NHL Power Rankings: Trade deadline deal-makers and roster-shakers edition

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas speaks to the media at Tim Hortons Field ahead of the NHL Heritage Classic outdoor hockey game in Hamilton, Ont., Friday, March 4, 2022. The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs will face off in the 2022 Heritage Classic later this month. (CP)

It’s funny to think that, in about 10 days, the GMs who run NHL teams will more or less be living the same life as a fan invested in the squad: hanging on every goal, but basically powerless to influence the outcome.

Oh, sure, you could go all Lou Lamoriello and fire a coach in the season’s 11th hour, but how likely is a scenario like that? Really, GMs have between now and the March 21 trade deadline — or a week from this coming Monday as this is written, if you prefer — to pull whatever levers and twist whatever knobs they can to try to construct the best possible playoff squad. After that, all you can do with your hands is press them together and pray.

Whether you’re a buyer or seller, this is one of the times in the season when a GM makes his money. And even beyond what their deadline agenda is, not everyone is in the same boat. Some, such as Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings, couldn’t be standing on more solid ground job security-wise if he was perched on granite-infused oak. Others, such as Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets, have been overseeing their teams for a decade and, lately, watching them trend the wrong way.

A half-dozen GMs are also about to experience deadline day for the first time in the big chair. Four general managers — Montreal’s Kent Hughes, Vancouver’s Patrik Allvin, Anaheim’s Pat Verbeek and Chicago’s Kyle Davidson — did not hold that post when the season began and none of them have helmed an organization before. Beyond that, Chris Drury got the corner office last summer in New York and he’s now charged with figuring out what to do with a Rangers team that will enter the playoffs with the league’s best goalie, while Joe Will — the acting GM in San Jose while longtime general manager Doug Wilson is away tending to his health — runs a squad with slim playoff hopes and a pending-UFA on its roster in the form of Tomas Hertl who will elicit all kinds of interest.

Who’s pushing his chips in the middle, who’s making hard decisions to sell and who might be lurking in the weeds waiting to leap? This week’s power rankings take a look at the person making the final call on transactions — before he has to resign himself to being just another incredibly invested fan.

1. Carolina Hurricanes (39-12-5)

After serving as Canes president for five seasons, Don Waddell added the GM title to his business card in 2018. The front office veteran — he ran the Atlanta Trashers for more than a decade — is trying to put the finishing touches on a team that does everything well.

2. Colorado Avalanche (41-12-5)

Remember when we weren’t really sure if Joe Sakic was a good GM? That basically changed in 2017 when he flipped a disgruntled Matt Duchene into Sam Girard and the fourth-overall pick that became Bowen Byram in 2019. Avs fans now have full faith in Sakic as he tries to put the team over the top for the first time since he was on the ice.

3. Tampa Bay Lighting (37-13-6)

Say what you want about the foundation that was put in place under Steve Yzerman, but Julien BriseBois was long thought to be a GM in waiting — either in Tampa or somewhere else — and his 2020 deadline acquisitions of Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman went a long way in helping Tampa win back-to-back championships.

4. Florida Panthers (39-13-50)

It’s basically been one win after another for Bill Zito since he took over in Florida in September 2020. Snagging Sam Bennett at least year’s deadline — and then inking him to a new contract — has worked out wonderfully.

5. Calgary Flames (34-15-7)

Brad Treliving is coming up on eight years as GM in Calgary. He’s the clubhouse leader for winning the 2022 deadline thanks to his acquisition of Tyler Toffoli from Montreal. That said, the Flames have won exactly one playoff series on his watch, so that has to change soon.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (37-16-4)

Kyle Dubas certainly hasn’t been shy making strong moves at the three deadlines he’s guided the Leafs through. He’s watched his goaltending crumble this year, and Jack Campbell's injury and Petr Mrazek's play will make things interesting. If the Leafs fail to win a post-season round again this year, nobody in the front office will feel safe.

7. Boston Bruins (34-18-5)

Don Sweeney’s term is creeping up there; this spring will mark seven seasons since replaced Peter Chiarelli — architect of the 2011 Cup-winning team — in the B’s big chair. He traded for and ultimately re-signed Taylor Hall last year, and Hall is one of the players who has Boston rising up these rankings of late.

8. New York Rangers (36-16-5)

It was pretty shocking to see Jeff Gorton dismissed last summer after clearly getting the Rangers pointed in the right direction. Now it’s up to Chris Drury to try to get the rebuild (retool?) over the goal line.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-15-9)

Ron Hextall made a shrewd move snagging old friend Jeff Carter from the Los Angeles Kings at last year’s deadline, just months after Hextall took the job in Pittsburgh. What can he do to squeeze another championship out of this core?

10. Los Angeles Kings (32-19-7)

Rob Blake signed one of the 2021 playoffs’ defining players, Phillip Danault, as a free agent in the summer. The Kings are suddenly in the running for surprise team of the season, meaning the quick reboot Blake — who became the GM in 2017 — and his crew were hoping to pull off seems to be on target.

11. Dallas Stars (32-21-3)

This April marks nine years on the job in Big D for Jim Nill. His team is far and away one of the most fascinating to watch heading toward the deadline, as the whole world knows John Klingberg’s time with the Stars is ending either very soon or in the summer. But as for selling on ageless UFA-to-be Joe Pavelski, it now looks as though Dallas will be firmly in the playoff mix on deadline day and likely looking to add to a club that made the Cup final just one season ago.

12. St. Louis Blues (32-17-7)

Only two GMs — David Poile and the on-leave Doug Wilson — have held their positions longer than Doug Armstrong, who took over in St. Louis in 2010. The Blues already look like a different outfit from the one that won the 2019 championship and this new young core could get a boost pre-deadline for another big run.

13. Washington Capitals (31-18-10)

The two men who preceded Brian MacLennan in Washington — David Poile and George McPhee — combined to hold the GM job from 1982 to 2014. MacLellan has been on the job eight years now, but Washington hasn’t won a playoff round since its 2018 title.

14. Minnesota Wild (33-19-3)

We know Bill Guerin can be brassy, as evidenced by his decision to buy out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer. Can he make a big move now to help a Wild squad that has stumbled of late?

15. Nashville Predators (32-20-4)

Nothing is going to flummox David Poile, who is 40 years into being an NHL GM and still only with his second team. If ever there was a veteran executive who can handle the “should we/shouldn’t we” of trading a pending-UFA like Filip Forsberg while your team is clinging to a playoff spot, it’s him.

16. Vancouver Canucks (29-23-6)

Patrik Allvin likely assumed he’d be a seller when he took the Canucks GM job in late January. But can he really move somebody like J.T. Miller with Vancouver charging hard toward a playoff spot?

17. Vegas Golden Knights (32-22-4)

Kelly McCrimmon already exploded most of his in-season powder by acquiring Jack Eichel in November. Is there a tweak left that could ignite this flat team?

18. Edmonton Oilers (31-23-4)

Edmonton’s December death spiral kicked off trade-deadline talk extra early this year in Northern Alberta because the conversations were all centred on what GM Ken Holland could do to strengthen the crease. The reality is, there are limited options out there for the veteran Holland to pursue; especially if he’s as hesitant to move a first-round pick as he’s indicated, given his team’s bubble status.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets (28-26-3)

They should have named the trade deadline after Jarmo Kekalainen when, in 2019, acting on behalf of a complete playoff fringe team with big-time free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky about to bolt, Kekalainen not only hung onto his guys, but went out and spent a first-rounder to get Matt Duchene as just one deal in a flurry he made that February. Columbus went on to win its first playoff series in franchise history. That said, any move Kekalainen makes in the coming days will surely be in sell mode.

20. Anaheim Ducks (27-23-9)

Pat Verbeek doesn’t have much time to slowly dip his toes in the Pacific Ocean. “The Little Ball of Hate” as he was known during his feisty playing days took the Anaheim job about a month ago and — while there are great young pieces in place — he’s now charged with figuring out whether the team can extend franchise D-man Hampus Lindholm in the next week or so or move the 28-year-old before March 21. Oh, by the way, 30-year-old right-shot defenceman Josh Manson — currently sidelined with an oblique injury — is in the same boat.

21. Winnipeg Jets (25-22-10)

Man, have things suddenly become interesting for the Jets. In addition to coach Paul Maurice's resignation, the man who hired him, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, has been at the helm of the Jets since they returned to Winnipeg in 2011. This Jets team was thought by some to be a playoff contender; instead, it's quickly disappearing from the post-season picture and the blame for that has to land somewhere.

22. New Jersey Devils (21-31-5)

Tom Fitzgerald has been on the job just over two years (including his start with the "interim" tag) and he’ll be selling in the hopes his team will soon be in a much better position thanks to the rise of Jack Hughes and his big UFA signing from last summer, Dougie Hamilton.

23. New York Islanders (21-24-8)

Lou Lamoriello will be 80 next October. You could argue he’s had not one, but two successful acts in Toronto and Long Island after leaving the New Jersey Devils — a team he ran for 25 years — at age 72 in the summer of 2015. This was a down year for the Isles, but it would surprise nobody to see Lou’s squad back in playoff contention next year.

24. San Jose Sharks (24-25-7)

Joe Will — in conjunction with the staff around him — has to be agonizing over what to do with pending-UFA Tomas Hertl. Even during a down cycle, the Sharks have such a strong reputation as an organization and that you could see Hertl wanting to stay in Northern California. That said, he has to know better options for winning in the next couple years exist elsewhere. Will, by the way, has been with the Sharks since they started playing hockey in 1990, when he was a 26-year-old director of scouting.

25. Philadelphia Flyers (18-28-10)

I’ve got Philly and GM Chuck Fletcher circled as the team mostly likely to make a move that leaves you saying, “Wow, I did not see that coming.” They’re a bottom feeder now, but Fletcher is steadfast that they plan to bounce back next year. They may make the obvious Claude Giroux sell, but they could also wade into trades aimed at making them better in the immediate future.

26. Chicago Blackhawks (21-29-8)

The league’s newest GM — Kyle Davidson shed the interim tag March 1 — will have to decide if he wants to cash out on a young, desirable commodity such as Brandon Hagel or if he’d rather have the 23-year-old be part of the solution in Chicago.

27. Detroit Red Wings (24-27-6)

Steve Yzerman obviously has all the rope required to build a winner in Detroit. With no obvious chips to sell, maybe Yzerman will once again jump in to eat salary on a three-way trade and get a pick out of it like he did with Tampa and Columbus last year when the Bolts wanted David Savard.

28. Montreal Canadiens (15-35-7)

Agent-turned-GM Kent Hughes has already sold Tyler Toffoli and is sure to move big D-man Ben Chiarot, too. The real question in Montreal is how hard will Hughes push to trade controllable — and in some cases, very useful — players Artturi Lehkonen, Jeff Petry, Jake Allen and even somebody such as Josh Anderson.

29. Arizona Coyotes (17-35-4)

All eyes will be on Bill Armstrong to see if the second-year Arizona GM pulls the trigger and trades 23-year-old defenceman Jakob Chychrun and his very manageable contract before the deadline or if he kicks the can and does it in the summer. When you’re trading guys like Chychrun, you know it’s a serious rebuild.

30. Ottawa Senators (20-31-5)

Pierre Dorion has had monster sells on recent deadline days — Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Jean-Gabriel Pageau — but the only name getting much chatter around Ottawa these days is that of Nick Paul. How long before Dorion can be a buyer again?

31. Buffalo Sabres (18-32-8)

There’s not a lot of obvious sells for second-year GM Kevyn Adams, who had a fairly forgettable first deadline last season when he ate half of Taylor Hall’s salary and still couldn’t get anything juicy in return from Boston.

32. Seattle Kraken (17-37-5)

Ron Francis built a strong base during his first job in Carolina and he’s expected to do the same over the long haul in Seattle. Moving Mark Giordano for a nice package in the next little while could help get a foundation in place.

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