Five on the Fly | 3 offseason NHL deals that look like busts

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 21: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy (5) controls the puck during the NHL hockey game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Arizona Coyotes on October 21, 2017 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

Each week at Five on the Fly we’ll preview developing storylines for the NHL’s upcoming week. Today we’ll take a look at three offseason deals that have gone south already this season  

Early-Season Busts

With more than 10 percent of the NHL season done and dusted, we can start to gain an appreciation for the flurry of offseason activity that shaped the league’s 31 rosters. Which general managers were prescient, carefully moving the pieces on the chessboard to create a more dynamic roster? Which ones panicked, pulling the trigger without doing their due diligence?

Here are three deals that already look like flops:

Niklas Hjalmarsson for Connor Murphy

Stan Bowman is a hockey mastermind who has navigated the treacherous terrain of Chicago’s current cap calamity as smoothly as Patrick Kane handles the puck in GoPro promo videos.

But something happened this summer. He grew impatient and fear took over. He dealt Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of his core players on an already thin blue line, for Connor Murphy, just to have some cap security. Reportedly Chicago liked the fact that Murphy is signed through 2022, while Hjalmarsson’s deal expires at the end of next season.

Unfortunately for Bowman, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t like Murphy’s defense. He’s been scratched multiple times, and he’s getting sheltered minutes when he does play. Murphy is the only Blackhawk defenseman without a point and ranks last in total ice time per game on the team.

Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle

Sure, the Edmonton Oilers saved a lot of money by shipping Jordan Eberle and his $6 million cap hit to the Islanders for Ryan Strome, but they also became a less dynamic team. Was it worth it? The Oilers had the cap space to keep Eberle—Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s deals don’t kick in until next year—but GM Peter Chiarelli was too impatient to wait it out. Ryan Strome is a significant downgrade from Eberle no matter how you slice it, and there are already rumblings that the Oilers are already contemplating shipping him out.

Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona

We get why the Rangers wanted to unload Stepan. His no-movement clause was about to kick in, his six-year, $39 million deal was starting to look like an anchor, and the Rangers needed to create additional cap space in order to add Kevin Shattenkirk.

12 games into the season it is now clear how much weaker the Rangers are down the middle without Stepan. Worse, they’ve lost one of the best backups in the NHL — Raanta — and replaced him with a very shaky Ondrej Pavelec. Meanwhile, Anthony DeAngelo is in the minors and Liass Andersson, taken with the No. 7 pick acquired in the trade, is in Sweden.

Moving Stepan wasn’t the ultimate sin, but losing Raanta — a player so valuable with Lundqvist now 35 — and gambling on the questionable track record of DeAngelo make this deal a loss for the Blueshirts.

Marner’s Future in Question in Toronto? 

Part of the beauty of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ record-breaking rookie class last season is that it was so deep. Auston Matthews was the true revelation of the bunch, but Mitch Marner was a close second, displaying incredible playmaking potential and an uncanny slipperiness that made him almost impossible to defend.

Like Matthews, Marner was a can’t-miss kid.

But the rosy outlook for Marner has faded this season. He was dropped down to the Leafs’ fourth line and ranks eighth in total ice time among Toronto’s forwards. Last year Marner was the driver of the Leafs’ second line, pushing Matthews in the scoring race and finishing a brilliant rookie season with 61 points. This year, likely because of his defense, Babcock has singled Marner out and elected to send a message.

“We need him to be a star,” Babcock said of Marner last week. “We think he’s a star. The NHL’s a hard league when it doesn’t go your way, and then the other thing about the league is when someone else gets in your spot and they play real good, it makes it hard for you.”

There are a few things to consider here: First, Marner could be a lucrative trade chip if Toronto decides it wants to use him to upgrade its defense. Second, Marner is going to get paid along with Matthews and Nylander when his entry-level contract expires at the end of next season, but he’ll get paid a lot less if his numbers suffer as a result of a diminished role in Toronto.

We wonder: Does that fact factor into any of the decision-making by Babcock and brass?

Couture Busting out in San Jose

Logan Couture has struggled through injuries for the last two seasons. This season, with a clean bill of health, Couture has taken the Sharks on his back through the first 10 games. The 28-year-old scored five goals in five games on San Jose’s East Coast road trip, and he leads the club in goals (8) and points (11) through 10 games.

The Sharks’ second line of Couture, Tomas Hertl and Melker Karlsson has been their best possession line with a 5-on-5 Corsi Percentage of 57, and they have done it with half as many offensive zone starts as the Sharks’ top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Kevin Labanc.

It’s early, but it sure looks like Couture will be San Jose’s offensive savior this season. He’s on pace to put up his first 30-goal season since 2011-2012.

No Hearing for Komarov after Nasty Hit on Gostisbehere

Leo Komarov crushed Shayne Gostisbehere face-first into the boards during the Flyers’ 4-2 win over the Leafs on Saturday at Air Canada Centre. No penalty. No hearing.

It looked pretty bad on video, and Gostisbehere is now day-to-day with an upper body injury, but not a peep from the Department of Player Safety. What gives?

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not

Hot: Will Butcher

New Jersey’s assist machine picked up another helper on Saturday, giving him 11 in 10 games. He’s tied for third in the NHL in power play points with seven.

Not: Blue Jackets PP

Columbus is checking in at 10 percent with the man advantage, giving the Jackets the lowest power play percentage in the NHL.

Hot: John Tavares

No. 91 has seven goals and 10 points in his last four games for the Islanders.

Not: Rick Nash

After back-to-back seasons with fewer than 40 points, the power forward is on pace for 20 this season. He has just three points in 12 games for the Blueshirts.

Hot: Connor Brickley

The Panther forward leads all NHL skaters with 5.09 points per 60 minutes (minimum 50 minutes TOI). He has seven points in eight games and has already eclipsed his total (5 points) from 23 games last season. Unfortunately he’s been cooled down by an upper body injury.

Not: Frederik Andersen

It’s another slow start for the Leafs’ netminder. Since shutting out the Caps on October 17, Andersen has allowed 17 goals in four games, bringing his save percentage down to a dismal .890.

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