As we speed toward 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 24, trade scenarios dominate hockey discussion. And while a few bubble teams may still be on the fence when it comes to a deadline strategy, their sample size is large enough that they should know if they’re legit.
In our annual NHL Power Rankings: Who’s Buying? Who’s Selling? Edition, we look at each of the 31 clubs and slot where they fit in the market.
As ever, teams are ranked according to their current awesomeness. The write-ups explain why we see them as buyers, sellers or cautious observers.
Buyer who spent his best bullet. There was no sense in Julien BriseBois hanging onto his extra first-round pick (via Vancouver) for a rainy day, so he spent it on the versatile and cap-compliant Blake Coleman, a wonderful depth add not only for this run but next season’s as well. We could see the GM poking around for defensive depth, but the hottest team in hockey is looking scary enough as is.
Big-time buyer. The Bruins, once again, are a legitimate championship contender. The great debate internally must be whether or not to spend their 2020 first-rounder (plus) to land the biggest fish on the rental market, Chris Kreider. I say do it. Kreider plays like a Bruin. The engines of this franchise are in their 30s (or 40s). This could be their best shot to kiss the Cup again. (Secondary options to explore would be Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ilya Kovalchuk and Kyle Palmieri.)
Second-tier buyer. Jim Rutherford has already made his splash by acquiring the long-sought-after Jason Zucker. It’s no secret the Penguins, for good reason, are going for it. We’d expect Rutherford to seek some affordable defensive depth, but, frankly, they’re running out of draft picks (just four in 2020) and prospects and are bound to get outbid for any player mustering a market.
Well-positioned buyer. The rare Cup contender with cap space to burn, Colorado is said to prefer players with term (Palmieri or Vincent Trocheck, perhaps?) and has been poking around for upgrades since June. The players have performed, and it feels like time to bolster one of the most exciting rosters in the West.
Sneaky buyer. The Capitals weren’t one of the buzzed-about teams to be eyeing prized blue-line rental Brenden Dillon, yet Brian MacLellan made it happen. Great pickup. The arms race in the East is real. We gotta think BMGM, with just $231,802 in cap space, has done his work early, though.
6. Dallas Stars
Buyer with major hurdles. Excuse the humble brag, but Dallas has as much projected cap space ($815) as I have in my chequing account. To be sure, Jim Nill is in go-for-it mode, but he’s already spent his 2020 second- and third-rounders. When healthy, this cast is good enough to do damage as currently constructed. The safe play is to let it ride.
All-in buyer. Doug Armstrong is aware that his chance to run this thing back is real, and that there is no guarantee captain Alex Pietrangelo is coming back for 2020-21. The quick reinforcement of an already-deep blue line by bringing in Marco Scandella underscores the commitment here. Whether Armstrong gets Vladimir Tarasenko back and/or trades for Kreider, this team is a threat.
Potential headline-grabbing buyer. The Hurricanes are on the hunt for a defenceman with term (Alec Martinez’s name popped up before he went to Vegas) and is exploring the buyer-friendly goalie market (Robin Lehner is target No. 1). GM Don Waddell is loaded with picks (bonus first-, second- and third-rounders in 2020), which he can use to outbid other buyers, and could make a splash.
Hockey-deal buyer. Philadelphia is arguably the best team no one is talking about this season, and the Flyers have the potential to upset someone in Round 1. Now, cap space is nearly nonexistent. Shayne Gostisbehere, 26, is losing stock in Philadelphia. With three years of term left on his deal, there is potential for a hockey trade in Philly.
Gutsy buyer. Jim Benning already put himself out on a limb by trading for the inconsistent Tyler Toffoli. The Canucks could win the Pacific or miss entirely. With Josh Leivo, Brock Boeser and Michael Ferland all sidelined, this easy-to-root-for group has exceeded expectations, yet doesn’t feel quiet deep enough to take seriously. Still, Benning had the gumption to spend his first- and second-round picks on this run. He’s gotta be done, right?
Tepid buyer. Jarmo Kekalainen is rich in cap space but thin on draft-pick capital. As wonderful as the Jackets’ fight-through-adversity tale has been this season, we can’t see the GM trying to keep up with powerhouses like Washington and Pittsburgh. The playoffs would be gravy.
Firm buyer — albeit one that has likely already completed its biggest deal. The Golden Knights have been going for it since Day One, Year One. So, with extra picks in the second and third rounds of 2020, it should not have come as a surprise Wednesday to see the Knights acquire Martinez, the best defender blatantly being shopped. Vegas still has picks to spend, but considering their limited cap space, Kelly McCrimmon’s work is likely done.
13. Edmonton Oilers
Cautious buyer. Since Taylor Hall’s move to Arizona, Ken Holland has been content to allow himself to be outbid for major pieces. But a serious injury to his top defenceman, Oscar Klefbom, should push Holland to rent a blueliner and keep his deserving bunch in the race.
Buyer. Lou Lamoriello has already swiped Devils captain Andy Greene, a nice fill-in for the injured Ryan Pulock, but what the Islanders really need is scoring. New York has a full complement of 2020 draft picks and plenty of cap space. We can’t see the Rangers dealing Kreider to their rival, but Lamoriello could look elsewhere for a punch.
Buyer who would be forgiven if they suddenly might be second-guessing buying. Kyle Dubas has been consistent in his mission to improve his group and has aggressively invested in making this thing work. The GM suddenly has the cap space to add personnel, but internal passion and urgency aren’t commodities you can buy for a fifth-round pick.
16. New York Rangers
Smart seller. By waiting for Coleman (31 points) to drive up the market, Jeff Gorton should be able to reap a haul for Kreider (52 points), the most coveted rental still available. More interesting would be exploring deals for pending RFAs Alexandar Georgiev and/or Tony DeAngelo.
17. Florida Panthers
Massive wildcard buyers. Dale Tallon is not afraid to shuffle the deck, and there is pressure to get this group into the post-season. 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. That centre Vincent Trocheck has now hit the rumour mill suggests Tallon is ready to wheel and/or deal.
18. Calgary Flames
Cautious buyer. Are the Flames a player away from going on a run? Maybe. Maybe not. The Pacific is a gong show of streaks and slumps and an increasingly crowded injured reserve. Brad Treliving is one of the league’s more aggressive dealers, but rental prices are high. We can see him trying to patch things up, but not at the cost that Benning paid.
19. Arizona Coyotes
Passive observer. John Chayka made his big 2020 move in 2019 when he rented Hall. To subtract now would show indecisiveness and weakness. To add? Well, he has $0 projected cap space and no first- or third-round draft pick to offer.
20. Winnipeg Jets
Tepid buyer. We applaud the addition of Dylan DeMelo for a third-round pick, as Kevin Cheveldayoff was finally able to put a Band-Aid on a bleeding blue line. The Jets are still in the race, but after last spring’s Kevin Hayes gamble didn’t pay off, we expect Cheveldayoff to restrict his search to the smaller fish in the pond.
The deadline’s greatest wild card. The age of David Poile’s core suggests the Predators should try to win now. Nashville’s performance, however, suggests the opposite. Poile has players he’d be open to dealing (Mikael Granlund, Kyle Turris, Craig Smith), but he also has purchasing power (five picks in 2020’s first three rounds). A fascinating team to watch in the next five days.
Seller. Marc Bergevin did a fine job flipping Marco Scandella for more than his acquiring price. Now it’s time to do the same with Kovalchuk and Tomas Tatar, whose value should be boosted by the Coleman deal.
23. Minnesota Wild
Seller. Bill Guerin’s trading of Jason Zucker and firing of Bruce Boudreau reveals an embrace of change, a turning of the page. Make him an offer.
24. Buffalo Sabres
Seller. The Sabres have some compelling pieces to dangle here. Brandon Montour and Conor Sheary spring to mind. A serious question: After fumbling the Scandella and Ryan O’Reilly trades, how much leeway does GM Jason Botterill have to pull the trigger on potential moves without first getting ownership’s approval?
Seller. The Blackhawks lingered in the race as long as they could, but it’s time to face facts, trade a goalie, and take offers on UFA defenceman Erik Gustafsson.
26. Anaheim Ducks
Seller. With only depth rentals to pawn (Korbinian Holzer, Michael Del Zotto, Derek Grant, Ryan Miller) the Ducks are also offering to take on contenders’ cap space — for a price. While teams have poked around on players with term — namely defenceman Josh Manson ($4.1 million cap hit through 2022) — Bob Murray could consider a more major move.
27. San Jose Sharks
Seller. Doug Wilson reaped a nice return for Brenden Dillon, a stay-at-home defenceman and his most coveted rental. Can he turn some of his other expiring contracts — Joe Thornton, Melker Karlsson, Patrick Marleau, Stefan Noesen, Tim Heed, Aaron Dell — into futures and salvage more from this bust of a campaign?
28. Ottawa Senators
Seller. Pierre Dorion won’t sleep until he gets all the draft picks. DeMelo has been dealt. And we’d expect the GM to be busy fielding calls on Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Vladislav Namestnikov as well.
Everything-must-go seller. Tom Fitzgerald might have a shot at shedding his “interim” tag if the GM can reap returns for his other available pieces (Palmieri, Wayne Simmonds, Sami Vatanen) as he has for Coleman and Andy Greene.
Aggressive seller. Rob Blake has made his decision loud and clear, stocking up futures by selling Martinez, Toffoli, Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell for decent value. There are still a couple depth pieces available — Ben Hutton, Trevor Lewis, Tim Schaller — but a bigger move would be to find a buyer for, say, Jeff Carter.
Seller with little to sell. There’s not much of a market for aging rental pieces like Mike Green, Trevor Daley and Jimmy Howard, all of whom are playing out the string in an epic tank year. There’s no pressure to move now, but Steve Yzerman could begin putting his stamp on the club by making early decisions on intriguing RFAs like Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha. At some point, he must decide if these forwards are the ones he wants to build around.