Claude Giroux, Ron Francis, Marc-Andre Fleury

Claude Giroux, Ron Francis, Marc-Andre Fleury

The NHL trade deadline is March 21. That’s a lot of runway for teams to fall out of playoff races, for general managers to lay the groundwork for deals and for rampant media conjecture about who stays and who goes.

Here’s a look at the 10 most fascinating people at the trade deadline, from players to executives. Some have Stanley Cup championships. Some are seeking them. Some have trade protection. Others are probably wishing they did.

Enjoy, and let the speculation begin!

Hey there Ronnie. Good to see you again. Tough season for the Kraken, what with the .370 points percentage and the goaltending what was less “sea monster” and more “see: monstrosity.”

The expansion draft was a rough one, as your peers had clearly smartened up after Vegas fleeced them. Here’s the good news: Even if they figured out how to calmly play the expansion draft game, the trade deadline remains a haven for overcompensation and regrettable decisions.

The Kraken have about a dozen pending free agents, six of them unrestricted. Defenseman Mark Giordano, forwards Calle Jarnkrok, Marcus Johansson and Riley Sheahan … surely you can flip them for something at the deadline, right? Get some of those draft picks that teams refused to give you as protection money last summer? The next phase of Seattle hockey dominance starts next month!

Giroux, 34, is in the last year of his contract with the Flyers and headed to unrestricted free agency this summer. He makes $8.275 million against the cap, which would be a challenge for a team to acquire him, but first thing’s first: He’d have to waive his no-movement clause.

That’s easier said than done for a player who has played for the same team since the 2007-08 season. GM Chuck Fletcher says it’s Giroux’s call. Discussions have occurred between agent Pat Brisson, Giroux and the Flyers about next steps. They’re not sure what they are. I always figured Giroux to be one of those players who wanted to spend his career with one team. Maybe there’s a chance for that. Maybe not.

He has 35 points in 42 games this season, although he has only 12 points in his past 28 playoff games. Giroux could be a last-puzzle-piece guy in somebody’s top six. The NHL All-Star Game was quite an infomercial for him, too. Winning game MVP wasn’t as impressive — and by the way, Tristan Jarry of the Penguins should have won it for actually tending goal well in an All-Star Game — as getting credit for his leadership in the Metro Division’s victory from players like Tom Wilson.

For the record, I asked Giroux whether any of the other All-Stars in Vegas had tried to recruit him for their teams at the trade deadline. The question was met with a brusque “No.” Their loss.

With all due respect to Giroux, if I’m trading for a veteran center who is seeking his first Stanley Cup and could have a transformative impact on my team, I’m trading for Joe Pavelski.

Since 2011-12, Pavelski has the league’s third-highest postseason goal total (41) and the second-highest goals-per-game average (0.40). I think Tyler Seguin had it right during the Stars’ run to the Cup finals in the bubble: “He just knows what to do in big moments, and what to say as well.”

Dallas has a 34.6% chance of making the playoffs, per Money Puck. It’s hard to imagine the Stars trading Pavelski if there’s a reasonable chance they make the cut: This has been the “last ride” season for this roster, as Pavelski and others reach unrestricted free agency. But moving on in the third year of his contract was always a possibility, after Pavelski structured the deal to go from a full no-move to a partial no-trade clause (three-team list) this season.

I think he’s just about perfect for the Colorado Avalanche, a team looking for that secret sauce to get over the hump. But one team I keep thinking about, if it could ever make a salary-retention ($7 million) deal work: The Tampa Bay Lightning, who coveted him as a free agent.

Hertl is another game-changing center whose cap hit ($5.625 million) is significantly less than that of Giroux or Pavelski. He has 38 points in 46 games and is the human embodiment of joy. The Sharks have hung around the Pacific Division playoff race, but their playoff probability has dipped to under 11%. For Hertl and the Sharks, it’s less about this season’s playoff probability and more about the next four to five years.

They’re not going to rebuild. I fully expect they’re going to make a push to extend Hertl. If he commits, they’ve got a 28-year-old center who can play an integral role in whatever it is GM Doug Wilson does to push this franchise forward. If he wants out, teams like the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers should line up to bring him aboard.

The general consensus in Las Vegas among Western Conference observers: The Avalanche are on another level, as long as their goaltending comes through in the playoffs; the Vegas Golden Knights are right there with them if Jack Eichel gets up to speed by the playoffs; and the Blues are the team that could be either’s Stanley Cup party pooper.

The emergence of four players this season have the Blues rolling: forwards Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich, who have super-charged the offense; and goalie Ville Husso, who has given them proper Jordan Binnington insurance for the first time since Jake Allen left. They’ve got a shot, so it’ll be interesting to see what Armstrong opts to do at the deadline.

You’ll notice we didn’t list a defenseman in the previous paragraph. That’s because if the Blues can make a move under a tight salary cap, it has to be for blue-line help.

One player I don’t expect to move: Vladimir Tarasenko, who had been included on some “trade boards” in the past few weeks. If that trade demand is revisited, I don’t think it’ll be until after the season — when his stock will have risen significantly.

When Holland spoke last month about the state of the Oilers, he indicated that their first-round pick and top prospects might be off the table. It’s hard to blame Holland for holding on to his assets, given what we’ve seen from this team in the regular season. Everyone expects him to trade for a goalie, and perhaps more, because this team simply can’t miss the playoffs.

On the other hand, there’s a less than 50% chance they make the cut. Do Holland and the Oilers begin to — gulp — offload in preparation for offseason changes?

Gorton was hired in late November 2021. He has hired agent Kent Hughes as his general manager and pee-wee coach Marty St. Louis — that’s a reference solely to his coaching history, for the record — as his interim bench boss. He’s clearly attempting to do things a little differently, and we assume that includes evaluating a roster in the midst of an epic flop (.256 points percentage) in Montreal.

Gorton didn’t acquire any of these players. There’s no loyalty here. Every option should be on the table for him, and there’s a lot of value to be had here. Tyler Toffoli, at $4.25 million through 2023-24. Ben Chiarot, at $3.5 million through this season. Joel Armia? Brendan Gallagher?

Gorton’s quick-turn rebuilding of the New York Rangers wasn’t just draft lottery luck and the Artemi Panarin signing. It was also turning significant veterans — Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Hayes — into significant trade returns. He can do the same here, if he chooses.

I’m still not convinced that Fleury wants to move to a third team in two seasons, given the impact the move from Vegas to Chicago already had on his family. But I also can’t ignore the totality of the hockey world trying to will Fleury-to-the-Capitals into existence, for the perfection of the fit and for the high school drama it would manufacture when Washington faces the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. And then the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup, naturally.

It feels like we’ve been having the same discussions about the Ducks at every trade deadline. Is this the season that forward Rickard Rakell gets traded? What about defenseman Josh Manson? Will the Ducks sign or trade defenseman Hampus Lindholm?

There’s a bit more urgency in these discussions now that all three are unrestricted free agents in the summer, and now that Bob Murray has given way to Verbeek as general manager.

With Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale and Mason McTavish as the next core, the future of the Ducks is as bright as the SoCal sunshine. It’s Verbeek’s task to figure out which veterans are a part of it and which ones must depart. Like I said, it feels like we’ve been having this discussion for years.

All due respect to Jakob Chychrun, but Kessel is the only Coyotes player over whom I’m obsessed in regard to his next destination. Phil has five goals and 24 assists in 46 games. He’s not the goal-scorer he once was, but he’s still Phil Kessel, darn it. And as President Obama once said: “Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion.” We’d love to see him get a shot at being one again, before hitting free agency this summer.

Kessel to the Leafs. Obviously, the only way to plan the parade is to complete the circle.

Jersey foul of the week

From the Rocky Mountains:

This Gabriel Landeskog Foul is incredible. From the hyper-masculine spelling to the cut-off sleeves, it looks like he’s about to lift up that counter and pour the beverages directly into his mouth. To quote Drax The Destroyer: “He’s not a dude. You’re a dude. This is a man.”

Three hidden NHL All-Star MVPS

1. The stuffed tiger

It’s not so much that the NHL got Derek Carr and Hunter Renfrow to participate in its “The Hangover”-inspired Breakaway Challenge spoof with Alex DeBrincat, or that they hired a Mike Tyson impersonator to join them. It’s that they have “Iron Mike” bringing along a stuffed tiger on a leash, and then dragging it lifelessly across the ice.

2. Rod Brind’Amour

There was some debate whether Claude Giroux or Rod Brind’Amour was more responsible for the Metro Division finding the secret to All-Star Game success, which is actually caring about winning. Evgeny Kuznetsov put the respect on Rod: “He’s actually the guy that got us going. I like that type of style.”

Listening to Rod after the game was listening to a guy who took it all seriously, but also not at all. Case in point, when he was asked about whether this was a statement win for his division. “I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I think we all know we have a good division,” he said.

Brind’Amour was told it was the third time in six years, under the 3-on-3 format, that the Metro won the All-Star Game.

“Well, I would never have guessed that. That’s a crap shoot in my opinion,” he responded.

3. The Bellagio fountains

The pre-taped skills competition events worked for the most part. They were interesting in concept, pretty good in execution. I might go in a different commentary direction next time.

But the NHL All-Star Game is all about spectacle and moments, and Roman Josi and Zach Werenski battling in an accuracy shooting competition while the Bellagio fountains were shooting in the air and spraying them with water in near-freezing desert temperatures was both. Bring on South Florida in 2023 and NHL beach events!

Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Denmark

Denmark had never made the Olympic hockey tournament. Not the men, not the women. They both won for the first time in the Winter Games this week, and both against Czechia, no less! Congrats to the Danes. And congrats specifically to Frans Nielsen for scoring a game-winning goal with that unstoppable backhand/top-shelf shootout move, which was like an Easter egg for NHL fans watching the game.

Loser: Women’s hockey critics

Every four years, some columnist thinks she or he is being edgy by writing a piece about Canada, the U.S. and how their domination of women’s hockey means the sport should be removed from the Winter Olympics. And every four years, I’m left wondering how anyone could:

  • Find a reason not to enjoy the best rivalry in hockey.

  • Treat the gold medal like the tournament is “Stanley Cup or bust,” which completely misses the point of the Olympics.

  • Fail to mention that six different nations have played for bronze since 1998.

And I also wonder whether they reserve the same kind of competitive concerns for Olympic table tennis, where China has won 32 out of a possible 37 gold medals.

Winner: Martin St. Louis

It’s not every day you see a coach make the leap from the Mid-Fairfield Rangers under-13 team to become the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. But this is a great spot for St. Louis. Hughes and Gorton are both fans. The bar he has to clear is basically a broom stick lying on the floor. At worst, he gets valuable experience for the rest of the season running an NHL bench. At best, the Canadiens find themselves the next Brind’Amour.

Loser: Myopia

The Chicago Blackhawks promised boldness and adventurous thinking in their general manager search. Apparently that meant interviewing a white male from Major League Baseball, and interviewing four white males from the NHL. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks hired their second female assistant general manager, as Cammi Granato joins Emilie Castonguay.

Winner: Tuukka Rask

The Boston Bruins goalie returned from surgery as “Tuukka Rask in name only” and made the correct decision to retire this week. “My body is not responding the way it needs to for me to play at the level I expect of myself and my teammates, and Bruins fans deserve better,” he said.

I hope that, in time, those critics in Boston that made Rask a scapegoat or never gave him the same level of affection that Tim Thomas earned come to understand what a special goaltender he was. I think they will. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Loser: Brad Marchand

When Marchand was suspended for slew-footing Oliver Ekman-Larsson earlier this season, he said, “I have tried extremely hard over the last four years to get away from the reputation I’ve had. I think I’ve done an extremely good job with that. I know early I crossed over the line a lot of times and it’s unfortunate that that continues to haunt me.” Just over two months later, he was given his eighth career suspension, this time for punching a goalie in the head. Boo.

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Author: Shirley