Monday Morning Update; February 27, 2017

The NHL trade market heats up, the NBA trade market cools down, and baseball is back!

1. The NHL Trade Deadline finally heats up

It’s finally happened.

Maybe it’s the seller’s market motivating bad teams to strike while there are plenty of buyers to take advantage of. Maybe it’s the expansion draft forcing front offices to make the kind of uncomfortable and difficult decision to make. Maybe GM’s were just sick and tired of all the inactions as we were. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor Elliot Friedman.

But the NHL Trade Deadline market has finally heated up, and last night it was hotter than it’s been for some time. In a weekend that already saw some minor deals like Thomas Jurco leaving Detroit for Chicago in exchange for a pick, we got a few bombshells dropped on us, with Martin Hanzal heading to Minnesota for a haul of picks, while Ben Bishop ended his tenure in Tampa Bay a bit early, heading to LA to share crease duties with Jonathan Quick for the Kings in exchange for a collection of assets.

Both trades certainly make sense from a seller’s perspective. In Arizona’s case, getting a first and a second round pick, along with the potential of another high pick, for a middle six talent on an expiring deal is good bang for the buck, no matter what position that player occupies. And between looming free agency, an impending cap crunch, and the upcoming expansion draft, Ben Bishop was not destined to remain in the Sunshine State for very long. The Tampa Bay front office, led by the incomparable Steve Yzerman, did well to get something for a player that was as good as gone.

But for the buyers? In Minnesota’s case, it makes sense—the team is now stacked down the middle in what is one of their final years in what has largely been a wasted window. Names like Parise, Koivu, Sutter aren’t cheap and they aren’t young, and they will not have too many more chances to come this way again, especially since the West looks (somewhat) weaker this year than in recent memory. Even if they overpaid for Hanzal, it was a good time to overpay.

But for the Kings? Quick was just activated off IR, he’s signed for more than another half-decade, and they’re currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race. This could submarine their relationship with a goaltender, or just be a very expensive rental for a position they are pretty wealthy in. True, their current spot in the standings means they’ll need any win they can get, and having a Quick-Bishop tandem is a good way to ensure that you’re almost never at a goaltending disadvantage.

But you have to wonder if there is something larger at paly here. Perhaps Quick’s more banged up than they, or we thought? Maybe they’re hoping to trade him (or at least his rights) at some point in the future? I admire the gambling spirit shown by LA GM Dean Lombardi here—the Kings have shown before that if this team can sneak into the playoffs, even as an eight seed, they can be terrifying. But this is quite the risk, at least to my eyes.

2. Sell high

If there is anyone who should be salivating over last night’s swath of trades, it may just be the teams that have yet to pull the trigger on deals, however.

Imagine Joe Sakic, who many thoughts was asking too high of a price for his young centerman on the market, Matt Duchene. If Hanzal is bringing in two high picks and the potential of a third, Duchene, who is a far superior player to Hanzal on a longer contract, will truly command the haul that has been rumored so far.

And the same is true for the other big fish on the market, Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues. Ron Hainsey brought a second-round pick back to Carolina last week, which means that a player like Shattenkirk, who is also a soon-to-be-UFA, will be even more expensive than that.

But both Sakic and his counterpart in St. Louis, Doug Armstrong, should be careful. You always want to sell high, and if the market is there, both GMs should be eager to take advantage of a surplus of buyers and a drought of sellers (a pool that has gone even drier as players like Hanzal depart)—but, especially for Armstrong, if you don’t act soon, you’ll have to settle for nothing, and like it.

3. As Brooklyn turns

One team that may find itself in a trading mindset may just be the Islanders. The team has been rumored for Duchene, along with other potential targets like Tyler Johnson or Jordan Eberle, and has vaulted itself back into the playoff race. And, as they were reminded this weekend, the team as its currently constructed may be good enough to make the playoffs and spoil some runs, but that’s about it.

The team was walloped by the Blue Jackets on Saturday evening, sending the good vibes and winning streak that was the story of the early portion of a franchise-long road trip, and reminding them just were they standing in the hierarchy. With no games until after the deadline has passed, will anyone in the front office get antsy and make a move?

My guess is no. Friend of the program Arthur Staple mentioned recently that Garth snow has almost never made a move at the deadline, and like we discussed above, Duchene is going to cost a pretty penny, especially this year. And while the Isles may have the assets to please the Avs, they may not want to part with a player like Barzal or Pulock, much less both of them (sorry Isles fans, that’s what Duchene is going to cost.)

It wasn’t all bad news, though—the Islanders did win their first two games of a road trip, and find themselves waking up this morning in another deadlock for a playoff spot. The highlight of late?

That goes to one Anthony Beauvilier, who had himself quite a homecoming last week, scoring a goal and earning the first star in his return to Montreal. Nice to see a kid who’s had an up-and-down season at times cash in at home.

4. Tourney time

It’s that wonderful time of year, college conference tourney time. “But wait!” you shout. “Doesn’t the college basketball conference championship week start the first week of March, not the last week of February?”

And you would be right if we were talking about basketball. But my eyes this week are on the various college hockey conference tournaments beginning this week, primarily the Hockey East.

Like Tim and I mentioned on our podcast recently, it’s been an especially wild year for the Hockey East. BC and BU stand atop the conference standings, but both were beaten in the Beanpot by Harvard, and have struggled as of late. UMASS-Lowell sits below them in the conference standings, but above them in the national rankings, and beat BC in a home-and-home series this past weekend. Notre Dame and Providence are almost neck and neck in the fourth spots, but they too are both on top of BC.

It’s confusing, to say the least.

But for my money, these are the best time for college tournaments. When one or two teams have dominated the length of the season, the championship itself becomes either a coronation or a fluke upset—and neither leaves the viewer feeling particularly satisfied unless their team is hoisting the trophy.
But in weeks like these, with so many teams able to fairly claim one distinction over another, the Hockey East is going to be prove it or shut it time. That’s the best kind of drama and the best kind of hockey. Buckle up.

  1. Go, Gonzaga, go

Ok, fine, now we can talk about college basketball. We’re getting awfully close to tourney time there too, and even I can admit that is the more exciting time of the year.

One of the reasons the basketball tournament holds so much value each year? It isn’t just the true Cinderella’s, the 7-seeds, the minor conference champions or ivy-leaguers who make a run, but the teams trying to keep a streak of brilliance alive, even against the odds. Already, from all around, we’re hearing how much fun it’s going to be to watch Gonzaga fold come March.

Not me, however, I have some faith in these bulldogs, loss or no loss. Gonzaga has faltered time and time again on a big stage, sure, and when I think March drama and heartbreak, my mind goes right to the ugly-cry face of Adam Morrison. But that’s all the more reason to root for them.

Yes, Gonzaga’s conference doesn’t offer much in the way of stiff competition, and that can hurt sometimes when the games get tougher. Far enough. But if you don’t root for a team like Gonzaga, in a year dominated by headlines surrounding teams like Duke and North Carolina, then what kind of college basketball fan are you?

6. Boogie and the Brow

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While we wait for the NHL trade deadline to pass, the NBA edition has finally come and gone, and in what seems to be going from accident to trend, the biggest moves happened before deadline day. While we may have been waiting with baited breath for a Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler or Paul George-related last minute bomb, it just wasn’t to be.

Instead, the biggest moves involved two of the biggest players in the NBA in Serge Ibaka and Boogie Cousins. And it turned a fringe playoff contender in the New Orleans Pelicans into a towering obstacle in the way of Steph Curry and his band of merry Warriors.
The trade was strange for no shortage of reasons, from not quite king’s ransom Sacramento acquired in exchange for their departing star, to the awkward fit Boogie may find himself in, playing alongside Anthony Davis.

But Boogie finally has a chance to write his own story, instead of being subject to the one written for him by an egomaniac owner and inept front office. Boogie and the Brow may sound like a new TBS comedy, but the end of this season is going to be no laughing matter when it comes to Cousins’ career.

7. Trader Danny holds

And why did we have a deficit of trades on deadline day? A big part of the reason lies with the man that holds the keys in Boston, Danny Ainge.

He’s earned the reputation as a “trader” but he held close to the vest here, and it may have been curious. That Brooklyn pick is one of the more valuable picks to actually be on the table at a trade deadline, and while the Cavs are certainly more talented than the Celtics seem to be, injuries to Kevin Love and a sometimes frustrated LeBron could have opened the door for the Celtics to take a run at the throne this year.

Ultimately, though, the Cavaliers are the reason Trader Danny didn’t live up to his nickname this year. When there are these super teams looming on the horizon, it’s very difficult to see the argument for mortgaging your future for the chance to take a late run at the crown. While we may have all wanted to see the fireworks on deadline day, but in all likelihood, holding the cards was the right call here.

8. Baseball’s back

Ahh, it’s finally here. We’re done with the bickering over what does or does not make somebody worthy of the Hall of Fame, done wondering how arbitration disputes will play out, done watching players run drills for want of any baseball action. The games were here, and they may not officially count, but they will soon enough.

And thankfully, the game largely will look the same that it did last year. No wacky man on second base in extra innings, no guy with a stopwatch screaming at everyone. Just baseball. It may be slow, it may not be on social media, but it’s back.

9. The Yankees tighten their belts (for now)

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There is one part of baseball that may look a little bit different, however, and that’s the Yankees payroll. For as far back as I can remember, being a Yankee fan has meant that you were time and time again subject to reminders about just how much your team spent in search of a championship, how they were destroying the moral fiber of the game, and how they could even live with themselves.

But, for now, at least, all that should subside. The Yankees payroll is slim this year after the team shed the second most salary in baseball between the end of last season and the start of this season. All told, thanks to some big contracts like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira coming off the books, the Yankees cut $37 million from their expense report for 2017.

This is where hearing all those derisions for big-spending becomes worth it. As more contracts come off the books in the coming years, the Yankees are going to have money to burn, and fans already have their sights on plenty of potential future players, from Bryce Harper to Matt Harvey.

But at least for the time being, the Yankees are tightening their belts.

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