The NHL’s trade deadline is less than two months away, but Feb. 26 will come up fast.
As teams begin to separate in the NHL standings, we’re getting a better idea of who will be buying and who will be selling ahead of and on deadline day. Here is an overview of teams in both of those categories, plus a couple others whose motivation is yet to be determined.
These situations will continue to develop, which means we will be updating this page as the trade-rumour winds blow.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
The Blues have limited salary cap space, but are a Stanley Cup contender that could use a boost in the scoring department. Ever since Jaden Schwartz went down to an injury on Dec. 9, the Blues have scored just 20 goals in 12 games and earned six wins. Schwartz was initially expected to miss six weeks, which would put him on track to return by the end of January, but his absence proves the Blues may need greater scoring depth to go on a deep playoff run.
GM Doug Armstrong told Hockey Central at Noon that he wasn’t going to be in the rental market, which would take them out of the running for someone like Evander Kane. But they’ve been linked to Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman, who has a $5.187-million cap hit through the 2019-20 season and has scored 26-29 goals in each of the past three years.
St. Louis has the prospects Ottawa could be after, including WJC standouts Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin.
The two-time defending champs aren’t where they anticipated to be at the start of 2018, sitting outside of a playoff spot with just four wins in their past 11 games. GM Jim Rutherford has been in the trade market through most of this season, even reportedly making a last-ditch attempt to acquire Matt Duchene before the Senators made it official. Then, just before the trade freeze, he said the team was hitting a critical point in its schedule and didn’t rule out the possibility of a “major trade.”
The only deal to follow has been the pick up of Jamie Oleksiak, but a more significant move could still be on the way. They have only $180,516 in salary cap space so any significant change could result in a current roster player or two heading out. Speculation has been rampant that 30-year-old defenceman Kris Letang, who the Penguins won last year’s Cup without, could be a player in the departure line. But various people in the organization have reportedly said there is “zero intention” to deal him.
Whatever they do the Pens, surprisingly, need to add offence. Though they have the best power play in the league at 26 per cent, their 71 even-strength goals are better than only four other teams in the NHL.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Humming along with the fifth-best offence in the league and sixth-best power play, the Maple Leafs likely won’t be adding offence by the trade deadline. Their weakness, though, is on defence, where they allow the third-most shots against per game (33.8). Their penalty-killing unit is top 10, but they lean heavily on Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey in those situation, the latter of whom leads the league in average PK time per game by more than half a minute.
With Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner as left-handed shots, the Maple Leafs will be in search of a right-shot D-man with a lean towards strengths on the defensive side of the game. Currently sitting without any cap space, the question is what the Leafs would give up to get such a player. The Leafs have five pending UFAs on the roster, most notably James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak. Would they trade either of those two for a defensive upgrade, maybe adding in a prospect or a pick? Or would they rather push ahead with this roster and wait on blue line prospects such as Travis Dermott or Timothy Liljegren? There’s still a long-term focus for this young team, but there are very real questions about their status as a contender this season, too.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Already the best team in the NHL by standings points, the Lightning could find themselves with more cap room to make a big trade deadline splash. Injured Ryan Callahan, who will be reevaluated later this month after a scary crash into the boards in mid-December, hasn’t yet been placed on LTIR so his $5.8-million cap hit could still be freed up if he does get moved there. The Lightning currently have $1.9 million in available space, which on its own is enough to add, but the potential exists for GM Steve Yzerman to take a big swing at an Evander Kane or Hoffman type.
Either way, with the Cup window wide open for an already incredibly deep Lightning roster, Tampa Bay may get aggressive in pursuit of a championship.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
With one look at this roster in September, 2017-18 appeared to be the season where the Blue Jackets would finally break out and maybe even take over from Washington atop the Metro Division after the Caps had some cap casualties fall off their roster. But for all the offensive power they have up front, especially after acquiring Artemi Panarin from the Blackhawks, Columbus has surprisingly struggled to score goals. Currently ranked 24th in the NHL with a 2.71 GPG rate, the Jackets are without Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Dubinsky to injury.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen will surely be looking to bolster his team’s attack and do so by targeting a top-two line centre by the deadline. He has approximately $4.3 million to work with and one target who has been linked to Columbus is Ottawa’s Derick Brassard, who was drafted sixth overall by the Blue Jackets in 2006 and spent parts of his first six NHL seasons there.
They’ve already made a blockbuster trade this season and Kyle Turris has been a beast since they acquired him from Ottawa with 18 points in 25 games, contributing to Kevin Fiala’s breakout season. The Preds may not make another splash that big before the Feb. 26 deadline, but some fine tuning could be on the way with $2.89 million in cap space. Depth skill players could be a target for this contender, which will remember very well how they were decimated by injuries during their run to the final in 2017.
The Habs are eight points out of a playoff spot, but have played more games than all but one of the teams in front of them. They’re not out of it by any means, but it would take a monumental and fully consistent finish from Carey Price to get them there as the Habs have just eight goals in their past seven games and are 29th in the league with 2.46 goals per game on the season.
The main player on the trading block is Max Pacioretty, who Nick Kypreos reported in a late-December Saturday night Headlines segment was actively being shopped. The question is what the Habs may get back in return.
Though Pacioretty is struggling this season with two goals in his past 23 games, he has been a reliable 30-goal man throughout his career and would be a good bet to get back to that level with a contending team. He also makes just $4.5 million against the cap and isn’t even a rental — his contract has one more season left after 2017-18.
There’s a lot of value in this player and Montreal GM Marc Bergevin can’t settle and needs to hit it out of the park.
“While an eventual trade may include draft picks and prospects, it’s been clear to other teams that Bergevin’s top priority is moving him for a top goal-scorer back — preferably a younger one than the 29-year-old Max Pacioretty,” Kypreos said.
The Habs surely expected to be in the buyers’ column at the beginning of the season, but on a nightly basis don’t look able to compete with playoff teams.
This one isn’t unexpected. After a great start the Canucks are 2-7-1 in their past 10 and slowly sliding down the standings to a place many anticipated they’d be. And that’s OK, because 2017-18 was all about how the young players developed on the pro roster and in the system.
Looking ahead to the trade deadline, though, the Canucks will likely take the same approach they did last season in sending out vets and expiring contracts for picks and prospects. GM Jim Benning got great reviews for the job he did at the 2017 deadline.
Thomas Vanek, who has 28 points in 40 games this season, has been traded at two of the past four deadlines, most recently going from Detroit to Florida for a third-rounder and Dylan McIlrath last year. He won’t bring in a big haul, but if the Canucks can get another prospect, or add to their pool of picks (they currently only hold their own selections, minus a fourth-rounder) Vanek could get shuffled again.
Erik Gudbranson, a 25-year-old blue-liner averaging over 17 minutes per game is another potential tradable asset. The Canucks acquired him in May of 2016 for Jared McCann and a couple picks and they may not be able to find that kind of return for a slow defender with negative possession metrics (43.28 CF% at 5-on-5), but they should be able to get a draft pick or two, adding a couple of lottery tickets for June.
It’s hard to see how Gudbranson, a pending UFA, fits into the Canucks’ plans beyond this season so look for him to go somewhere.
Maybe the biggest disappointment this season dropping from the East final to just four points out of the East basement, there is some discussion about a possible Senators rebuild. The tricky thing is that Ottawa traded away its own 2018 first-rounder in the Matt Duchene deal and though it’s top-10 protected, if the Sens end up keeping it this year, they’ll have to give it up in 2019 regardless of the position. So a full-on rebuild is a risky proposition.
If they do decide to start trading, there is no shortage of great assets for GM Pierre Dorion to move. Hoffman leads the way as a 28-year-old sniper on a down year who isn’t on an expiring contract.
Brassard, who makes $5 million against the cap through 2018-19, recently said he’ll play anywhere. Jean-Gabriel Pageau makes $3.1 million against the cap for another two seasons beyond this one and is a significant presence on the PK.
There has even been speculation around Erik Karlsson, who recently said he wouldn’t take a hometown discount when he hits UFA status in the summer of 2019, and Mark Stone — those kinds of moves, however, appear to be an incredible long shot. Still, the Senators are firmly in the seller category today, 13 points out of a playoff spot.
The Sabres have the best rental player available in Evander Kane, who is on pace for a 32-goal, 70-point career year. It’s all but assured he will go for a package of picks and prospects, but how much further will Buffalo go after that?
This is a team that’s only a couple of years removed from a complete tear-down rebuild which hasn’t led to a rebound in the standings yet as they remain at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. For instance, do they look at trading Sam Reinhart, the second-overall pick from 2014 who has yet to crack 50 points and currently on pace to finish with just 26? A certain section of the fan base would like to see it happen, but beware of selling low on a 22-year-old centre.
After an aggressive summer picking up Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson in a bid to make a push towards the playoffs, the Coyotes are still at the bottom of the league and destined to be deadline sellers. They were already considering trading Anthony Duclair who has eight goals in 32 games and now the pending RFA has reportedly asked for a trade.
From there you wonder how drastic these deadline changes could be for Arizona. Still with an eye firmly on the future a couple of years down the line, the Coyotes will have to consider the contract situations for two of their prime defencemen and decide whether or not to move forward with them.
If Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Hjalmarsson do become available, two players signed through next season, teams would line up for them and pay a hefty price. It may set back the Coyotes for now, but put them in a better place in the future.
DETROIT RED WINGS
On many occasions GM Ken Holland has said he doesn’t believe in the complete tear-down rebuilds we’ve seen in the NHL recently, so don’t count on a Sabres-esque implosion. But as the Wings’ hopes fade (seven points out) there are some intriguing names they could move.
Mike Green is the most obvious, a 32-year-old rental player who would be a great addition to anyone’s power play. Another name who would be a more long-term fit with an acquiring team, though, is Andreas Athanasiou, who was in the most drawn out contract dispute before settling on a $1.387-million deal near the start of the season. It’s in Detroit’s best interest to keep the very speedy centre who creates all sorts of scoring chances in close to the net, but it’s a situation worth monitoring if that relationship was strained prior to the season. It would have to be a convincing return to make it happen in-season, though.
STANDING PAT, FOR NOW
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
“Every game that we win makes me a little more impatient, I have to say.”
Those are the words of Golden Knights owner Bill Foley just last week in discussing if his team’s trade deadline plans had changed now that the team was exceeding all expectations. He said that while his initial view was playoffs in three years and Stanley Cup in six, that timeline may speed up given their current place atop the Western Conference.
The Golden Knights figure to be the most interesting team leading up to and on the NHL’s trade deadline. On the one hand, this team still needs to have a long-term plan and figure out what they want to do with pending UFAs such as James Neal and David Perron. On the other hand, each of those players is top six in team scoring and significant pieces of the NHL’s best first-half story.
Vegas just had three first-rounders in the 2017 draft and though they only pick three times in the first four rounds in 2018, they have three second-rounders in each of the 2019 and 2020 drafts, so the cupboard isn’t necessarily bare. If they do move into the buying camp, the question becomes what could they conceivably give up for another player or two?
This team looks legit, but if it’s going to be sustainable in the years to come those picks and prospects will be vitally important. It’s hard to think Vegas will sell off everything as it originally intended and could go the complete opposite way.
They have roughly $8.1 million in cap space, so there’s plenty of room to work with.
Despite having to turn away from their off-season acquired starter (Scott Darling) to go back to veteran Cam Ward in net, the Hurricanes are in a wild-card spot that could push them into the buyers’ category before long.
The thing with this team is there’s no rush to make a push. They have an exciting young defence corps that looks like it will be together for a long time, but the concern around the team as far as this season’s concerned is up front.
The Canes are 19th in goals per game and if they choose to trade for a scoring upgrade they could use one of their young defence prospects to try and do it (Noah Hanifin, Jake Bean, Haydn Fleury). But with 31 goals in their past 10 games and Sebastian Aho finally heating up, GM Ron Francis has time for patience to see how this plays out before determining whether or not a move this season is necessary.