What we learned from the last week in the NHL:
The Kings’ fire sale is on
Trading defenseman Jake Muzzin to Toronto for a first-round draft pick and two prospects was a belated admission by Kings general manager Rob Blake and club President Luc Robitaille that they were wrong in thinking the roster they took into this season was capable of another Stanley Cup run. Trading Tanner Pearson to Pittsburgh was intended as a jolt; dealing Muzzin was an unmistakable pivot toward the future. He was one of their best players in a dismal season, good enough to bring the Kings a first-round draft pick and two prospects from the Maple Leafs. Who’s next? Center Jeff Carter, 34 and in a scoring decline, has some trade value. Winger Carl Hagelin’s speed and expiring contract make him useful to a contender. But the Kings’ biggest trade chip leading up to the Feb. 25 deadline is goaltender Jonathan Quick, whose contract ($5.8 million for four more seasons) lacks a no-move or no-trade clause. If Blake can trade Quick for prospects and draft picks and significantly accelerate the rebuilding process, he must consider it and not let sentiment get in the way.
Muzzin made his Maple Leafs debut Friday at Detroit and played his first home game for his new team Saturday, and he wasted little time in showing Toronto fans what he could do. He was credited with two blocks and three hits against Pittsburgh, one of those hits earning roars in the first period when he separated Penguins forward Jake Guentzel from the puck. Muzzin was paired with Morgan Rielly, freeing Rielly to become more active offensively. Muzzin, who scored a goal and had two assists Monday against the Ducks, likely will need time to adjust to a faster pace than the Kings played, but he’s smart and experienced and should fit in nicely.
Randy Carlyle somehow remains the Ducks’ coach
The All-Star break and bye week interrupted the Ducks’ slide toward oblivion but didn’t end it. They were awful in a 5-1 loss to St. Louis before the break, and their first two games back were worse, a 9-3 loss at Winnipeg and a 6-1 loss at Toronto. They have given shell-shocked goaltender John Gibson no help while losing 16 times in their last 18 games (2-12-4). Wingers Corey Perry (knee) and Patrick Eaves (broken rib) returned after long absences, but nothing changed for the better. General manager Bob Murray has made some small trades but hasn’t pulled off a major deal, and he has left Carlyle behind the bench despite performances that reek of players having tuned out their coach. Murray has put the blame on players rather than on Carlyle, but Murray can’t continue fooling himself. He has a flawed team, burdened with old and unproductive players signed to big contracts, but has enough young talent to be faring better than this.
The Avalanche has lost its hold on a wild-card playoff spot. Goaltending problems and spotty defense have led to three straight losses, seven in the team’s last 10 games and 13 in its last 16 (3-11-2), enough to dump the Avalanche out of the top eight in the West. They could soon begin to sell off assets and embrace the “Lose for Hughes” strategy and set their sights on consensus No. 1 prospect Jack Hughes. That makes sense because they have two first-round draft picks — their own and one they acquired from Ottawa in the Matt Duchene trade. The Senators rank last in the NHL, which would give Colorado the best odds at winning the draft lottery and choosing American-born forward Hughes.
The Flyers have found a goalie, and success
Philadelphia extended its winning streak to eight with a 2-1 victory over Vancouver on Monday, boosted by the goaltending of rookie Carter Hart and the upswing of second-year forward Nolan Patrick. Hart has a personal seven-game winning streak in which he stopped 241 of 258 shots, a .934 save percentage. The Flyers have had goaltending problems for longer than they — or their fans — would care to remember, but Hart has shown signs of thriving under heavy workloads. Patrick, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2017, has been hampered by injuries and endured a stretch this season of 24 games without a goal. He has scored five goals and added three assists during the winning streak, including an overtime goal against Edmonton on Saturday. He has been centering the third line and providing much-needed supplementary scoring.
Patrick Kane has risen above the Blackhawks’ mess
Give Kane credit for not allowing Chicago’s woes to drag him down. Playing in his hometown of Buffalo on Friday, the 30-year-old winger had two goals and four points, vaulting him past the 900-point mark for his career. Kane is the 12th U.S.-born player to reach 900 points and the youngest to get there, at 30 years and 74 days old. He had an assist Saturday to extend his point streak to 10 games; he has nine goals and 26 points in that surge. Kane is among the league leaders in goals with 31, and he is tied for second in scoring with 76 points, four behind Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov (22-58-80).