The official NHL trade deadline this season is April 12, but if you're a Canadian team looking to make a move – or an American team looking to do business north of the border – you might be more inclined to get something done before then.
Having to comply with a two-week quarantine for any player arriving from the U.S. is a major factor this season, especially if a Canadian team has to trade out a roster or taxi squad player to do it. Not only would they have to wait 14 days for their acquisition to arrive, but they'd be shorthanded in the meantime. Swapping out picks or prospects, however, would be a little different.
Still, if a Canadian team waits until April 12 to make a deal, they'd get a very short run with that player before the playoffs. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets would get seven regular-season games from a player acquired on deadline day this season.
The Jets have already dealt with quarantine when they had to wait two weeks for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Then, after two games, Dubois was injured and missed another 10 days. That's another layer to this – you wait two weeks for a guy who then may be cold and a higher risk to injury.
There is some hope that the quarantine rules could change by April 12, though that is out of the NHL's hands.
"You make a deal to make a deal and you live with the restrictions around it," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Monday. "Certainly it would be easier of a transition if the rules change, but I don't know that's going to affect my decision on making a deal. It didn't when we knew Pierre-Luc was going to have to quarantine and moving forward it won't as well. Having said that, if I'm taking a player off my roster to acquire a player I have to take that into consideration as well."
While most of the bigger possible trade targets on this year's market are on teams south of the border, there are some rentals or depth players available within Canada. Those deals could still make sense to wait on for a couple more weeks.
"I could see some of these teams saying, 'OK, what's Ottawa thinking? Vancouver's talking like they're still going to go for it, but I think we all realize they're not going to make it. Could you find help there? I think that would be the preference," Elliotte Friedman noted on Hockey Central last week.
The bottom line is, in the North Division at least, the trade window opens wide this week and the reason why starts with the team at the top as it hits a schedule break on a cold streak.
WHY EVERYONE IS ON HIGH ALERT FOR A MAPLE LEAFS TRADE
Toronto is the North Division's most clear "all-in" team. Yes, the Winnipeg Jets will be looking to buy. Montreal and Edmonton might like to, as well – but the Habs did a lot of their work last off-season and the Oilers have zero cap room.
The Leafs, too, have little cap room but could be open to trading out a roster player or two to make it work, if they can find a partner. Think Alex Kerfoot, perhaps Travis Dermott. (Jimmy Vesey had to be put on waivers Tuesday to help the cap.) The Leafs have their most optimistic path to the semifinals, are playing better overall hockey this season and so will be one of the more motivated buyers on this year's market.
And that window to make a move is wide open right now for a couple reasons. They've lost five of six games, decreasing their division lead to just four points on the Jets and Oilers. And the schedule is screaming for a move right now – Toronto doesn't play again until Friday and then, after a back-to-back against Calgary, they won't play again until next Thursday. That's three games in the next 11 days and a lot of time to work the phones. If the Leafs can get a deal done in this window with an American team, the acquired player might "only" miss five games to quarantine, a relatively small amount this season.
"I think all these teams are trying to see if they can get something done with quarantine, but you don't know if you can count on it. So I think, yes, we're at a point where you're sitting there saying, 'Can we do something now?'" Elliotte Friedman said on Sportsnet 590 The FAN last week. "The advantage Toronto has is there's not going to be a lot of buyers. They're going to be buyers. It's complicated with their cap situation. Somebody's going to have to play ball with them – either take a contract that Toronto needs to move to get things done or eat money on their side so Toronto can get things done and that can increase the price of doing business."
The Leafs are seeking at least a top-six forward and have been linked to the likes of Mikael Granlund or Rickard Rakell, the latter of whom would come with a substantial price tag. Eric Staal's name has come up around the Leafs at times, too, though Friedman noted that having the 36-year-old cross the border and sit in quarantine for two weeks might not be ideal.
"I've heard Eric Staal is not likely in Canada," Friedman said. "I hate to say it's not happening, but I've heard it's not likely and the reason is (Pierre-Luc) Dubois is a young guy in his early-20s and look how hard that quarantine was on him. Staal's in his mid-30s. Do you want to make him sit for two weeks and then have to ramp his way back up? I've heard it's a concern so I'm not convinced Staal is going to be the answer for a Canadian team."
The Maple Leafs could be in on anything, really. Defensive depth is of such importance for Cup contenders in the playoffs that we shouldn't look past a potential move there.
And now questions are beginning to crop up around the goaltending and if anything needs to be done there. Jack Campbell figured to have a more prominent role in the crease this season, but injuries have interrupted his campaign. In three starts, Campbell is 3-0-0 with a .951 save percentage and 1.33 goals-against average, including a shutout against Edmonton when we last saw him on Feb. 27.
Frederik Andersen, meantime, has been hovering around league average – or below – at his position all season and not making too many timely, game-saving saves that set apart the elite goalies. According to Natural Stat Trick, in all situations Andersen's -3.87 Goals Saved Above Average ranks 34th among all goalies who've played at least 10 games. It is the lowest mark of all Toronto goalies, too.
Sheldon Keefe has said he isn't worried about Campbell's status, but until he returns Leafs Nation is starting to sweat the position. The Leafs started the year with Aaron Dell as their No. 3, but are now back to Michael Hutchinson. You can understand why, perhaps, they may be interested to upgrade if there is any long-term concern about Campbell getting hurt again.
"I didn't expect goaltending would be one of the questions," Friedman said. "To me that comes down to what's Campbell's status? Are they really worried here. I don't see them getting another No. 1 necessarily depending on who's available, but if Campbell can't play..."
All eyes are on the Leafs in these next two weeks. They could be in the market for all sorts of things but, again, cap limitations will not make everything possible.
The Leafs could be hungry to trade now, but while it makes sense for them to move right now, other teams might use the opportunity to try and squeeze a bit more back. If the Leafs have their way, they could open trade season before long.
NASHVILLE THE KINGMAKER
Most years you have a team open to selling off some high-value players, which can change our outlook of the top Cup contenders. Think Ottawa when it traded Mark Stone or Erik Karlsson.
It's possible that team this year could be Detroit. Most names outside of Dylan Larkin could be had, so if someone like Anthony Mantha is attainable, he would be an impactful upgrade for someone.
But the real Kingmaker we're all looking to this year are the Nashville Predators. Their disastrous season is leading to talk or re-tool or rebuild and with so much money already committed to four players at the top of the lineup, GM David Poile could use this as an opportunity to stock up on futures, shake the core and maybe get some flexibility in the coming years.
Filip Forsberg would be the biggest name if moved, but it might be hard to get that one done in-season. Viktor Arvidsson, too, but his contract runs another three years which ups his value. Granlund is a pending UFA likely to go. All of those players could give a boost to someone.
But the name we're all expecting to get moved by April 12 is Mattias Ekholm.
"I still get the sense, and I heard this weekend, that the name that makes the most difference to the teams that get him is Ekholm," Friedman said on 31 Thoughts: The Podcast. "He's the guy. He's the biggest name out there right now that I know of and that people are willing to tell me who's a difference-maker."
The Preds are reportedly seeking a "Jake Muzzin-like" package for Ekholm, which would be two prospects plus a first-round pick. That should be the base-line return for what Ekholm adds both on the ice as a top-four shutdown defenceman, and off the ice with an extreme value contract at just $3.75 million through next season. We explored why the Preds could maybe do even better than a Muzzin return.
"Who's it going to be?" Friedman asked on the podcast. "Winnipeg I think is in. Boston is in. I've had some questions about whether or not Toronto is in. I've heard at times Montreal is in, but I've also had people tell me Montreal is not. The other wild card is Philly."
The interesting thing about Montreal is that with left-shot Ben Chiarot out for the foreseeable future, and possibly the rest of the regular season, putting him on LTIR could be just what is needed to create the space necessary for Ekholm.
KYLE PALMIERI WOULD ADD SCORING SPARK TO THE TRADE DEADLINE
For teams looking at acquiring a top-six scorer, you couldn't ask for much more consistency than what Kyle Palmieri would give you.
The New Jersey Devils winger has scored between 24 and 30 goals in each of the past five seasons, though he has only converted four times in 2021.
Palmieri would be a rental player and the Devils may still be interested in re-signing him. Whether or not he hits the trade market will be decided fairly soon.
"I think they're beginning their phase there saying, 'OK, what are we doing here?'" Friedman noted on the podcast. "They're talking. Can we get a deal done? What's it gonna take? Where are we? How do we feel, how do you feel? And then yes, no, and if no where are we going here?
SHARKS' KARLSSON NOT INTERESTED IN A REBUILD
Last Friday, Sharks GM Doug Wilson talked about his team needing a "reset" this season, which led to some eyebrow-raising comments from Erik Karlsson on Saturday.
"After the year we had last year I think it was pretty clear we were not going to be the team we were maybe the first year I got here," Karlsson said. "That doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. Obviously, I did not sign here to go through a rebuild or go through what I did for 10 years in Ottawa. But it is what it is. We need to find a way to build with the core of the group we have here and figure out a way to be competitive here in the upcoming years. Even this year is a different kind of year. If we can find a way to get into the playoffs anything can happen."
Context is key here. There is no indication Karlsson is asking for a way out of San Jose, or that this is the start of a rift. Rather, as local writer Kevin Kurz explained, Karlsson was actually echoing some of what Wilson has talked about previously. It made sense for the team to use all nine of its draft picks last summer rather than trade some for immediate help. And it will make sense again this deadline to explore what can be done to help the team in the long-run.
But the core doesn't appear to be changing here. Wilson is cap committed to five or six players at least and, instead of blowing it up, his job is now to build around them to get the team back on track.
It has been a challenging year for most teams and players for a number of reasons, but perhaps no one has had a harder go of it than the Sharks. Because of local rules in Santa Clara County, they had to have their training camp in Arizona and weren't able to get back home again until Feb. 13 – one month after the season began. They don't have a 14-day trade quarantine to contend with, but again by local rules, even a false positive COVID-19 test requires that player to quarantine for 10 days. That is what's happened to Marcus Sorensen this week.
The Sharks had among the widest outcomes of any team this year and the pandemic season has been harder on them in many aspects. With that, and money already committed to a number of players, the Sharks shouldn't be seen as in a rebuild but Wilson should be considered on the hot seat if he can't get them on track again with what he's got soon.