Although the Pittsburgh Penguins suffered a 5-3 loss to Anaheim on Wednesday, they may have turned a corner recently and that change of fortunes has been powered by their star forwards. Dating back to the start of January, Sidney Crosby has led the league’s scoring race with three goals and 14 points in seven contests. Phil Kessel is in second place with five goals and 12 points while Evgeni Malkin is in a tie for third with six goals and 11 points. Thanks in large part to their efforts, Pittsburgh is 5-2-0 this month to improve to 24-20-3 overall.
Their strong play as of late has to come as something of a relief to Penguins fans and their fantasy owners. While Crosby, Kessel, and Malkin have all had great seasons, Crosby and Malkin haven’t been playing quite as good as you would hope. Even after their recent success, Crosby sitting in a tie for 12th place in the NHL’s scoring race and Malkin being tied for 14th place is below the extremely high expectations thrust upon them. When they’re healthy, you’d like to see them competing for the Art Ross Trophy and Crosby especially is drafted with that hope in mind.
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You can’t really lump Kessel in there as he’s more than lived up to expectations this season. His 21 goals and 54 points in 47 contests puts him on pace to easily surpass his 2016-17 totals, which would also make this his most productive regular season since joining the Penguins.
Moving past the Penguins’ recent success, if you’re looking for goaltending help you might want to consider picking up Carter Hutton if he’s available. He’s expected to start on Thursday, which would make this sixth appearance in seven Blues games this month. Hutton has been a superb goaltender this season with his 1.78 GAA and .942 save percentage, but he just hasn’t been getting enough playing time to make him worth owning in standard leagues. Jake Allen has struggled recently though and has been just okay all season, so there is an opportunity there for Hutton to get a bigger role going forward. At the least, he’s an interesting gamble right now.
Hutton is one of the hottest goaltenders in the league right now, though he’s not the hottest. That distinction should probably go to Jonathan Bernier, who has a 6-0-0 record, 1.27 GAA, and .962 save percentage in six games dating back to Dec. 31. Semyon Varlamov hasn’t been available lately due to a groin injury and Bernier has made the most of the opportunity provided by Varlamov’s absence. His hot streak has also pushed that Avalanche to a 24-16-3 record, which puts them in striking distance of a playoff spot with half a season still left. For a team that was dead last in the NHL a season ago, that’s a huge accomplishment.
Bernier hasn’t been great this season outside of his recent hot streak, but his overall 2.67 GAA and .915 save percentage in 19 contests isn’t bad and it compares favorable to Varlamov’s own 2.87 GAA and .912 save percentage in 26 contests. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the Avalanche chose to manage their goaltenders once Varlamov is healthy, though that’s a question for another day as Varlamov is likely to miss at least another week with his lingering groin problem.
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It’s also going to be interesting to see what the Avalanche do at the trade deadline if they are able to stay in the thick of the playoff race. They already dealt away Matt Duchene primarily for picks and prospects back in November, but if their intention was to be sellers then they could still entertain offers for Blake Comeau, Colin Wilson, and perhaps Bernier if he stays strong and there’s a contender out there looking for scoring depth.
It wouldn’t be surprising though if the Avalanche decide to just sit on their hands during the deadline; not trading away any future pieces for what would likely be at best a short playoff run, but also allowing this group the opportunity to continue their pursuit of a postseason seed without further interference.
If we’re talking about likely sellers at the deadline, the team that acquired Duchene, the Ottawa Senators, are far more likely to accept that role. At this point the Senators have a 15-18-9 record, which makes it extremely unlikely that they’ll manage to eke into the playoffs.
If there’s a silver lining for Ottawa it’s that the 2018 first round pick they sent to Colorado as part of the Duchene trade was protected so that if it’s a top-10 pick, Ottawa keeps it and sends the Avalanche their 2019 first rounder instead. However, Ottawa did also give up their 2018 second-round pick to Nashville in the same three-way trade and that one is unconditional. Without the potential that Ottawa won’t have a pick until the third round, coupled with how badly things have gone for them since the trade, makes it likely that the Senators will be fishing for draft picks come the deadline. The bigger question is what they might be willing to part with to accomplish that goal.
Mike Hoffman has been perhaps the most interesting name to come up in Senators trade rumors as of late. It seems a little weird because Hoffman is signed through 2019-20 at a reasonable $5,187,500 cap hit, so Ottawa isn’t in a situation where they need to move him, but perhaps the fact that he would be more than just a rental would also lead to a bigger potential return. What works against that is the fact that he’s had something of an off season – though he’s hardly the only victim of that in Ottawa – with 11 goals and 29 points in 42 contests. He was strong in his previous two campaigns though and he’s someone that could benefit quite a bit from a change of scenery, so from a fantasy perspective, any trade involving him would be very interesting.
Outside of that, Ottawa might just be shopping complimentary pieces like veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya, who comes with a cheap $1 million cap hit and could just provide a serious contender with that little bit of extra defensive depth and injury insurance. Maybe Dion Phaneuf might also be moved if Ottawa was willing to take a bad contract in return and/or retain a big chunk of his contract. I’m skeptical about the prospect of Phaneuf, but you never know.
If you think Phaneuf being dealt is a long shot, then Erik Karlsson being moved should be regarded as a non-starter. While there is some logic to considering trading the captain given that the 27-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019 and might demand a contract that the small market Senators balk at, Ottawa has indicated that he’s not available, per the Ottawa Sun. Not that surprising given that Ottawa can always readdress this issue next season if talks with Karlsson don’t go anywhere.