Exactly two weeks away from the 2018 NHL trade deadline, the rumour mill is in full swing. While some clubs are content to float through the final months of the regular season with their spot among the league’s elite well-established, others will look to use the trade deadline as the means by which they climb out of mediocrity and into that upper echelon.
With a fair few marquee names being bandied about, here are a few notable rumours to keep an eye on:
Rick Nash open to suiting up for a Canadian club
After a return to the 40-goal club just a few seasons ago, New York Rangers winger Rick Nash has seen his stock fall in recent seasons. Thirty-seven games missed over the past two years, coupled with a declining goals-per-game pace, has led to conversations of a potential deadline deal to ship Nash out of Manhattan.
That hypothetical became a little more tangible last week, when Nash was asked to submit a list of 18 teams to whom he would not accept a trade (effectively asking him to list the 12 NHL clubs for whom he would be open to suiting up).
According to Nash’s comments to the New York Post on Sunday, one or more of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets or Calgary Flames could be among the teams permitted to make a bid for the former Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy winner.
“I included the teams that I think have the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup and are also places I think would be good for my family,” Nash told the Post‘s Larry Brooks on Sunday.
“And, yes, that does include teams in Canada. I’m not excluding that as a possibility.”
There are only three Canadian teams who appear to be in the championship mix at the moment, as Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary are the only northern clubs currently holding playoff spots. Winnipeg leads that group with 73 points thus far, followed by Toronto’s 71 and Calgary’s 66.
The Jets also lead the above trio in cap space, currently sitting with roughly $18.6 million (per CapFriendly). The Flames are next in line with $7.7 million in cap space, while the Leafs have $4.7 million due to their LTIR situation.
Though the veteran sniper is apparently open to returning home for the next phase of his career, it appears the Nashville Predators are the current front-runner in the Nash sweepstakes — undoubtedly checking off the winger’s desire to don a contender’s sweater post-deadline.
Bruins brass have eyes for Oilers winger Pat Maroon
The Boston Bruins have been dispensing with the opposition with routine ease, finding themselves in the win column 10 times over their past 12 tilts. Much of that success has come on the backs of the team’s top line, as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all reside above the 20-goal plateau, with the next highest scorer on the team sitting at just 12.
That’s according to NBC Sports’ Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following on Sunday:
“The B’s have keen interest in Edmonton Oilers power forward Patrick Maroon, per multiple hockey sources, and it’s clear at this point the Oil are going to be a seller leading up to the deadline with their power forward as one of the big trade pieces.”
Maroon broke out with a career-best 27-goal performance last season, that career year gifted to him largely via a front-row seat to Connor McDavid’s crash course in offensive dominance. The Oilers captain figured in on 23 of Maroon’s 42 total points, en route to a 100-point campaign of his own.
The 29-year-old Maroon has managed to score at the same pace (0.52 points per game) this season, however, putting him on track for another 40-point-plus campaign by season’s end. His 13 tallies would place him fourth on the Bruins roster in the goals department presently, while his $2-million cap hit should be manageable given the number of entry-level deals dotted throughout Boston’s roster.
Golden Knights reportedly shopping sniper James Neal
The Vegas Golden Knights‘ Cinderella season has thus far earned them a residency on the Western Conference throne, as the club’s 76 points currently pace their conference and rank tied for second-best league-wide.
But the question that has long followed the inaugural heroes is what happens when the deadline hits. Vegas is rolling, no question, but do they consider themselves a legitimate Stanley Cup contender? If yes, then standing pat or adding pieces seems the obvious route, with the potential to carry out one of sports history’s greatest stories on the table.
If no, then the focus turns to selling high on the club’s record-breaking start to build up for the future.
According to former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager and player agent Brian Lawton, now an analyst for the NHL Network, Vegas appears to be leaning towards the latter option:
Though the Golden Knights have seen five skaters outscore James Neal in terms of total points this season, the former 40-goal scorer ranks second on the roster with 24 goals through his 55 tilts for the new franchise. That total already sits above the sum he posted over 70 games last season, as Neal has emerged as one of Vegas’ offensive focal points.
Contenders looking to bolster their secondary scoring are sure to take a long look at Neal should general manager George McPhee open the door to bids, with the winger’s string of 10 straight seasons of 20-plus goals a potent enough selling point to get the ball rolling.
Coyotes coveting improvements down the middle
Many a rumour has swirled around the Arizona Coyotes recently, as is often the case for clubs mired in the league’s basement. With franchise cornerstones like defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson and winger Max Domi seeing their names wind up in headlines, the club’s positional desires are coming into focus.
Per Coyotes beat writer Craig Morgan, Arizona’s brass feels improvement down the middle is key to contend in the Western Conference in the future, with many among the Western crop led by elite pivots.
“To win in the league you obviously have to be strong down the middle,” head coach Rick Tocchet told Morgan. “Whether it’s playing a 200-foot game or driving the engine offensively.”
Adding to their centre corps might not necessarily come via the trade market, but the club doesn’t believe the 2018 NHL Draft offers much in the way of elite middle-men.
“I think you’re always looking at centre,” Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt said. “It’s always your priority when you’re drafting forwards. There’s not a ton out there. This year in the draft, I think there’s no centermen even rated in the top 10. It’s a hard position to fill. They just don’t grow on trees.”
Derek Stepan currently ranks as the club’s No. 1 option, with a slew of not-yet-dominant prospects in line behind him. There are no guarantees the Coyotes do swing a significant deal at this year’s deadline, but if Ekman-Larsson or Domi do find themselves back in trade talks, the nature of the positional need Arizona is most keen on addressing seems clear.
Brassard, Plekanec on the market for centre-deprived teams
Expect calls to be exchanged between John Chayka, Pierre Dorion and Marc Bergevin. While the former manager seeks a boost at centre, the latter two managers appear to have key names to offer.
“I think they are little concerned about what they would look like at centre if Brassard was gone, but I think they’ve got some real action on him,” Friedman said during Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment on Saturday.
Brassard made his own thoughts on a potential move clear back in late December, telling The Columbus Dispatch: “I’ll play hockey anywhere.”
“I’ll play anywhere,” he said at the time. “I wouldn’t refuse to go anywhere in the world or anywhere in the East.”
Maple Leafs holding on to veteran James van Riemsdyk
After returning to the bright lights of the playoffs last season, Toronto looks to be gearing up for a run once again, currently sitting third in the Atlantic Division and well above the Eastern Conference wild-card crew.
Caught in the balance between leaning on their dominant young stars and including their crop of reliable veterans, the biggest question mark on the roster leading up to the 2018 deadline was James van Riemsdyk, the five-time 20-goal scorer set for unrestricted free agency this summer.
The 28-year-old has helped his own cause this season, his 22 goals ranking second on the team after leading sniper Auston Matthews. That being the case, the Leafs are apparently telling teams van Riemsdyk isn’t available for the taking, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
Though the former Philadelphia Flyer looks likely to remain in blue and white through February’s deadline, it’s not clear at this time how long he’ll be with the club once the campaign comes to a close.
“At this point there are no real serious negotiations on that front,” Johnston said of a potential van Riemsdyk extension. The winger’s understanding of his own value heading into the off-season has played a role in that, according to Nick Kypreos.
“He knows what the market is for goal scorers,” Kypreos said. “He knows what the price is out there for a guy like Max Pacioretty. He’s going to be in a position to say, ‘If you want me to bring the [average annual value of a deal] down, you’re going to have to go deep in term.’ I don’t think the Leafs are prepared to do what Washington did for T.J. Oshie, who had to go eight years.
“I think it’s inevitable that the Leafs may just be looking at renting their own player.”