How motivated is each Canadian NHL team to buy at trade deadline?

NHL insider Mark Spector joins Gene Principe after Oilers GM Ken Holland broke news that Connor McDavid will miss 2-3 weeks with a quad injury, to discuss how the club will handle his recovery, and whether it affects their trade deadline philosophy.

As teams across the NHL are still figuring out if they’re buyers or sellers — and to what degree — it seems like the Canadian teams at least are fairly established as to what they’ll be classified as this trade season.

Whether or not the buyers of the group will chase rentals or something bigger, however, remains to be seen. And, heck, there may be buyers in this group that just don’t find the right fit for the right price, and so rather than force anything, they just end up sitting this deadline out.

So, a little less than two weeks out from the deadline now, we’re having a look at each of the seven Canadian teams and figuring out where they land on the buyer’s scale. We’re using a scale from 0-5 to rate how motivated a buyer each Canadian team should be at this deadline — 5 for “OMG they’ve got to do something” down to 0 for “not even on the radar to buy, though they could sell.”

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: 5

They’ve already made the one trade they absolutely had to with Jack Campbell (and Kyle Clifford) coming in, but they can’t be done.

In Monday’s Rumour Roundup we touched on the Leafs and their wait-and-see approach. Yes, they need to bring in another defenceman or two, but whether or not they have the cap space to take a huge swing at a top-four blueliner — perhaps even one who is under contract beyond this season — entirely depends on the health of Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci. Both are out for an extended period, which opens room through LTI, but the Leafs still need their available cap space in case either player returns before the end of the regular season.

But the fact is at this time of year, depth on the blue line is of the utmost importance. Check out what the recent Stanley Cup champions did around the deadline in this regard:

2018-19 St. Louis: Added Michael Del Zotto
2017-18 Washington Capitals: Added Michal Kempny
2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins: Added Mark Streit and Ron Hainsey
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins: Added Justin Schultz

Right now, Toronto is icing the youngest defence pair in the league with Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin together. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the only reason they’re together at the moment is because injuries have put the Leafs in this situation. They’re already in a spot where another injury would be devastating.

However big they shoot, the Leafs need at least one right-shot defenceman by the time the deadline is over — maybe two. they can hope and try for a top-four talent, but even if they only manage a third-pair player or veteran depth option, the Leafs have to make another move on the back end.

CALGARY FLAMES: 5

Teetering on the edge of the playoff picture is not where this year’s Flames expected to be — not after the handily won the Pacific in 2019 with 107 points. But that’s only part of the reason why Calgary is maxed out in our motivated buyer ratings.

After trading away Michael Frolik in January, GM Brad Treliving said he planned on using his newly freed-up cap space. It was generally assumed that this meant adding another forward with scoring acumen for the top-six or even to bring that element to a third line. But injuries have muddied the outlook.

Mark Giordano is on the IR with no timeline for a return, though we at least know he won’t require surgery. Travis Hamonic is on the IR as well. At the very least, this most likely takes TJ Brodie’s name off the market — barring some bigger, blockbuster deal — but does it change Calgary’s focus from offence to defence?

The fact is, when talking about Calgary’s motivations at this deadline, it can’t be viewed in a vacuum. With three playoff appearances in five years and last year’s breakout teasing a long playoff run that never came to fruition, the hourglass is running low on this group. At 36, Giordano is in the final stage of his career. Brodie and Hamonic are UFAs, with the former unlikely to stick around. And if the Flames don’t break through in these playoffs, will Treliving decide this core group needs a shake-up, and explore an off-season blockbuster as he did two years ago with the Dougie Hamilton trade?

It starts now at this trade deadline. Before making any major off-season surgery, Treliving will want to do his best to give this collection of players the best chance he can.

WINNIPEG JETS: 3

The Jets are going to be an interesting case at the deadline. At the past two trade deadlines, with his team firmly entrenched in the contender category, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff traded a first-round pick for a rental centre. But outside of those seasons Cheveldayoff has traditionally been quiet this time of year. And the Jets’ organization has been built up on his patience.

This year, some of the shine has worn off the Jets, though after a bit of a mid-season swoon they’re back winning again. This may indicate they’ve turned their season around, but as they sit in the second wild-card spot in the West, their playoff hopes are tenuous, so any trade this year will probably not resemble what they did in 2018 or 2019.

The Jets don’t necessarily need a centre this season, mainly because Paul Maurice has moved Blake Wheeler from first-line winger to second-line pivot. And they have scoring to match almost anyone — Winnipeg’s problems obviously stem from the back end.

So, if Cheveldayoff wishes to reward this group of players for staying in the race despite all the excuses in the world not to, we’d be expecting it to come in the form of a defenceman. But who would fit what the Jets need? The likes of Alec Martinez, Josh Manson or Matt Dumba are coveted around the league, and since all are signed beyond this season the price to acquire any will be high.

The rental market is less defined here. Chicago’s Erik Gustafsson may be available, but he is all-offence and wouldn’t fill Winnipeg’s need for help in the defensive end. Dylan DeMelo or Brenden Dillon could be potential targets but, again, there should be a market for both of those players, which could drive the price to a level Cheveldayoff shies away from.

As a bubble team with a strong offence and excellent goaltending this season, Winnipeg should be looking to be a buyer where it makes sense. But a bigger change to fix the blue-line problem may have to wait for the summer.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: 2

First place in the Pacific Division and having just snapped a four-game losing streak that followed a five-game winning streak would, in many cases, point to a team that must be a deadline buyer. But the Canucks aren’t really in a place where they should take the big leap yet.

In a Q&A with Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre last month, GM Jim Benning pointed to the strength of his team’s prospect pipeline and that, unlike in years past, there are players in the minors pushing for an NHL spot, which gives him options as injuries hit.

Earlier in the season, Benning suggested he’d be after a top-six scorer, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be on the hunt for a rental. It’s almost like this season is all gravy for the Canucks, with the full payoff from this core still projected to be a couple years away.

“I’m going to be in the marketplace,” Benning told MacIntyre. “But I’m not necessarily going to sacrifice draft picks to make the team better for two months. I hope that we keep competing and win our share of games because I want to make the playoffs. But on rentals, I’m going to be careful that we’re not going to be giving up high draft picks or the prospects we’ve worked to develop just for help for a couple of months.”

EDMONTON OILERS: 2

The Oilers are, in many ways, in the same boat as the Canucks. We certainly wouldn’t qualify them as a true contender and GM Ken Holland spoke about the likelihood he’ll enter into the trade market by offering up an asset coveted around the league: their first-round pick.

“What if you miss the playoffs?” Holland asked. “I’m trying to build a program…at the end of the day if you’re going to spend a first-round pick you want to know that you’re going to be in the playoffs.”

Three points behind the Canucks for first in the Pacific with two games in hand, the Oilers are also only one point clear of being outside of the playoff picture at all. However, this year’s team does seem to be a different beast than other recent Oilers outfits. They have more fortitude, toughness and pushback, and Saturday’s win against Nashville put that all on display. There are plenty of past Oilers teams that would have folded under a two-goal deficit late in the second period.

If Holland wanted to get into the trade game he certainly could swing big. But some of the assets he’d need to accomplish that — Evan Bouchard, Kailer Yamamoto, Philip Broberg, first-rounder — are either in this lineup now, could be as early as next season, or will be part of Holland’s longer-term plan for attaining stability in the organization.

And, really, that is the most important thing this team could acquire this year. For too long coaches have been pushed out, players have been dealt for less than market value and not enough development has been done successfully. The Oilers are in the tough spot they’ve been for over a decade because of a lack of stability.

Their top need for most of the season was a scoring winger, but Yamamoto’s ascension to the top-six changed that outlook. But now comes the news that Connor McDavid is expected to miss two to three weeks (“We’re hoping less than that,” Holland said) which will have obvious ramifications. We’ll find out so much more about the rest of this team without the world’s best player around to carry the load.

So while it would be nice to see the Oilers make an addition, and there is some motivation to do so, they may not even be in a playoff spot 13 days form now. In McDavid’s absence, this has turned very much into a wait-and-see situation.

MONTREAL CANADIENS: 1

Had the Canadiens won their game on Monday night, we’d be looking today at a team just three points out of the playoffs and, perhaps, in the running for third in the Atlantic. But it’s going to be awfully tough for them to get there, and they aren’t getting any luck either.

The flu bug has hit the team at the exact wrong moment. Shea Weber is out of the lineup and won’t be on the upcoming road trip — beyond that, it’s unclear how serious it is. There should be no motivation for the Habs to get out into the rental market, but the reason they rate as a 1 here is that, because GM Marc Bergevin is keeping an eye on next season, there’s always the chance he pulls off a surprise and makes a deal for a termed player to carry into next season.

It seems unlikely they’re going to trade either Tomas Tatar or Jeff Petry, though if one were to go we’d bet on it being the former. But even if Tatar does go, is it automatic that Bergevin would just bring back a collection of picks and prospects? He may find a taker (even if he adds a piece or two) who will send back a contracted player to contribute to the team in 2020-21.

OTTAWA SENATORS: 0

For the second year in a row, Ottawa is hard in the sellers category, though it doesn’t have the kind of assets this time as it did last year to make waves. There is no motivation for the Senators to be buyers.

The questions are all about whom will they move. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a penalty-killing third-line centre, seems a lock to move, and should be able to return at least a second-round pick, or equivalent prospect. From there, the questions get tougher. Should they actually explore trading Anthony Duclair, whom they could be selling high on? Duclair has already set new career highs in goals (21) this season through just 54 games and is a 24-year-old RFA this summer. But given the seasons he’s had in the past, would Ottawa also have to buy high just to keep him?

Then there’s Craig Anderson and Mark Borowiecki, two long-time Sens on expiring contracts. Neither will give the team a huge return, but an asset is an asset this time of year. Borowiecki and his wife just celebrated the birth of their child, and Anderson spoke recently about the prospect of leaving Ottawa.

“You know, my heart and soul is here in Ottawa, with the fan base, with the organization and with the guys in here,” Anderson said. “If something were to happen it would definitely be a hard transition, a hard day. But we’ll see. I don’t want to speculate. I will cross that bridge when it happens, but as of right now – if something were to happen, that would be a sad day.”

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