The trade season is here and moves are beginning to happen — from last week’s Pittsburgh-Florida swap and the Maple Leafs getting Jake Muzzin, to the Nashville Predators adding two depth pieces to their forward group.
But we have to believe the best deals are yet to come. We don’t know yet what the trade status is of Mark Stone and Matt Duchene in Ottawa, nor do we know how motivated the Blue Jackets are to move Artemi Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky. When those pictures become clear, the trade market will be a little more defined.
As trades are starting to be made, rumours are picking up. Today we look around the league with some of what’s been said over the past week.
LEAFS/LIGHTNING IN ON SIMMONDS?
One of the best power-play goal scorers over the past five years (though he only has five this season), Simmonds will add depth to the wing and, of course, bring a physical and net-front presence to an acquiring team. Toronto and Tampa Bay, two teams that either could use his physical element or just his size (six-foot-two, 185 pounds), may not be close to each other in the standings, but could very well have to go through one another to get to the Eastern Conference final. That will be something the GMs will have in mind.
Earlier this week the Toronto Sun‘s Steve Simmons said the Lightning and Maple Leafs were among teams with “big” interest in the Flyers forward.
Complicating things is that Philadelphia has won eight in a row and are trying to get back into the playoff race. Currently sitting seven points out of the second wild-card spot, it’s still a lot of ground to make up when others can get a point by losing in extra time, but it gives you pause to consider if the Flyers’ plans will change. On the flip side, Simmonds is a pending UFA so if he doesn’t sign a contract extension it’d be prudent to get some assets for him.
The only player Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher definitively said would not be traded is Claude Giroux, who is also the only one with a full no-move clause. When Fletcher spoke to the media at the end of January just after the Flyers started their streak, he talked about having the flexibility to do different things at the deadline.
“I’m trying to make the team better at all costs, I guess is the best way of putting it,” Fletcher said. “We can both buy and sell. I guess my point is every decision we make, if we’re going to try to improve our team going forward and we can get that player now, great. There’s always opportunities. To me it’s not the next eight games or even the rest of the year, it’s from this point forward we gotta get better. To be better next year we have to try to get better this year.”
To be clear, the potential interest in Simmonds runs deeper than Toronto and Tampa Bay. Boston has been linked, as has Nashville and Winnipeg. Montreal was too, until GM Marc Bergevin said he wasn’t interested in rental players. As Elliotte Friedman told NHL Network at the end of January, the Simmonds trade domino may not fall until the futures of Panarin, Stone and Duchene are decided.
“I think unless somebody absolutely comes right out and says ‘We have to have Wayne Simmonds right now,’ I think we could be waiting a bit longer,” he said. “And that is simply because I think the three other guys are probably the ones teams know will cost the most so they’re saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait, we’re going to hold our assets until we know exactly what’s going to happen with these players, are they available, and what it’s going to cost to get them.’ So I think Simmonds might be in a position where unless someone says he’s someone we want at the price point we’re going for that, I think he might have to wait a bit longer.”
COULD THE PANTHERS ACTUALLY BUY BOBROVSKY AND STILL BE SELLERS?
The Panthers are 11 points out of the playoffs, which is not normally a place you’d find a trade deadline buyer. Their recent trade for Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, both pending UFAs, doesn’t indicate they’ll buy because both of them could potentially be flipped again by Feb. 25. The real pick up in that trade with Pittsburgh was cap space and now Florida is looking at hitting July 1 with more than $21 million in salary room.
It’s clear this isn’t a team that’s going to fall back into a full-scale rebuild. With two great centres in Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck leading the way and surrounded by a strong supporting cast of scoring wingers, the base is there to be aggressive and try to return in 2019-20 as fresh Cup hopefuls.
“We’re not going to sit still,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon said just before finishing the trade with Pittsburgh. “We know we have a lot of good players. We have a lot of good players coming. That’s the message we’ve been preaching. We have a plan, we’re committed to winning, (owner Vinnie Viola) has given us all the tools to be successful and we’re going to do here in the next month all the things necessary to win championships down the road.”
The obvious weakness in Florida this season has been the goaltending, where Roberto Luongo and James Reimer have combined for a .903 five-on-five save percentage that is better than only San Jose’s duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell. Both goalies are under contract for a few years yet, but Luongo will be 40 next October and Reimer isn’t providing the necessary stability. If the Panthers are going to do the things “necessary to win championships” they’ll need an upgrade here.
There are a number of pending UFA goalies this summer, though none are bigger than Bobrovsky. It appears he is ready to move on from the Blue Jackets so enter Florida as a potential landing spot. And, in fact, if they could negotiate an eight-year extension with him beforehand, Florida may explore trading for him ahead of free agency. If not, waiting for July 1 and keeping all their assets makes sense.
The main issue might be that Columbus wouldn’t be able to get a reliable goalie back, leaving Joonas Korpisalo as their No. 1 for a playoff run (barring some other trade). He and Bobrovsky have split starts since the latter was unofficially suspended for a game in January, though, and Korpisalo has performed better in that time. Plus, Bobrovsky’s playoff performance history isn’t inspiring.
The Panthers could entice Columbus with one of their three big forward prospects (Grigori Denisenko, Aleksi Heponiemi, Owen Tippett) and Elliotte Friedman wrote in this week’s 31 Thoughts that Mike Hoffman (24 goals in 51 games) could be available out of Florida. The Panthers should be able to recoup some valuable assets for a goal scorer who is still signed for another season – and you wonder if Columbus would be a fit.
— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) January 31, 2019
Brassard, though on an expiring contract, could also be a fit. Last week Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella was frustrated by the fact he only had “one centre playing” well, and Brassard made it clear he’s a much better fit in the top-six than in a third-line role he was occupying with the Penguins.
“The feeling is (Brassard) will be moved,” Nick Kypreos reported on Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment last weekend. “Now, whether or not that has a link to Columbus I’m hearing they may be interested in him. The question is, does it involve maybe a bigger picture with Panarin and maybe Bobrovsky?”
IS AN ARMS RACE BREWING IN THE CENTRAL?
Another element discussed on the Headlines panel was the value of first-round picks at the deadline and how that may be the price to bring in the likes of Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa, Micheal Ferland from Carolina or Tyler Toffoli from Los Angeles. But how long, really, is the list of teams that are willing to move their first? You’d imagine that’d be a big ask from those who are still on the bubble — and there are a lot of those in the Western Conference.
Two teams that very well could move their firsts are at the top of the Central. Nashville and Winnipeg are yet again in a heated race to the regular-season finish and their need for forwards overlap. Though Nashville already acquired depth liners Brian Boyle and Cody McLeod this week, Joe Rexrode of The Tennessean wrote that GM David Poile probably isn’t done.
Last Saturday, Kypreos touched on the possibility the Predators will take a couple of big swings.
“Keep an eye on Nashville,” he said. “They lost Austin Watson, they’re not sure when they’re going to get him back. If they’re not looking for at least one front-line player, it could be two.”
The Predators have been hammered by the injury bug this season, but are just about fully healthy again with Kyle Turris returning from the IR. But Turris is flanked by Calle Jarnkrok on one side and, for now, either Boyle or Kevin Fiala, who hasn’t yet taken a hoped-for step up in production. With Winnipeg able to have the likes of Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers (when healthy) on their second line, the Preds have room for improvement there.
Just like last season, the Jets are expected to be in the market for a centre and we explored four potential fits in that regard. But the Winnipeg Sun‘s Ken Wiebe recently wrote that the Jets may not stop there, and could even take a run at some big-name wingers, including Artemi Panarin.
And don’t count out the Dallas Stars. Their GM may very well be on the hot seat, their CEO has been openly critical of their star players not doing enough, and a recent stretch of strong play has them in the playoffs by a healthy seven points. The Stars have a very clear need for more scoring and, looking more like a playoff lock each day, may start feeling more comfortable about making their first-round pick available.
Keep an eye on how the picture develops in the Central.
COLORADO NOT TRADING ANY OF THEIR BEST ASSETS
It wasn’t that long ago Colorado had the best line in hockey and were locked into a playoff spot. But they’re just 3-12-2 in their past 17 games and their two top scorers have cooled off some. Now the Avalanche are in the thick of the snail race for one of the two wild-card spots in the West, sitting two points out and 10th in the conference as of Thursday.
This development has certainly changed the options Colorado has at the deadline. The question was always about whether or not GM Joe Sakic believed this team was ready to really make a run for the Stanley Cup, and if the answer was yes, how big would he go? Today at least, it looks like if Sakic does anything, it’ll be relatively minor.
“We’ve been talking with teams the better part of three, four weeks now. But what we’re not doing is moving our high picks and prospects,” Sakic told the Denver Post. “Right now, for any player you’re talking about — they’re looking at players we’re not willing to give up. But we got three weeks to go and we’ll see where we are at that time. There are things we’ll continue to look at — hockey trades — and see how we can get better.
“We’re looking at the big picture here. We love what’s coming. It’s a process, and we’re not going to deviate from that plan. If there’s a player that can help us that isn’t going to include one of those (first-round) picks and top prospects, then we’ll look at that.”