The NHL trade market is getting muddy as teams need immediate help, but quarantine rules stand in the way. Would a Jake Virtanen for Jake DeBrusk trade make sense for the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, or is there a Virtanen sweepstakes in the East Division being held up by the Pittsburgh Penguins GM search?
Teams watched the fallout from the Patrik Laine-Pierre-Luc Dubois trade. The quarantine period for both players surely affected the NHL trade market and how teams proceed. Teams can’t get immediate help.
What should we make of the rapid COVID outbreaks around the NHL? Is there a snowballs’ chance the league could return to Hub cities?
More on that in the latest ‘Off The Record’:
1. Virtanen Sweepstakes In East Division?
On Saturday night, Sportsnet Insider Chris Johnston reported on ‘Saturday Headlines’ that the Canucks are exploring trade options to move forward Jake Virtanen. The Canucks winger, taken sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, who has been a healthy scratch more than once this season, is in the first season of a two-year contract that carries a $2.5 million cap hit.
Virtanen, 24, has one assist in 11 games this season and just 96 points (51g, 45a) in 290 career games. He is a reclamation project several teams are watching.
Back in September, a source told Boston Hockey Now that the Boston Bruins had trade talks with the Canucks regarding the 24-year-old Virtanen.
After some phone calls to three NHL insiders this weekend, it appears there is still a market for Virtanen. According to one source, the Bruins are again interested, as well as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils. One source wondered whether a Jake for Jake trade with the Canucks and Bruins would see Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk headed northwest to Vancouver and Virtanen to Beantown?
It sounds like the Penguins’ unsettled GM situation is also creating a holdup on the NHL trade market.
Off the record: “All those teams liked him heading into the draft, and they’re in again if there’s a fit, but the only difference is that the Penguins GM situation affects what they do,” one of the NHL sources told OTR. “I’ve heard Jake DeBrusk is available. Similar players. Maybe a change of scenery works for both? I’m also hearing Jeff Skinner is out there if you want him, so maybe the Sabres are a match?
Of course, Skinner’s contract is almost a Roberto Luongo-type albatross. The 28-year-old Skinner has six years remaining with a $9 million AAV cap hit.
2. Did The Dubois-Laine Trade Scare Teams?
Even if those teams are interested in making a trade for Virtanen, can and will they?
By all accounts, the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames have a mutual interest to make a Tony DeAngelo for Sam Bennett trade. In normal times, such a trade would be difficult. These abnormal times and quarantines are making matters worse. As the Winnipeg Jets just found out, when acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Columbus Blue Jackets, sometimes trading for players playing in the States during a pandemic is like ordering something on Amazon during the pandemic: Delayed.
Besides international quarantine, even teams based below the border seem to be a bit gun shy to pull the trigger on deals right now.
Off the record: “I can tell you right now that there is lots of trade chatter, but whether it’s dealing with teams in Canada or cap reasons – we’re all still trying to master the Taxi Squad – everything is up in the air right now,” an NHL source told OTR Saturday. “I figured DeAngelo and (Bennett) pretty much being a pain in the ass was the issue (with) trying to move him, but hey teams need offense from D, and now it seems it’s more we’re all trying to learn the new trade market on the fly.”
3. There’s Still a File for Hub Cities And Outdoor Hockey
The 2021 NHL regular season is scheduled to end on May 8, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs kicking off three days later. The last possible date for the Stanley Cup to be raised is currently set to be July 15. The New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, and Colorado Avalanche are all in shutdown mode, Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger just tested positive for COVID and is in quarantine, and on Saturday, the NHL announced that 26 more games had been rescheduled.
At this rate, it’s becoming hard to imagine that the NHL is going to meet their deadlines. The league has changed its COVID Protocol twice in the last three days, and players have begun to gripe about the ever-changing rules to prevent another outbreak. Notably, there was considerable grousing about the limitations on when players could arrive at the arena before games. The new limit is 105 minutes before game time.
In light of the changes and recent outbreaks, numerous sources told ‘Off The Record’ that every option to salvage a 56-game season for every team is on the table.
While not yet at the point of serious consideration, one of those options is the return of NHL bubbles in designated hub cities for each division.
We believe that players would shut down the season before they bubbled again. Perhaps for the playoffs if too many U.S. states continue to be slower than molasses with their vaccine rollouts. Connecticut and West Virginia are the models, but hockey states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts continue to lag. PA and MA are ranked 43rd and 48th, respectively, in the percentage of vaccines distributed.
Off the record: “I know that’s not out of the question if it gets to the point where we conclude that the traveling and the basically the poker game we’re playing when we go to different cities in the states is becoming a major issue,” one NHL management source told ‘Off The Record’ Friday. “This is going to be hard to convince the NHLPA to sign off on, but I know there are potential hub cities still being considered if it got to that.”
Off the Record: Speculation Ties Pens to Gibson; Vancouver Mess | VHN+
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ new management team will be in place soon. With new GM Ron Hextall, Brian Burke will assume the role of President of Hockey Operations as he arrives in town on Sunday. Hockey insiders are already pontificating about the first big Hextall and Burke move on the NHL trade market. Some, including a source close to the Penguins, are already speculating about John Gibson, a native Pittsburgh son, who is in a sinking situation in Burke’s old stomping grounds, Anaheim.
Also, in Off the Record, did the Vancouver Canucks owner try to put out a fire that he started? And, are the Blackhawks still all-in on the rebuild they warned fans about, or are they suddenly seeing visions of playoffs dance through their heads?
More on that in the latest ‘Off The Record’:
Off The Record: Warning Signs in Calgary and Philly | VHN+
St. Louis Blues defenseman Vince Dunn is once again the subject of NHL Trade rumors. Not only the Pittsburgh Penguins are or were interested, but other teams are also circling the talented blueliner. Are the Boston Bruins interested again? Eyebrows were raised by a Philadelphia Flyers surprise scratch, which served to put the team on notice, but it also could mean bigger things down the road in Philadelphia.
The Calgary Flames snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday night, but they’re not safe yet. Sources tell OTR that a shakeup in Calgary is possible if conditions deteriorate further. And if a Calgary shakeup is necessary, big names will be on the NHL trade block.
More on that in the latest ‘Off The Record’:
GOLDEN GRADES: Vegas marks well in 1-0 win against Coyotes
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer has talked about how, sometimes, you need ugly wins to measure the mark of your team.
That stands true in a 1-0 game. William Karlsson scored with 42.7 seconds left to give Vegas a victory against the Arizona Coyotes, its fifth in six games to start the season.
Let’s hand out some grades for this weird game.
After scoring nine goals through two games at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights ran into a settled Darcy Kuemper in his home barn. Vegas had 18 shots through two periods, but credit the Coyotes for keeping the bulk of those attempts to the outside.
While understanding the clamoring for Cody Glass to be a mainstay in the lineup, the Golden Knights might have something with this third line of Alex Tuch, Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar. The trio combined for 11 shots and only allowed two. Kolesar doesn’t move the needle from a name factor, but when he’s been on that line, 55 has stood out.
Vegas got going in the third period and peppered Kuemper up close. The Knights had a couple of chances in the third from the Roy line — one in particular where Roy’s deflection from Nicolas Hague went wide of the net at 5:25 of the third — but finally cashed in on Karlsson’s winning goal.
Even if it might’ve, could’ve, possibly been icing, but that’s another discussion for another day.
It was a night-and-day effort from the Golden Knights defensively after allowing five goals on Friday.
The first period alone was worthy of a gold star, allowing four shots on goal while blocking four.
That’s one of the signs of how well the Golden Knights have adjusted. Think back to the season opener against Anaheim; they allowed the two first-period goals and held the Ducks scoreless the rest of the way.
Giving up those two goals by Max Comtois kickstarted a 220-minute stretch of only five goals allowed. The adjustments DeBoer and his staff have made on the fly in a short amount of time is to be commended.
All three pairs played well, but notably the third of Zach Whitecloud (15:18 TOI) and Hague (15:09). The two young blueliners not only played well in their own zone, but got into the rush aplenty and made some plays. Those two turning in a complete 200-foot effort on a nightly basis will round out this defense core more than we initially thought.
Not going to slight Marc-Andre Fleury for only seeing 16 shots. He came up big when needed, and has been stellar (3-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .951 save percentage).
It was the 62nd shutout of Fleury’s career. His 469th win puts him 15 behind Ed Belfour for fourth place all-time, and he’s going to make a serious charge for that should he continue this pace.
Fleury didn’t see a lot of dangerous chances until the second half of the game. Then came his former buddy Phil Kessel walking in on him at 3:06 of the third.
It’s a small sample size and the quality of competition hasn’t given us a clear indication yet, but committing $12 million to a goaltending duo has proven to be a worthwhile investment for the Golden Knights in their 5-1-0 start.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
The penalty kill continues to be the Golden Knights’ biggest strength, allowing one shot on two Arizona power plays. For that alone, this would be a high mark. Vegas now has the ninth best PK unit in the league (85 percent). The power play, however, continues to be an anomaly. Yes, Arizona’s PK is always top notch. To be 2-for-20 on the season, however, is a headscratcher.
Fortunately the Golden Knights will face a horrid St. Louis Blues PK unit on Tuesday, the fifth worst team in the league shorthanded (65.4 percent). If that doesn’t produce some power-play goals, there might need to be a come-to-Jesus meeting.
Nevertheless, the Golden Knights got the job done and took three of four against the Coyotes. These teams will not meet again until April 9. May we all be blessed for that.
Danny Webster is the newest columnist and reporter for Vegas Hockey Now. He is the Golden Knights beat writer for NHL dot com and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch him on Twitter @DannyWebster21