NHL executives have only until 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday night to finish their last-minute shopping before the holiday trade freeze kicks in and all those St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers tired of hearing their names lobbied around the hotstove can relax 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 — 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.
The Presidents’ Trophy front-runners are the most complete-looking squad in hockey. We’d argue that — barring injury — the Lightning’s best option is to do nothing, place faith in the room as is, and enter the tournament as the favourite to go all the way.
With a cap crunch a-coming, does Kevin Cheveldayoff view this season as his best shot to go all the way and spend, say, a first-round pick to rent another centre and take some weight off Bryan Little’s shoulders? All in or stay the course? It’s an interesting debate.
The healthy-scratched Andre Burakovsky — who’s only 23 — is the rumour du jour in the U.S. capital. His production is set to drop for a third straight season and he may need a refresh. Vancouver is one of many teams that has placed a call. Washington is aiming to go back-to-back, however, and would want a middle-six forward in return.
Brad Treliving’s heavy lifting was completed over a busy summer, and he’s been rewarded with the most inspired and balanced team of his tenure. Now, does the GM look to add one more goaltender as an insurance policy against Mike Smith’s shaky health and performance, or place all his faith in David Rittich?
Kyle Dubas said Monday that if he doesn’t see enough improvement on his blue line (particularly with zone exits) by February, that’s the area he’ll look to upgrade via trade. The GM also noted he doesn’t see many pure rental candidates that tempt him right now, so he’ll have to get creative. Many believe the Leafs’ impending cap crunch will force them to move on from a roster player or two (Jake Gardiner? Andreas Johnsson? Kasperi Kapanen?).
David Poile has never been shy to make a splash, but his group is one of the NHL’s elite and all signs point to keeping it together for another run and a better fate against what feels like a destined Winnipeg rematch. We may see tinkering on the edges of the roster, but the healthy return of stars P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson will provide the real jolt.
Funny how fast things can change in a month. The Ducks, who have more man-games lost to injury than anybody, have gone from a seller who should fire their coach to a contender for the Pacific crown, winning nine of 10. They still rank 29th in scoring, however, so Bob Murray will go hunting for a shooter.
— Adam Henrique (@AdamHenrique) December 18, 2018
The surprise Sabres have gone from perennial seller to a club that could look to add depth and ride this plucky underdog story as deep as possible. With three first-round picks in 2019, Jason Botterill has buying power. And by terminating the contract of Patrik Berglund, the GM also has more cap space to play with.
A recent win streak means a sigh of relief in San Jose, where the veteran core has already decided to push all-in. There are a ton of marquee expiring contracts here — Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Timo Meier — but as long as they’re within striking of a playoff spot, they’re going for it. Very little cap space or early-round draft picks here to do much more than pray for a deep run.
Of all the clubs likely to make the playoffs, none have more cap space than the Avalanche with their projected $11.9 million cushion. Joe Sakic may also be willing to part with his first-round pick knowing the one he stole from Ottawa should be higher. Low key, Colorado is a team that could make another splash in the next couple of months.
11. Boston Bruins
Add one or two more middle-six forwards, and the Bruins have the goaltending and defence — when healthy — to jump into the category of legit contender. That’s why we’ll forever hear names like Jeff Carter, Vladimir Tarasenko, Charlie Coyle and Wayne Simmonds linked in speculation.
The Knights are lingering in the mix despite never dressing a full, healthy lineup. The eventual return of Erik Haula could provide a late-season boost, but the guess here is that George McPhee already made his splash in the summer by adding Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny.
Despite dressing the most dynamic winger (Artemi Panarin) and best goalie (Sergei Bobrovsky) inching toward free agency, we’re betting the Blue Jackets add to their roster instead of subtract. Another defenceman never hurts.
The pressure for Marc Bergevin to upgrade his roster has cooled with the Habs’ surprising leap to wild-card contender, but we’re curious to see how the GM handles his blue line, particularly with the expensive Karl Alzer cashing hefty cheques in the minors. There is also reported trade interest in third-string goalie Charlie Lindgren, although Bergevin appears reluctant to move the prospect.
15. Edmonton Oilers
Peter Chiarelli, whose employment is at risk if he can’t make the dance, is still keeping one eye on the winger market. But with injuries to Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, the blue line is now the greatest area of need.
16. Minnesota Wild
Coyle’s name keeps jumping. The 26-year-old forward still has another season after this one in a deal that carries a reasonable $3.2-million hit, and the Bruins, Canadiens and Senators are three teams linked in rumours. If Minnesota continues its tumble down the standings, Erics Staal and (to a much lesser extent) Fehr — with their low salaries — suddenly become interesting rental options. Centres are always in demand.
It’s no secret Jim Rutherford likes to hand his work in early, and he’s already pulled off a change-of-scenery deal that brought Tanner Pearson in for Carl Hagelin. Every few months Phil Kessel’s name pops up, but why would Pittsburgh let all those goals walk out the door? Our opinion: the Derick Brassard experiment hasn’t quite clicked, so we wonder if the middle-six centre could be an intriguing piece to dangle. A a bubble team that cannot go the rebuild route, the Penguins could shuffle the deck.
The odds-defying Islanders have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs in the first year of the Lamoriello-Trotz era. A silver lining left in the cloud of John Tavares’s departure is that $10 million in unused cap space to poke around for another defenceman or scorer. We’d expect the Isles to dip into the goalie market as well, but not until summertime.
GM Jim Benning has lost a few trades over his tenure, but Josh Leivo looks like an absolute steal from Toronto. Vancouver’s future looks bright, and it could look even brighter if veteran D-men Alex Edler (a pure rental) and/or Chris Tanev (signed through 2020) could be dealt for a package of futures. Ben Hutton, bouncing back from a down year, is another defenceman who seems movable.
20. Dallas Stars
Running through coaches like energy gels, Jim Nill’s Stars need to qualify. Does the GM patiently wait for defence regulars John Klingberg, Marc Methot and Stephen Johns to return to health, or does Trader Jim get antsy and shed some of the future for the now?
The Hurricanes have screamed it loud and clear: They’re in the market for a sniper. Carolina is that rare team with a plethora of 20-something defencemen, and they have term. No doubt, if a Tarasenko, Kessel, Kapanen or Panarin does become available, Carolina would have interest. Whether that interest is mutual is another question. Oh, and they still need a legit goaltender long term. Bit of an issue there.
22. Florida Panthers
Despite their sluggish start and devastating injury to all-star Vincent Trocheck, the Panthers are not ready to throw in the towel yet. Without a second- or third-round pick to dangle, it’ll be tough for Dale Tallon to rent help without digging into his roster. Patience, health and luck might be the best bet here.
23. Arizona Coyotes
Already making a pair of significant deals in dealing away Dylan Strome and Maxi Domi and bringing in Nick Schmaltz and Alex Galchenyuk, we’re not sure what other cards John Chayka has to play. He does have the cap space to absorb a bad contract from a contender in exchange for a pick or prospect.
24. Ottawa Senators
It is imperative that Pierre Dorion figure out the futures of impending UFAs Matt Duchene and Mark Stone by early February. If they won’t sign a contract, they must be moved for pieces that can help the Thomas Chabot/Brady Tkachuk Sens of the future.
25. New York Rangers
Centre Kevin Hayes leads all Rangers in trade rumours and should yield a half-decent return on the rental market, especially if the Blueshirts eat a portion of his salary. The more intriguing impending UFA here is winger Mats Zuccarello, a fan favourite. He could be one of those guys New York trades away, then tries to re-sign come summer. Unfortunately, with just three goals and a lingering groin injury, Zuccarello’s value has taken a dip.
The good news for the Red Wings is they know they’re out of it. Expect the names Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, Martin Frk and even Niklas Kronwall (left-shot, intimidating defenceman with experience) to hit the rental rumour mill. Word is, the price for prying away goalie Jimmy Howard, another UFA-to-be, is high.
27. St. Louis Blues
When a good-on-paper team under-performs this badly and the coach has already been fired, even the big guns — Alex Pietrangelo, Tarasenko — see their names hit the rumour mill, but we also wonder if there might be a rental market for impending UFAs like Jay Bouwmeester and Patrick Maroon, who could add depth to a contender. Maroon chose St. Louis to be closer to his son, but his modest cap hit ($1.75 million) makes him attractive. Would he hit the road for a few months to chase a Cup?
Ray Shero has the cap space to take on a big ticket and collect futures if his Devils can’t rally by February. In centre Brian Boyle and veteran right-shot defenceman Ben Lovejoy, he also has depth pieces that could fetch rental interest.
Feels like anyone but Gritty could be fair game during this messy, dramatic mid-season house cleaning in Philadelphia. With under-rated RFA forwards Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton in need of raises, we expect new GM Chuck Fletcher to shop Wayne Simmonds in February. Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but Philly’s No. 1 need is a No. 1 goalie.
Anyone not named Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Cal Peterson or Adrian Kempe is probably worth inquiring about in Los Angeles. Speculation on trades for defencemen Alec Martinez (IR) and Jake Muzzin won’t go away. And now Carter’s name has become a prominent one, although the 33-year-old sniper has expressed his love for Los Angeles and is less than thrilled with the prospect of moving his family.
Stan Bowman’s firing of Coach Quenneville hasn’t exactly rallied the troops. It feels like a matter of when, and not if, it’ll eventually become necessary to cut into the Toews-Kane-Seabrook-Keith-Crawford championship core and accept a rebuild.