The trade deadline is one week away and so far…it’s been pretty quiet. Fans of contending teams everywhere are waiting to see what additions will be made to their favourite squad.
So, as we await actual trades let’s take a look at three of the players most likely to be moved and which teams might be the best fit for each.
DAVID SAVARD: FLORIDA PANTHERS
This trade makes a lot of sense to me for a few reasons. One, the Panthers lost their top right-shot defenceman, Aaron Ekblad, for the season to a broken leg. Two, Panthers GM Bill Zito knows Savard as well as anyone having served as the Blue Jackets assistant GM for seven seasons before taking the job in Florida. And while Ekblad's and Savard’s games are quite different, Savard would bring several desirable attributes to a Panthers team that is looking more and more like a legitimate threat to make some noise in the playoffs.
Ekblad is an offensive weapon while Savard is a shutdown defenceman. We know the Panthers can score, ranking fourth in goals and third in expected goals per game. However, Florida ranks 10th in goals against per game and 17th in expected goals against. Acquiring a defensive defenceman like Savard would address a need on a team that would benefit from tightening up a bit defensively.
Savard eats the toughest minutes of any Blue Jackets defenceman and among the toughest of any D-man in the NHL. He starts just 25 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, which ranks second-lowest among Columbus’s six most-used defencemen. Combine that with the Blue Jackets as a whole not being at the level they were last season and it’s not a big surprise that Savard’s while-on-ice numbers (expected goals against, high-danger shot differential) are nothing to write home about. That said, he is still capable of being an impactful defender in a top-four role on a contending team.
Savard does a terrific job of denying clean entries into the Blue Jackets zone at even-strength, averaging 2.8 denied entries per game. That ranks fifth among all defencemen with equal or more ice-time, trailing only Seth Jones, Neal Pionk, Jaccob Slavin, and Miro Heiskanen. When it comes to defending in-zone, Savard ranks third in blocked shots per game and also uses his stick well to break up passing plays.
The Panthers have made strides defensively relative to last season, however there are still a few areas where they are susceptible to giving up scoring chances. Florida ranks bottom-five in odd-man rushes against and scoring chances against off the forecheck. Savard is a steady defensive presence capable of eating big minutes against top competition. Defencemen like him on expiring contracts are hard to find this time of year, which is why he will be in high demand ahead of the trade deadline.
KYLE PALMIERI: DALLAS STARS
After being held out of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Capitals, it looks as though Kyle Palmieri will be moved ahead of the trade deadline.
Palmieri is hitting his stride at the right time of year scoring four goals in his past eight games after scoring just four times in his first 26. The 30-year-old right winger has averaged over a goal every three games for the past five seasons so it stands to reason that he should be able to provide a contending team with reliable goal scoring.
There are a few teams currently in a playoff spot that could use some offensive help: the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators come to mind. However, the Predators may choose to sell depending on how things go this week as they are in a battle for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. Palmieri to the Bruins seems like one of those fits that could look good on paper, but given how Boston creates its offence, I’m not sold on that being the best fit.
The team I see being a strong fit for Palmieri are the Dallas Stars.
Dallas hasn’t had any issue with the man advantage as its power play is clicking at 25 per cent. However, the Stars rank 24th in even-strength goal scoring, averaging just 2.25 goals per 60 minutes. The Stars have been plagued by injuries to their forward group all season. Tyler Seguin hasn’t played a game and Jamie Benn, Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, Joel Kiviranta and Alex Radulov have all missed significant time. Palmieri could easily fit into the Stars middle six on the right wing with the way the roster looks right now.
The recent offensive breakout shouldn’t come as a huge surprise as Palmieri knows how to get open in the critical scoring areas on the ice, averaging 2.8 shot attempts per game from the slot which ranks 41st in the NHL. Just behind Sebastian Aho and Brayden Point and just ahead of Anders Lee and Roope Hintz.
In addition to goal scoring, Palmieri is also a reliable player in the neutral zone, something the defence-first Stars would appreciate. Palmieri ranks 24th among forwards in blocked passes in the neutral zone and rarely turns the puck over in this transition zone when he has it, doing so on just 4.3 per cent of his possessions which is the 11th-lowest turnover rate in the league. Dallas allows the fourth-fewest rush chances against and a big reason is they are responsible with the puck in the neutral zone.
As mentioned, Dallas’ power play hasn’t had any issue scoring goals, but there’s no question Palmieri would add a valuable element, perhaps on a second unit. Despite scoring just once on the power play so far this season, Palmieri has had plenty of good looks and ranks among the top-35 players in the league, at a per 60-minute rate, creating quality scoring chances.
It’s not hard to imagine Palmieri providing significant offensive value to a defence-oriented team like the Dallas Stars who are in a race just to make the playoffs. The Stars have good puck movers on the blue line who like to join the attack and Palmieri is a smart player who knows how to get to the right spots on the ice to score goals. You don’t have to look back too far to see the type of damage this team can do in the post-season, but they need to score some more goals to make sure they get there this season.
JONATHAN BERNIER: COLORADO AVALANCHE
Yes, the Colorado Avalanche recently traded for a back-up goalie, Jonas Johansson. After a lacklustre debut performance with his new team, Johansson bounced back, stopping 25 of 27 shots in a win over the St. Louis Blues Friday night. Perhaps Johansson will show that he is a capable backup, something he has not done yet in his young NHL career. However, the Avalanche found themselves down to their third-string goalie, Michael Hutchinson, in their final playoff games last season. A team that looked like a sure-fire Cup contender was eliminated in the second round as they were forced to rely on an NHL journeyman after injuries to Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz.
Grubauer is having a Vezina-calibre season while Francouz has missed the entire season due to injury. Should anything happen to Grubauer in the final month and change of the regular season or the playoffs, how confident will the Avalanche be that Johansson can lead them to the promised land if need be? We’ll wait and see but if Colorado does decide to add some more insurance in goal, Jonathan Bernier is arguably the best available option among pending unrestricted free agents.
Quietly, Bernier has put together a couple of really solid seasons on a well below average Detroit Red Wings team. Bernier faces a lot of shots -- dangerous ones as well, so his traditional numbers don’t jump off the page. Bernier does have a winning record this season, 8-6-0 and a .918 save percentage that ranks 23rd overall. When factoring in the quality of shots he’s faced, Bernier’s numbers are even more impressive.
Dating back to last season, Bernier had an almost identical 0.22 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes which ranked 17th overall. That’s 60-plus games in the past two seasons that Bernier has played at a top-15 level. It’s unclear whether Francouz will return in time for the playoffs. Grubauer is more than good enough to lead the Avs in the post-season, but if anything should happen to him it could end up being Johansson’s net.
In a year where the Avalanche are rightfully being labelled Cup contenders if not favourites, that’s a big question mark on a team that looks rock solid otherwise. There are cheaper options available, but if the Avs can move a bit of money around to make it work, Bernier may be the best option.