We’re just over a month from the NHL trade deadline and it’s fair to say the market hasn’t really settled yet.
There are some teams, such as Ottawa and Los Angeles, that are at or near the bottom of the standings with pieces to move, and we expect them to be active. But others, such as the Rangers, Devils or Predators, are still figuring out what they want to move, and what they want to move forward with, in 2020-21.
Mid-way through the first bye week (the other comes after all-star), teams are beginning to meet with their scouting departments and chart out a path forward, with the ultimate determining factor on which direction they go being the upcoming schedule in the next few weeks. A string of wins may push teams to buy, or at least stand pat, while a cold streak could push others to sell.
Here’s the latest buzz from around the league.
HOW WILL THE PACIFIC DIVISION TEAMS REACT IN SUCH A TIGHT RACE?
This is such an interesting division. Not only is that so because one point separates the top five teams in it, but those five teams are all in different stages. The Vegas Golden Knights are as ready to contend as anyone, but Vancouver and Edmonton are still transitioning to that point and may not be as willing to move future assets for immediate help. Still, the Oilers and Canucks will be on the search for some help to get into the playoffs.
Arizona has already made one big move, though it has been a .500 team since acquiring Taylor Hall. Calgary won the division last year, but followed up a disappointing first-round exit with an up-and-down ride in 2019-20. GM Brad Treliving is no stranger to the blockbuster, so we wonder if he’d be open to something similar by Feb. 24.
So while they’re all close in the standings, the approach for each Pacific team could be very different.
“I think some of the teams might tinker or make a long-term move, but I don’t see any of you making a big rental move because while I do think you want to get in, I’m not sure you think that you’re good enough to win,” Elliotte Friedman said on Sportsnet 960 the Fan. “I think the one possible exception could be Vegas. I think they really believe they’re better than they’ve shown. I think the move they’ve made with the coaching says they really believe they’re better than they’ve shown. If anybody’s going to do something more interesting (in the Pacific) I think they may be the one.”
The Calgary Flames moved Michael Frolik to Buffalo on Jan. 2 for a draft pick and cleared his $4.3-million cap hit from the books. Treliving mentioned afterwards that his intention was to use the money freed up in the deal on this year’s team, but in a recent Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada, it was reported that the Flames would rather not use the room to acquire a rental player.
However, even that may have changed.
“It was interesting to hear (Tyler) Toffoli mentioned with Calgary last week because what I’d heard is you guys preferred somebody with term,” Friedman said.
Toffoli, 27, is scheduled to be a UFA this summer and is in dire need of a change of scenery. He’s four years removed from a 30-goal season and two removed from his last 20-goal year — but has 12 goals and 27 points in 49 games this year. Calgary’s primary need is a top-six winger and Toffoli fits that description.
“I heard more forward than ‘D,'” Friedman said about Calgary’s trade interests. “You guys could do some things around your blue line with Brodie or Hamonic, but I really don’t believe you’re trying to get weaker this year. I think those moves are only happening if somebody comes in.”
The Oilers are going to be a fascinating team to watch on the trade market because all of their success depends on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and the fact is scoring depth is sorely needed up front. GM Ken Holland has previously discussed his reticence to trade away a first-round pick, especially for a rental. This is why the team, though interested, was always a long shot to land pending UFA Hall.
Holland sat down for a Q&A with Sportsnet’s Mark Spector last week to talk about the deadline approach, and the need to add more depth.
Unlike some of their counterparts, the Canucks don’t have much salary cap space — and as players return to health even less will be available. They’ve also already traded their first-round pick (to Tampa Bay for J.T. Miller), though they have the option of either sending this year’s or next year’s. A playoff spot will determine which they keep.
“They’re trying to clear space as opposed to add it,” Friedman said of the Canucks.
Vancouver will have major contracts for its own players to deal with very soon. A decision on Jacob Markstrom needs to be made by this summer. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will be due extensions in 2021. Chris Tanev, 30, is a pending UFA as well.
Speaking to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre, Benning indicated Vancouver’s strength at this point in time is its organizational depth into the AHL.
“In other years, we were scrambling to find players. Now we’ve got guys who are waiting for their chance. That’s exciting for us,” the GM said.
THE MONTREAL CANADIENS: ALL IN, ALL OUT, OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN?
Sitting nine points out of the playoffs at the all-star break, but winners of four of their past five games, the Canadiens’ first two weeks back will influence which way GM Marc Bergevin goes — and even how far he goes with it. The first name everyone is wondering about is Ilya Kovalchuk, who has been a great fit with eight points in eight games since signing a $700,000 deal for the remainder of the season.
Chris Johnston recently reported the team may be after a third-round pick for Kovalchuk, but five of Montreal’s first seven games after the break are at home, and a strong run could get the team back into the playoffs, and off the seller’s market.
“It’s going to depend on if Montreal still feels they’re in it,” Friedman said. “While they’re still in it I wouldn’t expect them to deal him.”
But Kovalchuk is far from the only name being mentioned out of Montreal. Carey Price has appeared in rumours, though that seems more hypothetical than based on anything factual at this point. Same goes for Brendan Gallagher, who is not only one of the team’s critical offensive weapons, but he also brings a level of grit the lineup needs.
“I’d be shocked if they wanted to move (Gallagher),” Friedman said. “They don’t have a lot of guys that run through a wall on you. I think that’s one of the problems. You don’t have to be massive, but you have to be able to grind and Gallagher really grinds for them.”
The biggest decision to be made is probably on Jeff Petry. A great find since coming over from Edmonton, turning into a solid 40-plus-point performer from the back end, Petry has one more season beyond this one left on his contract. At 32 years old, the Habs have to weigh his value to the team next season and beyond — and what it may cost to retain him — against what they could get back for him in a trade right now.
As an impact right-shot defenceman with another year of control, Bergevin could recoup a solid collection of futures if he moves Petry now, but that would also set the team back a little in 2020-21.
“I think they have to make a call on him because he’s going to be 33 years old when you extend him and on paper you look at him overall and you’re very happy with him as a player, but I think they’ll be wondering about the extension,” Friedman said. “You look at what LA got for (Jake) Muzzin. They got a good OHL prospect (Sean Durzi) an AHL player (Carl Grundstrom) and a first. So I think that’s something. They have to make a decision there, but I think it’ll depend if they’re in the playoffs or not.”
ARE THE LEAFS CONCERNED ABOUT A LACK OF CHARACTER OR LEADERSHIP?
Go to any pub in Toronto and you’re bound to stumble into a conversation about the Leafs’ team toughness, or lack thereof. When head coach Sheldon Keefe said his team looked immature in a loss to Florida and again in a loss to Chicago before the break, it highlighted this fan concern.
The Leafs, however, have generally taken an analytical approach to roster building, and haven’t had as much emphasis on leadership or grit to this point, at least in a traditional sense. Currently sitting outside of a playoff spot, though, will Dubas feel any pressure to add that element to his team for the stretch run?
“We know they made a pretty aggressive push for Justin Williams and he’s a unique player in terms of his specific experiences and these types of things in the playoffs,” Chris Johnston told Sportsnet 590’s Good Show. “That tells me there’s at least an idea someone like that can help out.
“I do think that is a bit of an acknowledgment that having a bit more experience around won’t hurt … I don’t know how many of those guys are out there, so part of the immaturity comment for me is maybe it’s just going to take some time for everyone to mature more.”
WHAT IS NEW JERSEY’S DIRECTION?
Changing coaches after a bad start perhaps wasn’t surprising, but to then fire GM Ray Shero shortly after caught everyone by surprise. So where do the Devils go from here?
“I got told in the last week they kind of reset after everything that happened and started asking around, like if we do this, what would the value be,” Friedman said.
The tricky thing with the Devils is they have been rebuilding and have made two first-overall picks in the past three drafts. They’ve added some veterans around the kids and now have their goalie of the future in MacKenzie Blackwood starting in net. It wouldn’t be the best course of action to go all scorched earth and put a heavier demand on him next season.
Not to mention what that would say to the fan base.
All eyes are on Wayne Simmonds potentially moving before the deadline, given he’s on an expiring contract, though he’s stated his desire to stay put. The most impactful and valuable player they could move, though, is Kyle Palmieri. Currently injured, Palmieri has been a consistent goal scorer across his five years with the Devils, regularly pushing near 30 goals. He’ll also turn just 29 in February and has another year left on his contract, so an acquiring team would get two runs with him.
“I had heard Shero wasn’t going to (trade Palmieri),” Friedman said. “I don’t think they want to trade him. I think you have to give your fans a reason to go to the games. You also have to create… what’s the identity of players you want?”
WINNIPEG WANTS IN ON THE TRADE MARKET BUT MAY BE STUCK
With Connor Hellebuyck slowing some from a Vezina-worthy first half, the Jets’ defensive deficiencies are being made obvious. At the past two trade deadlines, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has moved a first-round pick for a centre, though that seems less likely to happen in 2020 given their bubble status.
Still, they’d ideally like to do something, specifically add to that blue line. There’s a Dustin Byfuglien-sized problem though — if the big defender returns to the team this season, he’ll bring his $7.6-million cap hit with him and so Winnipeg has to be ready if it happens.
“I don’t know if the Jets are going to be able to do anything,” Friedman said. “They’re stuck because they don’t know what’s going to happen with Byfuglien. I think they’ve been around some things. I think they were around Joel Edmundson. I think they were interested in (Justin) Faulk. I think they’ve looked at some other things and they’re just stuck.”
At this point, if Cheveldayoff wants to do something he may first have to move out some money. It’d be a shock if any of the big-ticket forwards (Wheeler, Connor, Laine, Ehlers, Scheifele) were moved, so it’d have to come from the bottom half of the lineup, and there’s one pretty good candidate from there: Mathieu Perreault, who makes $4.125 million against the cap this season and next.
He’s a fine player, but is there a taker for a third-line winger making that much money?
“Perreault is a guy I think they’ve tried to move for a while now, not because they don’t like him, but just to try to open up some money and they just haven’t been able to do it,” Friedman said.
WILL THE RANGERS ACTUALLY TRADE A GOALIE, OR RIDE IT OUT?
Ever since the Rangers called up 24-year-old netminder Igor Shesterkin, a highly regarded goalie prospect, trade rumours have swirled around Alexandar Georgiev. The latter is slightly younger (23) and has shown well in the NHL as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup this season and last, so there’s interest in adding his potential around the league.
But there’s reason to believe New York may just end up keeping Georgiev.
“They’ve told people they’re going to listen on Georgiev and I think they have,” Friedman said. “There are some teams who tell me they’re not sure if New York is really serious on doing this, but they’re willing to listen. They think New York might just be testing the value, but hold.”
While there’s a lot of excitement around Shesterkin, the fact is that he’s played only three NHL games and goalies can be wild cards when trying to project over the long-term. And though Lundqvist has another season left on his contract, there’s always a chance he hangs up his skates this summer, leaving the Rangers in need of Georgiev’s services.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been most closely linked to Georgiev, but the rumoured asking price has been high. It’s believed the Leafs would be willing to part with Jeremy Bracco, but that the Rangers want more impact than that. Think Kasperi Kapanen, a player Dubas is not eager to give up.
If not Georgiev, many were expecting New York to deal pending UFA Chris Kreider. But again, the Rangers have taken the past couple of years to rebuild on the fly and so the conversation is now starting to turn on the Kreider front. Will they trade him now for futures, or is it in their interests to sign him to an extension and return in 2020-21 with higher expectations as a team?
Heck, do the Rangers even believe they can get back into the playoff hunt this season?
“They might not trade anybody,” Friedman said. “I could see them holding and going for it. Making the playoffs, you cannot underestimate how important it is for business and I could see them sitting there and saying ‘you know what, if we’re in the race we’re gonna hold.'”