Screen Shots: Kucherov, Nashville’s Off-Season and the Importance of the Ben Bishop Trade

It’s your lucky day – a bonus Screen Shots column, in which we present a quick examination of a few hockey topics. As always, we’ll forego any more lead-in and get down to brass tacks.

– If I were voting on the Conn Smythe Trophy today, my vote for the most valuable player off the playoffs would go to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Without his dynamic performances, the Bolts might have been eliminated in the first round of the post-season. He has been everything they could’ve asked of him, and then some.

But the longer I watch Tampa Bay, the more awe I’m in of winger Nikita Kucherov. He’s just a special player, with the kind of intangibles – his vision, his creativity, his ability to avoid getting creamed in the high-quality-scoring-chance-areas of the ice – that set him apart from 99 percent of the league.

And he just keeps producing: in Tampa’s last four games against the New York Rangers, Kucherov has three goals and seven points, while averaging more than 20-and-a-half minutes of ice time. The 27-year-old reminds me in some ways of Russian legend Alexei Kovalev. His sense of anticipation, his ability to be a playmaker or a play-finisher, and his craftiness all mirror the things Kovalev brought to the table during his excellent NHL career.

Kucherov already has one Conn Smythe Trophy to his name, and the fact he continues to impact the game on such a massive level is what has him at least worthy of honorable mention when you talk about clutch, all-time great playoff performers. The Bolts would probably have won at least one Cup without him, but three? No, that’s extremely unlikely. Kucherov has outstanding teammates and a very capable coach, but he adds so much to the Lightning’s attack, and you have to give him full credit for that.

– The Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars engaged in some trading of assets Friday, when the Stars dealt goalie Ben Bishop a seventh-round draft pick in 2022 to upstate New York for future considerations. Seems like a low price to receive for taking Bishop’s $4.9-million salary cap hit, but clearly, Sabres owners Kim and Terry Pegula are aware the franchise is probably not going to make the playoffs this year, and thus are keeping their payroll down however possible.

Bishop’s deal allows Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams to get his group closer to the cap minimum payroll, but it does nothing to address the Sabres’ many holes. We’re all aware they’re in the midst of another youth movement and did show progress last season, but it’s going to be extremely challenging for them to leapfrog over Toronto, Boston, Florida and Tampa, and if they aren’t banking on playoff revenues, moves like the Bishop trade make more sense. And it’s still hard to be a Sabres fan.

– The Nashville Predators also are going to have an intriguing off-season. They barely made it into the playoffs and got rag-dolled by the Avalanche in the opening round. They’ve not made it out of the first round in four years, and in that span, they’ve won a total of five playoff games. Their core is just not good enough to keep up with the Western Conference arms race, and GM David Poile needs to acknowledge that with a notable makeover.

Now, whether that comes by dealing away a major, veteran component or two, or not resigning unrestricted free agent forward Filip Forsberg and using the $6 million in cap space to bring in more veteran help, it seems like the status quo isn’t an option for the Preds, and that’s a good thing. Poile rarely moves away from a core of talent he’s built over the years, and yet that’s what ought to happen. The Central Division is likely to be more competitive in 2022-23, and Preds fans should not want another year of superstar defenseman Roman Josi’s career wasted on another one-round-and-done campaign. The time to make a bold move is now.

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