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Rink Fries: 25 NHL trade candidates of interest to watch

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So, I thought for the first edition of Rink Fries (yes, this will be a regular blog for me now to keep everything that I come across for the 32 Thoughts podcast, the JM Show and Hockey Night in Canada in one place) I’d do a quick round up of where the trade market is at around the league in advance of the March 21 trade deadline.

And while the old business saying has always been ‘deadlines make deals’ as the seasons go on, fewer and fewer teams are letting the official deadline act as a magnet for getting things done.

Tweaks are made at the last minute, big moves are done before. There are exceptions (quick show of hands here – how many saw the Anthony Mantha/Jakub Vrana deal coming?) but this is basically how it works now.

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This list is a combination of players I’ve heard mentioned in trade talk and other players whose future with their current team I wonder about.

So maybe let’s just call this the ‘Players of Interest’ list.

How’s that?

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Let’s start with…

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Mark Giordano: With Seattle looking more and more like a traditional expansion team I think we’re all wondering what the play is for Giordano here? The believed ask by GM Ron Francis to stay away from him at the expansion draft was a first and a third. Too rich for Calgary. But you wonder if Giordano’s thinking about a shot at the Stanley Cup and the Kraken are looking at their roster and wonder who they had to flip to lurch their program ahead.

Ben Chiarot: At this point the only question is can Montreal get a first-round pick for the blueliner? For a team looking for a deep run in the playoffs the answer is probably yes.

Brendan Gallagher: Has mused openly about not being interested in sticking around for a rebuild. He’s a heart a soul player (with great underlying numbers so both camps go home happy here), would be tough to part with, but teams dream about having this type of player in the mix.

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Tyler Toffoli: Much like Gallagher, if the Habs go the tear down and rebuild model does Toffoli want to be part of it at this stage of his career? This is not what he signed up for when he joined the Habs.

Filip Forsberg: For me, so much of Nashville’s future is about the decision GM David Poile makes on Forsberg. Trade him and we’re looking at some type of rebuild (competitive or otherwise), keep him and they’re going for it again.

Anton Khudobin: We’ve reported that Dallas has had conversations with at least one other team (Buffalo) about the veteran goaltender and moving him seems to many as the plan all along after they acquired Braden Holtby in the off-season. You’d have to think GM Jim Nill is after a forward here.

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John Klingberg: Poised to become a free agent, looking for an eight-year deal in the mid-60’s to stay with Dallas. Teams have already called including Carolina, but Dallas may keep him for a playoff run figuring they have a potential replacement waiting in Thomas Harley next season. Personally, I think Dallas keeps Klingberg even if they can’t arrive at an extension — the expectation for this team is a good run in the playoffs. You hurt your chances if you move this skilled blueliner. If he walks at the end of the season, he walks. This team is all in.

Jake DeBrusk: Hands up who can see DeBrusk getting moved to another team and start piling up goals? It’s obvious to everyone that this player needs a new situation, but Boston’s not just going to give him away. As Elliotte Friedman has reported the Bruins won’t move DeBrusk until they get the best possible player or players back as they can find.

Reilly Smith: I think we’re all trying to figure out how the Golden Knights are going to fit Jack Eichel under the salary cap when he returns.

J.T. Miller: We’ve all wondered about this one a lot. The Vancouver Canucks are looking to change direction and may do a few things that surprise people. A move involving JT Miller could be one of them.

Evander Kane: I don’t think anyone can see a scenario where Kane returns to the Sharks. Is an excellent player, but we all know the issues. San Jose will have to eat salary to make this happen.

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Marc-Andre Fleury: Fleury is far and away the most intriguing goalie name on the market. Nobody expected it to go this way but here we are. And if you’re a team, maybe based in Alberta, with Stanley Cup aspirations and you see a goalie who wants one more shot at it…

Vladislav Namestnikov: I hope people have noticed that the Red Wings are fun to watch again, and they’re also well positioned for growth with a crop of young talent and desirable vets who can be used at the deadline to buy more lottery tickets at the draft. Namestnikov is versatile, affordable and can fetch GM Steve Yzerman more building blocks.

Nick Leddy: Look, Moritz Seider is already the best defenceman on the Red Wings. He’s the building block on the back end. That much is obvious to anyone who even casually glances at this team. Leddy is on an expiring contract and if things get goofy around defencemen at the deadline who knows how much Yzerman can get?

Chris Tierney: I’m still surprised Seattle didn’t take Tierney in the expansion draft, but that’s a whole other issue. Tierney is a good NHLer who gives you depth up front at the centre position. The Senators are Josh Norris, Tim Stutzle and Shane Pinto down the middle for the future and probably time to see what’s available for the 27-year-old Tierney.

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Erik Brannstrom: Safe to say things have not gone as planned for Brannstrom and the Sens since the deal that brought him from Vegas. But would they move him? He’s only 22 or, as someone in another team’s analytics department said to me recently, “it’s not that he’s only 22, he’s already 22.” Man, you gotta grow up fast in this league now.

Nick Holden: Depth D, how many times you heard that around the deadline?

Joonas Korpisalo: A couple of things here: Elvis Merzlikins is the No. 1 goalie in Columbus and Korpisalo’s deal expires at the end of the season. The Blue Jackets also have high hopes for 22-year-old netminder Daniil Tarasov. All of this points to a deal for Korpisalo by the deadline.

Vladimir Tarasenko: We know he’s previously asked for a trade (and one team who was interested was scared off after seeing x-rays, and also couldn’t make his salary fit) and although at times he’s looked inspired and productive it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t working in St Louis. And if you watched the Blues/Panthers game last Saturday afternoon you can sense that things are frosty between the player and his coach Craig Berube.

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Vitali Kravtsov: Requested a trade early this season after refusing an assignment to AHL Hartford and GM Chris Drury has made it clear he wants something of quality in return and won’t budge until he gets it. This is still an interesting story to follow.

Alexandar Georgiev: His name has been out there for a while now with the emergence of Igor Shesterkin.

Phil Kessel: The Arizona Coyotes are not done dealing big ticket players as pretty much anything not named Jakob Chychrun could be had.

Bryan Rust: Tough to see him sticking with the Pens long term and if that’s the case how can this team let him skate to free agency without anything to show for it? Rust is going to get paid with his next contract, we all know that the Penguins need to start stocking their prospect cupboards after Jim Rutherford spent years tossing around firsts to fellow GMs like Oprah handing out cars to her studio audience. The Penguins have only had one first-round pick in the past seven drafts.

Evgeni Malkin + Kris Letang: First, much of what happens with Malkin is about his health, so let’s maybe park his name here for a while. But Letang is interesting. We know what defencemen on the open market are fetching these days, but we also know how much Letang likes it in Pittsburgh. Is there a magic number both sides are comfortable with to bring him back? He’s on an expiring contract.

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Edmonton’s first-round pick: The Oilers have two skaters playing out of their minds this season so far and GM Ken Holland has some holes to fill if he wants to get his squad into the Cup conversation. And it’s not like Holland hasn’t moved firsts before with his previous team to give some steam to a playoff push.

Buffalo first-round pick: Right now Buffalo has three picks in the first round (two have conditions attached to them) and I wonder if GM Kevyn Adams would use one to address an organizational need.





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GSOC’s Boost National serves as first ‘major’ test for new teams

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NORTH BAY, Ont. — New team, who dis? There are a lot of familiar faces in new places playing in the Boost National, the first major tournament of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season, which starts Tuesday at Memorial Gardens.

Featuring the top-ranked teams in the men’s and women’s divisions, the Boost National also serves as the first major test for those who retooled their rosters over the off-season as they now prepare for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games.

For some, it’s not only adjusting to new teammates but also to new roles. Kaitlyn Lawes, who played third for Jennifer Jones for 12 seasons, winning Olympic gold and six Grand Slam titles, has now returned to her skip roots and is calling the shots with the all-new Team Lawes.

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Even just seeing the Team Lawes scoreboard sign for the first time following Monday’s pre-tournament practice brought a huge smile to the face of the 33-year-old from Winnipeg.

“We are so excited to play in our first Slam together,” said Lawes, who won back-to-back Canadian junior titles as a skip in 2008 and 2009. “I actually can’t believe we’re here. We have a couple of events under our belts already. We’re just excited to get started.”

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After the members of Team Jones announced they were parting ways, Lawes retained second Jocelyn Peterman and linked up with third Selena Njegovan and lead Kristin MacCuish, both formerly of Team Fleury.

A “flurry” of team changes is exactly what we saw in both the women’s and men’s divisions.

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Brendan Bottcher was among those who cleaned house, and the three-time Grand Slam men’s champion acquired some marquee talent in third Marc Kennedy (Team Jacobs), second Brett Gallant (Team Gushue) and lead Ben Hebert (Team Koe). All three of his new teammates have been to the Olympics and on the podium to boot. Kennedy and Hebert claimed gold together at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games while Kennedy also collected bronze alongside Gallant earlier this year in Beijing.

The Olympics is where Bottcher would like to see himself in four years, but it is a long and bumpy road and the 30-year-old from Edmonton acknowledged: “There are a lot of dominoes between here and there.”

“There’s going to be highs and lows and I just want to focus on working hard,” Bottcher said. “I think I’m with a great group of guys. I know everyone is going to work hard and then you’ve got to let the chips fall where they lay out on the ice.”

While Lawes may face a steep learning curve readjusting to skipping, even Bottcher admitted he’s had to work on some things he hasn’t in a while.

“I think we’re all in the same boat having been with pretty established teams for a handful of years,” Bottcher said, referring to himself and his veteran teammates. “Just getting back to some of the communication, some of the smaller strategy things but even things as simple as, ‘What does a normal hit look like to you versus me?’

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“Kind of back to square one but we’ve put in a ton of time and our coach Paul [Webster] has helped us a pile. I think that’s really set us up for success here.” 

Both Team Bottcher and Team Lawes have found early success this season. Team Lawes started their year overseas finishing runners-up in the Oslo Cup before returning home to win the Mother Club Fall Classic in Winnipeg.

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“Getting the chance to go over to Norway and do some travelling together was one of the best ways we could start the season,” said Lawes, who was also a semifinalist at the new PointsBet Invitational in Fredericton, N.B. “It was fun just to get to know each other, hang out and see how we travel together.

“Honestly, I’m having so much fun and I have a lot of confidence in my teammates and vice versa. We’re really enjoying it so far.”

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Bottcher won his first event, going undefeated 6-0 through the Okotoks Classic in Okotoks, Alta., and reached the semifinals in the PointsBet Invitational.

“That new event that came into the calendar this year, the PointsBet Invitational, was awesome. I think that’s a great direction for our sport to go in,” Bottcher said, adding, “It feels like we’ve been a team for a long time. Hopefully, we can expand on that and have a really good week here.”

There will be growing pains along the way for sure as they’re still getting to know one another with Lawes looking at the Boost National as a learning experience.

“With us being a new team and year one, we just want to try and enjoy each other’s company, learn what kind of team we are and so far it’s been going well,” Lawes said. “We’re having a ton of fun on and off the ice. We just want to see how we match up against the top teams and play with no pressure.”

Bottcher’s team has embraced a “growth mindset” to start the year as they’re aiming to build towards a great second half of the season.

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“It’s obviously nice to have some success early,” he said, “but as much as we can set up for a good second half of the season, I think that’s what we’re after.”

NOTES: The Boost National is the first of six events on the 2022-23 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tour featuring 16 of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … A $300,000 prize purse, split equally between the men’s and women’s divisions, is on the line. The winning teams receive $35,000 plus berths into the season-ending Kioti Tractor Champions Cup. … Points are also up for grabs in the chase for the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to the season champions based on their results in the series. … Broadcast coverage begins Thursday on Sportsnet, Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

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