obviously, Vegas at +575 is a significant change from their preseason odds (listed from +10000 to +50000 depending on the sportsbook), but they have been amongst the favourite to win the Cup for a few months now.
The big thing to notice is the fact that the top seven teams all made some type of move at or around the trade deadline. The only serious Stanley Cup contender to do nothing overly aggressive at the trade deadline was the Washington Capitals.
Eastern Conference Futures
The Tampa Bay Lightning, have, for the most part, looked and played like the most complete team in the NHL. The addition of Ryan McDonagh (and to a lesser extent centre J.T. Miller) gives the Lightning more depth and experience.
The only problem for the Lightning is McDonagh has not played yet and has not played since February 7. There is a limited amount of time teams can adjust lineups and defensive pairings post-trade deadline, and if McDonagh cannot get at least a dozen games with his new club, the Lightning could be better off as is going into the playoffs.
Outside of McDonagh, the most significant name traded was Rick Nash. At 33 years old, Nash is leaving his prime. However, he is just two-and-a-half seasons removed from a 42-goal campaign and has already proven to be a great contributor for the Boston Bruins.
Even with Nash, the Bruins are behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best team in the East. However, it is easy to argue the Bruins got a better centreman than their rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Thomas Plekanec is very seasoned (having played over 1000 NHL games counting the playoffs), he does not offer the same offensive firepower as Rick Nash.
Additionally, if Plekanec does see a substantial amount of ice time down the stretch, it likely means Auston Matthews is injured. The Leafs are a good team without Matthews. They are not a top-five Stanley Cup contender without their top player.
Currently, Boston and Toronto are on a crash course to meet in the first round of the playoffs, with the winner going on to play Tampa Bay. The Lightning will have a much easier first round opponent, with the Carolina Hurricanes or Florida Panthers looking like the likeliest two candidates to grab the final Wild Card spot in the East.
The Lightning’s biggest threats in the East are the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by the Washington Capitals. Tampa Bay is 4-2-0 against the Capitals and Penguins this season and 3-0 at home. With the Lightning leading the Capitals by 13 points and the Penguins by 16, there is little chance either team will catch the Lightning and have home ice advantage in a potential Conference Finals series.
Western Conference Futures
The top teams in the Western Conference also made a few moves. The Winnipeg Jets, looking to secure just their second playoff berth since returning to Winnipeg, added veteran Paul Statsny. Statsny brings 55 games of playoff experience, more than any current player on Winnipeg’s roster.
While Paul Stastny is the most experienced player to find a new home in the Western Conference, Evander Kane is the most intriguing player traded to a Western Conference team. Kane is a former 30-goal scorer with a physical style of play that translates well into the playoffs. The thing is, the San Jose Sharks are not Stanley Cup frontrunners. Much of their team is either too old or having an off-year. The addition of Kane helps, but not enough to make them comparable to the Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, and Winnipeg Jets.
Vegas made a bit of a splash adding forward Tomas Tatar. Tatar is an apt goal-scorer, and unlike many of the players traded in February, has multiple years left on his contract. This trade should help Vegas for the next few seasons, but likely not enough this year to get them to the Cup Finals.
Outside of those three trades, the Western Conference was quieter than the East at the trade deadline. There was speculation that the Nashville Predators were after Erik Karlsson (a trade that would have likely put them ahead of Tampa Bay in the futures). However, nothing materialized, and the Predators acquired left-winger Ryan Hartman for some offensive depth.
Even without making a big splash, the Predators are the deepest team in the Western Conference and much more experience than Winnipeg and Vegas. The Predators are also getting healthy at the right time, which is helping the team make a strong push for the top spot in the Western Conference. If the Predators manage to win the West, it is difficult to argue against them making their second straight Stanley Finals, as they are one of the best home teams in the NHL.
Stanley Cup Finals Prediction
Prior to the trade deadline, many hockey buffs and sports bettors considered Tampa Bay and Nashville as two of the top Stanley Cup contenders. Since the trade deadline, that has stayed the same. The Lightning adding McDonagh did turn them into the prohibitive favourite.
It is possible to wager on both these franchises to win the Stanley Cup and still come out with a good profit if either one wins. However, for those looking for a reason why each team can win the Stanley Cup should continue reading.
Tampa Bay will win the Cup this year because they are the most complete team in the NHL. They have the top-scoring offence in the NHL and the frontrunner for this year’s MVP, Nikita Kucherov. They also have a Vezina candidate in net (who leads the NHL in shutouts) and superb depth.
Nashville will win the Cup this year, due to their extensive defensive depth and experience. Nashville has the deepest defence in the NHL. Nashville also ranks in the top-five for both goals for and against per game this season.
So, which team has the overall advantage? The talent and statistics favour Tampa Bay. Defenseman Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning is as good as any defenseman on the Nashville Predators. If veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh can develop chemistry with Hedman, the Lightning are not far behind Nashville in defensive depth.
Tampa Bay also has the edge in goaltending and on offence. The Lightning top two forwards (Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos) have an NHL-leading 162 points. The Predators top-four forwards (as of March 5) have 179 points total.
Overall, Tampa Bay has been the best team in the NHL all season and only got better after the trade deadline. Nashville is good enough to challenge any team on any night but does not have the offensive firepower of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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