The Maple Leafs have a hole down the middle, a Ducks centre making the most of his opportunity, plus notes on Chris Kreider, Kris Versteeg, Robin Lehner, Alex Goligoski and more in Scott Cullen's latest blog.
1. As the Toronto Maple Leafs have lost C David Bolland, indefinitely (for a long time by most guesses) due to a severed ankle tendon, there is a glaring need at centre, particularly with C Tyler Bozak also sidelined with a hamstring injury.
In the short-term, the Leafs have moved James van Riemsdyk to centre on the top line, shifting Nazem Kadri to centre on the second line and veteran checker Jay McClement handles the third-line duties. When Bozak returns, and presumably van Riemsdyk moves back to left wing, there is going to be a need for another centre, ideally one that can handle top nine minutes.
While there are any number of ways to address the need, including a blockbuster for a premier centre, the most obvious would be to find a player on an expiring contract -- the proverbial rental -- playing for a team that might not be in the playoff mix, that can handle playing one of the top three centre spots. Here are a few options that might be available for trade:
Steve Ott, Buffalo - In the final year of a contract with a $2.95-million cap hit, Ott is an agitator who is playing a career-high 19:05 for the lowly Sabres. He can score a bit, but is probably best-suited to a third-line role. He figures to be a sought-after commodity, if/when the Sabres move him, so he won't necessarily come cheaply.
Matt Stajan, Calgary - Former Leaf was traded to Calgary in 2009 and he's under-performed, certainly relative to his $3.5-million cap hit, but as a third-line centre, Stajan is a solid enough two-way player that he could fill that role. He can provide some offence from time to time, but plays a responsible enough two-way game to fit in the top nine.
David Legwand, Nashville - 33-year-old has played 908 games for the Predators and has a no-trade clause, but will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. If the Predators, who have depth down the middle, aren't prepared to keep Legwand and they can't stay in contention, then maybe it would make sense to get some value in return (of course, pending Legwand's approval).
These are hardly the only options. There are veterans who would likely be easy to acquire (Scott Gomez, Olli Jokinen) or the Leafs could set their sights on Montreal's David Desharnais or Dallas' Shawn Horcoff. Considering his parting comments for coach Randy Carlyle, it's probably too much to hope for the Leafs to try and bring back Washington's Mikhail Grabovski.
In any case, the Leafs probably can't afford to stand pat and just hope that they can remain a playoff team despite the loss of Bolland who, incidentally, has been excellent.
2. It's not unusual for a player to get a better opportunity playing on a new team, especially for a coach that is familiar with him from his previous team, but Ducks C Mathieu Perreault has really made the most of his chance in Anaheim.
He's playing a little more, a career-high 13:55 per game, and has good linemates -- Teemu Selanne and Jakob Silfverberg (both currently injured) -- have been his most common linemates. Recently, it has been Devante Smith-Pelly and Emerson Etem, with some Dustin Penner sprinkled in there.
With opposing defences geared towards stopping the Ducks' top line, it provides good opportunity for Perreault to generate offence and he's done that, ranking fourth in points/60 minutes of play.
It's not entirely a fluke, either. Perreault is a high-percentage finisher (18.7 SH% for his career ranks best among players with at least 200 shots since 2009-2010), so he should continue to finish at a high rate. On the other hand, his on-ice shooting percentage (12.2%) is also very high, even if middle-of-the-pack on the Ducks currently, and it would be a career-high for Perreault.
So, sure, there will be some regression, but if he's left in an offensive role all season, it's entirely reasonable to expect a new career-high in points for Perreault, whose previous best was 30 points in 64 games in 2011-2012. Maybe something closer to 45-50 points is possible for this season.
3. Rangers rookie LW Chris Kreider was a disappointment last season, scoring two goals and three points in 23 games (and only 23 points in 48 AHL games), but he's been much better this season.
He started the year in the American Hockey League, but after four points in six games, was recalled to the Rangers, where he has a couple of goals and six points in seven game, while playing with Derek Stepan and either Brad Richards or Mats Zuccarello.
What's encouraging about Kreider is that he also has strong possession numbers and is generating shots on goal (2.43 per game, compared to 0.83 per game last season), so he may actually be able to sustain some offensive production.
4. Panthers RW Kris Versteeg has had a tough road coming back from reconstructive knee surgery. He's been a healthy scratch, played a season-low 10:48 in his last game (Nov. 1 vs. St. Louis) and has one point in his last five games.
But don't write him off just yet. Versteeg is getting chances -- a career-high 2.69 shots on goal per game -- and his possession stats are strong. Combine that with the fact that he's a four-time 20-goal scorer on a team lacking proven offensive performers and Versteeg ought to find better results soon enough.
5. Senators G Craig Anderson suffered a neck injury against Dallas and, while it doesn't appear to be serious, it does give Robin Lehner opportunity to see more action. While the Senators are allowing a league-high 38.5 shots against per game, Anderson has come back to earth with a .912 save percentage (following a league-leading .941 SV% last season), but Lehner continues to play well in limited duty.
In 22 games, over the last three seasons, Lehner has a .936 save percentage, the kind of play that begs for more playing time.
6. It's been hard enough for the New Jersey Devils to score this season, tied for 27th with 1.86 goals per game, but they have been forced to juggle lines recently with Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac out of the lineup.
Jaromir Jagr has skated with Dainius Zubrus and Andrei Loktionov on one scoring line, while Adam Henrique centered Mattias Tedenby and Michael Ryder. Those lines aren't causing opposing teams sleepless nights as they prepare to face the Devils.
7. After some trying times under new coach Lindy Ruff, Stars D Alex Goligoski has averaged 24:41 of ice time over the last four games, scoring a couple of goals. He's been paired with Jordie Benn, who has played more than 20 minutes in each of the last four games (only the second time in his career he has such a four-game streak). Their ice time has come at the expense of Sergei Gonchar and Trevor Daley, who are in the 16-18 minute range.
8. Missing defencemen Jacob Trouba, Mark Stuart and Paul Postma, the Winnipeg Jets picked up D Keaton Ellerby on waivers from Los Angeles. Ellerby was the 10th overall pick in 2007 and had played 160 NHL games with Florida and Los Angeles before joining the Jets.
It's a good opportunity for Ellerby to get playing time, something that wasn't happening in Los Angeles this year, and the Jets definitely need whatever NHL-ready help they can find to back-fill for those injuries.
9. Lightning D Radko Gudas is a hard-hitting rookie defenceman who played 22 games for the Lightning last season and he showed in that trial what kind of player he could be in the NHL, racking up 38 penalty minutes and 87 hits, along with five points in those 22 games.
This season, Gudas has amped it up. In 14 games, he's playing a prominent role, 19:40 per game, and is the only player in the league with at least 30 blocked shots and 50 hits. He also has 55 penalty minutes in 14 games. As might be expected, looking at those numbers, his puck possession stats aren't ideal, but he's also contributed a goal and four assists in the last eight games so, as much as he's a physical force, he can contribute with the puck on his stick too.
10. Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner got called up for a couple of games while RW Loui Eriksson was injured, and Spooner gave a solid accounting of himself, contributing a couple of assists in limited ice time.
With Eriksson returning to action, was sent back to Providence, where he has seven points in eight games, but if the Bruins need offence inserted into their lineup at any point this season, they know where to look first.
11. Hurricanes rookie D Ryan Murphy has been held without a point over the last five games, and was fined for clipping, but there are positives to take from this span. He's played more than 20 minutes in each of those five games, averaging 21:33 per game. It's not surprising, given the lack of offensive talent on the Carolina defence, but Murphy has ample opportunity to produce, even as a rookie.
12. Canadiens C David Desharnais is going to be a healthy scratch for Tuesday's game against St. Louis. With the Canadiens moving second-year forward Alex Galchenyuk to centre, on the second line, and Lars Eller to the third line centre spot, Desharnais was left without a natural fit.
In some respects this could be seen as a decision precipitated by the emergence of rookie winger Michael Bournival, who remains on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, but it's also a reflection of Desharnais' play this season.
He has no goals and one assist in 15 games, has subpar possession numbers and, for a guy who is listed at 5-foot-7, he has to produce if he's going to keep a spot in the lineup. Given that he's under contract for three more years after this one, at a cap hit of $3.5-million, Desharnais will get another chance to play, but he's obviously not in a good spot right now.
13. The Edmonton Oilers's list of injured forwards includes Jesse Joensuu, Taylor Hall, Ryan Smyth and David Perron -- all left wingers. Yet, they have not recalled Linus Omark from Oklahoma City, where the 26-year-old has eight goals and 12 points, with a minus-8 rating, in 12 games.
Isn't it at least possible that he would be better than one of Nail Yakupov, Ryan Jones, Ben Eager or Ryan Hamilton?
14. Kings RW Jeff Carter is on IR, which prompted the recall of Tyler Toffoli from Manchester of the AHL, where Toffoli had seven goals and 12 points in 10 games. Toffoli had an assist in his first game of the season with the Kings, playing a career-high 19:23 on a line with C Mike Richards and either Dwight King or Daniel Carcillo on the left side.
In Saturday's loss to Nashville, King played a career-high 21:04.
15. Sharks RW Martin Havlat has returned to the lineup and it's at a good time, while the Sharks are still missing RW Brent Burns.
When Burns is ready to come back, that will require some finesse from head coach Todd McLellan, since the Sharks' line combinations had been awfully effective, particularly when Burns was healthy.
For his part, Havlat has no points and three shots on goal in his first couple of games and now has 45 points in 81 games with San Jose.
FIRST NHL GAMES
Jordan Szwarz, RW, Phoenix - A fourth-round pick in 2009, Szwarz has played the last two seasons in the AHL, scoring 53 points in 118 games, but he started strong this year, with five points in six games, and has played 6:16 per game in three games for the Coyotes. He did score his first NHL goal against Nashville on Halloween.
Reto Berra, G, Calgary - A 26-year-old with a .908 save percentage in nine AHL games, Berra was promoted to the Flames because he may still be a better option than Joey MacDonald or Karri Ramo, who have both struggled. Berra stopped 42 of 44 shots to win his debut against Chicago.
Jon Merrill, D, New Jersey - Drafted in the second round in 2010, Merrill is a talented defenceman with good size, who had some off-ice trouble while at the University of Michigan, limiting his playing time over the last couple seasons. He does have 15 points in 23 AHL games, including late last season and early this season, so he should upgrade the Devil's ability to move the puck out of their own end, but his debut could have gone better. He skated just 1:16 before he was tripped by Wild winger Torrey Mitchell and crashed into the end boards, ending his game.
Ben Chiarot, D, Winnipeg - A stay-at-home defenceman drafted in the fourth-round in 2009, Chiarot was pressed into service due to injuries. He was minus-3 and generally overmatched in 10:47 against the Blackhawks, which isn't exactly the easiest matchup for one's first NHL game.
"I cannot say I don't play well. I can't blame the hands because they were pretty good to me all my life. So, I blamed the sticks.” - Jaromir Jagr, shifts the blame.
"I feel like this year the cockiness is coming back a little bit." - More Jagr.
"To play in Madison Square Garden is something special. I love New York. There are so many great things to do here, and I guess another one is to win a hockey game." - Ducks G Frederik Andersen, after Monday's win.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.