With the 2023 NHL All-Star Game in the books, the trade deadline rumour mill kicks into high gear as armchair GMs come up with the ideal path for their favourite team.
With the intrigue about to take off, we look at eight pressing questions that could have a large impact on the deadline four weeks from now.
What’s next for the Canucks?
Some rumours have linked Brock Boeser to the Minnesota Wild, but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted in last week’s 32 Thoughts, the math doesn’t quite add up. Boeser’s $6.65-million cap hit might make a trade to any team difficult, if Vancouver hopes to get a satisfying return.
But they can’t be done with just the Horvat trade. Veteran Luke Schenn is a valued piece in the locker room, but also precisely the type of player contenders crave this time of year. Is Tyler Myers’ $6 million moveable if any salary is retained? How about Conor Garland’s $4.95 million?
And how about Thatcher Demko? Injured right now, if he’s able to return and string a few good games together to show good health, would the Canucks consider moving him if the offer was right? The conditions would have to be just right and that hasn’t been the case on the goalie market lately.
The Canucks have a lot of possible remaining trade options, but none of them are slam dunks in-season.
What are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane going to do?
It could be the end of an era in the Windy City if either of their longstanding pillars and multi-Cup winners move on. While at this moment it doesn’t appear either player has discussed with management what the next steps are, from a competitive standpoint there are more reasons to leave. From a personal standpoint, there could be any number of reasons for either to stay.
“I have my feelings, but at this point, I still want to keep that to myself and have my own process about it,” Toews told The Athletic‘s Mark Lazerus two weeks ago of the decision he faces. “I’m not really at the point where I’m talking about it yet. There’s still a lot of things that can transpire over the next month, or whatever. Let’s just let things play out.”
Neither player is at his peak anymore, but Toews at least is having something of a resurgent season with 14 goals and 28 points in 46 games. His role as a two-way faceoff-winning centreman and captain, and his reputation as a leader are all qualities coveted by contenders. And though Kane has sagged with 34 points in 45 games — on pace to finish under a point per game for the first time in five years — you could easily convince many people that he’d become a true game-breaker again on a better team.
But both players also make $10.5 million against the cap. The Blackhawks should easily be able to retain half of each, given the contracts expire at the end of the season, but a third team may still be required to make any deals happen.
And, of course, it may yet turn out that one or both players decide to stay through the deadline.
Is this the year the Maple Leafs get creative and take a really big swing?
There are many schools of thought about how the Leafs should act at the deadline. Early in the season, and after Jake Muzzin went down to injury, the prevailing opinion was that the team would go after a blueliner or two. And that might still be the case. But the Leafs have been improved as a unit defensively, and have seen Timothy Liljegran and Rasmus Sandin step up.
Meanwhile, as Justin Bourne explored last week, there’s also a case to be made for why the Leafs would have more use for a second line (or at least middle six) scoring winger and would fill in a roster hole by going this route. And with Matt Murray out with an injury again, the idea of adding goalie insurance can’t be off the table.
In recent years, GM Kyle Dubas has mostly made subtle depth additions: Ilya Lyubushkin and Mark Giordano last year, Nick Foligno and Ben Hutton the year before. But the Leafs still don’t have a playoff series win in his tenure. Now, with so much on the line (and maybe even his job), could Dubas do something more aggressive and surprising in 2023?
“I think he would like to take a big swing, but I think what he’s trying to figure out is how on earth he can do it,” Friedman said on The Jeff Marek Show last week. “And right now he uses the same calculator as everyone else. Unless he has a magic calculator that bends the realities of the cap, it’s going to be really hard to do. I think he’d like to do something larger, I just don’t know if he’s going to be able to do it.”
And that’s what it’s going to come down to for so many teams, isn’t it? Cap space. According to CapFriendly, the Leafs will have a projected $2.725 million available come deadline day. If a really big splash is in the cards, would that mean Alex Kerfoot or Sandin would have to be involved? Certainly, prospect Matthew Knies could be on the table, as well as their first-round pick.
The Leafs will be active, of that there is no doubt. But will it be more of the same, or will they charge on in?
Is there a surprise trade candidate we could see moved?
These don’t happen every year, but every now and again there is one player traded no one saw coming. Two years ago, this sort of deal came out right before the deadline, when Detroit sent Anthony Mantha to Washington in a trade that sent Jakub Vrana back.
Is there a Mantha-Vrana deal in store in 2023? And could it come from Detroit again?
One player to watch on that front is Dylan Larkin, who has an expiring contract and is on track to become an unrestricted free agent. Contract negotiations are ongoing, but if the 26-year-old leading scorer of the team isn’t signed by March 3, could a trade come instead?
“I’ve said it all along, and I stand by it: I really see myself as a Red Wing. [But] there’s contract negotiating to be done,” Larkin told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski during All-Star weekend. “This is my first time in this position as an unrestricted free agent. But I doubt contracts really ever go smoothly until they’re done.”
Aside from a surprise player moved, we wonder who might get dealt for a surprisingly good return. Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning gave up two prospects and two top-10 protected first-round draft picks for depth winger Brandon Hagel, which to many seemed like a hefty price to pay. Hagel has 41 points in 48 games this season and gets top-six minutes.
Is Erik Karlsson‘s $11.5-million AAV moveable in-season?
Karlsson’s return to superstardom has been one of the best stories of the first half. He leads the NHL with 49 even-strength points and all defencemen with 66 total points — 11 more than No. 2-ranked Rasmus Dahlin.
On the 28th overall San Jose Sharks and their minus-39 team goal differential, when Karlsson has been on the ice at 5-on-5, his team has outscored the opposition 69-54.
EVEN STRENGTH POINTS
Karlsson, 32, has said his priority is to win, and chase a Stanley Cup in the back half of his career. Will the rebuilding Sharks be that team in the next five years, or will Karlsson need to chase it elsewhere?
Because of his Norris-level season, Karlsson’s name has come up in trade rumours. The Sharks might be interested in selling high again and accumulating future assets, and any number of teams would like to add what Karlsson does. But it’s not so easy.
First, he makes $11.5 million against the cap, which is an obvious issue in a capped-out league. Could the Sharks retain salary? Sure, but Karlsson’s contract runs through the 2026-27 season and having dead money on the books that long is a lot to keep around. The price on the player goes up with every dollar.
And, of course, the health question still hangs out there. Is Karlsson going to be this player for the duration of his contract?
If Karlsson gets moved, it would be one heck of a blockbuster that shakes the league, but there are a lot of hurdles to get over first.
“Some days I think there’s no way he’s getting moved until the off-season, and other times I hear people say, well, maybe it will happen,” Friedman said on The Jeff Marek Show last week.
Will a notable goalie get traded, and for what?
A few playoff teams got bad injury luck last post-season and had to dig deep into their goalie depth for some minutes. One of those teams, the Penguins, are dealing with depth concerns at the position again with Casey DeSmith struggling and Tristan Jarry injured. The Los Angeles Kings are another team that may seek to add another starter or tandem option ahead of the playoffs.
And there could be some names available. Cam Talbot could be traded by the Senators if they wave the white flag in the playoff race; Joonas Korpisalo’s expiring contract could be had out of Columbus; Thatcher Demko is the wild card, but is an established difference maker. But as we explored last week, even notable name netminders haven’t brought much back in trade recently, and the goalie market has generally been quiet at the deadline for a few years.
Will any netminders get moved? If so, will it be a depth third-stringer, or someone who could earn playoff starts? And what will the return be in any of these potential moves?
What does Mark Stone‘s injury mean for Vegas?
Last week brought news that Mark Stone would have another back surgery and be out indefinitely. It’s not yet clear if this means he’ll miss the rest of the regular season, or even if he’ll be able to return in the playoffs. But if the Golden Knights don’t think he’ll return before the post-season, they can put him on LTIR and suddenly open up enough money to make an impactful trade.
The Golden Knights, always buyers, were already rumoured to be in on some depth forwards. Stone’s situation could rapidly change the type of players Vegas is in on.
“I think they were looking around some of the depth of their lineup,” Friedman said. “I think they were looking at Barbashev, Acciari; well, now, are they trying to catch a bigger fish? Or two or three bigger fish?”
Vegas had $3.879 million in projected deadline day cap space before knowing what becomes of Stone’s $9.5-million AAV.
Which team will be the Kingmaker?
A few good candidates this year could greatly affect the playoff run and post-season results. On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe wrote about how St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong could influence the deadline, with top-line and depth players available at every position. The Vancouver Canucks may end up making the biggest move of the season having sent Bo Horvat to the Islanders, but have so much more to potentially go, from Garland to Myers, Boeser and Schenn. If any one deal eclipses Vancouver’s, it could involve San Jose dealing Timo Meier, but the Sharks too could offer a wide variety of players — and if Karlsson is among them, the Sharks would have two blockbusters up their sleeve.
“To me the kingmaker is who’s got the best player, and to me, the best players available as far as we know are in Vancouver and in San Jose,” Friedman said last week. “I think there are other teams that have good players available. I think St. Louis has some really good fits available. Guys who could go into a situation who aren’t the biggest names who could really fit in places.”