Weekend NHL rankings: Who won the Matthew Tkachuk trade? Plus a new No. 1
The NHL served up a packed schedule on Saturday, but the most irresistible game was one that fans had circled since the summer: the meeting between the Flames and Panthers. It was the first time the two teams had crossed paths since the jaw-dropping July blockbuster that sent Matthew Tkachuk to Florida in exchange for a package that included Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, a prospect and a first-round pick.
It was a fascinating trade when it went down, arguably the single biggest blockbuster of the cap era, and it remains so today. Julian McKenzie had the definitive story of how it all came together, which you should absolutely take time to read if only for the image of an exhausted Brad Treliving sitting alone in his office with a beer after it was all over.
So who won the trade? That’s the argument we’ll be having for a good chunk of the next decade because it’s what fans do whether Darryl Sutter likes it or not.
— Julian McKenzie (@jkamckenzie) November 20, 2022
The two teams didn’t help us much on Saturday, playing to a 4-4 tie before the Flames won the coin flip in the shootout. But now that we’ve seen the two teams in action against each other, let’s see if we can organize the arguments on either side of the deal in this week’s bonus top five.
Top five takes on who won the Matthew Tkachuk blockbuster
5. The Panthers won because they got the best player — Put it this way, there’s a reason we’re referring to this deal as “the Matthew Tkachuk trade,” and not “the Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and futures trade.” We’ve all heard the old cliché about how the team that gets the best player wins the trade, and that’s Tkachuk. He’s having a great first season in Florida, racking up well over a point per game, while Huberdeau has been less productive. Tkachuk is also younger, and somehow he’s even cheaper. Clear win for Florida.
4. The Flames won because they got four good-to-great assets for one that didn’t want to be there — Be honest, when you first heard what the Flames were getting in the Tkachuk trade, you thought it was a hoax. Surely somebody had retweeted one of those imposter accounts. After all, the rumored returns had been nowhere near that good. But somehow, Treliving had managed to get something close to fair value in what should have been an impossible situation, if not more. When you’re supposed to lose big and you don’t, that’s a win.
3. Neither team won because look at the standings — Part of what made the trade so fascinating was that both teams were legitimate Cup contenders. This wasn’t the typical modern blockbuster where one team is trying to get better and one is worried about the future. Both of these teams were trying to take the next step. But so far, neither has — the Flames are still recovering from a seven-game losing streak, while the Panthers have gone from Presidents’ Trophy winner to barely .500. Sometimes a trade isn’t just about the players involved, but how the move affects the entire roster. In this case, the returns aren’t good for either team.
2. Nobody won, at least not yet, because it’s been a month and it’s way too early for this kind of ridiculous click-bait premise, you hack — Shut up, nobody likes you.
1. We all won because huge trades are incredibly fun — Yes, there were some odd circumstances, including Johnny Gaudreau leaving and Tkachuk wanting out. Those weren’t very pleasant for Flames fans, to say the least. But stuff happens, and usually in today’s NHL when stuff happens, GMs start making excuses. We’ve seen it. We’ve also seen very good teams get comfortable and insist on staying the course. But the 120-point Panthers and the woe-is-us Flames didn’t choose their comfort zones. They went big, and whether it works or not, it gave fans around the league something to chew on. It was pretty great at the time, it still is to this day, and here’s hoping that it ultimately works out great for everyone so that more GMs will consider following suit.
By the way, the two teams are set for a rematch next week in Calgary, which will give Flames fans a chance to welcome Tkachuk back in person. I’m sure it will be a heartwarming moment.
On to this week’s rankings, as we see whether I’m still being stubborn on the Devils …
Road to the Cup
The five teams with the best chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
If you missed it last week, check out this piece by Fluto Shinzawa on the death of the slap shot. Really interesting stuff on an under-the-radar trend worth knowing about.
5. New Jersey Devils (15-3-0, +26 true goals differential*) — Yeah, I can’t keep them out. They’ve rolled off a dozen straight wins and counting, and they’re earning every one of them. They’ve got the Oilers tonight, which is a sneaky-great matchup. Connor McDavid against a team that’s playing like it’s 20 McDavids, who you got?
If there’s any objection here, I’m guessing it’s that you think they need to be higher. Friday’s rankings sure do, as they had the Devils in the top spot on Friday. Again, they’re different rankings with different goals, as we’re trying to predict the Cup favorite here and I can’t see a case that the Devils top that list yet. But they’re also not some fake success story riding percentages and bounces to a winning streak. They’re dominating right now.
Next up: I try to talk myself into the Stars, as I continue my slow-but-sure journey to realizing that this whole season is just a reboot of 1999-2000.
4. Carolina Hurricanes (10-5-3, +3) — They’ve lost three of four, two of which came against the Avalanche. Their last two losses have come with loser points, so there’s no panic here, but they do seem to be drifting down the rankings. In case you’re wondering, they haven’t faced the Devils yet and they won’t until late December, at which point they get them three times in three weeks. Until then, I still have them slightly ahead of New Jersey, even if the standings don’t.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (14-4-1, +21) — Saturday’s overtime loss in Edmonton feels like a missed opportunity. With both Alberta teams looking inconsistent, the Knights have an early chance to pull away in the Pacific Division. Instead, they got to enjoy Mark Stone’s penalty shot moves before watching McDavid go all McDavid on them in OT.
2. Colorado Avalanche (10-5-1, +17) — I’ve stuck with the Avalanche as my top pick all year, even when their record didn’t agree. I’d argue that I’ve been proven right. They had another good week, with an overtime win over the Hurricanes and a shutout of the Capitals in which Nathan MacKinnon did this:
And yet, I’m dropping them down to the two-spot for the first time this season. And it’s not so much that they’ve lost the top spot so much as another team took it from them.
1. Boston Bruins (16-2-0, +37) — They’ve earned it. They’ve won six straight and 13 of 14. And while a win is a win, this isn’t one of those streaks where they’re just barely finding a way to bank two points each night. They’re dominating teams, outscoring their opponents 24-7 during the win streak. They’re healthy, they’re getting Vezina-worthy goaltending from Linus Ullmark, and they lead the league in goals scored. They can’t continue on this pace, because they’re not the greatest team in the history of the NHL, but for now, we don’t have to overthink it.
The next two weeks are a tough test, with Tampa twice, Colorado twice, plus Florida, Carolina and Vegas in their next seven. Maybe that brings them back to earth. But until then, I can’t hold out on them any longer.
*Goals differential without counting shootout decisions like the NHL does for some reason.
Not ranked: Washington Capitals — To answer the obvious question, I’m putting the Capitals in the top five section mainly out of force of habit. I’ve been doing some version of this column for years now, and I can’t remember the last time the Capitals made even a cursory appearance in the bottom five section. It’s possible that it’s never happened. But let’s just say it: Right now, the Capitals are a bad team that’s getting worse.
They’ve lost four straight, including Saturday’s shutout to the Avalanche, and nine of 11. That’s dropped them under .500 in a league that’s designed to make it just about impossible for a decent team to be under. 500, so you do the math. And did we mention that the roster is old, nearly capped out, and made the sort of big offseason UFA signing that teams typically only chase when they think they’re still contenders? There’s not much good news here.
So what went wrong? Injuries are the first excuse, and unlike most teams that break it out, it probably makes sense here. Nicklas Backstrom hasn’t played, and while he’s been skating, there’s no guarantee he’ll be back at all this season. Tom Wilson is also out, although he should return at some point soon. T.J. Oshie has missed a month, John Carlson missed time, and Connor Brown might be done for the year. Every team has to deal with guys missing time, but the Caps’ list is significant.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) November 19, 2022
Still, you have to play the hand you’re dealt, and right now the Capitals aren’t playing it very well. That’s led to some speculation about Peter Laviolette’s job security, and you could see a move there. If you wanted optimism, you could mention that Darcy Kuemper hasn’t been the problem even though he hasn’t exactly been fantastic, Dylan Strome has fit in fine, and Alexander Ovechkin is still chugging along at 37. The underlying numbers are middling, but they’re not awful in the way that would suggest that this thing is completely coming undone, and they’ve been trending up lately. There’s reason to believe this team won’t be bad all year, especially once they start getting healthy.
Is that a good thing? For an old team in a year with a loaded draft, maybe not. But right now, this team looks like they could miss the playoffs, something they’ve done just once in the last 15 seasons. All that success can catch up with a contender, and sometimes the window just slams shut. That might be happening here, although I’m not willing to call it just yet. But next time we mention these guys, it might have to be one section down.
The bottom five
The five teams that are headed toward dead last, and the best lottery odds for Connor Bedard.
If you missed it last week, be sure to check out my first edition of the Tank Index, in which I rank each bad team based on their ability to intentionally crash and burn for lottery odds, if that was the sort of things that teams do and not just a creation of the media.
It’s not the same thing as the bottom five, since we’re dealing in far more speculation and hypotheticals, but there’s definitely some overlap. If you’re a fan of a team that tends to show up in this section, you’ll want to keep on eye on the Tank Index as the season goes on.
5. Vancouver Canucks (6-9-3, -10) — Two straight wins probably saved Bruce Boudreau’s job, at least for now. Could they be the start of a streak that saves the season? (Checks upcoming schedule and sees Vegas, Colorado and Vegas again.) Oof. Well, let’s look on the bright side: If they can pull four or five points out of that stretch, it will be hard to write them off.
Also, this was weird, right?
I kind of love the idea of the NHL having a 15-game night, instead of just doing the full 16.
They’re like “Hey we’re having a huge party, everyone is invited, it will be so fun” and then they turn to Arizona and Vancouver and go “not you though”.
— Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) November 19, 2022
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (7-10-1, -23) — They’d strung together points in four straight before a blowout loss to the Wings. To their credit, they responded well, picking up a win over the Panthers last night.
By the way, Johnny Gaudreau says he has no regrets about his free agency choice, and it’s funny to think about what the reaction would be like if he said otherwise. “Yeah man, terrible call by me, have you seen how good the Devils are? Not sure what to tell you, I messed up.”
2. Anaheim Ducks (5-12-1, -31) — They’ve yet to win a game in regulation, which is absolutely wild. It’s also getting close to an NHL record, one set by the Coyotes a few years ago. Hey, speaking of those guys…
1. Arizona Coyotes (6-9-1, -17) — Well look who’s back. Last week, I dropped the Coyotes out of the one-spot, and also ranked them just third in the tank index. They apparently took that personally, because they’ve lost three straight in regulation and are solidly back in the mix for dead last. Did we mention that they’re six games into a 14-game road trip? This is starting to feel inevitable again.
Not ranked: Buffalo Sabres — I hate this. And yeah, they should probably just be in the bottom five. They almost certainly will be next week. I just don’t have it in me to do it to Buffalo fans right now, because they don’t deserve to see this all play out again. And yet.
Let’s get caught up. The Sabres started the year 7-3-0 through their first ten, which did two things. First, it made them the feel-good story of the first month, and second, it led to everyone making ominous references to all the other times the Sabres have started strong and then fallen apart. Hey, guess what happened next? Yep… eight straight losses, all in regulation, all but one of them by multiple goals.
And so here we are, with another season close to being basically over before the end of November. Matthew Fairburn gets into some of the (many) problems here, including Don Granato’s diagnosis that they’re just not trying hard enough. Maybe that’s part of it, but this is also a team that just isn’t good enough yet. A lot has gone right so far, including big years from Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin and a solid-enough one from Craig Anderson, but it’s been nowhere near enough.
Sorry Sabres fans. I know you were getting used to not seeing this column pop up on your team page every Monday. Consider this your fair warning that we’re keeping your spot warm.
By the way, the Sabres play the Devils on Friday in a game that could feature a 14-game winning streak against a 10-game losing streak. If so, congratulations in advance to the Sabres on their win, because the NHL makes no sense.
(Top photo: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)
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