Analyzing the best goal scorers available at the 2020 NHL trade deadline

Tim and Sid examine the Vancouver Canucks' trade for Tyler Toffoli, and how it will affect the team with news of Brock Boeser's injury.

With the prices teams are paying to acquire players in the week leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline, you have to think that some teams who have been on the buyer-seller bubble all season are starting to wonder how deep into their rosters they should cut.

A sellers’ market resulting in crazy overpays for rentals hasn’t been too common in recent years, with teams starting to get a little more protective of their first-round draft picks and more priority being placed on keeping your best prospects. In general, that cautious approach is usually the right one, but the returns on trades we’ve seen so far seem to be less cautious than usual.

Because of that, some names are popping up that wouldn’t be available in a normal year. In fact, a few selling teams hold some huge potential additions for competing teams, depending on how much they’re willing to rip their rosters apart in the near future.

For teams looking to add goal scoring, who are the potentially attainable players most likely to get results post-deadline?

A huge percentage of goal scoring is about talent, beyond just what can be measured with shot statistics. Patrik Laine is never going to be among the leaders in high danger scoring chances put on net, but his incredible release and instincts on how to get lost in traffic will always allow him to produce goals.

Because so much of that nebulous ability to put the puck in the net is about the split-second decisions before or even during a shot, it can be hard to quantify, but we can do our best to take the general statistics and figure out which players who could be available at the deadline would be impact adds.

As opposed to the usual listing of just how often a player completes a specific event, this time I wanted to do something a little different and show how much better or worse a player is in a specific statistic compared to the league average. This should give a better impression of the impact the player can make in each area.

Looking at the landscape of teams in sell mode, a good part of this list is going to be highly dependent on how little confidence the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens have in their current rosters being able to turn things around quickly next season.

If both teams believe external issues kept them out of the playoff picture and decide to keep their good players, this list is going to look much less robust. Or if the Maple Leafs keep struggling and the Panthers sneak in by Monday, they may not sell at all. But let’s operate on the assumption that some very good players are going to be available.

Chris Kreider, NY Rangers

Kreider is probably the most talked about forward on the market heading into the deadline, and I’ve looked at his strengths and weaknesses recently. Kreider is best as a net-front presence, getting shots on net from the inner slot at a rate 25 per cent better than a league average forward. However, he’s not just a net-front guy, he’s also above average from the slot overall, gets tons of one-timers off, and is one of the best wingers in the league off the rush.

That speed and size combination is so enticing for basically every team, and he’s got a history of strong defensive acumen to bring to the table as well. The one area where he doesn’t really stand out is off the cycle. If that’s the primary need for a team, they should look elsewhere.

Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

I’m not sure if the Canadiens are willing to part with Tatar this season, but since he has a year left on his contract the cost of acquiring him should be relatively huge. If a team needs a true top-line winger who can score and make plays while driving possession on top of it all, they should be going hard after Tatar.

Despite playing on a team that loves to attack off the rush, Tatar isn’t amazing in that area, but he’s excellent everywhere else. Teams may be a little gun shy considering how things turned out for him with the Vegas Golden Knights the last time he was traded mid-season, but the past two seasons he’s been one of the best wingers in the NHL in overall impact. I highly doubt that just drops off out of nowhere, especially since he maintained his strong play while common linemate and proven possession monster Brendan Gallagher was injured earlier in the year.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Montreal Canadiens

Update: Kovalchuk was traded to the Capitals in exchange for a third-round pick.

The longer Kovalchuk has stayed in Montreal the better his statistics have looked across the board. He’s still not going to hurt teams much off the rush with his shooting, but he sets up really well in the slot and puts a lot of shots on net from dangerous areas.

Kovalchuk’s instincts remain phenomenal, but his best asset as a shooter might be his quick release. He’s among the league leaders in one-timers at even strength and on the power play, so if a team is looking for a trigger man and they don’t have much cap space to work with, Kovalchuk could really help.

Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit Red Wings

He hasn’t scored a ton of goals this season, partly because he’s been among the league’s unluckiest players at both ends of the ice, but Athanasiou is a middle-six goal scorer who could really push a team over the edge if they can properly insulate him.

There’s no debating at this point that Athanasiou is a one-dimensional player. He’s a big liability on the defensive side, but that one dimension he’s good at? Oh man is he ever good. Everything Athanasiou does well revolves around his ridiculous speed with the puck on his stick, which is why he produces chances off the rush at a rate 85 per cent better than the average NHL forward.

If you need someone to help you off the cycle, look elsewhere, because as soon as his feet are planted he’s not nearly as useful, but teams looking to add to their rushing ability should take a chance on Athanasiou.

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils

With another year left on his deal, I’m not sure the Devils want to part with one of their only consistent offensive threats, but with the way this season has gone I wouldn’t be surprised if they capitalize on Palmieri’s value.

Palmieri is a dual threat in that he’s dangerous off the rush and off the cycle, but he’s struggled to get his quality shot attempts on net this season, maybe because there are so few shooting threats in New Jersey that opponents are able to easily key in on him. Even so, he gets dangerous shots off at a near first-line rate, and gets them off quickly in a variety of attacking styles. Palmieri can be both a rush attacker or one-timer option, which makes him a versatile addition for essentially any team looking for scoring.

Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers

Hoffman has never seen a perimeter shot he didn’t like, and that can be frustrating when he goes through scoring slumps, but he also has one of the most deceptively dangerous shots in the league. He’s not going to drive an offence on his own, and he’s way below average as a slot area presence, but he is the one-timer king of the current crop of available scorers.

Ripping one-timers on net at 150 per cent of the league average rate, only seven players in the NHL accomplish the feat more often than he does. Teams that need more complete players to add to their forward ranks should be wary, but a pure finisher who can score from a distance has value, too.

Evgenii Dadonov, Florida Panthers

Considering how much of the attention Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau soak up in Florida there are likely a lot of people who don’t realize how good Dadonov is.

If the Panthers pull the chute on the season in short order — or just move pieces around — and decide to get some value on Dadonov’s expiring contract, there should be tons of teams interested in him. Dadonov attacks off the rush nearly as effectively as Athanasiou, and he brings a lot more versatility to the table with more inner slot shots per minute than any other forward on this list, and 60 per cent more one-timers than the average forward as well. He’s not great off the cycle, but Dadonov is likely the most dangerous pure shooter of the bunch because of how willing he is to both attack off the rush and drive the net.

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