Every trade season the types of things that get moved are always the same. Players on expiring contracts are popular rental targets as playoff teams seek short-term depth. Sometimes an impact player with term is made available on the market and becomes the most expensive get.
In every case, prospects and draft picks are the main currency for in-season trading because the seller usually has a more long-term goal. That will remain true in 2021, but what could change is which draft is being targeted by the selling teams.
Usually teams would primarily be after picks for this summer's draft, but the pandemic has muddied that picture a bit. Most leagues got off to late starts or had different schedules. The OHL hasn't started at all yet, though an announcement is expected soon about a shortened season.
Scouts across the board haven't had the same access to games and ability to view players first-hand, even for leagues that have been playing a while. Video scouting is an important department, but usually only presents a slice of the overall picture -- this year it's often been the only thing to work off.
We'll likely still see 2021 draft picks traded, but given how the ability to effectively scout in-person has been impacted, teams may rather bulk up on 2022 picks, when they might feel more confident about their decisions.
"I've heard they want to push it out two years. Some teams are concerned they're not going to get enough scouting views on the top picks this year so 2022 might be the better year to get picks," Mike Futa said on Tim and Friends last week.
There are two schools of thought here though. If you're getting a pick, say, in the top half of Round 1 there could be a heightened risk of missing on a player because of the scouting situation. But in most cases, the team acquiring picks will be getting them from a contender and, therefore, they will come at the back end of Round 1. Hit rates decline as the draft goes on anyway, so while the miss risk is still there, it may not be as pronounced as it would be for an earlier pick.
Selling teams also usually acquire more than just first-round picks. They're after "lottery tickets" and take on second-, third-, and fourth-rounders to get as many shots at hitting on another player later in the draft as they can. This is where sellers could, perhaps, benefit.
If you hold a pile of post-Round 1 draft picks in a season where scouting hasn't been as in-depth as usual, does that not increase your chance of hitting on a late-bloomer no one had a chance to notice?
It's something to watch as we all wait for the first wave of trading. Any day now.
WHY ARIZONA COULD BE A SURPRISE SELLER AND KINGMAKER
The Nashville Predators have been the assumed kingmaker of this deadline -- a selling team with prime assets available and, perhaps, a star forward (ahem, Filip Forsberg). But we might be sleeping on Arizona playing this role.
After a promising start, the Coyotes' season has slowed considerably and they're now six points out of a playoff spot. Their defence has allowing the sixth most shots per game on averagedover the past five weeks. Their offence, always a sore spot, ranks 27th on the season and 30th over the past five weeks.
We know this is a team that wants to acquire draft picks and has to keep its salary spending in mind. League fines stemming from an incident under former GM John Chayka has left the Coyotes without their own first- and third-round picks this season. Substantial, long-term contracts have been given out already to Clayton Keller, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak. The cupboards need to be re-stocked now.
That brings us to Conor Garland, the team's top scorer with 25 points in 30 games. The 25-year-old is a late-bloomer, and has improved in each of his three NHL seasons. He's now at least arguably Arizona's best player, so why is he being mentioned in a trade rumours column?
He could be the exact type of asset the Coyotes could use to build out their prospect cupboard. Garland comes cheap for this season, but is in line for a healthy raise as an RFA come summertime. His production and age makes him an intriguing target, but where it gets complicated is finding the right combination of interested buyer offering Grade A futures.
"The whole Conor Garland thing is really interesting to me," Elliotte Friedman said on Sunday's 31 Thoughts: The Podcast. "I think it's two things. He's basically a point a game player now. He's making $775,000 this year, it's arbitration, arbitration, UFA. That's a big raise. And I think the way Arizona looks at it, they gotta rebuild, they don't have picks, I think they're going to look at it.
"Arizona's concern is, let's say a really good team gets Garland and he's there for a couple years and they're picking late in every round. That doesn't appeal to Arizona. So they're not really interested in a late first-rounder plus a late second-rounder. They want picks that are reasonably high and/or good prospects. If you're coming for Conor Garland basically what I've heard is don't screw around."
On top of offering a young, controllable top-six forward to the market the Coyotes also have a few rental players they can move. Forward Derick Brassard and even goalie Antti Raanta could be counted there, as would defencemen Niklas Hjalmarsson or Alex Goligoski, though they have an extra layer of complication -- Hjalmarsson has a full no-move clause and Goligoski has a modified no-trade.
COULD JOHN TORTORELLA BE A CANDIDATE TO COACH THE SABRES NEXT SEASON?
Currently coaching the Blue Jackets -- who, by the way, are now tied with Chicago for a playoff spot -- Tortorella is in the final year of his contract. There have been unproven theories that he wants out of Columbus and, certainly when the team was struggling, it seemed like the writing was on the wall for him.
He had a public spat with Pierre-Luc Dubois when he benched his star player, and after Dubois was traded to Winnipeg, much was made when Tortorella benched Patrik Laine a few games into his time with the team. That decision was spurred when Laine “verbally disrespected” a member of the coaching staff and the player agreed he deserved it. One month later Laine was benched again and that time he didn't really understand the decision.
Tortorella challenges his players and if they don't bring effort or stick to the system he'll sit them down. That coaching style doesn't work well with every player and you have to wonder how much longer it can go on for in Columbus -- especially with Laine an RFA this summer and just two years away from becoming UFA eligible.
Winning cures everything and a Columbus playoff berth could change the equation, but if Tortorella is let go or does not sign a new contract after the season, there may be a job screaming for his presence that would interest him. The Buffalo Sabres are on their way to a 10th consecutive playoff miss and the No. 1 knock on them is a lack of effort on most nights. Sometimes it doesn't look like a system is breaking down, but rather that the players aren't checked in.
It cost Ralph Krueger his job last week as Don Granato took over the interim role.
"You have to find somebody who commands respect and knows how to get players to play for them," Elliotte Freidman said on The FAN 590's Lead Off last Friday. "The thing about Tortorella is really interesting. Everybody understands that this possibility could be there. If Tortorella is not back in Columbus he has an attachment to Buffalo.
"I think there's something to be said for does the person you hire feel any attachment to your organization? I do think that matters. Is there any kind of loyalty there or connection there that increases the will of the person to make your team better? The question I'm going to have about Tortorella is how young are the Sabres going to be? My sense is the players that like him in Columbus tend to be either older or more force-of-will kind of people. It depends where Buffalo is going. If they're really inexperienced or they have personalities who aren't prepared, because not everybody is equipped to handle that, it's not going to be a good match. If you're going to put him in there you have to have the kind of team that can handle that."
Tortorella's first job on an NHL bench came with the Sabres as an assistant to Rick Dudley and then John Muckler from 1989-1995. He then became head coach for the organization's AHL affiliate in Rochester where he won a Calder Cup before moving on towards becoming an NHL head coach.
WOULD THE PREDATORS RATHER HAVE MATTIAS EKHOLM OR RYAN ELLIS?
While Mattias Ekholm is the presumed top trade candidate this season, it seems like the door is opening to the possibility that another Predators defenceman gets traded before April 12 instead.
"I had someone say to me on Sunday that they're beginning to wonder if the Predators are going to be making an Ekhom/Ellis decision," Friedman said on 31 Thoughts: The Podcast. "Could it come down to one or the other?"
Previously thought untouchable, Ellis would be an attractive target to trade for and there's reason to believe he could also help the Preds more if they move him. Acquiring teams would get a top four (if not top two) defenceman signed through another six seasons after this one, so it's a long-term move.
That could widen the market for Nashville to find a trade in, too. While Ekholm will be attractive to the top teams because he's signed for this year and next, even some fringe teams might come knocking if Ellis were available. For example, Friedman points out, the Flyers might not be willing to pay up for two runs with Ekholm as they figure out their status through a slump, but they probably would be all over Ellis.
It's believed the Predators would only prefer to move one of them, though, so if Ellis is the one who goes, Nashville could try and extend Ekholm rather than trade him.
LATEST ON THE LEAFS
Last week we led with the Leafs and explained why their window to trade was wide open. The team is still in a quiet part of their schedule, not returning to action until Thursday, but they haven't made that expected trade yet. So what's the latest?
Heading into the weekend there was growing buzz that, perhaps, they'd be in the market for another goaltender. Frederik Andersen's injury may increase those odds and certainly if Jack Campbell struggles these rumours will take on a heightened form. It is a move the Leafs could hypothetically wait to make until the April 12 deadline if it's a depth add in case of injury, since that player wouldn't necessarily need to play a bunch and would just need to be there come playoff time.
The name that was popping up the past few days was Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick. If a move like that were to happen the Kings would undoubtedly have to keep a substantial portion of his $5.8 million cap hit that runs another two years.
"I don't think that's going to be happening," Friedman said on the podcast. "I just don't believe the Maple Leafs think it's viable.
"I think at the end of the day my sense is the Toronto Maple Leafs don't believe it's the smartest thing to do to take a 35-year-old goalie who has an injury history, have him go through a two-week quarantine, ramp him up and throw him into big games. I don't believe they think that's the right approach."
Forward remains the primary focus for the Maple Leafs, according to Friedman, but contenders usually add defensive depth around this time of year. And we're not necessarily talking a top-four blueliner or a real impact move there, but rather even a sixth or seventh player for the depth chart.
"I'm not convinced that's the route Toronto was going to go, but I wouldn't be surprised if they added another defenceman...I do think for some time now they've said 'OK, the thing we want to get the most is the best forward we can find to play with Tavares and Nylander' and at this point in time I don't have any intel that's still not their top priority."
It seems only a matter of time until the Leafs shoot their shot.
COULD PATRICK MARLEAU BREAK GORDIE HOWE'S RECORD WITH A NEW TEAM?
When the 41-year-old Marleau signed back in San Jose last summer it put him on track to break Howe's games played record with the team that drafted him, and the one he played most of his career with.
Currently at 1,753 games played, Marleau is 15 games shy of passing Howe, which puts him on track to do it April 19 in Vegas. But that's after the trade deadline and the Sharks, 11 points out of the playoffs, may be inclined to trade him for a draft pick, as they did last season when they got a third-rounder from Pittsburgh for him.
“I wouldn’t actively maybe look for it, but if it does happen or it does come, or a team wants me, that’s something you have to seriously consider,” Marleau told Kevin Kurz of The Athletic. “Obviously, that’s still my goal, to win a Stanley Cup. It would definitely be something to consider.”
Marleau, who has one goal and five points in 29 games this season and is losing ice time to younger players on the transitioning team, makes $700,000 this season on a one-year deal.