The NHL trade deadline is less than three weeks away, meaning we’re well past the point where we should be furiously speculating about which players could be on the move.
Even under normal circumstances, we have to be mindful not to salivate too much over potential swaps given how hard they can be to pull off in-season. Throw in a flat salary cap and Canadian quarantine requirements triggered by a global pandemic and this deadline has the potential to be wrapped in a wet blanket.
But let’s stay positive and have a little bit of fun, shall we?
We’ve got some clear sellers out there — including a Nashville team that could burn it down — and upwards of 10 clubs that can credibly make a case for themselves as contenders. Even in the North, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton are surely balancing quarantine concerns with the fact they can see a clear path for themselves to the Final Four thanks to the one-off divisional playoff format.
So without further delay, let’s get those 14-day hotel stays going with some trades we believe make sense on all sides.
Winnipeg Jets receive: Ryan Ellis
Nashville Predators receive: Cole Perfetti, Mathieu Perreault, 2022 third-round pick
Do you know what the Dallas Stars don’t regret? Trading an 18-year-old Jarome Iginla to the Calgary Flames for Joe Nieuwendyk because a few years later, Dallas won its only Cup in franchise history thanks largely to Nieuwendyk’s Conn Smythe performance.
OK, the comparison on both the buying and selling end of the swap are a bit aggressive, but you get the point. I understand asking about Perfetti is a good way to get you laughed off the phone by Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, but the more you look at this, the more it makes sense.
While we’ve all been waiting for Nashville to announce a deal involving Mattias Ekholm, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has indicated the Preds could be internally discussing whether they’d rather keep Ekholm and make the 30-year-old Ellis available. If that were to happen, the Jets should fire up the trade engines.
Ellis is an awesome right-shot defenceman who is under contract for six more seasons after this one. Winnipeg’s blue line was devastated in the summer of 2019, when Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot all left town for one reason or another. Trading Perfetti means you’re not dealing defence prospects Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg. Add them to a core with Ellis, Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey next October and suddenly you’ve built the back end back up. The only drawback is the fact all of those rearguards, with the exception of Samberg, don’t bring much in the way of muscle.
Nashville would be acquiring a centre it expects to play on one of the top two lines for 15 years. Losing a prospect like Perfetti, though, is palatable when your own top two pivots are 28-year-old Mark Scheifele and 22-year-old Pierre-Luc Dubois, both of whom are six-foot-three.
Think of it this way: when Winnipeg was investigating trade options for Patrik Laine, the ideal return would have been a defenceman who could address an area of concern on a team with great forwards and a Vezina-calibre goalie. Getting Dubois for Laine means you can now go trade that shiny centre prospect for the D-man you so desperately need and are never going to attract in free agency.
Ellis is currently recovering from an upper-body injury and his timeline to return might dovetail perfectly with a quarantine period. That could give him about a month of regular season play to gear up for the 2021 playoffs — and six more after that.
Toronto Maple Leafs receive: Conor Garland
Arizona Coyotes receive: Rodion Amirov, Nick Abruzzese, 2021 second-round pick
Garland has really turned himself into a player the past couple years and, with a cap hit of $775,000, he might offer more bang-for-buck than anybody believed to be on the market. The 25-year-old winger will be a restricted free agent this summer, so there’s potential for him to be part of playoff runs in the future. (The way he’s played, you could certainly justify protecting him in the expansion draft).
Garland is so cheap the Leafs would leave themselves a little wiggle room to go out and get a depth defenceman, all while hanging onto top prospects Rasmus Sandin and Nick Robertson.
Arizona, meanwhile, likely doesn’t have the appetite to give Garland the raise he’s due and would be pumping a couple quality prospects into the pipeline. Amirov was a late-birthday first-rounder for Toronto last fall and Abruzzese — a fourth-rounder in 2019 — greatly increased his stock with a stellar freshman year at Harvard in 2019-20.
New York Islanders receive: Kyle Palmieri
New Jersey Devils receive: Kieffer Bellows
Isles GM Lou Lamoriello has been linked to pending-UFA Palmieri for a while and a deal here only makes more sense in the wake of captain Anders Lee being lost for the season with a knee injury.
Bellows, the 19th-overall pick in 2016, notched 22 goals in 52 outings during his second AHL season last year. He’s popped a couple goals recently for the Islanders and the Devils might be drawn to a player who can play for them right now as opposed to a draft pick.
Boston Bruins receive: Taylor Hall
Buffalo Sabres receive: Jake DeBrusk, Jack Studnicka, 2022 first-round pick
The Sabres-related move every Bruins fan wants to see is the one that would repatriate Jack Eichel to Massachusetts. Who knows, maybe that gets discussed in the summer. For now, the Bruins need scoring and don’t let the fact Hall has just two goals this year fool you. He’s an all-world talent who can drive any line he’s on.
The one thing Boston has lacked in recent years is another truly threatening trio to throw over the boards after the "Perfection Line" of Patrice Bergeron with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is done terrorizing opponents. Hall could find a home on the second, even third line in the hopes he strikes the right chemistry with a centre before the playoffs begin.
Hall holds a no-trade clause, but it’s hard to imagine he’d hold up a move to a quality team like Boston. There’s even some potential for a long-term relationship here as the Bruins are in a slightly better cap situation than you might imagine for a perennial contender.
Columbus Blue Jackets receive: Matt Duchene
Nashville Predators receive: Liam Foudy, Gustav Nyqvist
We all expect Nashville to be busy in the next couple weeks and most of the talk has centred on Ekholm and scoring winger Filip Forsberg, both of whom are UFA-eligible in 2022. But what about getting creative and clearing out big money attached to a veteran player if the opportunity is there?
Matt Duchene looked like a perfect fit in Tennessee, but basically nothing has gone the way the team or the player hoped since Duchene — who does not have no-trade protection — signed in 2019. He’s got five more years to go with a cap hit of $8 million per year.
Meanwhile, the Jackets keep getting mentioned as potential sellers, despite the fact they’ve inched back into the playoff race and don’t appear to be unfurling any white flags. Nobody is brassier than Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, as evidenced by his bet-the-farm moves around the 2019 deadline, one of which landed Duchene from Ottawa. The 30-year-old, currently sidelined with a lower-body issue, had a great experience in Columbus, putting up 10 points in 10 playoff games. The Jackets seem perpetually in need of offensive talent and are never a prime free agent landing spot. Maybe re-acquiring a talented player they have familiarity with is the way to go.
Columbus has some hefty negotiations on the horizon, with Laine due a new deal before next year and both Seth Jones and Zach Werenksi in line for raises ahead of 2022-23. That said, clearing Nyqvist helps and both Nick Foligno and David Savard — who combine for a cap hit of almost $10 million — could come off the books this summer.
The injured Nyqvist, 31, only has two more years to go on his deal and, assuming he gets back to being a 20-goal guy, Nashville could eat a small amount of salary and flip him for a pick down the road.