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Guentzel's future, Gauthier trade among hot topics around the NHL

Guentzel's future, Gauthier trade among hot topics around the NHL



We're less than two months from the NHL trade deadline and it's definitely getting busy around the NHL. One huge -- and unexpected -- trade was already completed this week between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Anaheim Ducks. What else could be in the works? Here are some of the rumblings I've been hearing at rinks around the NHL.


ONE OF THE most intriguing storylines is what will happen to Jake Guentzel. There's a very real chance that one of the most popular and consistently productive Pittsburgh Penguins players gets dealt, and the next few weeks are crucial. "This will get really heated down the stretch," Guentzel's agent, Ben Hankinson, told me last week. "It's going to get interesting."


Hankinson stressed that he has a good relationship with Penguins GM Kyle Dubas. They talked over the summer and understand the place each side is operating from. Ownership believes the Penguins should try to chase Cups while Sidney Crosby is still operating at an elite level -- but the team, which has trended older, is on the playoff bubble yet again. The Penguins also have a depleted pool of prospects and draft picks. That puts Dubas in a precarious position.


Guentzel, 29, is finishing up the final year of a five-year, $30 million deal. He's likely due for a raise. Hankinson and Dubas have not had substantial talks progressing toward a new contract. Guentzel adores playing in Pittsburgh, but signing a new long-term deal might not make sense for both sides. Other teams I've talked to increasingly believe Guentzel will be available. The interest will be massive -- and the acquisition cost could be high. Guentzel shows up when it matters most. In 58 career playoff games, the winger has 34 goals and a Stanley Cup.


One undercurrent to all of this: Crosby loves playing with Guentzel. That's not insignificant. The captain's voice has serious power within the organization. Crosby quietly campaigned when things weren't going well with Evgeni Malkin's and Kris Letang's contract negotiations in 2022. So we'll see where this goes.


THE CUTTER GAUTHIER story gripped the NHL this week. The Flyers traded their blue-chip prospect to Anaheim three days after he helped lead Team USA to a gold medal at the World Championships, but it was the reasons -- or really, lack thereof -- that sent the hockey world into a tizzy.


"I've never seen anything like it," one longtime front office executive told me this week. "Situations happen. A drafted college player has the right to not sign with a team. It's happened before. It will likely happen more often given the nature of this next generation. But I can't remember a team ever getting iced on answers -- or a public reaction from a front office like that after."



In trading Gauthier for defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a second-round pick, Flyers management declared: If you don't want to be in Philadelphia, then we don't want you. Considering the passion in the market, it's no surprise fans galvanized around the rallying cry.


Gauthier still hasn't revealed much, citing "private family reasons" in a video call with Ducks reporters Wednesday. Gauthier was home in Michigan with his family when the trade went down, which is fortunate because the reaction was overwhelming -- and in some instances, nasty.


"We live in a world where everyone thinks they need to know everything," Overhardt said. "And the truth is, they don't."


Overhardt said they will use this as a learning experience. "We're trying to take the high road here," the agent said. Gauthier is only 19 years old, with his entire NHL future ahead of him. It's a dramatic start, but Gauthier is a confident player with incredible promise. He can write his own script now.


"Players like that don't become available very often," Ducks GM Verbeek told me. "We didn't have a player like this in our prospect pool." Verbeek, for context, was granted permission to speak with Overhardt -- who notably also represents one of the Ducks' best players, Troy Terry -- once trade talks intensified.


Verbeek wouldn't have given up defenseman Jamie Drysdale -- a brilliant prospect himself, albeit one with an injury history -- without belief that Gauthier's reasoning for not wanting to play in Philadelphia wouldn't bite the Ducks later on.


"When I talked to Cutter, he was excited about playing in Anaheim," Verbeek said. "I see him playing in the NHL next season for sure. He is going back to Boston College where they're having a great season, and then we'll take it from there."


Verbeek said Gauthier is an "elite skater with an elite shot," specifically his one-timer. The GM foresees Gauthier developing more of a power game, and loves his versatility to play with any of the team's centers.


Verbeek is still preaching the slow play in the Ducks' rebuild, but it's hard not to get excited about their future. Gauthier joins a young forward core of Leo Carlsson, Mason McTavish, Terry and Trevor Zegras. The Ducks have lost 18 one-goal games over the first three months, which will be a focus down the stretch. "I constantly have to remind myself patience," Verbeek said. "But in terms of culture, work ethic and compete, we've made big gains in building the foundation of the house."


CROSBY PROBABLY ISN'T getting enough credit for how good he has been this season, at age 36. It's the byproduct of someone who revels in the work. I recently asked Crosby about his mindset, entering his 19th season. "Not too much different. I still love it," Crosby said. "Having a passion for it helps a lot. Love the game, love learning -- that doesn't change all these years later."


What does that look like behind the scenes? Frankly, it's obsessive. Crosby operates on a different wavelength than most. No detail is too minute. Coach Mike Sullivan shared a few examples with me.


Say Crosby misfired on a seam pass on the power play. The next day at practice, he's arriving 15 minutes early. Assistant coach Ty Hennes will feed pucks from the exact same spot, and Crosby will emulate the exact same scenario. Crosby will take 50 reps of the play he missed the night prior before anyone else gets on the ice.


If Crosby didn't have a good night in the faceoff circle, same thing with assistant coach Mike Vellucci dropping pucks for him the next day.


Penguins coaches are used to getting late-night texts from Crosby as he watches other games on TV. "Did you see what this team did on their power play? Can we try that?"


Sullivan noted that Crosby's line often scores on the end of shifts. Crosby takes pride in grinding down other teams. Sullivan tries to manage the workload over the grind of the season. But Crosby is often asking him to incorporate more low battle drills at practice. It's to say he's the only player asking for them.

THE DEPRESSED GOALIE market should get moving closer to the trade deadline. Some have wondered whether the Boston Bruins would deal away either Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman, considering it's an area of surplus for Boston and there's such a thirst for goaltending around the league. From what I understand, that doesn't seem like the path they'd choose during the season. In fact, Swayman was eligible for an extension on Jan. 1, and a few people have told me to expect that to get done soon.


The Bruins, despite once again exceeding expectations, are going to feel pressure to do something at the trade deadline to improve their team. It's just the nature of the organization and the market. I have heard they are scouting middle-six forwards, especially someone who could add a scoring punch.


ONE OF THE BIGGEST areas in which the New York Rangers improved this season is in the faceoff circle. In the past five seasons, they were a bottom-five faceoff team. So far in 2023-24, they rank third.


Talking to a few players, it has definitely been improved by an increased emphasis at practice, fitting with Peter Laviolette's theme that every time the Rangers get on the ice, it's a competition. "We've definitely been focusing on [faceoffs] more this year than any other season I've been here," Mika Zibanejad told me.


But another secret is a technique that several of their centermen have used. When taking a faceoff in their offside circle, the center will flip the stick around. If you're a right-handed shot, having your left hand so low on the stick feels awkward at first -- and some players don't think they have the strength or coordination to pull it off. But if you get a hang of it, it can be a major advantage.


Retired center Paul Gaustad was believed to be the first player to try this in the NHL. Nick Bonino picked up the trick from Gaustad when they played together in Nashville, and brought it to the Rangers. Bonino switches his stick most consistently, but Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck (who is leading the Rangers with a career-best 61.9% in the circle) have been doing it, too. A few other centers have been noodling with it around the league, including New Jersey's Erik Haula and Detroit's Dylan Larkin and J.T. Compher. I'd keep an eye on this as a growing trend.

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