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Cullen: Notes on Hertl, Gardiner, Oilers, Muzzin and more

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Scott Cullen
10/9/2013 4:05:05 PM
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A rookie puts on a show in San Jose, spitballing ideas for a Jake Gardiner deal and what help the Oilers might seek on the back end. Also, Jake Muzzin and a host of injuries from Tuesday's games in Scott Cullen's latest blog.

1. There is a lot to cover today, but Sharks rookie LW Tomas Hertl jumps to the forefront after scoring four goals in his third NHL game. Hertl's six goals and seven points in three games, combined with the manner in which he scored his fourth goal, ensures that he's no longer flying under the radar.

Coming into the season, I was quite high on Hertl (drafted him late in the Experts' League) because he was playing with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. As rookie opportunities go, that's a good one. But, even though Hertl remained with his talented linemates last night, Thornton had one assist and Burns no points, so it wasn't as if Hertl was heavily-dependent on those linemates to drive his production.

(As an aside, and we're not evaluating picks at such an early point in their careers, but here are the five forwards taken immediately ahead of Hertl, who was drafted 17th overall in 2012: Tom Wilson - 16, Zemgus Girgensons - 14, Radek Faksa - 13, Mikhail Grigorenko - 12 and Filip Forsberg - 11).

Beyond the four goals, it's also worth noting that Hertl had seven shots on goal in 11:12 of ice time. While he now leads the league in goals (6) and points (7), Hertl has 17.7 shots per 60 minutes of ice time, second only to Alex Ovechkin, and a decent indication that, while Hertl is not -- I repeat, not -- going to score two goals per game all season, he could be much more productive than I had projected in the preseason.

2. Before leaving San Jose, it would be wrong to skip a three-point night from another rookie, wouldn't it? Matt Nieto has a good thing going with Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels on what is effectively the Sharks' third line. He's not in Hertl's class offensively, but the Sharks are looking at two rookies playing significant roles among their top nine forwards this season.

3. After Elliotte Friedman mentioned trade talks in 30 Thoughts and both James Mirtle and TSN's NHL Insiders discussed the possibility of Maple Leafs D Jake Gardiner getting moved, I decided to look around the league for a scoring forward that might be an upgrade for the Leafs.

Given that they don't have much salary cap room, it becomes challenging for the Leafs to make a move without including someone else (Nikolai Kulemin? John-Michael Liles?) in the equation.

In any case, here are couple of the possibilities that could, theoretically, fit for Gardiner:

Calgary - Certainly, Flames president Brian Burke has familiarity with Gardiner, from drafting him in Anaheim (17th overall in 2008) to trading for him in Toronto and Gardiner could play in the Flames' top four right away (with Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman and T.J. Brodie).

The question is, would the Flames give up a young scoring forward in return? The one they have, that fits financially, is Sven Baertschi, the 13th pick in 2011, who finished strong last season, but is on the low-end of ice time for Flames forwards (12:10 ATOI per game) early in the season. Baertschi was also criticized by Burke prior to the start of the season.

Carolina - The Hurricanes are thin on the blueline, especially after losing Joni Pitkanen for the season, and it has been suggested that Jeff Skinner might be the bait to bring an upgrade on the blueline. Skinner comes with a $5.725-million cap hit, which complicates matters, maybe too much for a reasonable deal to be reached.

Colorado - While Paul Stastny might be the playmaking centre that the Leafs need, his price tag ($6.6-million) and expiring contract don't make for an ideal fit, even if the Avalanche could really use more blueline talent. Would LW Jamie McGinn and a prospect be enough? Maybe not.

Florida - The Panthers have some quality forward prospects, including Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore and Vincent Trocheck, and might be willing to part with one to get Gardiner, who could be part of the long-term solution on the blueline. That doesn't provide immediate help for the Leafs, but would be an upgrade in the long run.

N.Y. Islanders - While the Isles have done wonders with a bargain basement defence, it would be reasonable to add Gardiner as part of a long-term upgrade. Ryan Strome would be too much to ask, but maybe another Islanders forward prospect, like Brock Nelson, could fit.

Philadelphia - It seems more likely that the Flyers would want to move out a defenceman, but if there was a way to pry Sean Couturier out of there, and Gardiner could be part of the package, it would be well worth it.

Tampa Bay - With no shortage of prospects, but plenty of room to upgrade on the blueline, the Lightning have several young forwards -- Richard Panik, Brett Connolly, J.T. Brown, Nikita Kucherov -- from which to choose.

Vancouver - While the Canucks have a stable top four, they could ease Gardiner in with third pair work. If the Canucks are prepared to cut bait with RW Zack Kassian, he's a financial fit and could be the type of player that Randy Carlyle would appreciate.

4. Bob McKenzie also checked in, suggesting that the Oilers are looking for a bold move to upgrade either on the blueline or defence. Gardiner would be an upgrade on some of the Oilers' current defence talent and he spent plenty of time with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL last season, under the tutelage of new Oilers coach Dallas Eakins.

Who else might warrant consideration in goal or on defence? Some goaltenders with expiring contracts that could be expendable include Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller, Brian Elliott and James Reimer. The first three will be unrestricted free agents at season's end, while Reimer would be restricted.

On the blueline, how about: underwhelming young guys that still have potential, like Adam Larsson, Tyler Myers or Ryan Ellis? Or maybe veterans with size, like Bryan Allen, Braydon Coburn or Clayton Stoner. Some of those would be decidedly bolder than others.

5. Kings coach Darryl Sutter pulled no punches when discussing the play of D Jake Muzzin, telling Kings Insider, "He's struggling a lot," later adding, " You're not going to win very many games if you're a guy who's playing significant minutes, and you're a high-minus player."

This, of course, is where we can look beyond Muzzin's plus-minus to see that the Kings have fared very well, possession-wise, with Muzzin on the ice. However, their goaltending has been suspect (.714 SV%) with Muzzin on the ice, but that is how a strong shot differential turns into a negative plus-minus in a hurry.

This isn't to suggest that Muzzin can't play better, but it is a suggestion that maybe his team-worst minus-5 isn't entirely his fault.

6. And now to the injury portion of the proceedings. Panthers G Tim Thomas left Tuesday's game with what appeared to be a lower body (maybe groin?) injury. Fortunately, the Panthers have Jacob Markstrom, who was expecting to be the No. 1 guy this year anyway, ready to handle the starts for as long as Thomas is out.

7. Wild G Niklas Backstrom suffered a leg injury when Predators LW Eric Nystrom plowed into him after getting tripped on a breakaway. With Backstrom out, Josh Harding takes over between the pipes. If the injury is long-term, Darcy Kuemper could get the call from the AHL.

8. Rangers RW Rick Nash may have suffered a concussion when Sharks D Brad Stuart caught him with a shoulder to the side of the head. While Stuart awaits his fate with NHL justice, Nash's absence would be significant, even if he didn't play a ton (15:13 and 17:55) in the first two games. Captain Ryan Callahan, who just returned from shoulder surgery, will likely have to take on a bigger role (he's averaged 13:41 per game in his first two games) in Nash's absence.

9. Lightning C Tom Pyatt suffered a broken collarbone, an injury that could keep him out for a couple of months. While it doesn't have to result in an immediate roster move, Pyatt's absence could allow the Lightning to bring back a late training camp cut like Brett Connolly.

10. Maple Leafs LW Joffrey Lupul suffered a bruised knee against Colorado, thinning out what is already a thin group. First-year pro Josh Leivo has been recalled from the Marlies, where he had one assist and was plus-1 in two games. Last season, in the Ontario Hockey League, Leivo had 29 goals and 73 points in 63 games with Sudbury and Kitchener.

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.

Tomas Hertl (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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