1. Washington Capitals: 75 Points (34-19-7)
The Washington Capitals have been the most active team in the division ahead of the deadline. On Monday, the Caps traded a 2018 conditional third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Michal Kempny. Yesterday, they also made a deal to trade a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Jakub Jerabek. These moves leave the Caps with $693,000 in salary cap space, just above the veteran minimum of $650,000.
#Caps head coach Barry Trotz talks to the media after a 4-2 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning. #CapsBolts #ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/jdJM52RKCU— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 21, 2018
These moves are a little confusing to me. I know that Washington is trying to limit the minutes of Brooks Orpik, but neither defenseman makes the Caps a better team or improves their chances to win the Cup. They also now have eight defensemen and a lot less in cap space. I would have thought set up moves were to clear cap space, but so far they have done the exact opposite.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 74 Points (35-22-4)
The Penguins are surging and they seem to have figured out the issues that were plaguing them earlier in the season. The Pens are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and they have not shown a ton of weakness. Since the start of the year, the Penguins are sixth-best in goals against, combined with 84 goals scored, six more than the second place team with three fewer games played.
The Penguins are still potentially looking to make a move at the deadline, but I don’t think they will be desperate. They don’t need an upgrade at center, but they want one. Jim Rutherford can shop for a player, but they have also earned the right to hang onto their assets and not overpay for a marginal upgrade. (But the best part will be the Penguins fans’ reactions to them not making a move. You will think the world is ending.)
3. Philadelphia Flyers: 72 Points (31-19-10)
The Flyers have also kicked things off early, making what is probably the smartest move heading into the trade deadline. With their top two goalies injured, they pulled the trigger and sent a 2018 conditional fourth-round pick and a 2019 third-round conditional pick to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek with 50% salary retained by the Wings. The Flyers were able to give relatively low-grade assets to acquire a goalie that should keep them in the playoff hunt while Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott are out on IR.
Updates on...— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) February 21, 2018
☑️ Mrazek settling in
☑️ Wednesday practicehttps://t.co/EDj38V8pDq
Mrazek has yet to start a game, but is likely to get his first chance tonight at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite all of their goaltending health problems, the Flyers are still one of the hottest teams in the league. They are currently on a three-game win streak and have points in nine of their last ten games. They have fought through adversity and come out ahead, while the teams below them have struggled mightily when they have had the chance to grasp a playoff position.
4. New Jersey Devils: 70 Points (31-21-8)
Cory Schneider has returned to practice for the first time since January 23rd and is likely to return to the line up next week. Keith Kinkaid has filled in well with a .903 sv% and six wins in 10 games, allowing the Devils to put some space between them and the second wild card team (who it is changes by the day). Just going into last week they had a single point advantage over the Canes, but two wins have put five points between them and the second wild-card position.
The Devils will be very excited to have Schneider return to the lineup for the playoff stretch. Sitting just two points behind the Flyers for the third place position in the Metro, and with the Flyers having to trade for another goalie to stay afloat, the Devils with Taylor Hall and Schneider could very easily overtake them in the standings.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 65 Points (30-25-5)
Today in Columbus injury news: they have sent three players to IR in just the past week. In this edition, defensemen Dean Kukan, Markus Nutivaara, and captain Nick Foligno between just Sunday and Monday. To cover for these injuries, the Blue Jackets claimed Taylor Chorney off of waivers from the Capitals and recalled Nathan Gerbe from the minors.
The Blue Jackets have really been struggling as of late. They are just 2-6-1 since the break, mainly due to a lack of scoring. They are 28th in the league in scoring, dead last on the power play, and 27th on the penalty kill. With defenseman Jack Johnson having demanded a trade, the defense doesn’t look to be improving. Columbus is going to be very interesting heading into the deadline due to that trade request and being so close to the playoff bubble.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 64 Points (27-23-10)
The Hurricanes have continued to have extremely streaky and shaky play when they have had the chance to take a firm grasp on a playoff position. The grand strategy for the Canes of calling up different young AHL players hasn’t produced the desired results or the consistency that they need.
Bill Peters was asked about the trade deadline following today's practice. https://t.co/V82GSEUbmm— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) February 21, 2018
Though logically the Canes probably shouldn’t sell the farm to get a player at the deadline, this team deserves a chance at the playoffs. I would like to see Ron Francis pull the trigger to bring in someone to bring more scoring and energy to the locker room. It will be a boost to the players and a boost to the fan base who both want to be excited and confident for a playoff run. But again, it's also important to point out that the Canes currently have 49 out of 50 allowable contracts in their system.
They need to make moves to shore up the AHL log jam so prospects can get defined roles and ice time at that level. I think the best way to do it would be to trade a first-round pick this year, a starter from the current roster, and a prospect or two to acquire a player or two at the deadline. That would solve the issue of the contract limit and it could be a great way to improve the current team.
7. New York Islanders: 64 Points (29-26-6)
The latest addition to the Islanders IR is goaltender Thomas Greiss which brings the total up to five players. Greiss was injured in last Friday’s game against the Hurricanes but was able to finish the game despite appearing to injure his leg against the post. This is the worst case scenario for the Isles, who have been struggling to have one of their goalies step up and take over. Greiss had done so with a shutout against the Canes just three games after posting a 52-save win against the Canadiens.
The Isles have called up Christopher Gibson as his replacement. Jaroslav Halak will be starting between the pipes until Griess returns. There was speculation that the Isles could make a trade to acquire a goaltender, much in the same fashion as the Flyers did to cover up their weakness, but now there are limited options out there. They could still make a deal for Robin Lehner with the Buffalo Sabres or Mike Condon from the Ottawa Senators.
8. New York Rangers: 59 Points (27-28-8)
It’s funny to think that the Rangers are going full sell when they are just six points out of the playoffs, but when you actually look at the season, it's impressive just how bad they have been recently. Remember at the beginning of the season they were near the top in the standings? Since 2018 started, they have a record of just 7-15-0, with only two wins in the month of February. The sell has officially begun for the Rangers. They jumped into the trade deadline when they traded Nick Holden to the Boston Bruins for a 2018 third-round pick and Rob O’Gara on Tuesday.
OFFICIAL: #NYR have acquired defenseman Rob O’Gara and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft from the Boston Bruins in exchange for Nick Holden. pic.twitter.com/cjihKfrXUq— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 20, 2018
This move was smart for both teams. The Bruins were able to acquire a low salary defenseman that can be plugged in immediately without parting with a high pick. The Rangers were able to get a prospect that was ranked between ninth and twelfth in the organization depending on the rankings. The Rangers are serious about dealing anyone and everyone, even the players that aren’t going to fetch huge returns like Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash.