Who's a buyer and who's a seller?
It could be difficult to figure that out in the lead up to this year's deadline.
How many teams are really out of it already? Ottawa's set up to sell again, as is Detroit. Nashville is trending that way and Buffalo too. Maybe Anaheim.
And that's sort of it six weeks out from the trade deadline. Normally that might be plenty of time for more space to separate the standings and for teams to break off into their tiers. But there are a few different factors at play this season that could make that not so simple.
1. Since you only play within your division, it's not as hard to make up ground during a hot streak. In Canada, for instance, while the Calgary Flames struggle and face a host of questions to do with their core's identity, a need for change, and a lack of urgency, it's maybe not time to throw in the towel and become a hard seller yet.
They're just three points back of Montreal for fourth (granted, with two more games played), but the Habs are also going through hard times of their own. They play each other a couple of times next week and if the Flames can recover first, things may not look so bad again.
2. Quarantine is a real issue that may force teams to make their trade calls earlier than usual. There will no doubt be some deadline day deals anyway, but especially for cross-border trading, the real deadline may actually fall earlier in March, so that an acquired player will be able to play more than a handful of games with his new team before playoffs.
3. Not many teams want to take on money these days. We've heard it countless times and the sheer number of capable depth players who are passing through waivers unclaimed (goalies aside) makes that clear. Teams aren't making the money they're used to, but the flat cap is also pinching everyone. Over half the league is using LTIR to be compliant and with no sign of the cap rising next season, adding a contract with term will also be tricky. Even money trades may be more popular than ever and termed deals may be easier to swap in the off-season, when teams can go 10 per cent over the cap and just generally have more wiggle room.
So will this year's trade deadline be a dud? We'll see. We'd still expect rental players to be shopped as they won't come with much salary commitment and nothing past this year. And we'd still expect the top teams to try and add bits around the edges.
It is possible, though, that we may not see as many trades on the day or overall in the lead up this season, and that trades occur further out from deadline day than usual.
BLUE JACKETS WANT A CENTRE
This wasn't supposed to be an issue for them this season. Pierre-Luc Dubois was their 1C. Max Domi was brought in to hopefully be a two and, if not, a three. Mikko Koivu was signed as veteran depth at the position.
Now Dubois is gone, Koivu retired, and Domi is back on the wing. Alexandre Texier has been good there at times, but is young and still learning the position. He's moved down the depth chart even as the Blue Jackets need centres. Jack Roslovic is the best of the bunch now, and he's new to the organization and played mostly wing in Winnipeg.
As the Blue Jackets slide down the standings, one possible reaction was to fire the coach. That's what you do after six years when a struggling team doesn't respond, right?
Not this time. Not for now, anyway. GM Jarmo Kekalainen committed to his coaching staff and supported their ability to get the players out of this in a conference call on Tuesday. While a coaching change is off the table for now, trying to acquire another centre is back on the agenda.
"It's a challenge because (centres are) just not available via trade so you usually have to draft and develop one and I think we did that very well with one player and now he's not here so we have to get back into our hunt finding a centreman through draft or trade," Kekalainen said Tuesday.
"There could be some available in the free agent market next summer, but I can assure you we understand the importance of the centre ice position and that's why we did a lot of the different moves we tried to do in the off-season to strengthen that position and it hasn't exactly gone as planned. We'll keep searching and doing our job and building the team.
"I think we have some very good potential centre icemen growing into that role within our team, but we're also going to look for ways to strengthen that position from the outside."
WHY MOVING JAKE VIRTANEN IS PROVING SO DIFFICULT FOR VANCOUVER
At some points on Saturday, it seemed like we might get a trade between Anaheim and Vancouver. The Canucks have been trying to move Jake Virtanen for a while and they were being attached to Danton Heinen of the Ducks. But, again, money is the core of this issue.
Virtanen is a player in need of a new start. He has just a single goal in 20 games this season and just hasn't been able to gain any momentum with the Canucks. He is still just 24 so usually there are takers for that sort of player.
But $2.25 million for this season and next is too rich and too much of a termed commitment for that sort of player in this economy. And it's not just the cap hit, but Virtanen is due $3.4 million in actual salary next season, which is not attractive at all. Heinen makes $2.8 million, but is an RFA this summer.
"That second year is tough. That 3.4 next year is a real challenge," Elliotte Friedman said on Sportsnet 960 The FAN's Big Show. "One of the things that's going on right now is there aren't a lot of teams willing to take on money. It's a real buyer's market. There's a lot of sellers. There's a lot of teams that think they've got a chance or they want to move cash, but how many teams out there do you think want to take cash? Not very many."
From the Canucks' point of view, they would replace Virtanen with another struggling depth producer in the hopes he'll figure it out in a new destination. Notably, this would not be a typical seller's trade, recouping draft picks for the future. It'd be a push forward, with the allowance of salary relief this off-season if they so choose.
But it seems they'd need to think of some other way for the money to work more comfortably for the Ducks.
A CROWDED MARKET PLAYS IN FAVOUR OF THE BUYERS
So if there are going to be few motivated sellers and not many teams looking to take on money anyway, there just may not be enough chairs for every trade candidate to land in.
If a Filip Forsberg or a Jack Eichel or a Johnny Gaudreau became available, then all bets are off and we could get our second blockbuster of the season. Those deals could happen under any sort of conditions as long as the cap works.
But outside of those big names, you could find a lot of players who do similar things become available. They'd all be sought after in some way by a team that wants to add depth and go for it, but those teams could be very particular about their decisions.
Let's go back to Vancouver again and take Brandon Sutter as an example. He's 32, a checking third- or fourth-liner at the valued centre position, and he's in the last year of his contract. There is no financial commitment to make to him beyond this season.
But how many players like him could be available? Sam Bennett has requested a trade from Calgary and has regularly stepped up his play in the post-season. Luke Glendening could be traded off by rebuilding Detroit. Erik Haula in Nashville, Artem Anisimov in Ottawa. There are a range of centres just on "white flag" teams and in the final year of their deals. More names will surely be added to this list of prospective trade targets.
It won't necessarily mean a lot of deals happen, or that all of them even move.
"The problem is how many Brandon Sutter-like players will be out there?" Friedman said. "So the teams that are actually taking on money they can afford to be picky and choosy and say 'we'll wait until either the perfect player we want or the least return we can give up.' "
WHY A JACK EICHEL TRADE IS LIKELY A SUMMER DEAL
If you're Buffalo, the last thing you want to do is rush into a Jack Eichel trade.
You certainly don't want to do it at an emotional time.
And it is emotional right now around the Sabres. The players and coach don't always seem to be on the same page. Healthy scratches to Jeff Skinner are becoming far too much of a focus for a guy making $9 million another six seasons. Injuries are piling up, passion is sliding down, and this year's Sabres look like so many that have come in the past decade before it.
All of this has re-engaged Eichel's name in trade speculation. He has not asked out, he's signed long-term and he's still Buffalo's best player they need to try and build around to leave this stalled reconstruction period.
The Rangers and Kings have been linked, but during this season it's hard to see how many other teams could get involved and give the Sabres what they would need. Those aren't the kinds of conditions you want to be trading your best player in.
"If you do it now can you make your best deal, or are you smarter to wait until after the season when everybody knows what their contract statuses are, when teams are going to have the 10 per cent bonus cushion to use, all of that stuff?" Friedman asked. "I just think the biggest question is what does Buffalo want here? What do they think?"
Most of the bigger trades of note in recent years have come in the off-season. There was, of course, a huge trade between Columbus and Winnipeg already this season, but that involved players asking to be moved. It's not that bad in Buffalo yet, but it could get there.
It just seems to make a heck of a lot more sense to wait for the summer, when the market would be wider.
If trading Eichel is even what you really want to do.
NASHVILLE OPEN TO ALL OPTIONS
A horrendous start to the season leaves almost everything on the table in Nashville.
Even Mattias Ekholm is appearing on trade lists.
Nashville is sitting 25th in the league by points percentage and second-last in the Central. Their special teams are a mess and a minus-17 goal differential shows this isn't just a minor run of bad luck. GM David Poile may have to change his core, though the biggest moves possibly have to wait until the off-season.
Among those possibilities include Ekholm, Filip Forsberg or Viktor Arvidsson. More likely to move this season could be the likes of Mikael Granlund or Erik Haula, two pending UFAs.
"I think Nashville at the very least what they've done is they've let everybody know this is where we are and if you're serious come talk to us and I think teams that are interested in adding or think they have a chance or are really interested in one of those players, I think they're fielding the market," Friedman said.
"I don't know for sure that Forsberg is going to get dealt, but I think Nashville knows who is interested."
Friedman had previously reported the untouchables on Nashville were Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne.