NHL trade deadline is coming up fast and the seven Canadian teams all have some kind of choice to make, whether they're a buyer, seller, or somewhere in between.
Here's a look at the best and most likely outcomes for all of them.
The Leafs locked up their “Big Four” with the thought in mind that these seasons right now would be their Cup contention years. They’re currently tied for fifth in the NHL in points percentage, which in this league means they’re among the teams with at least a shot.
Needs: GOALTENDING, yells an entire fanbase in unison. But also another mid-pair defenceman who defends as their priority, and maybe another depth blueliner. A second line winger would be a luxury add, but they actually need a bottom-six forward who forechecks and plays with energy, given the lacklustre results from Simmonds-Spezza and whoever they’ve been with of late.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: The best-case scenario on D is probably Scott Mayfield, but that’s making the word “reasonable” do a lot of work. There are bigger names out there on D that are possible for the Leafs, including the likes of Ben Chiarot or maybe a bottom-pair type like Luke Schenn. (Could Mark Pysyk be a versatile D option who’s burned the Leafs in a fourth-line forward role in the past?)
I don’t see a solution in goal unless they’d want to spend their valuable assets on guys who haven’t out-performed Jack Campbell on the whole this season (such as John Gibson or Marc-Andre Fleury). It’s Campbell or bust with maybe a Mrazek trade for a cheaper back-up as a possibility.
What likely happens: The forward that comes over likely depends on which defenceman they can add, given that’s priority 1A (I wrote about why here). It also depends how much cap space they have. Related: Campbell is likely the team’s starting goalie for better or worse in the playoffs. I wonder: if Erik Källgren is really good for a couple more games would they trade Mrazek with a pick to better use that cap space?
They will add a defenceman as mentioned, the quality of which is going to come down to the final buzzer, as teams hold their assets and play off the desperation of someone like the Leafs to drum up prices at the last minute. I doubt it’s Chiarot in the end. I’m guessing a fall-back play is right D Damon Severson, though I don’t love that as a solution. He shows well by the numbers, but plays a similar style to the bottom pair younger guys they already have. Other teams are considering Justin Braun as well, who’s a right shot that can handle third pair minutes.
The Habs are last place in the NHL, which is still hard to process after last season. But with the clearly defined mission to sell, they should have an easier – not better, but easier – deadline than most. They just have to hold out for the highest bidder on their assets before the sands of the hourglass run through.
Needs: Top picks and prospects.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: I think Chiarot fetches a first-rounder, and it’s possible Artturi Lehkonen does too. I think they’d be well-served to add an asset for Joel Armia too, who I don’t think moves the needle as a difference-maker in the league, at least not during the years Montreal aims to be good.
What likely happens: Montreal’s best interests are served by adding assets for the future, as they’ve actually got a few good players on the roster with which to go forward. So if they could add a couple first rounders, stay in last, then pick first overall, that would be one heck of a successful season in the end, wouldn’t it?
The Canucks are kind of caught in the middle, where you can say “they aren’t Cup contenders, so they should sell.” But they’ve got real talent on the team and a chance to make the playoffs coming off a red-hot second half of the season. There’s a sense the organization wants to stay competitive for the fans (and related revenues) and not just fold up the tents.
Needs: To pick a direction – are they blowing it up, “retooling,” or just pushing ahead?
Best (reasonable) case scenario: Best-case is that they remain fairly inactive, but cash in a guy like Tyler Motte before he can walk away, and then qualify for the playoffs. With Thatcher Demko and scorers I doubt they’re an easy playoff out. They don’t have to make any decisions right away, so if the Canucks aren’t wowed by anything – and it seems like they won’t be with a quiet market right now – they should wait until the draft and revisit the conversations on their bigger-name players. It’s always nice to know the draft position of the potential picks teams offer anyway.
What likely happens: The above. They have a new management group, and while Jim Rutherford likes to make a splash, there’s just no rush to move any of their guys that are still under contract. They’re in a playoff push now.
The Oilers seem caught in the middle this year, a team with enough talent to make the playoffs that doesn’t quite believe this is an “all-in” year. That’s an awkward spot when you’ve got Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as has been well-discussed.
Needs: The major issue is that the Oilers need help in the crease, but Mikko Koskinen has generally been better there lately, which is the type of thing that confuses teams. He’s probably not “fixed’ though, and you can see how much more effective the Oilers are when they do get saves. The Oilers would love a second pair RD (ideally one who could kill penalties), but the team is capped out and missing their second- and third-round picks – so that’s going to be tough to accomplish.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: The Hail Mary best-case might be finding a way to move Tyson Barrie (whose role is redundant with Evan Bouchard), and track down a goalie with that cap space, or even a more defensive defenceman (methinks they miss Adam Larsson). Ideally they’d flip Josh Archibald for a pick too (likely a seventh-rounder given the events of his past season).
What likely happens: Very little. The team seems content to plow ahead and just hope they get better goaltending. Our own Mark Spector did a good job looking at their realistic options here (names like Carson Soucy, Justin Braun and Artturi Lehkonen are mentioned), but the word coming out of Edmonton right now doesn’t sound overly aggressive or desperate.
The Flames have remarkably gone from a “Wait how are they this bad?” team to a “Wait how are they this good” group in just a single season. So now the questions start. How close are they? One piece? Two? Just some fringe depth guys to get them through the hardest stretches of the post-season?
Needs: A reliable depth defenceman. They like their six, but if they have to reach into the seven hole or beyond, things start to thin out quick. Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson are fine somewhat sheltered as a defence-first third pair. You don’t want those guys climbing into second pair roles, though.
They could also use some help down the middle on the second/third line. These may not be “needs” for some teams, but for Cup hopefuls, they are.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: Best-case would be having someone retain on a top-end forward. Could that be Claude Giroux or Tomas Hertl or JT Miller! Maybe, maybe not. But in “best-case” land, these would be options (with some money going the other way). They’re in on the bigger name D-men too, not wanting to miss what feels like a year to make hay.
What likely happens: I’m guessing they land a depth forward on the more complementary side, like a Copp or Jarnkrok. On the back-end, the Flames seem like a natural fit for someone like Braun, a legit NHLer who doesn’t make you feel terrible if one of your bottom-four D-men have to come out of the line-up. Still, moves like these are the low-end for their deadline expectations.
The Jets are in that uncomfortable position where you don’t want to admit that you don’t think you have much of a chance and sell (they could make playoffs yet!), but they have to be honest with themselves too and plan for the good of the franchise going forward. Given the difficulty of attracting free agents, I’d argue they have to be smarter about stockpiling picks and prospects than some other organizations.
Needs: To not let Paul Stastny and Andrew Copp leave for nothing.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: They flip those two pending UFAs and stay in the fight, sneaking into playoffs. Then Connor Hellebuyck does his thing and their elite offensive players do their thing and make someone’s first-round life hell.
What likely happens: I bet they flip Copp and hang on to Statsny for the playoff push, wanting to reward their group for getting back into the fight. Cheveldayoff has mentioned something about using those guys as “own rentals,” so hopefully they just don’t get silly, do it with both, and miss the playoffs.
The Sens and Pierre Dorion likely regret declaring the rebuild “over,” as they seem primed to add another top-three pick in this year’s NHL draft. But that’s OK. Another bright young star could be just the thing to make the Sens legit threats when they do get headed meaningfully in the right direction. (Will they pay that talent to stay? Stay tuned!) They’ve also got decisions to make on Erik Brannstrom and Victor Mete – will those RFAs be a part of that solution?
Needs: Elite top-end talent (particularly on D), straight up. Which means they need top picks, because teams don’t give that away.
Best (reasonable) case scenario: Best-case is that they re-sign Nick Paul and Anton Forsberg, and flip guys like Josh Brown and Michael Del Zotto and Chris Tierney and Zach Sanford.
What likely happens: Not the above. I doubt many of the above names are hotly desired commodities on the market, so if they do go, it may be later on Monday for a late-round pick. If Paul and Forsberg don’t want to be a part of the solution in Ottawa, it’s likely they’ll have to move those guys while they have peak value, and not risk losing them for nothing.