Three teams that could be active before the NHL’s holiday roster freeze

Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion talks about the support he has for his coach, talks about the Kyle Turris deal and doesn't shy away from trade questions surrounding Sens recently.

We’re already more than a third of the way through the 2017-18 season (time flies) and teams are beginning to really fall out of the playoff race, or pull away within their divisions.

This means that general managers now have a pretty clear idea of how their team stacks up to the rest of the NHL, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a result, we’re starting to get an idea of who will play the roles of buyers and sellers on this year’s market and, by extension, which players may be available to trade.

If big moves are to be made, odds are they’ll come closer to the Feb. 26 trade deadline, or the off-season around draft time, but there is another notable deadline coming up that may spur action. The NHL’s holiday roster freeze comes into effect on Dec. 19 and expires Dec. 27, so there are only a few days left for teams to move players between the NHL and AHL, or to make any kind of trade.

The rumour mill is picking up steam around some teams, though the likes of Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver aren’t likely to make their anticipated adjustments until January or February. Vegas, too, likely won’t determine its buyer/seller standing until closer to the deadline.

But there are a couple teams that could decide to spring into action before the freeze kicks in. Here’s a look at a few of them:

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PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

This stands to be an interesting stretch of games for the Penguins. Earlier this week GM Jim Rutherford was asked about his team not playing up to the standard of a back-to-back champion yet and what he might do to kick them into gear. He mentioned it was a critical part of the schedule where he has to decide whether or not to shake things up.

“We’re good enough to be better than we’re doing. Hopefully that’s the way it goes here in the next little while. If it doesn’t, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that a major trade would come out of this,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Since those comments, Pittsburgh dropped a 2-1 decision in Vegas against old starter Marc-Andre Fleury. They have two more road games before the freeze against Arizona and Colorado, so would a Saturday loss to the Coyotes lead to a move?

The Penguins would be in the market for a third-line centre as Riley Sheahan, who they acquired earlier this season, doesn’t have the scoring punch NHL teams need in that role right now. On the block is 28-year-old defenceman Ian Cole, who has been available for a couple weeks and has been playing between 15 and 19 minutes a night in seven games this month.

Whatever happens, Rutherford has a great track record of bringing in effective depth players who eventually played a key role on successful teams. Justin Schultz is a great example of one of those acquisitions who got his NHL career on track in Pittsburgh. Carl Hagelin was another good pickup who scored 16 points in the 2016 Stanley Cup run on the ‘HBK’ Line. Ron Hainsey played a subtle but crucial role in last year’s Cup run.

OTTAWA SENATORS

As reported on last Saturday’s Headlines segment, the Sens asked all 10 players with no-trade clauses on their team to provide a list of teams to which they will not accept a trade.

This news drew comparisons to the 2011 Sens, who made a similar ask of their players in that situation. They eventually traded Alex Kovalev, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, though the first of those moves didn’t come until mid-February.

To be sure, if a Karlsson trade happens (and asking this group of players to provide a list of teams doesn’t mean he will be moved) it likely won’t be until much later, as something of that magnitude won’t come together so fast. But there are so many other moving parts here, and the team has struggled mightily with just two wins since the Global Series trip to Sweden, that perhaps a less substantial trade could come together.

Derick Brassard and Mike Hoffman have been in rumours, but what about Fredrik Claesson, who’s been healthy scratched a few times this month? The goalie market is heating up, too, as injuries hit and contenders realize they may need to upgrade on their backup or add depth at the position at the farm level. To that end would Mike Condon, who was a great pickup for the Sens last season, be a tradable asset?

“I think Dorion’s got a lot going on behind the scenes,” Elliotte Friedman said on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Starting Lineup Friday morning. “I think he’s taking an awful lot of calls. I think there’s quite a bit of interest in Hoffman.”

The trick with any hypothetical Senators trade is the draft pick situation behind it. The Sens traded their 2018 first-rounder to Colorado in the Matt Duchene trade, with the condition that if it ends up as a top-10 selection Colorado would get a 2019 first instead. So the Senators need to be careful of not sliding too far into a rebuild and hand the Avs a top-10 pick anyway.

“The blame falls on everyone,” Dorion said earlier this week. “It falls on the players, it falls on me because I’m at the head of the hockey operations. It’s not where we wanted to be, but we’re not quitting. We’re not trading away people just to trade them away. We’re going to keep fighting and that’s the way we are here.

“If we can make a deal where we feel we get better or there’s a lateral move that nets changes a bit then we’ll definitely look at it, but at the same time we have to look at everyone here.”

They have one game left before the trade freeze — the outdoor game against Montreal on Saturday.

 
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BUFFALO SABRES

All is lost.

Remember coming into last season when it seemed like the Sabres and Maple Leafs rebuilds would grow up together, possibly making for a great rivalry for years to come? Not happening.

The Sabres are once again at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and in line to be in contention for the first-overall pick. And because of that, there are plenty of trade rumours swirling around the team.

“We certainly have had conversations going,” GM Jason Botterill told the Buffalo News on Friday, “but I wouldn’t say anything is imminent right now.”

The most obvious trade asset is pending UFA Evander Kane, who is on pace to approach 40 goals this season and there are many teams looking for an impact scoring winger, including Pittsburgh and Calgary.

It seems the only one who definitely won’t be traded in Buffalo is Jack Eichel, but anything else could potentially be on the table. The Sabres’ last game before the freeze is Friday night at home to Carolina, so Botterill would have a couple off-days to work the phones and get to a deal. The Sabres have won just two of their past eight games, but a win against the ‘Canes might slow down trade talk for now as it would represent their second win in three games.

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