Does the build up to this year’s Feb. 24 trade deadline seem more quiet than usual to you? There are a number of names in the rumour mill (and we’ve collected the top 25 of those here) but fewer actual pre-deadline trades being pulled off.
The Toronto Maple Leafs made one with the Los Angeles Kings and the long-awaited Jason Zucker trade finally happened between the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins this week. But a tight race in the standings has blurred the lines between buyer and seller this year, so a number of organizations that may turn into sellers aren’t yet ready to give up on this year’s playoff hopes.
“I do think it’s complicated and probably led to a little slower run up here than we’ve typically seen in terms of moves that have already happened, but I also think it’s going to sort itself out,” Chris Johnston told Pinder and Steinberg on Sportsnet 960. “I think most teams understand by and large you want to be on one side or the other of this equation. I don’t know that too many teams go into the deadline absolutely deciding 100 per cent they’re going to stand pat.
“This is a crazy year. The Pacific Division best embodies it…it’s a more compressed standings than we’ve ever seen.”
Another factor in this is that the rental market is rather soft. Chris Kreider‘s name may be the biggest available one from this group, but after that it sharply falls off to more bottom-six or depth options.
“I’ve heard, with the exception of Kreider, the rental market is pretty soft,” Elliotte Friedman noted on Sportsnet 960‘s Boomer in the Morning. “Some teams have told me, and you know it can always change over the next 10 days, but the bites they’re getting are not as great as they wanted. Players with term who teams want, those players are definitely getting nibbles.”
Separation has set in in the East, where it seems as though the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers stand as the only teams currently on the outside looking in with a chance to finish in a playoff spot. That separation is beginning to take hold in the West as well, though even 12th-place Chicago Blackhawks may feel they still have a chance sitting just six points back.
One good or one bad run can quickly change the trade deadline outlook for a team, but we’re now just nine days away from the deadline, so the fact is we’re running out of time for those streaks. The buzz in the trade market will only pick up steam in the week ahead, so in the meantime, here are some of the latest rumours.
IF MCDAVID’S INJURY DOESN’T CHANGE EDMONTON’S PLANS, WHAT WILL THEY DO?
When GM Ken Holland announced Connor McDavid‘s quad injury would keep him out of the lineup for the next 2-3 weeks, he was asked if the news would change his approach to the deadline at all.
“No,” was Holland’s short answer.
As we explored earlier this week, the Edmonton Oilers don’t appear willing to move their first-round pick, Evan Bouchard, or even prospect Jesse Puljujarvi in a trade for a rental player. Though they’re second in the Pacific Division, they’re also just three points away from being out of a playoff spot, so it’s hard to go all-in on a roster that’s still trying to be stabilized for long-term success.
But if Holland has an opportunity to acquire a player who has term, or is young enough that the team will get years of control back? Well, that may change the equation as to who or what is available.
“If they get somebody with term I think there’s a difference in what they’re willing to do,” Elliotte Friedman noted on the FAN 650’s The Program this week.
It may still be tough to move their first-rounder in that type of trade, but could this week bring more Puljujarvi buzz? Playing for Karpat in Finland’s Liiga, Puljujarvi has 18 goals and 44 points in 45 games and is second in team scoring. In fact, Puljujarvi is sixth in league scoring, just four points off the lead.
The fourth-overall pick from the 2016 draft has been an NHL disappointment to this point, but he’s still only 21 years old. If the Oilers can find a scoring forward with term, Puljujarvi may be the primary asset they have to get a deal done, even if his value has declined the past four years.
“I think Puljujarvi and a second are probably (Holland’s) two biggest chips to play in terms of trying to bring in more forward depth so I wouldn’t be surprised if Puljujarvi did end up on the move by the deadline,” Johnston said. “There’s also been extensive talks with teams. The New York Rangers showed lots of interest in him through the summer and into the season.
“The Devils have asked about him. Tampa at one point. I think there’s enough history there that the Oilers will be pretty clear on who at least has some interest. And I think he still has some value, not the value of where he was selected obviously, but this is one of the real cards I think the Oilers could play.
“And I do expect Edmonton to be active to at least bring in one more forward.”
HAVE INJURIES TO DEFENCEMEN WARPED THE MARKET FOR ALEC MARTINEZ?
By all indications the rental market is soft, with perhaps the exception of Kreider (more on him later). So when there is a top-four defenceman with term on his contract who could be had, as is the case with Los Angeles Alec Martinez, there should be no shortage of interested parties.
But a recent spate of injuries could complicate that market.
Seth Jones in Columbus. Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci in Toronto. Mark Giordano and Travis Hamonic in Calgary. All of those teams are still on the playoff bubble and two of them may not have had a previous need to add to their back end. But in the face of these injuries, priorities could change.
And then you have the likes of Vancouver, Florida and Carolina as teams that already had a need or desire to add on the blue line.
The Kings are one of the few teams who are definite sellers with attractive pieces to move and, as a result, would benefit from a larger group of teams getting in on the bidding.
“I think the guy that means a lot for is Alec Martinez,” Friedman noted. “I think Carolina tried to trade a more veteran player for him and I don’t think the Kings are interested in that. I think they’re more looking for a pick and a prospect and I think all of this has driven the price up.”
NEW JERSEY WILL HAVE SOME INTERESTING DECISIONS TO MAKE
The New Jersey Devils are far out of the race again this season and are firmly in the sellers category, but just how far they go with it is hard to predict. Pending UFA Wayne Simmonds would seem the most likely to get dealt, but again, with a slow rental market the return may turn out to be underwhelming.
From there, the Devils could also choose to move Kyle Palmieri — a reliable scoring winger who is signed through next season as well. But those two players are 31 and 29, respectively, so it’s likely their prime years will be behind them when New Jersey breaks out of this rebuild.
The name that is continually popping up in rumours, though, is Blake Coleman. The 29-year-old is having a fantastic season with 21 goals in 56 games, which follows up a 22-goal season. He’s also cheap with a $1.8-million cap hit through next season, so he brings production at a bargain AAV.
“I think they’re getting offered a bit for him,” Friedman said. “I heard yesterday they’ve got some offers there that are really making them think.”
Where it could also get interesting is in how interim GM Tom Fitzgerald chooses to handle some younger players he has. Could 24-year-old left winger Miles Wood be made available, for example? How about 25-year-old defenceman Damon Severson?
On the one hand the Devils are still rebuilding their depth chart, need futures to do it with and these types of players would bring back the best returns. On the other, they’re going to need NHLers to play minutes and avoid being caught in this vicious losing cycle for longer than necessary. Plus, if they move out a number of quality players now, what incentive will the fans have to show up to the rink?
“From what I understand, Jersey’s looking for young guys who are ready to play bigger roles,” Friedman added. “Especially forwards. So if you could tempt the Devils with guys like that they would at least consider those kinds of players.”
WHERE DOES DUMBA’S FUTURE LIE?
A physical, top-four defenceman signed long-term, in his prime and with scoring upside? Sure, Mathew Dumba may be having a down season, but you better believe there’s wide interest in him.
The Wild have already made one trade, sending Zucker to the Penguins, and then fired head coach Bruce Boudreau on Friday. That may signal that change is on the way, though GM Bill Guerin said he believed this team should be challenging for a playoff spot and, sitting just three points out, they do appear to still have a chance.
Jonas Brodin‘s name is another from the Wild’s blue line that’s out there, but Dumba is seemingly the big catch. He makes $6 million through 2022-23 and though his offensive numbers are softer this season, that follows four straight years of at least 10 goals — including last year when injury limited him to 32 games. In his last fully healthy season, Dumba reached 14 goals and 50 points.
But why would a playoff hopeful move such an important player now?
“He might get them a significant haul in return so that’s why they’ve taken some calls on him and explored the market,” Johnston said. “If I’m putting a percentage on it, it’s more likely than not he remains in Minnesota beyond the deadline.
“I think that Bill Guerin, being new in the job, is maybe more open and maybe a little bit less married to some of the core players on the team than what you might typically see for someone in this position.”
HOW ABOUT KREIDER? WILL HE RE-SIGN IN NEW YORK, OR GET TRADED?
Chris Kreider’s reps and the New York Rangers have had some discussion about his future and if there’s a way to sign the pending UFA before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. If not, it seems all but certain he’ll be wearing a new jersey soon.
The problem is that Kreider’s AAV ask on his next contract may prove too rich for the Rangers. The good news for the team is that the 22-goal, 40-point player (through 55 games this season) will easily be the best rental available and a number of teams need his type.
“My read is they’re only willing to go so far in these negotiations,” Johnston said. “I don’t even know they would go give him the Kevin Hayes contract he got in Philly (seven years, $7.1 million AAV). Without doing something like that I’m just not sure, even as much as Chris Kreider’s enjoyed being a Ranger, if it makes sense for him to sign for less.
“Where it leads us is he’s going to be the top rental available on the forward market, he’ll probably draw the most interest. I think he’ll get them a first-round pick if they do elect to move him and to me that seems like the most likely destination for these sides.”
DALLAS STARS GM JIM NILL SAYS HE’S HAPPY TO DO NOTHING
A year ago, the Stars were an inch away from eliminating the St. Louis Blues in the second round. This year, they’re challenging the Blues and Avalanche for first in the Central Division. They have the defensive structure, scoring, depth and goaltending to survive and thrive.
Dallas doesn’t have a clear need as they did in 2019. Back then, secondary scoring was a sore spot and so Nill acquired Mats Zuccarello from the Rangers as a deadline rental for second- and third-round picks. Nill picked up Joe Pavelski over the summer, so that same need isn’t there in 2020.
So while they can be considered contenders again this season, Dallas may not be in a place to make a move. We’ll see.
“I think we’d all like to be buyers, but I have to run a hockey department too,” Nill told NHL.com. “Last year, I gave away, well, I have no second- or third-round pick this year because of decisions I made last year in trades.
“You’re always thinking both short term and long term, and I have to make those decisions. Right now, for me to make up more picks and that, I have to think about this franchise too.”
WILL COLUMBUS ROLL THE DICE AGAIN?
Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was the hero of the 2019 trade deadline, going all-in on a team that was no guarantee to even make the playoffs. The payoff was a massive upset in a four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Expected to take a step back this season after losing a number of key players to free agency — including their deadline pickups — the Blue Jackets are nonetheless in the thick of things once again. Their Latvian goalies — especially Elvis Merzlikins — have made fans all but forget about Sergei Bobrovsky, and the team currently occupies the first wild card spot and are just one point behind the New York Islanders for third in the Metro.
It may not be so easy to have the same deadline approach this time, however. Jones is out 8-10 weeks, which is a massive blow to the blue line. First line winger Cam Atkinson is also out, and you can add Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg, Alexandre Texier and Dean Kukan to that list as well. Even one of the goalies, Joonas Korpisalo, is currently on the sidelines.
“It’s a little bit tough for us to get help,” Kekalainen told The Athletic. “We can’t take anything away from our lineup, and one-for-one [trades] rarely make you better. Our defensive depth … we don’t have defensive depth right now.”