Who’s buying? Who’s selling?
It’s not only the cry of scalpers the world over, it’s also the double-sided question we ask of the National Hockey League’s 30 teams at this time of year, as we gallop toward the March 1 trade deadline.
While only two clubs have declared themselves out of the race, we see a handful of others hopping off the fence and joining them over the next month. The contenders should see more separation from the pretenders.
After looking at each team’s needs, assets, salary cap space, and position in the standings, here is our best early estimation of which teams will be looking to buy, sell, or pass as the trade frenzy ramps up.
Constantly in the middle of trade rumours, the Bruins — a bubble team, again — have an underachieving forward group and reportedly considered Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog to help fill a scoring void left by Loui Eriksson. They’re also interested in boosting their D core, so it makes sense that they’ve reportedly turned down offers for 20-year-old Brandon Carlo. Having already traded away their third- and fifth-rounders of the upcoming draft, does Boston dare spend their early-round picks?
Chicago actually has more cap (roughly $2.42 million) and more draft picks (10) to accommodate an addition. Seemingly always in the market for a winger to play with Jonathan Toews, Jarome Iginla’s name has been thrown out as a rental possibility. Chicago has two UFAs of significance — dirt-cheap defenceman Brian Campbell and stellar backup Scott Darling. They’re in it for the long haul.
A tentative buyer. The Stars still possess the firepower to hop into a wildcard spot — although on too many nights the safety is flicked on — and that might prevent Jim Nill from becoming the seller he probably should be. Dallas does not have the defence or goaltending to go deep, so they’d be better off trying to find new homes for UFAs Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp, and Jiri Hudler. Problem is, Oduya is the only one earning his keep and the temptation to sneak in to the dance will be too great.
Edmonton Oilers, buyer. How does that sound, Northern Alberta? GM Peter Chiarelli, who must be regretting his bold move less and less these days, has an extra third- and fifth-rounder in 2017 to dangle as currency but has already spent his second-rounder. A backup goalie (depending how call-up Laurent Brossoit fares), another defenceman, and a winger (ideally Edmonton native Iginla, in the ultimate Calgary troll move) could be on the wish list. We believe centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is expendable if the Oilers want to make more headlines. Of all the West teams currently in playoff position, the Oilers have the most cap flexibility.
You don’t hastily fire your respected head coach if you’re aiming for the lottery. With the second-most cap space in the NHL and a need to be relevant to ticket purchasers, the Panthers are targeting a playoff return. Their anemic offence is largely a result of injuries; when/if Alexsander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad are all healthy at the same time, this is a different team. Dale Tallon will look to add support where he can.
Los Angeles Kings
Firm buyer. Dean Lombardi has a couple million to play with, and — let me know if you’ve heard this one before — would love to add a scorer in light of the lack of production from veterans Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar. They may end up standing pat, but they’ll sure be sniffing around the Avs and Coyotes.
Little-known fact: When Rick Ross penned “Hustlin’,” he used Marc Bergevin as his muse. The Habs GM stays busy. The rumour du jour is that centre Tomas Plekanec could be on the block. We expected Montreal to be in on Hanzal, and a colleague smarter than me suggests they try to buy low on Nugent-Hopkins with an eye to the future. Worth noting that the Habs hold an extra second-rounder in 2017 and two extra seconds in 2018. Seconds are the most popular form of currency in today’s rental market.
The stumbling Predators should remain in the wild-card discussion until the end, even if they can’t catch a break. (P.K. Subban starts skating, Roman Josi goes on IR.) GM David Poile snatched Derek Grant off waivers Thursday and gave up prospect Felix Girard to land Avalanche enforcer Cody McLeod Friday. He will continue looking to add rather than subtract, but the biggest additions will be James Neal, Colin Wilson, Josi and Subban. They’re all on IR.
New GM Pierre Dorion has been kicking tires for months, keen to add a scoring punch to his bubble team — one that looks to be in a five-headed dogfight for two Atlantic Division spots with Toronto, Boston, Florida and Tampa. The Sens have more cap flexibility than all those competitors, save the Panthers. If Dorion doesn’t find a deal to his liking, he can hope for a boost when/if Clarke MacArthur returns this winter. Note: The Senators have already spent their second-rounders in 2017 and 2018.
Tampa Bay Lightning
A buyer, and one looking more desperate by the game. The injury-riddled Lightning’s slip from the playoff race is of great concern to GM Steve Yzerman, who’s been working the phone to no avail. A healthy Steven Stamkos would help, but Yzerman wants to find help for his 24th-ranked defence. With names like Jonathan Drouin and Ben Bishop on expiring deals, the pieces for a blockbuster are here, but we think Tampa keeps its core in tact and tries to rent help.
WHO’S SELLING (OR WILL BE SOON)
The seller of all sellers. Falling out of the playoff race and back into the lottery with efficiency, we should expect young John Chayka to oversee bidding wars for UFAs Martin Hanzal and Michael Stone. Radim Vrbata should earn interest as well, but we’d be shocked to see lifer Shane Doan move to a contender, despite his expiring contract. More interesting: Do RFAs like the underachieving Anthony Duclair and Alexander Burmistrov get shipped out?
The most improved team in the NHL a year ago looks to have taken a step back, and GM Tim Murray should start thinking “sell.” That should mean testing the market for UFA defenceman Cody Franson, RFA Zemgus Girgensons, and cheap backup goalie Anders Nilsson. Question: Would a playoff team want the experience and leadership that comes with captain Brian Gionta in a depth role? His contract is expiring, too.
Joe Sakic shipped out his longest-tenured Av, Cody McLeod, to Nashville Friday, retaining 40 per cent of his salary. The doors have opened on the fire sale in Denver. Prices on good players — Landeskog, Matt Duchene — are high because there is no rush. Iginla, an impending free agent, controls his destiny with a no-move clause, but he’s been thinking about being a rental since November. Unless you’re eyeing Nathan MacKinnon, feel free to make Sakic an offer.
Detroit Red Wings
After 25 seasons, the longest active playoff appearance streak of any pro sports team will die with The Joe this spring. Hard-luck Detroit has lost more man-games to injury than any other team and struggles to create scoring chances. Ken Holland has no cap space and is hopefully working the phones now to shed players. Thomas Vanek is a basically a gun for hire at this point; he’s quietly put up 29 points in 32 games and would be a cap-friendly rental ($2.6 million).
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey needed to be healthy and lucky to contend this season. They’ve been neither. GM Ray Shero’s reset should continue by taking offers on Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Vern Fiddler, Kyle Quincey, and anyone else 30 and over not named Cory Schneider. Keep stocking up those draft picks, Shero.
New York Islanders
Scary situation here, as the Islanders have performed like bona fide sellers, it’s shaping up to be a sellers’ market, and yet so few of their players are suitable rentals. No one wanted Jaroslav Halak for free off waivers, so Garth Snow needs to either re-sign UFA Thomas Greiss — a great security blanket for some playoff team — or get something for him. Same goes for Stephen Gionta, Calvin De Haan and Dennis Seidenberg — all of whom would come cheap. Snow is already down two draft picks in 2017, but will he swing for the fences in an effort to save his job?
Yes, a playoff spot is within reach. As tempting as it is to grab it, the Canucks need to sell, and we think saner heads will prevail. Are you really going to re-sign Ryan Miller this summer, or crown Jacob Markstrom your No. 1 in 2017-18? How much can you get for Alex Burrows, who’d probably welcome a chance to ruffle feathers in the Eastern playoff bracket? How many of the eight RFAs on the active roster are long-term Canucks? These are questions that should be answered sooner rather than later.
WHO’S STAYING PAT
Anaheim would probably like to be a buyer, but the Ducks have next to no free agents of consequence — anyone want Jonathan Bernier at a sky-high cap hit? — and zero cap space to take on a contract. Yes, we believe the Ducks will eventually sell a defenceman, but do they really trade all-star Cam Fowler or anyone else from that deep blueline by the deadline? No. They take their shot at a Cup with the well-compensated group they have, despite its average offence, then tweak things at the draft.
The Flames were much more open to dealing early in the season. Now they’ve thrust themselves in the mix for both the Pacific and wild card races. Despite an abundance of expiring contracts — Kris Versteeg, Sam Bennett, Dennis Wideman, both goalies, a bunch more — we think Brad Treliving sticks with this group.
Except for renting Jarome Iginla, of course.
We’re placing the Hurricanes in stay-pat mode* with a big, fat asterisk. Just three points out of a playoff spot, it will be tempting for GM Ron Francis to go find some scoring and snap the longest post-season drought by any Eastern Conference team at seven seasons. He has extra second- and third-round 2017 draft picks and more cap space ($15.3 million) than any of his peers and may do just that if Carolina has a wild-card spot in February. Conversely, if the Canes hit the skids over the next month, contenders would be wise to take a swipe at penalty-killers Viktor Stalberg, Jay McClement and Ron Hainsey — all reasonably priced, dependable role players set to turn UFA.
Columbus Blue Jackets
As the NHL’s top team, Columbus is in prime buyer position, but this group has worked so well, we don’t believe Jarmo Kekalainen will tinker with it — unless (*knocks wood*) a key contributor gets injured between now and Feb. 28.
Despite the risk of losing a good defenceman in the expansion draft, the Wild are not interested in trading from their deep blue line prior to the deadline, according ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. GM Chuck Fletcher would love to help off-season win Eric Staal with more centre depth, but he has little financial wiggle room and no 2017 second-rounder to dangle. Our guess on what they will do: The Wild, one of the West’s two elite first-half teams, let it ride and try to win their playoff games 2-1 and 3-2. What they should do: Go for it. Trade a young defender, get yourself a scorer, and try to win the Cup. This is looking like the franchise’s best shot in, like, ever.
New York Rangers
After 44 games, the Rangers were operating the league’s best offence (3.41 goals per game) to complement solid D and goaltending. New York made enough shrewd pickups in the summer (Brandon Pirri, Michael Grabner, Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad) that we believe they’ll sit this one out. Also: The Rangers don’t have a second-rounder to spend.
A streaky bubble team, Philadelphia may be tempted to add but is better staying the course. GM Ron Hextall has been fairly prudent in his reign, so we’d be surprised by a swing for the fences here. Wonder if anyone (St. Louis, San Jose) would want to add goaltending depth in the cap-friendly Michal Neuvirth.
Crafty ol’ Jim Rutherford has long maintained that he prefers to make his move well in advance of deadline day’s hysteria, and the Penguins are performing like a team capable of a repeat. If someone (cough, Jim Nill, cough) approaches him with a killer deal for Marc-Andre Fleury, that’d be tempting. Otherwise, he may try to tinker with his below-average blue line, but with zero projected cap space, we don’t foresee a major splash.
St. Louis Blues
St. Louis is again one of the better Central Division teams but hasn’t blown anyone away with their performance. Like last year, GM Doug Armstrong has one of the top impending UFAs of 2017 in Kevin Shattenkirk. Like last year, he’ll stay pat and take his chances that this group peaks at the right time. Strangely, Ken Hitchcock’s offence has outperformed his defence, but there isn’t a move on paper to make the blue line better. Some goaltending support perhaps?
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have a pair of big-ticket UFAs in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, but you don’t shake up a dressing room when you’re on target to win a divisional crown. Also: San Jose has virtually zero cap space and no second-rounder in 2017. We can’t see them diving into a bidding war. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The rebuild is ahead of its projected pace, and coach Mike Babcock has been upfront about trying to win enough games with a bunch of rookies to make the playoffs. So we don’t expect Toronto to shop James van Riemsdyk or Tyler Bozak for defence help until the season is over. It would send the wrong message to a dressing room growing in confidence. Now that the Leafs have a backup goalie they like, we expect they’ll keep quiet in February and get aggressive in the off-season.
The best defensive club in the league lacks the cap space and draft picks (no second-rounder in 2017 or 2018, no third-rounder in 2017) to go shopping. Washington has a host of key players on expiring deals and the talent to win the Cup without adding to this roster. Just stay healthy and peak at the right time.
The Jets were supposed to be better than this. They have talent and the enviable cap room to be buyers, but their performance just doesn’t match. Maybe they’ll ship out a second- or third-string goaltender (Michael Hutchinson or Ondrej Pavalec) or rent a depth guy like Drew Stafford for a late-round pick. But we’re not expecting a big splash either way, roster-wise, for the notoriously patient Kevin Cheveldayoff. Paul Maurice appears to be getting less patient, however.
(contract info via the excellent CapFriendly.com)