We’re a little more than a week away from the NHL Trade Deadline and the buzz is starting to pick up. And though, like last year, most of the deadline season moves are likely to come on Feb. 25, we should start to see some teams preemptively strike.
The first move of consequence made last season came a week before the deadline when Washington acquired little-known Michal Kempny who ended up playing a key role alongside John Carlson on the top pair. Michael Grabner was traded to the playoff-chasing Devils four days before deadline day and Pittsburgh’s big three-team move to bring in Derick Brassard happened a day after that. Boston’s acquisition of Rick Nash and Toronto’s Tomas Plekanec pick up happened on trade deadline eve.
What’s the buzz around the NHL these days? We’ve gathered a few notes from around the league to give an update to the trade rumour mill.
CAROLINA STILL LOOKING TO MOVE DEFENCEMAN FOR SCORING
It’s not exactly a new development that the Hurricanes may move a blueliner for some scoring help up front since we’ve been talking about it for more than a year now. It’s just that today Carolina sits ninth in the East, three points back of a wild-card spot, and within reach of their first post-season appearance in nearly a decade. Will that motivate them to finally make the long-anticipated move?
“We’re talking to a lot of teams,” GM Don Waddell told NHL.com. “We still maintain we have a plethora of defencemen. I feel like with the right player or right package, (moving a defenceman) is something we’d certainly entertain.
“It’s got to make sense. It’s got to help us on the ice today.”
Just don’t expect the Canes to get into the rental market. This is still a fairly young team, with only two skaters over the age of 27 (Justin Williams and Jordan Staal) and the long-term is still fully in view.
“We’re not in a position where we’re going to be mortgaging futures to win today,” Waddell continued. “We’ve got a ways to go. You don’t want to be giving up assets or draft picks for rental players to try to get in and then you don’t get in. It’s one thing if you pick up a player or you do a hockey trade and a player’s got term left, but I don’t see us at all being in the rental market.”
The Canes have already made one trade for a scorer, acquiring Nino Neiderreiter from Minnesota for Victor Rask. So far, it’s proven to be a home-run acquisition as he’s returned six goals in 11 games.
Waddell went on to say he would see how the next week or so went before making a decision on becoming a buyer or seller at the deadline. If they sell off, Carolina could explore moving their pending UFAs which includes Micheal Ferland, Williams and both their goalies, Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek.
Only two of the Canes’ five games before the trade deadline are against a playoff team — and in both cases it’s the Dallas Stars. But after the deadline, things get really tough. In March, the Canes play Pittsburgh and Washington twice each, with single games against Tampa Bay, Nashville, Winnipeg, Columbus, Boston and the surging Flyers. They’ll need all the help they can get.
OILERS CLOSE TO TRADING CAM TALBOT?
As discussed on Sportsnet’s Wednesday Night Hockey panel, Edmonton’s choice to start Cam Talbot in three games last week may have been to showcase him for a potential trade — and that the move may happen before too long.
The reason why has a lot to do with the salary cap. Andrej Sekera, who has missed all of this season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, is nearing the end of his conditioning stint with AHL Bakersfield. That could have concluded after Wednesday’s game, but was extended for another two games. The Condors play Friday and Saturday night and Edmonton’s first game after that is next Tuesday.
When Sekera returns, his $5.5-million cap hit will be back on the books, but according to CapFriendly the Oilers only have $4.2 million in space. So a trade is necessary to make it work. Enter Talbot and his potential fit with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“He’s got a long history with Carter Hart,” Elliotte Friedman noted. “They would make a good tandem and Philly has goaltenders who they could send back, guys like Brian Elliott, who don’t make as much money.”
Elliott himself is currently on the long-term injured reserve, but is with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms on a conditioning stint, so he would be eligible to return by the end of the weekend. His cap hit is $2.75 million, compared to Talbot’s $4.1 million. The numbers work, but why would the Flyers be interested?
“I think it’s a critical move for Chuck Fletcher to find the right guy to play with Carter Hart,” Doug MacLean said. “Carter Hart’s had a magnificent start to his young career, but he still needs development and needs the right backup. Talbot and Hart have a relationship from the Edmonton area — Dustin Schwartz the goaltending coach who works in that area, works for the Oilers, but also works in Edmonton in the off-season. So it makes a lot of sense to have the right guy with Carter Hart.”
COULD STRUGGLING AVALANCHE TRADE A TOP-FOUR DEFENCEMAN OR STARTING GOALIE?
After a very rough two-and-a-half months that has them now four points out of a playoff spot and just as close to the wild card as they are to the bottom of the conference, the Avalanche may be shaping up as a deadline seller. We noted last week that GM Joe Sakic said he would not be trading either of his first-round picks or top prospects to fix the thing, but what about at least one of their top four blueliners?
“I think Tyson Barrie could be moved,” BSN Denver Avalanche reporter Adrian Dater told Jeff Blair on Tuesday. “I would say the odds may be higher in the summer than he gets moved at the deadline, but it could happen. They need a top-six forward so Barrie gives you the best avenue to get that guy. He’s kind of had his run here in Denver I think, not playing particularly well right now. Cale Makar is on the way. Right shot, speedy defenceman, he’s going to take his place I think. So out he goes, get a forward.”
An offensively gifted blueliner with 40 points in 52 games, he could be a great pickup for a team needing power-play help, or who could pair him with a defensively stout partner. The 27-year-old has the best Corsi and relative Corsi percentages among all Avs blueliners, but gets 44.43 per cent of his starts in the offensive zone, per Corsica. Barrie comes with a cap hit of $5.5 million through next season, so the Avs could move him now to maximize his trade value before his UFA season. He averages the most ice time per game among all Avs blueliners, mostly because of his man-advantage work.
The other defender Dater mentioned who could bring back a degree of scoring is Barrie’s current partner, Nikita Zadorov. The 23-year-old Russian is the opposite type of player as Barrie, more of a bruiser and defence-first player. Still young, his effectiveness in this role is a point of contention — and he’s still growing as a player — but it’s worth noting he’s fifth among Avs blueliners in both average even strength and shorthanded ice time.
Further to this, if the Avs do move into the sellers market they’ll have a big decision to make on their pending UFA starting goalie.
“The only other guy is Semyon Varlamnov,” Dater said. “He’s going to be a UFA. Will a team want him as a nice backup insurance? Could be a nice guy to have.”
NY RANGERS STEPPING CLOSER TO TRADING HAYES, ZUCCARELLO
In his Tuesday column, Larry Brooks reported that Rangers GM Jeff Gorton had not yet started any contract talks with two pending UFAs, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. So as we get closer to the deadline, it appears a near-certainty both will be in a new city for the rest of the season.
Brooks noted that the Winnipeg Jets could be interested in either player, with the likes of Jack Roslovic, Kristian Vesalainen and Sami Niku of interest to the Rangers. The 22-year-old Niku, it was reported on Hockey Night in Canada‘s Headlines segment, could be a player the Jets consider dealing.
After trading Zuccarello, the Rangers may also be interested to swing back in the summer and try to sign him back to the team when he becomes a UFA on July 1. After struggling much of the season and not contributing enough, Zuccarello has 20 points in his past 14 games.
“I’m not aware of that,” Zuccarello told Brooks. “If that’s the situation that develops, I would look at it, but that’s far off. I can say that no one has come to me and said that’s the plan.”
Brooks also wrote the Rangers could possibly explore a similar path with Hayes.
MINNESOTA WILD ARE BECOMING A TEAM TO WATCH ON THE TRADE MARKET
Although they’ve been among the healthier teams through most of the season, Minnesota’s loss of Mikko Koivu for the rest of the season so late in the game could prove difficult to overcome. More pressure has been put on centres Eric Staal and Joel Eriksson-Ek while Victor Rask, who was recently acquired to play the position, has been a fourth-line winger lately.
In the snail derby that is the Western Conference wild card playoff picture, the Wild currently hold the last spot, just two points up on Vancouver and four up on three other teams. That still gives them an advantage despite the fact Minnesota has won only one of seven February games, and their two games against St. Louis over the next two weeks are the only times they’ll face a playoff team before the deadline.
Still, with their hold on a spot so tenuous and trending in the wrong direction, could they possibly be looking at moving Staal, their biggest pending UFA?
In his 31 Thoughts column this week, Elliotte Friedman made one of his points about the Wild and how their GM Paul Fenton could change the trade market if he decides to trade out some players. As Friedman noted, owner Craig Leipold is always pushing for the Stanley Cup — and that was the expectation he had when he hired Fenton last summer — but if winning it all this season feels like a remote possibility, it might make more sense to recoup some assets.
NHL.com recently asked Fenton what approach he’d take at the deadline if his Wild were in a playoff spot by only one point:
“Then I’ve got a hard decision to make, a very, very hard decision. To evaluate this team the next little bit is certainly the reason that we’re having this conversation right now.”
THE BRUINS ARE LOOKING TO ADD AND MAYBE A RENTAL IS STILL IN PLAY
After trading a package that included a first-round pick to the NY Rangers for Rick Nash at last year’s deadline, the feeling was Bruins GM Don Sweeney may not want to pay the price for a rental again. But when he stood in front of the media to report David Pastrnak’s injury — he’ll miss at least the next two weeks — Sweeney said there was a reason he paid up for Nash last February.
And although his preference is clearly to add a player with term or team control, perhaps, if the same situation presents itself again this year, Boston could be a player in the rental market once more.
“I’d like to invest in somebody who’s going to be with us, but I’d like the best player to impact our lineup as well,” Sweeney said. “I felt we had a chance to sign Rick Nash, that’s one of the caveats to that (trade)…That was part of the decision-making in terms of what we gave up for the player.”
#NHLBruins GM Don Sweeney addressed the media about David Pastrnak's injury: pic.twitter.com/BLYFvPciAp
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 12, 2019
CRUNCH TIME IN COLUMBUS
No one envies the decision Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen has to make before Feb. 25. To trade Artemi Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky (or both) or not and lose them in the summer? What gives them the best chance to win?
Speaking to NHL.com, Kekalainen said he doesn’t have any specific price in mind for his two star players.
“Make an offer if you’re interested,” he stated.
“It’s more about the outcome of the whole deal — for now, the near future and into the little more distant future. That’s the deciding factor, not where we are in the standings.
“We’re going to have to look at all our options, and once we have them in front of us, we’ll make a decision.”
Sportsnet insiders Doug MacLean and Elliotte Friedman have at times talked about the possibility Columbus would trade one or both for futures — assuming that’s what contending teams in position to acquire the pending UFAs would be willing to give up — and then flip that return for NHL players to help the cause right now. Columbus is the only NHL team that hasn’t won a playoff round in its history yet, but Kekalainen insisted that will not be a factor in any trade.
How the Blue Jackets look the day after the trade deadline — and if they end up trading either player at all — really depends on how the GM views his team’s chances.
“We believe in our team,” he told NHL.com. “That’s why we’d like to make our team stronger now too to compete in the springtime, but we also have to keep the future in mind, because we have a lot of young players that are only going to keep getting better. We have some players that are coming next year that we think can have a good chance of making the team and making our team stronger in the near future.”