Less than a month away from the NHL trade deadline now, how is the market shaping up?
“It’s interesting, I’m getting a lot of guys telling me there are a lot more sellers than there are buyers,” Elliotte Friedman told Ryan Pinder and Pat Steinberg on SN960 the Fan. “They think it’s a buyers’ market.”
In our recently updated top 25 trade candidates list, there are a lot of players who would be helpful additions to a Cup contender. The problem is two-fold though.
One: most teams still consider themselves to be in the playoff race this far out and one run of good luck could take a player off the market and turn a team into a buyer. In this league of parity, the playoff races figure to be especially close.
Two: there are a lot of players on expiring contracts who could be attainable, but the value of rental players has been in decline for some time. In a recent 31 Thoughts column, Friedman talked with Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois, who mentioned most recent Cup champs did not add a rental, and, in fact, did most of their tweaking in the off-season or earlier in the year.
“I think the biggest question is are there going to be guys available with term,” Friedman wondered. “That’s guys like the Toronto guys. The Kapanens, the Johnssons, the Kerfoots. And I don’t think Toronto is doing that right now … I think Toronto’s going to wait a little bit to see ‘how good are we before we commit to giving up that kind of an asset.'”
Add Matt Dumba’s name to that list, as the Minnesota Wild defenceman is under contract through 2022-23 and could be made available if they fall from the race.
Here’s the latest buzz around the league.
WOULD THE SHARKS ENTERTAIN THE IDEA OF TRADING THORNTON AND/OR MARLEAU?
Sitting nine points out of a playoff spot, the San Jose Sharks aren’t in very familiar territory. They last missed the post-season in 2015, and that was just the second time in the 21st century that had happened to the Sharks.
So we have to start looking at Doug Wilson’s team as a trade-deadline seller, though it’s hard to say how much the GM would be willing to move. Pending UFA defenceman Brendan Dillon is the most likely to go, but the Sharks hope to contend again next season so it’s highly unlikely a big rebuild is on the way.
But we do have to wonder about the two oldest Sharks. Both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are playing on one-year contracts. Marleau returned to San Jose this season after spending the past two with Toronto, while Thornton has been a mainstay on the roster since 2005. He’s on his third consecutive one-year deal with the team as he heads toward the end of his career. Both are 40 and still chasing their first Stanley Cup, plus Marleau has a chance to break Gordie Howe’s all-time games played record if he plays through next season.
Neither are at their peak anymore, but teams are always looking for veteran experience this time of year. Marleau doesn’t have any trade protection, but Thornton has a full no-move clause and would need to agree to any potential trade.
“I really, I need to think about that,” Thornton told the Mercury News. “Obviously, this little homestand is going to be important for our team. But I haven’t thought about it at all. I’m just trying to win games here and see how it goes.”
Coming out of the break, the Sharks have three games at the Shark Tank and then play seven of their next nine games on the road before the Feb. 24 deadline.
“I’m still optimistic we can still make a run at it, I really am,” Thornton said. “We’ll have to see how these next couple weeks play out and then we’ll go from there.
“Ask me then. We’ll see. But like I said, I’m optimistic this team can turn it around. I want to stay positive in that aspect and really make a push here. That’s all we can do.”
Though San Jose is staring down the very real possibility of missing the playoffs, it doesn’t appear Wilson is on the hot seat. Last week, team owner Hasso Plattner gave his GM a vote of confidence.
“Doug has a long history of leading our team to success,” Plattner said. “The last time we failed to meet our winning standards in the 2014-15 season, we were able to quickly rebound and re-establish a winning culture for the next several years. I am supportive of Doug’s plan to get our team back on track.”
SABRES STILL LOOKING FOR FORWARD HELP
Sitting 10 points out of the playoffs, but with a very home-heavy schedule over the next three weeks, Sabres GM Jason Botterill says he isn’t throwing in the towel just yet.
Injuries have hurt their forward unit and the return of Jeff Skinner to the lineup Tuesday will give the team its first look at the new trio of Skinner, Marcus Johansson and Michael Frolik, who was acquired in a trade from the Calgary Flames on Jan. 2.
Botterill addressed the media Tuesday morning and was still talking as if he’d buy forward talent at the deadline.
“If we can add more to our offensive mix we’re certainly looking for it,” he said. “I think also too whenever you can add to just our team speed upfront that’s another thing I’m looking at.”
We know that Zach Bogosian and Evan Rodrigues have requested trades out of Buffalo, and have been in and out of the lineup ever since. The Sabres will have to be sellers to some degree, while also looking at ways to improve as they stare down the likelihood of missing the post-season for the ninth year in a row.
COULD COLUMBUS’ JOSH ANDERSON BE AN ADDITION TO THE TRADE MARKET?
As the Blue Jackets continue to surprise by hanging around the Eastern Conference playoff race — actually sitting in the first wild-card spot Tuesday — it’s a wonder how GM Jarmo Kekalainen will approach this year’s deadline. With a couple big pending UFAs last year who were certain to walk, Kekalainen doubled down on his team, added to it and won a playoff round.
This year is different for Columbus, in that there are no notable pending UFAs on the roster. There are some important RFAs to take care of this summer, however, with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins all in need of extensions.
“We’re evaluating this year’s team a little bit differently because we don’t have the same situation as last year with pending UFAs who were big pieces of our team,” Kekalainen told Hockey Central last week. “We’re building. We believe in that process of building through draft and development.”
There’s also a complicated case developing with Josh Anderson, which The Athletic‘s Aaron Portzline explored. A big part of last year’s sweep of the Lightning, which followed career-high offensive totals, Anderson has struggled with just four points in 26 games this season. He’s currently on the injury reserve, but expected back fairly soon.
The developing issue is that he’ll also be an RFA this summer, with arbitration rights and is one year away from being UFA eligible. The last time Anderson’s contract was up in 2017, negotiations dragged into October and Anderson missed all of training camp. Given he’s having a down season interrupted by injury, his value is no longer clear and that could complicate this round of negotiations as well.
Since the Blue Jackets are in the playoff race, they may decide to keep him around for now and explore trade options in the summer. But he scored 27 goals just last season, which could attract suitors around the league, and an acquiring team could get at least two runs with him.
In the meantime, Columbus has been 15-2-2 since Anderson was injured.
“Josh has had some struggles,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told Portzline. “I thought he was coming on (before he was injured), I thought he was playing better. I don’t think he was rewarded as far as points are concerned, but he was playing better.
“But, ya know, we’ve done OK here.”
PENGUINS LOOKING TO ADD FORWARDS
In perhaps the least surprising development of the trade season, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is out there trying to give a boost to his forward units.
The team got through Sidney Crosby’s injury unscathed, but remain without Jake Guentzel for the long-term. Sitting second in the Metro Division, the Penguins are in position to take another run at a Cup, but ideally would make some additions to bolster their depth upfront.
“If the right one is out there, then yes, that’s what we’re looking at,” Rutherford told The Athletic‘s Josh Yohe. “I’m not sure if I’d feel that way if Jake were healthy. But Jake’s not healthy. Ideally, I’d like to give us more depth and more options in the top six. Can we do that, in terms of the right style of player and the right cost? That’s the ultimate question, but we are looking into it.”
Rutherford added that he was open to bringing in a rental, or someone with term left on their contract, as long as he felt they were a natural fit with the team.