As we refresh our Twitter feeds, read way too much into healthy scratches, and anxiously await a flurry of meaningful blockbusters that may never come within the next 11 days, let’s take a look at each NHL club’s most important trade chip in advance of the Feb. 24 deadline.
In our NHL Power Rankings: Greatest Realistic Trade Chips Edition, we examine the rosters, picks and prospects that could reasonably be moved if your favourite general manager actually wanted to steal headlines with his late-February dealings.
(Yes, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid are wonderful dream-world trade bait, but we’ve tried to pin our speculation to the realm of possibility.)
As always, all 31 franchises are ranked in descending order according to their current level of strength.
This week’s write-ups dive into the premium trade chips, as we single out the most valuable (but believable) bit of human currency each GM could spend in the coming days.
Could the white-hot Lightning build an even scarier roster before heading into the post-season? Absolutely. Julien BriseBois is now blessed with an extra first-round pick (via Vancouver), which he could dangle to rent a reliable defenceman for the dance.
Arguably the Cup contender in the best position to buy, the Avalanche have all the cap space they need to take on another valuable piece or two or three. Does Joe Sakic spend his first-round pick or dip into his prospect pool (Bowen Byram could fetch a difference-maker) to win now? Looks like a gamble worth considering.
The Bruins have been linked to veteran defencemen and any winger capable of playing with second-line centre David Krejci. Boston still holds its draft picks in Rounds 1 through 3, and this core — which ain’t getting younger or cheaper (see: Krug, Torey) — may not have a shot at going all the way this great for a while.
Jim Rutherford has already signed off on his major bit of business, using his best chips — a first-round pick and highly regarded prospect Calen Addison — to land Jason Zucker, Crosby’s newest winger. All signs point to staying put for now, but Casey DeSmith (an NHL-calibre goalie playing in the AHL) could be in play.
The Capitals’ looming salary-cap complications and current success put them low on our list of those likely to buy. That said, Washington does have four picks in the first three rounds of the 2020 draft and a long playoff run requires depth.
With St. Louis rightly attempting to run this thing back-to-back and reportedly showing interest in big-fish rentals like Chris Kreider, you gotta believe this is the type of season Doug Armstrong keeps his own UFAs and is tempted to spend his first-round draft pick.
The Canucks are buyers for the first time in a long time, albeit buyers who’ve already used their first-round pick (on J.T. Miller). A rash of injuries decreases the likelihood of Jim Benning using his premium trade chips, but Tim Schaller, Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin could be expendable.
Jarmo Kekalainen’s injury-ravaged roster could use a boost, a reward for its incredible overachieving. But at the same time, his draft picks are scarce. The Jackets do possess cap space — a whopping $20.5 million of it — which could be the club’s smartest leverage in the next couple of weeks.
9. Dallas Stars
Dallas is in go-for-it mode, but Jim Nill has already spent his second- and third-round picks in 2020, so using his first-rounder feels all but impossible. The Stars need a boost of firepower. Would Nill be able to deal the rights of the disgruntled Julius Honka? Would he dare trade pending RFA (and reliable role guy) Radek Faksa for someone with more scoring touch?
It’s increasingly obvious that Shayne Gostisbehere, 26, is losing stock in Philadelphia, but a youngish defenceman with offensive upside and three seasons of contract security is still a weighty chip to play.
The Hurricanes are said to be on the hunt for a defenceman with term (Alec Martinez’s name has popped up) and may wish to explore the buyer-friendly goalie market. GM Don Waddell is loaded with picks (extra first-, second- and third-rounders in 2020) should he choose to buy.
Kyle Dubas wisely held back his most useful trade chips — Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Alexander Kerfoot, Jeremy Bracco — in last week’s deal with the Kings. The winger depth is there if he wants to purchase a top-four defenceman with term.
Lou Lamoriello keeps his cards close to the vest, and he’s yet to make a big trade since taking over on the Island, letting the group grow organically. Should he wish to reward their hard work, the Islanders’ first-round pick and an RFA-to-be like Sebastian Aho (the other one) could be on the table.
14. Florida Panthers
The Panthers are the club most likely to be both buyers and sellers. A sniper like Mike Hoffman (UFA) is a tempting trade chip to dangle in order to land a defenceman who can help stop the bleeding, balance the lineup and end the playoff drought.
15. Edmonton Oilers
No one is predicting Ken Holland to make waves on the trade market just yet, but he has the assets — a first-round pick, Evan Bouchard, Jesse Puljujarvi — to mortgage some of the future for the present, should he feel like gambling.
Since their existence, the Golden Knights have been going for it. So, with extra picks in the second and third rounds of 2020, they could spend their first-rounder if they want to buy a top-four defenceman.
17. Arizona Coyotes
While we don’t believe the Coyotes should — nor can afford to — throw in the towel, reselling Taylor Hall (who is doubtful to re-up in Arizona by July 1) would be the ultimate deadline splash.
The sooner the Canadiens realize they’re not a contender, the better. While a Jeff Petry or Tomas Tatar deal would yield more assets, flipping Ilya Kovalchuk at peak value (and defenceman Marco Scandella) seems like the most prudent decision.
19. New York Rangers
Once Taylor Hall got traded to the desert, Chris Kreider became the most coveted rental on the market, and Jeff Gorton has a recent history of reaping nice returns for his players on expiring contracts.
20. Winnipeg Jets
With Dustin Byfuglien’s cap hit reportedly coming off the books any day now, the Jets will actually have some currency to buy a defenceman, should they so choose. Kevin Cheveldayoff got burned by spending a first-round pick on rental Kevin Hayes this time last year, so he may be reluctant to do that again. Jack Roslovic, a pending RFA in need of a raise, would be a heckuva trade chip to dangle. Much like the Leafs, at some point the Jets must take some of the money they’re using on all those great forwards and allot a bigger share of the pie to the blue line. Right?
Despite their precarious position in the standings, the Predators are reportedly still interested in upgrading. With two second-rounders and two third-rounders in the 2020 draft, does that put David Poile’s first-round pick in play? That’s his trump card in a bidding war.
22. Minnesota Wild
Bill Guerin already tipped his hand by dealing Jason Zucker this week, which shows he’s willing to (has to?) trade solid players with term in order to stock the cupboards. Matt Dumba — a 25-year-old right-shot D who can run a power play and has three more seasons of term — could land Guerin a windfall.
23. Calgary Flames
The team must be giving Brad Treliving fits. With the Pacific race so airtight, one has to wonder if the most aggressive GM can win the day. That would mean risking a first-overall pick to land that top-six forward that’s been on Treliving’s wish list for a minute.
In what would be a headline-grabbing move, Stan Bowman’s trading of Chicago icon Duncan Keith ($5.5 million cap hit through 2022-23) — and the speculation, albeit wild, is out there — would send a clear message to the Blackhawks faithful and the fan base of the club acquiring Keith.
25. Anaheim Ducks
With few enticing rentals to pawn, the Ducks’ best realistic trade asset might be cap space, which they are willing to absorb for a cost. The jury is out whether defenceman Josh Manson ($4.1 million cap hit through 2022) is actually available in a hockey deal, but Anaheim is in need of young scoring talent.
26. Buffalo Sabres
Thirteen members of the current Sabres roster are not yet contracted beyond June 30, which could be looked at as a positive considering the Buffalo roster proves year and again that it’s simply not good enough. Of the sellable pieces — and everyone whose name doesn’t rhyme with Smack Heichel or Dasmus Rahlin should be on the table — Zach Bogosian is most likely to go, but Brandon Montour could probably yield the biggest return.
27. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks would love to recoup the first-round pick they sold to Ottawa. Can they drum up enough of a market in a stay-at-home penalty-killer like Brenden Dillon — a rental of high interest — to do it?
With pending UFA Wayne Simmonds pushing through another underwhelming season and causing us to wonder if a decade of hard-hitting hockey is catching up, the Devils — open for business! — might get a better return for left-shot defenceman Sami Vatanen. Capable of logging top-four minutes, the 28-year-old could bolster a number of contenders’ depth.
29. Ottawa Senators
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, 27, is enjoying a career campaign at age 27 and does not have a contract for next season. A 20-goal centre who can check and find a way to be a plus-10 on a terrible team? Yes, please. If the Sens can’t re-sign Pageau, he could be the best rental forward this side of Chris Kreider.
With Rob Blake actively seeking to inject youth in the Kings’ system and smartly loading up the cupboards, a bidding war is brewing on defenceman Alec Martinez. With another season beyond this one on his deal ($4 million cap hit), the versatile left-shot defenceman should be able to deliver a nice return.
Despite their obvious standings position as sellers, Steve Yzerman’s roster isn’t exactly overflowing with rental pieces others want to pluck. A 34-year-old Mike Green at a $5.4-million cap hit? Jimmy Howard during an .884 season? The Wings’ most intriguing trade chip is Andreas Athanasiou, one of the fastest skaters in the league and a guy who might benefit from a change of scenery. The forward will be an RFA on July 1, and at age 25 there’s reason to believe he has yet to reach his ceiling.