The rise of the Florida Panthers has served as a near polar opposite to the not-so-epic demise of the Carolina Hurricanes as of late. Will their blend of young and old make them a tough out if they do finish in the East’s top eight?
In the West, the Los Angeles Kings’ playoff push might be aided by the return of Jonathan Quick in the first half of March.
Here’s your NHL news and notes.
Here Come the Panthers
I present to you the hottest team in the National Hockey League, the Florida Panthers.
They’re 8-1-1 over their last ten games and just went undefeated in a five-game Western Conference road trip.
The return of Aleksander Barkov in early February has only helped things. Florida’s first-line center has found the scoresheet in five of seven games since his return from injury and had six points on the road trip.
Quietly, Vincent Trocheck has been one of the hottest players across the league. He is riding a six-game point streak (two goals, six assists) and is logging big ice time up front for the Panthers. The mix of young and old is certainly there with Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo serving as the veteran anchors on an otherwise youthful team.
Florida is making a strong push and interim head coach Tom Rowe is getting the most out of his lineup from top to bottom. They also have games in hand on all the teams that are chasing them for the final spot in the East.
With seven of their next eight games coming on home ice, they have a real chance to run away and distance themselves from the bottom half of the conference.
A Quicker Return than Expected
Jonathan Quick’s season-opening groin injury was expected by some to end the Olympian’s season, but he’s made a lot of progress since October.
The Kings hope that Quick can return in the first half of March. He’s skating regularly and Darryl Sutter is nearing the point where he feels comfortable putting him in simulated games.
"We're going to do it day by day in simulated games and see exactly where he's at, and then I'll say, 'this is the game you're playing,' and that's what we'll do," Sutter said. "In terms of deadlines or any of that other stuff, that doesn't involve him and I at all. That's how we deal with that."
Peter Budaj has served as L.A.’s starting goalie, starting 11 consecutive games and performing very well. He’s 26-19-3 on the year with a .916 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average. His seven shutouts is tied for first in the league with likely Vezina candidate Braden Holtby.
The Kings are just two points out of eighth in the West, but they do have games in hand. The Winnipeg Jets are also hot on their trail.
The Trade Deadline
We are now under a week away from the March 1 trade deadline, and with the salary cap being what it is and the approaching expansion draft, it might be a quiet week in terms of blockbuster trades.
Cup contenders will be searching for depth, including the Pittsburgh Penguins. General manager Jim Rutherford has said that he’ll be looking to add potentially multiple defensemen at the deadline. If Carolina continues to fall out of the playoff hunt, maybe Ron Hainsey could be a fit there.
The long-awaited blockbuster trade out of Colorado may have to wait until the offseason. It doesn’t look like any team is willing to bite on the high asking prices of Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, which would suggest that maybe the offseason will be a better time as teams have more time to think about what they’re willing to do in terms of moving assets and moving around cap room. Bu who knows, maybe as the deadline approaches teams like Montreal or even Pittsburgh will feel the pressure to add that one extra star player for a playoff run. Neither Duchene or Landeskog are rentals.
Other big names that remain in trade rumors include St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Arizona’s Martin Hanzal, Dallas’ Patrick Eaves and Detroit’s Thomas Vanek.
The trade deadline is always interesting, but additions of tight cap restraints for a vast majority of the league and the expansion draft add some more obstacles.