NHL Overreactions or Not?

It’s been a while, maybe too long, since I’ve put something like this together. With the trade deadline looming, it's starting to become clear which teams will be buyers and which teams will be tanking for first overall pick and potentially Shane Wright. But I’ll be ranging in all topics from teams to players and everything in between. Before I get into it, I already know a couple of my takes are going to upset certain fanbases. If you’re a part of one of them, or just have an opinion on any of these takes, feel free to let me know through the Fire’d Up Sports Network Facebook and Twitter pages.

Overreaction: New York Rangers are the team to beat in the Metro.

Nothing like starting off a list of what is and isn’t an overreaction by making New Yorkers angry. The Rangers currently sit three points behind Carolina for the top spot in the Metropolitan division and have been playing their most consistent hockey since making their run to the cup finals in 2014. However, as it stands now, the Rangers are not a top team in the Metro for a few reasons. For one, they have struggled to find secondary scoring all season. Chris Kreider has had the best goal scoring year of his career having tallied 33 goals in 50 games. However, only Mika Zibanejad has eclipsed the 15 goal mark this season and that will be a major problem going into the playoffs. Secondly, the Rangers have had issues with regards to puck possession and opponents outshooting them. They rank 29th in shots/game, 25th in faceoff percentage, and 22nd in shots against per game in the league. All three of these metrics help constitute time of possession and how the game is played. New York is being held up by Vezina frontrunner Igor Shesterkin, but they better figure something out fast. They have a little bit to go before they are on the level of Carolina, who is the real team to beat in the Metro

Not an overreaction: Jordan Binnington has gone from St. Louis savior to expendable.

This one hurts. Jordan Binnington got called up to the St. Louis Blues in January 2019 when the Blues were at the bottom of the league standings. He became the catalyst after a shutout win against Philadelphia which ultimately led to the Blues winning the Stanley Cup. You could even argue that Binnington was the most influential player during that run and should have won playoff MVP. In his third full season as a starting NHL goaltender, it seems as though the rest of the league has figured him out as he currently sports 3.35/.898 splits. Similarly to how he came Binnington came in to the league, Blues prospect Ville Husso was called upon after Binnington continuously struggled in late December into January to limit the damage. All he did was win six straight starts while Binnington has given up 4 or more goals in 5 out of 6 starts in 2022 and has been more of a hot head than usual this season. Husso currently has a 12-3-2 record with a 1.97/.938 this season. For reference, Binnington had a 1.89/.927 in his magical 18-19 season. Could it be a case of young goaltenders consistently stepping up, or has the league just not figured out the new guy yet? Either way, should St. Louis make the playoffs, Husso is the one in the starter’s crease.

Overreaction: Connor McDavid is a lock to win the Hart Trophy

Let me be very clear on this: Connor Mcdavid is the most talented hockey player in the world. It’s not up for discussion. He currently leads the NHL in points with 71 points in 49 games and just plays the game at a different level than everybody else. This brings up the question “why wouldn’t he be a lock to win league MVP?” Well, Edmonton has not been playing good hockey. After flying out of the gates with a 15-5 record, they’ve only been 13-14-3 since then, tied for third place in the Pacific. Should Edmonton miss the playoffs, which is a real possibility thanks to abysmal goaltending, this could seriously hurt McDavid’s chances of winning another league MVP. Only three occasions in NHL history has the Hart trophy winner missed the playoffs, most recently being Mario Lemieux in 1988. However, Lemieux had 168 points in 77 games, with the second leading scorer on his team having only I can’t see voters justifying giving league MVP to a guy whose team didn’t finish in the top half of the league, no matter how good he played. In addition, his injury history has left him prone to missing games, in which teammate Leon Draisitl had stepped and made his case for league MVP known. This is another possibility that is very much in the cards. Although I believe Connor McDavid is the current frontrunner, he is not a lock for the Hart Trophy at this point.

Not an Overreaction: Despite a weak start to the OHL season, Shane Wright is the Consensus #1 pick

For those who aren’t familiar with draft prospects or players in juniors, let me tell you about Shane Wright of the Ontario Hockey League. He’s a 6’1 playmaking center with a natural ability to both find the open man and find the back of the net. His knowledge of watching a play develop and making the right decision while on the puck is impeccable. He is solid on the defensive side of the puck as well who is reliable in the faceoff circle and anything but a liability on the back check. A fair comparison would be a player such as Patrice Bergeron: disciplined, calculated, incredible awareness on both ends of the ice, and has a knack for finding the open man and creating passing lanes. Yet, Shane Wright started off the OHL season not living up to expectations, amassing 13 points in 10 games. Wright was expected to take a big step forward and through the first two months, he had the same slow start he did in his prior season. It wasn’t until after the World Junior Championships that Wright began to step his game up again, now having 23 points in his last 13 games. His style of play is already comparable to the pro level and the right-handed center will be a true asset to whatever franchise he ends up with.

Overreaction: Cap circumvention will give multiple teams an unfair advantage in the playoffs again

A la the Tampa Bay Lightning with Nikita Kucherov, cap circumvention will once again be a topic of conversation later on in the year around the trade deadline. Teams who have significant cap space issues will take an injured player, put them on long term injured reserve, and use the open cap space to add players via trade. When the playoffs arrive and the injured players return, the team isn’t penalized as the salary cap no longer matters in the postseason. People were upset when Tampa Bay did this with Nikita Kucherov last year, and they’ll be upset when Vegas likely does this with Mark Stone and Alec Martinez this year. Vegas currently has $5.1M in cap space with $15M not counting against them in LTIR. Vegas will likely be in the market for a defenseman or goalie, with links to goaltenders Alexander Georgiev and Semyon Varlamov as well as expressing interest in defenseman Ben Chiarot. However, I don’t blame Vegas for utilizing LTIR. The NHL’s hard salary cap has put teams in a tricky situation where they have to be creative with how they use their money. Vegas has acquired a lot of big contracts and needs a way to remove cap space. If there is no penalty for the use of cap circumvention, then it’s not an unfair advantage in my opinion. Although I think it’s something the NHL should discuss to figure out a way to avoid this, I don’t think that this is a drastic issue either.

Not an overreaction: Multiple captains will be on the move this deadline

It’s not often to see captains be traded in the NHL. They’re an influential piece of your team, have likely been a part of the core of your team for years, and the right circumstances would have to come up for them to be traded. A lot of your captains in the NHL are some of the best players in the league and would be untouchable in the eyes of their GM. Yet, when the stars align just right, a failing team may give their captain a chance to win a Stanley cup if he’s in the last year of his contract. The devils did this last year moving defenseman Andy Greene, the Rangers and Lightning pulled off a captain-for-captain trade in 2014 that benefitted both teams, and this year I see two captains in particular on the move. The first player is Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, who has made his trade aspirations known within the organization. A player of Giroux’s caliber, productive two way player with Stanley Cup final experience is going to garner a lot of attention and a lot of assets. I think he will end up being moved to Colorado in a package returning forward prospects Martin Kaut and Dylan Sikura along with a 2023 2nd round pick. They would just need to figure out their cap situation in order to make this work.

The other captain I expect to see get moved this deadline is newly minted Kraken captain Mark Giordano. The former Norris Trophy winner was selected by Seattle in this year’s expansion draft and named captain not too long after. A bold decision from Kraken organization considering Giordano is 38 and is a pending UFA coming into this season. Much like Giroux, he is a well respected veteran with playoff experience. He has not openly asked for a trade, but GM Rob Francis has said that everybody is on the table for the right price. I'd imagine Gio has a reunion with his former team Calgary Flames, where he spent 15 years of his career. Look for Seattle to ask about high-end prospects such as Jusso Valimaki in this deal in order to build up their prospect pool, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

Overreaction: This is FINALLY the Toronto Maple Leafs year

I can’t have a list like this and not mention Toronto. They’ve been stuck in purgatory the past 4 years, making the playoffs but not out of the first round. Even with a 3-1 series lead, they found a way to blow it. This year, though, things feel different. Leafs fans are confident in Jack Campbell, they just added two great depth pieces from Arizona in Ilya Lubushkin and Ryan Dzingel, and the forward group is firing on all cylinders. There’s one problem that leads to an end to all of this. It’s that at the end of the day, none of your regular season success matters in the playoffs. The top six forward group has consistently crumbled under the pressure of the playoffs, and I don’t expect them to make a run to the cup finals here either. They have the unfortunate honor of having to likely face one of the Florida-based teams, two of the best teams in hockey. Out of any team in the metro and eastern divisions, Florida is probably the worst matchup for them given how high-powered their attack has been all season and getting goaltending they were expecting out of Sergei Bobrovsky since signing him to a seven year contract. Not only do I not see them making a run to the cup finals, the only way they’ll experience a second round matchup in the playoffs this year is buying a ticket to one of the games.

Not an Overreaction: Colorado will break the Presidents Trophy curse and win the Stanley Cup

The Colorado Avalanche are an absolute juggernaut with horrible luck. In 2020, the avalanche looked locked and loaded to make a run at the Cup. Nathan Mackinnon was playing at a Conn Smythe level all postseason. Then injuries struck. Captain Gabriel Landeskog went down with injury along with both goaltenders in Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, leaving the hopes of the team in the hands of journeyman and minor league netminder Michael Hutchinson. They would end up being eliminated in the second round in overtime by the Dallas Stars, who would end up going on to the finals. Last season, Colorado faced another tough second round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights, both of whom finished with a league leading 82 points on the season. Colorado looked unbeatable after the first two games of the series, and outscoring their opponents 30-10 through the first six games of the postseason, they just weren’t able to figure out Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was given game 1 off to rest, and it worked out well in his favor. He went 4-0-1 in the series with a 2.12/.919 slash, making big saves in crucial moments throughout the series. Colorado still looks unbelievable, but this year I think they have a bit of luck on their side. Vegas has goaltending issues at the moment, Colorado is relatively healthy, and likely not going into the deadline quiet. Right now, the Avs have to be your cup front runners.

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