The NHL trade deadline isn't until March 21 this season, so we're still a ways away from available players coming into full view, and when teams have to make the call: are they in, or out, and to what degree?
Names are beginning to pop up in rumours, and we'll explore each one as they arise. Previously, we looked at John Klingberg, what he might be worth both on the trade market and on an extension, and also at what he, Mark Giordano and Jakob Chychrun would bring to any acquiring team.
While teams do have a few weeks to really commit to any plans for this season, we can see big decisions coming on the horizon for a few. And these all aren't as simple as trading away an expiring contract -- instead, a lot of these choices are going to have long-term effects.
If you're a trade hound, the Philadelphia Flyers might be the most interesting team in hockey right now.
"The thing with Philly is, to me from what I've heard, the biggest question they have is, 'OK, what's the honest assessment of who we are? Where are we going here? We made some big moves and they still haven't paid off yet.'" Elliotte Friedman said on the Jeff Marek Show this week.
The Flyers were on lists like this last year and then, after missing the playoffs, they made notable changes in the off-season. Ryan Ellis, Cam Atkinson and Rasmus Ristolainen were among those added, while long-time Flyer Jakub Voracek was moved, along with assets and players you'd pool in the "futures" category. The Flyers were trying to win again this year. Even goalie Carter Hart, who had a miserable 2020-21 season, has looked a little more like himself at time this season. Usually stabilizing a shaky situation in net is good enough to fix problems, but not here.
As the Flyers have been on a teeter-totter -- in the playoffs one year and out the next -- for a decade, this is looking more and more like the season they'll break that pattern and miss two in a row. It's such an odd situation. Two years ago, the Flyers were one win away from an appearance in the bubble semifinals. Ever since, they appear to have some deep-rooted issues.
They attempted a fix those issues in the off-season and since that hasn't worked, more changes must be ahead.
"I would bet that Giroux gets traded," Friedman said. "I just think they have to figure out between him and them where it's gonna go. I could see a situation where they say to him, 'OK, why don't you go chase a Cup this year and we'll figure it out all out.'"
Giroux is their most notable pending UFA and a long-serving Flyer who's been a part of this core that hasn't been able to find consistency. He's also their leading scorer.
Ristolainen, a pending UFA, seems a likely deadline mover months after the Flyers traded their 2021 first-rounder to get him. A few other depth defencemen could be in the same boat, but that's not going to fix the team.
Real questions about the core have to be asked, and if there's a fatal flaw here, that demands a blockbuster approach. A new coach will have to be explored as well, while Mike Yeo continues with the interim tag.
When Bob Clarke took to the Cam and Strick Podcast this week and levelled former Flyers GM Ron Hextall for his approach specifically to the 2017 draft, it was seen as a defence of current GM Chuck Fletcher, and how he should be the one to see this transitional period through to whatever conclusion we end up at.
The Flyers are broken, and when this team makes changes, historically they tend to be newsmakers.
It's about time to react, but not over-react. That's when you get into trouble.
Yes, the Edmonton Oilers are mired in a cold streak, losers of five straight and 11 of their past 13. And, yes, some of the issues plaguing them lately were entirely predictable. They were also first in the league by points percentage on Dec. 1, so the reality is that Edmonton's a team somewhere in between that. It's just not clear where, exactly.
But it is becoming clearer by the day that wherever they actually fit in the landscape of the league, it's hard to think of them as a real contender.
And here we sit, Leon Draisaitl, 26, Connor McDavid, 25, three and four years away, respectively, from free agency after this season. Like it or not, the clock is ticking.
In theory, the Oilers should be all-in, and Ken Holland explained in his media conference this week that he's trying to be that. Signing Zach Hyman was an all-in move. Signing Tyson Barrie was an all-in move. Re-signing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Darnell Nurse for the long-term were all-in moves.
Yet Edmonton sits 12th in the Western Conference.
If you're going to be all-in with this team this season, that means you have to be a buyer because more than one area needs to be addressed. Depth scoring is the most apparent because without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers are getting caved in. This is why they're in the Evander Kane sweepstakes, hopeful his on-ice production will expand their depth enough, off-ice issues be damned.
Their goaltending was a risky proposition coming into the year and, voila, the 28th-ranked team in 5-on-5 save percentage needs to think about adding another. Mikko Koskinen is a backup and Mike Smith just can't stay healthy. Maybe Stuart Skinner helps here, and deserves a shot, but what are the odds he's the answer today?
Of course, finding trades are easier said than done, and every GM knows Holland's situation.
Trade season is mostly about rental players going from also-rans to playoff contenders, but how do the Oilers pay up for one if their spot in the standings is so precarious? The answer is they probably won't.
"Why would I trade a first-round pick or one of our top prospects to have somebody give us a little bit of a boost and next year we have a press conference and you're asking me about more secondary scoring again?" Holland said at his presser. "The depth has to be built internally."
The Oilers do have some intriguing young pieces. Evan Bouchard is 22 with top-four upside and on the NHL roster right now. Dmitri Samorukov and Philip Broberg are coming on the blue line and, in the right deal, perhaps any of them could go. Dylan Holloway is a big scoring forward who just signed and Xavier Bourgault was their first-rounder last summer. That 2022 first-round pick is enticing, too.
It's just that, for the Oilers to make a move of great consequence that really pushes ahead their Cup hopes, it seems that player would need to come with term.
"Would I trade something if it's a hockey trade and you bring in someone for this year and beyond? That's a different story."
Chychrun is a nice idea and would be a great get, but that's not really their most pressing need right now, and the belief is Edmonton isn't in on him. In the six goalie names we explored for the Oilers to target, a few of them have at least another year remaining on their contracts. Semyon Varlamov and Jake Allen, for instance, make a lot of sense on the surface.
Holland is not one to rush things. He has always preached patience and development and that brought a ton of success in Detroit. And, usually, a team in 12th place needs its younger pieces for next year or the year after.
Big trades for termed players more often happen in the off-season, and that puts the Oilers in a bind. How much more can they really buy into this season? While they're better than the current slump, Holland is going to have to do something with this team eventually and make another decisive move that helps them look and play more like a Cup contender. Does he take any great risk? Nibble around the edges? Move forth with status quo?
If Holland slow-plays his hand and this season ends in early disappointment again, the off-season in Edmonton could get wild. Stay tuned.
Forget about last week for a minute. The Calgary Flames have been a team worth buying into this season.
Johnny Gaudreau has been fantastic, Andrew Mangiapane made Team Canada's NHL Olympic long list, team defence has been sound and the offence good on the rush and overall. Coach Darryl Sutter has seemingly got this thing on track.
Here's how they've performed in some key stats at 5-on-5, with their league rank (via Natural Stat Trick):
|53.68 (4th)||53.6 (13th)||53.18 (6th)||53.49 (10th)||.927 (8th)|
Now turn back the calendar to three straight losses in Florida, Tampa and Carolina by an aggregate 16-6. Looks bad, right? Not the results they wanted, but they did hang in at times and returned home with lessons learned. They'll get Florida again at the Saddledome next week with a chance to show a little push back. The dreadful loss to Ottawa Thursday is what gives you pause for thought: Were the Flames playing over their heads before and are now turning back into a pumpkin?
Despite sitting outside of the playoffs Friday, Calgary remains second in the Pacific by points percentage, so all is not lost. GM Brad Treliving has ample time to really figure out how he wants to approach trades for this season, though he noted in a radio interview this week with Pat Steinberg that he expects to be in a position to add.
"There's certainly areas we've identified that we would like to (address) -- you always look internally first. Is there ways to address things internally?" Treliving said. "Certainly, it would be my intention to help my team, to add to it."
When Calgary starts making up its 10 postponed games in February, we'll begin to get a good idea of how big or small any of those moves will be. But Calgary's biggest decisions in the coming months will be away from the rental market and have more chance for lasting effects.
Gaudreau was seemingly half-way out the door after last season, with the team failing to make the playoffs and the core looking stale. It would be easy to move on from that piece since his contract expires in 2022 -- he could have been a trade candidate this season if the Flames were out of it.
Matthew Tkachuk, too, is in for a payday as he hits the RFA market again this summer. His last negotiations hit a stalemate and his brother Brady had Senators fans biting their nails before a deal was reached. It's the Tkachuk way.
The thing is, so much of how the Flames proceed from here with this core will be influenced by what they do in the playoffs, if they get there. The reason such big changes seemed possible before the puck dropped on 2021-22 is because this current group was either failing to get to the playoffs, or not performing well enough once they got there.
Gaudreau is having a monster season, and so maybe it makes sense to extend him now. But if you sign him early and then the team loses in Round 1 and he has another disappointing performance, you're back where you started. If you wait to sign him and then the team wins a round or two and he ends up as your leading scorer? At that point he might rather test the market.
Boy oh boy, what a difference a season makes.
At last year's deadline, Ryan Getzlaf's name was the surprising late addition to the rumour mill as he played out his final contract season. Made sense -- ageing vet on a rebuilding team not getting positive results, maybe he'd be open to another shot at the Cup. It didn't end up happening and Getzlaf re-signed with the team, but now we're looking at a young Ducks squad that's second in the Pacific and with a real chance to return to the playoffs.
The kids have driven this mostly. Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano are the top three scorers for an offence that's finally showing some life after a couple of years at or near the bottom of the league.
But the vets are still contributing. Getzlaf is having a nice bounce-back year. Rickard Rakell, though not producing at an improved rate, occupies a spot on the top line on an affordable contract. Kevin Shattenkirk is their highest-scoring defenceman and Hampus Lindholm is still a quietly excellent shutdown defender.
The temptation might be there to hand the reins over to the next generation, but doing so too quickly could have an adverse effect. At the same time, Anaheim has a number of expiring contracts they'll have to make decisions on.
Lindholm, for one, would probably bring back a solid return if they were to move him ahead of the deadline, but he's their top even-strength minutes eater and a reliable player. Rakell and Getzlaf both could be UFAs in the summer, and while Getzlaf took one pay cut to stay and may just prefer to finish his career in Anaheim, Rakell may be worth letting go of -- so then do you trade him in-season or hang on to see where this all goes?
On top of all this, the Ducks have an interim GM in Jeff Solomon calling the shots. What vision will the new GM have and how long will it take to find him?
Or, when he does get to Anaheim, will Solomon have made some of these calls already?