Two weeks before the trade deadline and the market is moving at a snail’s pace. Teams are still figuring out if they’re buyers or sellers, if they’re in the playoff hunt or not really, and how any potential moves could impact a playoff charge next season.
Welcome to the age of parity.
But fear not, we still expect a flurry of action to take place over the next 14 days. The fact is there will be both buyers and sellers by Feb. 24, we just need to figure out who is in which camp. The rental market will likely pick up as well, as teams seek to pick up an asset or two for a player they’re about to lose in free agency anyway.
Here’s the latest buzz around the league…
ARE FLAMES IN FOR A BUSY DEADLINE?
Last week the Calgary Flames were given a blow after captain Mark Giordano injured his hamstring, which will cost him time. On Saturday, fellow defenceman Travis Hamonic suffered a suspected upper-body injury that will keep him off the ice for at least one game.
The good news? Giordano didn’t require surgery so the recovery isn’t as long-term as it could have been.
The last time the Flames lost Giordano at a key time, it ended up being a rallying point for the team. In 2014-15, Giordano was lost to injury in late February, but rather than wither, Calgary finished the regular season 10-5-3 without their best defenceman and won a round in the playoffs. Giordano told Eric Francis last week that he was optimistic this injury could lead to a similar response.
The Flames have won and lost a game since losing Giordano this time and are hanging on to the second wild card spot in the West, one point clear of struggling Arizona.
When Brad Treliving traded Michael Frolik to Buffalo earlier this season he noted that he planned on using the extra cap space before the deadline to help this team. The thinking was that the Flames would prefer to use it on another forward — especially since they still haven’t found stable line combinations — but does the Giordano and Hamonic injuries change the priority?
“I don’t know if they’re necessarily going out to get defence, but I do think there’s urgency there,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said on Sportsnet 960 The Fan last week, before Hamonic was hurt. “I think this will be a pretty active trade deadline for Brad Treliving. It’s not pinned right on this injury… but I think there’s an opportunity there to have a long playoff run and there’s value to that for an organization.”
The big question is what kind of a deal, and how many of them, Treliving makes. There’s a strong belief that if this year’s team misses the playoffs or is eliminated early again that bigger changes could come this summer.
So, to maximize this year’s team even as they teeter on the edge of the playoffs, could the Flames get into the rental market?
“I think it’s possible,” Johnston said. “Teams in general don’t like rentals, but you can’t ignore that’s the commodity for sale.
“Everyone would love to make a trade that helps them today, tomorrow, and two years from now, but I don’t think those trades are really that available so I think we’re probably talking about a rental here.”
The Flames have been linked to Tyler Toffoli in the rumour mill, a pending UFA for the Los Angeles Kings who has 14 goals and 30 points this season.
WHAT WILL THE MAPLE LEAFS DO NEXT?
Well, Toronto finally got its backup goalie and even added some grit in a trade with Los Angeles last week. For the second year in a row, GM Kyle Dubas took care of a primary need weeks before the deadline.
But, as injuries hit the back end, this team has more than one need. So right after the Leafs acquired Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford, Leafs Nation immediately started wondering, well, what’s Dubas going to do to steady the defence?
With Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci on the sidelines the Leafs potentially have cap space to work with, but just how much isn’t clear. Right now, CapFriendly shows Toronto as having roughly $6.5 million of deadline day cap space to work with, but if one or both of Rielly and Ceci returns before the end of the regular season, the Leafs will need to have space to activate those players. So there could be much less cap room to work with here than it seems.
A lot of this will depend on Rielly’s health specifically. On Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment this past Saturday, Elliotte Friedman noted that Rielly had a doctor’s appointment this week and that the Leafs would wait on the long-term outlook of these injuries before deciding what moves can be made next.
Once that’s figured out Toronto will have a better idea if it can make a big move that helps the blue line in the long term, or if it has to think of a more immediate fix, potentially on the rental market.
“The thing is if it’s not a rental it’s going to be expensive,” Friedman noted on The Fan in Toronto last week. “Like if you’re talking a Matt Dumba or Josh Manson… that is not a cheap price. Not at all.”
Dubas said after acquiring Campbell and Clifford, it’s going to be pretty “touch and go” as far as his trade options go these next two weeks. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, though, it’s that Toronto will do something. Just two points clear of Florida for third in the Atlantic Division, the Leafs have to at least add depth to their banged up blue line.
Their best blueliner is already out, and that’s forced head coach Sheldon Keefe to use the youngest defence pair in the league, with Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren together. Whether you’re just trying to get into the playoffs, or go on a deep run once there, it is vital to have depth on the back end this time of year.
“Just because the preference is to address some of the blue line needs longer term doesn’t mean that as we get closer to the deadline they won’t consider some other deals and do something short term just to help the playoff push to give them more depth,” Johnston told The FAN 590’s Lead Off. “Right now with Ceci and Rielly out, I don’t want to raise the spectre, but if another injury comes to the blue line it’s getting awfully thin awfully quick.”
And there’s also the possibility the Leafs could do something we don’t see coming.
“If there’s one trend I’ve noted in the way the Leafs have operated under Kyle Dubas they usually try to solve more than one problem with each trade,” Johnston continued. “Getting a rental defenceman only solves an immediate need, not a longer term one.”
WOULD THE COYOTES TRADE TAYLOR HALL?
Since trading for Taylor Hall in mid-December, the Arizona Coyotes are 8-11-3, with a .432 points percentage that ranks 27th in the league. As of Monday they are sitting one point out of a playoff spot.
That could mean they are going to be like the Columbus Blue Jackets at this deadline. Last year a playoff spot was not assured to Columbus, but rather than trade their pending UFAs who weren’t going to re-sign, they acquired four more UFAs and it got them the first playoff series win in franchise history.
But, fairly, Arizona’s lack of success over the past two months has many wondering if they’d actually sell — and even if they’d put Hall back out on the market.
“I don’t see them doing it,” Johnston told The Fan 960. “That’s a viable idea though. That’s how crazy the league is right now. The distance between being really good and struggling is not that big. I would be stunned if John Chayka did that, but there’s an argument to be made he should consider that.
“But he’s got a new owner there, the circumstances around the Coyotes I think are really built on them accelerating up. And even if it doesn’t look good, if they lose a few games between now and February 24, I do think they’re going to hold on to him and try to put all their chips into the middle and be the best team they can be.”
THE AVALANCHE ARE CONTENDERS WITH CAP SPACE, BUT WILL THEY USE IT?
When talking about the trade desires for any playoff team or contender, most of the time it comes back to salary cap considerations. Everyone, it seems, is tight up against it.
This is what makes the Colorado Avalanche an interesting outlier. According to Cap Friendly, Colorado has the most salary cap space available of any team — $22.89 million. Second in the tough Central Division and just three points back of St. Louis with two games in hand, the Avalanche are firm contenders this year.
They were involved in the Hall trade talks, but didn’t offer the same level of return. They could, in theory, do just about anything and have all sorts of assets to trade, but the long-term Cup outlook and keeping that window open seems to be the organization’s top priority this trade season.
“As a front office they don’t seem that eager to make a short-term trade,” Johnston said. “I see them as a player for some defensive depth at this deadline, maybe even offensive depth, though I don’t think that’s a priority for them.”
Colorado is one of those teams that could be key to unlocking a busier trade season than it seems to be shaping up as. Nashville and Minnesota would fall into that category as well, but as sellers rather than big-game buyers.
But they do have to be careful. As much cap room as they have right now, it can evaporate quickly. After next season, when the cap has risen, Gabriel Landeskog and especially Cale Makar will be due big raises. Philipp Grubauer will need to be extended, or a new goalie has to be found. Next year Sam Girard starts his new deal paying $5 million against the cap, and they have to figure out what to do with Andre Burakovsky, who has been a nice, cheap find in 2019-20.
“Colorado’s a team that can make big things happen, that can do some interesting stuff, but I just don’t feel from them that at this point they’re willing to take a big run at someone or try to do something small-term,” Johnston said. “I don’t get the sense they’re really heavily influencing the trade market or are going to expend a first-round pick.”
EDMONTON LIKELY TO ADD AROUND THE EDGES
Optimism is always going to be a little tentative in a market that has one playoff appearance in 13 years, but the Oilers are four points in a spot right now, and right on Vancouver’s heels for first in the Pacific. Saturday’s come-from-behind win against Nashville was a real statement that this team is different than other recent ones.
But as far as trades go, not much has changed from earlier in the season. Sure, GM Ken Holland would like to add to this team and reward their performance, but it still feels like there’s a long way to go before this group reaches its full potential.
“I know Ken Holland has told teams that his best assets are not really on the table,” Friedman said last week. “I know they’re not crazy about giving up a first- or second-round pick. And I know they’re not crazy about dealing (Jesse) Puljujarvi for a rental. One thing about Holland is I think he’s going to be careful.”
Much has been made of the team’s lack of depth up front this season, which forced them to play Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl together for the first couple of months. Because of that, an offensive forward was believed to be Edmonton’s top priority for some time.
But it can’t be overstated how much Kailer Yamamoto has changed the equation. Since New Year’s Eve — when the 21-year-old joined the roster — he’s played 14 games and posted 12 points alongside Draisaitl on the second line. He also hasn’t gone more than two games in a row without a point.
This could move Edmonton in the direction of many others, seeking out blue line depth for the most important games of the year, or they could still be looking for another winger.
One forward in particular has been mentioned in the rumour mill lately, and is someone Holland would know well from his time in Detroit.
“There’s been a lot of talk about (Andreas) Athanasiou,” Friedman said. “He comes with a lot of questions right now. He’s had a terrible year, he has a contract negotiation coming up. There’s been a lot of teams shy away from him.”
At 25-years-old Athanasiou is a speedster who could no doubt keep pace with McDavid and who put up a career-best 30 goals last season. But as the Red Wings have struggled this season, so too has the pending RFA, with just seven goals and 21 points in 40 games, as well as a league-worst minus-39 rating.