NHL executives have only until 11:59 p.m. Thursday to finish their last-minute shopping before the holiday trade freeze kicks in and all remaining New Jersey Devils can relax, guzzle two litres of spiked nog and spend one last Christmas with their families.
In honour of hockey’s reckless rumour mill — a constant source of joy that is about to go temporarily silent as the night — we present our NHL Power Rankings: Christmas Trade Rumour Freeze Edition.
Per tradition, teams are ranked in order of current strength.
The write-ups, however, throw one last batch of speculation at the wall as we ponder the trade strategies for all the 31 clubs.
No more rumour mongering until after Boxing Day. Promise.
Don’t bet on the powerhouse Caps to part with any of their high-profile impending free agents. They’re either going to take a run at re-signing their core players or firmly in “own rental” territory, with a desire to party like it’s 2018. Brian MacLellan might tinker at the fringes and has an extra third-rounder to spend, but with only $748,491 in projected cap space, this should be the roster.
After missing out in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes and still boasting more than $10 million in cap room, Joe Sakic must be your first call if you want to rent a player. The Avs are the real deal and have the prospect pool to sacrifice a little of later for a lot of now.
With economic restrictions looming, the Blues might well be taking their last run at a Cup with captain Alex Pietrangelo in the fold. GM Doug Armstrong has grasped the need to keep momentum rolling, already making a splash by acquiring Justin Faulk and tossing his hat in the Hall bidding. He’ll look into available wingers. And if he misses? Oh, well. Vladimir Tarasenko might be the NHL’s best late-season addition anyway.
With key pieces Torey Krug and Jaroslav Halak due raises next season, the cap puzzle to piece together a champion will only get more difficult. So the Bruins are rumoured to be looking at UFA Ilya Kovalchuk and should be in the running for any scoring winger with a reasonable cap hit.
If anything undoes all the good on the Island, it will be a lack of scoring. The Isles are thriving in spite of a 20th-ranked offence and have more cap space ($6 million) than most of the legit contenders in the East. Josh Ho-Sang is on the block. We’d love to see Lou Lamoriello take a run at, say, a Tyler Toffoli.
The injury ravaged Penguins aren’t hiding the fact that they’re willing to give Alex Galchenyuk his third change of scenery. GM Jim Rutherford typically likes to beat the rush and get his business wrapped ahead of the deadline. But Pittsburgh’s success without Sidney Crosby and a number of core defenders suggests the Pens might be OK standing pat.
If Tom Dundon opens the coffers, Carolina has all the assets to be a deadline buyer. The Hurricanes boast extra draft picks in rounds 1, 2, 3 and 7 in the 2020 draft and have the wiggle room ($5.2 million) to make a significant add.
Can you picture a better midseason addition in Manitoba than a healthy Dustin Byfuglien? The past two winters, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has successfully shopped for a second-line rental centre (Paul Stastny, Kevin Hayes). This winter he’ll scour the D market and cross his fingers that things smooth over with Big Buff.
Vegas made the greatest trade midseason splash last season by snatching up Mark Stone from Ottawa. The Knights have extra draft picks in rounds 2 and 3, but virtually no cap space to rent. Any deal would require shedding a player off the roster.
10. Arizona Coyotes
We applaud the Yotes’ gutsy acquisition of Hall without the promise of an extension. He could be the key to unlock some playoff gate. The traditionally budget-conscious Coyotes are now capped out and have spent their 2020 first- and third-rounders. Unless someone wants to pry a goalie from his depth chart (Antti Raanta, Darcy Kuemper and prospect Adin Hill all look legit), he’s done.
Any deal the Maple Leafs make would require moving money out. Even when they return to full health, which could be as soon as Dec. 27, they’ll need to risk losing a depth forward on the waiver wire. Of course, the club would love a dependable backup goalie and more defensive depth — but they don’t come cheap.
The Lightning are our sneaky candidate to make a deal. Tampa is loaded with talent but weirdly underachieving. Emerging studs like Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev are due for juicy raises in the summer, money will eventually need to be cleared, and Tampa has an extra first-rounder (Vancouver’s in either 2020 or 2021) in the bank. We wonder if Julien BriseBois shakes things up to wake things up.
We like this Flyers group, but the jury’s out on young defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere, who has been healthy scratched and is on pace for his worst statistical season. He’s only 26, and younger Flyers D are already auditioning for his ice time. A candidate for a potential buy-low situation that brings cost certainty.
14. Dallas Stars
We don’t see much happening here. The Stars spent big in the summer and just went through a coaching change. Jim Nill has already used up his second- and third-round picks in 2020. It’s time for stability. This is a great roster in a nasty division. Now they need to peak at the right time and get a little lucky.
15. Calgary Flames
Brad Treliving is a tireless deal-maker and he only has enough cap space to buy a 2015 Corolla. If there is a “hockey trade” to be made, call the guy with Michael Frolik, TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic all on expiring deals. More goals top the wish list.
Kyle Turris might be available, and he’s rebounded nicely after a string of benchings, but his $6-million cap hit is cumbersome. The Preds have underwhelmed, to be sure, and their power play is lousy again (15.5 per cent). David Poile isn’t one to sit pat. Does he spend one of his extra second- or third-rounders? Or does he look behind the bench for change if Nashville can’t get rolling?
17. Florida Panthers
It feels like a jump ball in the Atlantic, and the Panthers could go either way. GM Dale Tallon must be feeling some pressure after spending huge on a No. 1 goalie and a No. 1 coach. The fact that the Cats popped up in Hall rumours suggests their open for business. We have to wonder about the long-term future of UFA Mike Hoffman in Sunrise.
Sven Baertschi is available. But in a shrinking middle class, no one wants to take the $2.3-million cap hit. Jim Benning has already spent his first-rounder and there’s a sense jobs could be on the line if the mediocre Canucks can’t secure a playoff spot. Not much wiggle room here, but he could slip into an explore-all-options mode.
19. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have a plethora of defencemen, particularly those of the right-shot variety, and are desperate for someone not named Jack Eichel to carry the offensive burden. Often they play seven D just so their guys don’t get cold. Make an offer.
20. Edmonton Oilers
Even with the Oilers appearing like a classic bubble team in need of a boost, the sense is that GM Ken Holland will be prudent and not get sucked into a bidding war. Edmonton has the cautious feel of tire-kicking and tinkering with the fringes.
Montreal has some cap space to burn, prospects worth coveting and 10(!) draft picks in the first five rounds of 2020. Marc Bergevin is projecting patience and didn’t dive headfirst into the Hall sweepstakes. But how many times can he whiff on the playoffs and expect to stay employed?
22. New York Rangers
Chris Kreider has pricy deadline rental written all over him. Impending RFAs Ryan Strome and Alexandar Georgiev — both enjoying good years — might also be worth a phone call.
23. Minnesota Wild
The countdown to rookie GM Bill Guerin’s first trade deadline has begun. There is a need to start shedding salary and restocking the cupboards in Minnesota with picks and prospects. Rare is the player on this roster that wouldn’t be available for the right price. Injured captain Mikko Koivu, still one of the best defensive forwards in the game, is the only significant rental. Would he waive his no-move to chase the Cup?
We have entered the dark side of the Blue Jackets boldly going all-in last winter. They don’t have much left to sell, nor capital to buy. It’s time to poke around the goalie market and work on Pierre-Luc Dubois’ extension.
If a contender suffers an injury and wants to rent a proven starting goaltender, the Blackhawks have two — Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner — and the likelihood of re-signing them both is slim to none.
26. Anaheim Ducks
Veteran backup Ryan Miller carries a reasonable cap hit ($1.125 million) and a reasonable save percentage (.908). Would he waive his modified no-trade clause to take one last stab at a Cup?
Rebuilding L.A. is willing to deal Tyler Toffoli and Trevor Lewis, but just as intriguing would be a healthy Alec Martinez (a rumoured Canadiens target) and character forward Kyle Clifford — the type of player any playoff room could benefit from. The rebuild is in effect.
28. Ottawa Senators
The Senators could sell high on centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who’s peaking during his contract year. In an ideal world, they rent him and bring him back in the summer. Mikkel Boedker, Vladislav Namestnikov, Tyler Ennis, Ron Hainsey and Mark Borowiecki are also UFAs-in-waiting. Full fire sale, or actually dress a team in March?
29. San Jose Sharks
You don’t fire your coach if you’re trying to tank. So Doug Wilson will be reluctant to sell an attractive piece like defenceman Brenden Dillon, but if San Jose can’t catch fire by the deadline, the GM’s hand could be forced.
The big piece has fallen. Should he so choose, Ray Shero could try selling off more pieces (Miles Wood, Sami Vatanen, Andy Greene, Wayne Simmonds) in what rapidly morphed into a lost campaign, but he’ll need to sign some strong veterans to guide the Jack Hughes generation.
The trouble with the Red Wings’ no-good, very bad tank year is the rental pickings are slim. Veteran defenders Mike Green, 34, and Trevor Daley, 36, both hold modified no-trade clauses. They could bring savvy, but the league is speeding by. It’s doubtful Steve Yzerman re-signs all seven(!) of his RFA forwards. Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha are the most intriguing targets. Does Yzerman want to build around them, or nah? The sooner he decides, the better.