A lot of teams are thinking about using the Olympic break as a chance to take stock of their situations – possibly get some injured players back, but mostly to calculate whether they have the personnel to take a run at a playoff spot, or possibly even a championship. Some could jump into the trade market early, others might wait a bit, but with the East so close, and really only three teams out of the mix as defined sellers (Buffalo, the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames), there could be some out-of-leftfield transactions in the next month or so.
THE DEL ZOTTO DEAL: The Predators traded a steady 20-minute per night defensive presence in Klein to get Del Zotto, who is six years younger and only two years removed from a 41-point season on behalf of the Rangers. Long-term, it seems like a massive win for Nashville, especially if they can get him playing a reasonable brand of defensive hockey.
Nashville is one of those teams that annually find a way of making crazily one-sided deals on paper. How they got the Washington Capitals to surrender Filip Forsberg, a first-rounder in 2012, with a big upside for journeyman Martin Erat is a puzzle to many, even nine months after the fact. And getting Dubnyk for a player who didn’t work out as a free-agent signing – Matt Hendricks, essentially a salary dump – to bide them time until Pekka Rinne gets back from hip surgery was a worthwhile gamble. Nashville had to rebuild its defence corps after losing Suter to Minnesota as a free agent.
They were lucky last year that Seth Jones was available fourth overall in the 2013 entry draft. With Jones, Shea Weber and Ryan Ellis all right-handed shots on the blueline, they believed Klein was expendable. Del Zotto gives them a left-handed shot they hope will be a good fit with Jones, at even strength, which would permit them to play Weber and Roman Josi as the No. 1 shutdown pair. That would shield Del Zotto from some of the heavier defensive lifting. In addition to Jones, Nashville has been playing two other first-year players, Mattias Ekholm and Victor Bartley on the blueline. It is a young group and combined with their inexperience in goal following Rinne’s extended absence (Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec) largely explains why their season hasn’t been all that great. But they do have some nice pieces. Del Zotto could play on the second power-play unit for virtually every team in the NHL, but in Nashville, he is currently behind Weber-Josi and Ellis-Jones. Poile said he told Del Zotto that he “would have to be patient with us” as they figure out where he fits in. But if Rinne comes back and plays at a high level and all those defencemen 23 and under develop the way they should, Nashville is once again poised to surprise people with their upside.
THIS AND THAT: The move to the Eastern Conference is probably the only thing that’s keeping Detroit’s 22 years and counting playoff streak alive, but help is on the way, in terms of injured bodies making their way back into the lineup. Johan Franzen, a key to the power play, was scheduled to return Sunday after being out since mid-December with a concussion. Even after missing 20 games, he is still second on the team in power-play goals with four, one behind Pavel Datsyuk, who has been bothered by a groin injury but could return later in the week. Recently, both Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson have also returned, which will put far less of an emphasis on the Grand Rapids Griffins alumni that have been playing regularly for the Wings these past six weeks. With all hands on deck, Detroit still scares a lot of NHL teams ... Colorado picked up Patrick Roy’s old housemate Alex Tanguay in the offseason and he was off to a good start until hip and knee injuries sidelined him for 36 games. But Tanguay was back Friday, picked up an assist and figures to return to the line that he played on back in October, with Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog ... The Islanders have been muddling along without two key members of their defence corps – Lubo Visnovsky and Travis Hamonic – but that should come to end this week, with both scheduled to return from layoffs. Visnovsky was signed to an extension after the Islanders lost Mark Streit to Philadelphia as a free agent, but he’s been limited to just eight games and three points. Hamonic is a 25-minute-per night player who had an invitation to Canada’s Olympic camp. Only Andrew MacDonald, at almost 26 minutes per night, plays more for the Islanders.
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