In the latest Rumour Roundup...
• Why the Ducks are a team to watch closely
• What Jake DeBrusk's hot streak means to his trade request
• Are the Canucks re-evaluating their deadline plans?
• And the path ahead for Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson
Note: Clicking on any of the above bullet points will take you to that section of the Rumour Roundup. To return to this list of contents, use the link beneath the section's headline.
Why the Anaheim Ducks are the most interesting team at the trade deadline
If you're looking for a team that could be this year's wild card at the NHL trade deadline, pay attention to the Anaheim Ducks.
A surprising and hopeful start has faded and the Ducks, though just two points back of the wild card, have more games played than the teams they're chasing and are 10th in the West by points percentage. Since Jan. 1 they are 9-11-2 -- 23rd in the league by points percentage. Don't get us wrong, the future is still very bright here, but there will be some interesting and tough choices for new GM Pat Verbeek in the coming weeks.
Topping the list is what to do with their notable UFAs? Verbeek will have to balance an emerging young core that will require salary commitments of its own soon (Sonny Milano, Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom are RFAs this summer, Jamie Drysdale, Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Max Comtois next) with a collection of veterans who need extensions themselves. Anaheim has just five players under contract for the 2023-24 season right now, and the flexibility to choose their own adventure.
"The Ducks have made it clear they're a little nervous about term, that they're not necessarily willing to go long term for any of their unrestricted free agents," Elliotte Friedman said on the NHL Network this week.
The Ducks have some interesting players on expiring contracts. Josh Manson, a mean and tough blueliner with a style teams crave in the playoffs, figures to be added to the deep rental market of defencemen. Rickard Rakell, having his best offensive season in four years, is back on the block for the second deadline in a row. Even Ryan Getzlaf, who signed a one-year, $3 million extension to return, might have the option to chase another Cup if he wants.
But the most impactful choice for the Ducks may be what to do with Hampus Lindholm. One of the quieter top shutdown defenders in the game, he'll be looking for a raise on his $5.205 million cap hit and turned 28 in January. The Ducks would probably prefer to keep him, but if terms can't be agreed to by March 21, it would be very risky to keep him and then risk losing him to the summer free agent market.
“I think going into this, I’m looking at it like we could make the playoffs, we could miss the playoffs,’’ Verbeek told Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. “At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee I can get those three free agents back. I’m going to attempt to sign them, if it doesn’t happen, I just can’t let them walk out the door free."
Is Jake DeBrusk becoming too valuable for the Bruins to trade?
Unable to carve out a consistent top-six role in Boston early in his career, DeBrusk asked the team to find a deal out of town, confirmed by GM Don Sweeney in November of 2021. DeBrusk struggled to just five goals and 14 points in 41 games last season. He then started with eight points in his first 25 games this season. The Bruins weren't in a position to sell him high -- a tough pill to swallow for a 25-year-old first-round pick.
Lately, though, DeBrusk has been on a tear. Placed in a plum position on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, DeBrusk has seven goals and nine points in his past six games. With Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak combining forces on the second line, the current arrangement is helping solve the Bruins' need for secondary scoring.
But DeBrusk's agent Rick Valette told The Athletic that his client's trade request remains in place. He'll be an RFA this summer, so there's no urgency for the Bruins to move the player if they find more value in keeping him than what the market is offering.
"The one thing the Bruins always say is we're doing it on our time. They want to win. They're not interested in making a deal if it's going to make them worse. I think that everybody knows how everybody feels here. They're not going to do it just for the sake of doing it," Friedman said. "Does it happen now? After the season? Does everybody make peace and forget about it? As far as I know that hasn't happened. But I think right now the Bruins will honour it, but honour it on their timeline."
Back in the race, will the Canucks still approach the deadline as sellers?
A few interesting developments in and around the Canucks have some wondering if their approach to the deadline may yet change. Not that the new front office will be buyers to make a playoff push, but could they instead kick some moves to the off-season?
With an 18-8-4 record since Dec. 5 under Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks are eighth in the league by points percentage in that time and, thanks to some help from the Pacific Division teams in front of them, are somewhat back in the race. Vegas, hammered by injuries, are 8-8-4 since the calendar flipped to 2022 and now third in the division and six points up on the Canucks. Edmonton has seemingly been improving as a defensive unit and the early returns under new coach Jay Woodcroft are positive. But, of course, concerns in net remain and they're five points up on the Canucks.
A nice 5-1-0 stretch for the Canucks came to a screeching halt on Monday when they lost 7-2 to New Jersey, a reminder that this is far from a polished team and that the climb back to the playoffs is still a steep one. But where once that path appeared hopeless, now there is at least a shred of optimism. And, maybe, even some wonder at how attendance and revenues could impact any in-season decisions.
"If you knew you could get a couple of 100 per cent playoff dates considering all the money these teams have lost, is that part of the motivation too?" Friedman wondered.
How much that influences any front office decisions, though, might depend on how or if ownership gets involved. Jim Rutherford's stated goal is to create cap flexibility for his team and it's highly unlikely his group will carry forward with all the same pieces Jim Benning put in place. The Canucks are definitely working the market.
"The reason you've heard all these rumours about Canucks players is I think they've basically thrown everybody out there with the exception of Pettersson, Hughes, Demko and say 'just tell us how you view these guys. We want to know'" Friedman said on Donny and Dhali. "I think they're trying to gauge how every player is viewed, who's interested and what they're willing to pay."
The path ahead for new Blackhawks GM; and will Marc-Andre Fleury want to be traded?
Kyle Davidson's interim tag was dropped this week as he officially became the next GM of the Chicago Blackhawks. The upcoming trade deadline likely won't be where he starts steering the ship in a brand new direction, but he will be open for business.
While the Hawks could look at dealing pending UFA Calvin De Haan, or upcoming RFAs Dylan Strome or Dominik Kubalik ahead of their extensions, the trade that would bring the most back in return is Marc-Andre Fleury. His contract is set to expire at the end of the year and, with the Blackhawks well out of the playoff picture and third-last in the West, it has long been thought this was a guaranteed move. However, the Hawks have said all along that any move made will be done with Fleury's blessing -- could the three-time Stanley Cup winner decide instead to remain in town?
"The sense is he likes it here," The Athletic's Blackhawks reporter, Mark Lazerus, said on The Jeff Marek Show. "Does he want to win? Sure. But does he want to uproot his family again or leave his family? Does he want to go to Edmonton, cross the border, and have very little chance of seeing his family for the next few months to chase a fourth Stanley Cup? I don't know."
If available, Fleury figures to be the best goalie who could be had at the deadline. He would also likely be able to bring them back a first-rounder, a key piece for any rebuilding team, and for the Blackhawks especially -- given the 2022 first-round pick they traded to Columbus in the Seth Jones deal is only top-two protected.
The most consequential decisions for Davidson may still be a year or so away. After the 2022-23 season both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are set to be UFA eligible and Alex DeBrincat will be an RFA due a hefty pay increase. There has been some question if the team could move on from either, or both, of those players. While it would be a surprise to see a move like that before March 21, Davidson did say they would be involved in the process going forward.
“Jonathan and Patrick are extremely important pieces to the organization and they’re definitely going to be brought into the loop," Davidson said. "I’ve had a brief conversation with both of them this morning about some of the sentiments of today’s announcement and what I would be talking about. That’s going to be an ongoing discussion between myself and the players and I’ll tell you for sure that there won’t be any surprises on their end in terms of what we plan on doing with the organization.”