NHL Scout's Analysis: Bargain depth defencemen to target at NHL trade deadline

Jason Bukala joined Caroline Cameron on Hockey Central to explain why you should keep an eye on the Dallas Stars' John Klingberg, the Arizona Coyotes' Jakob Chychrun, and the Seattle Kraken's Mark Giordano as the NHL trade deadline approaches.

In the lead up to the NHL trade deadline, most of the rumour talk focuses on bigger names. This year that includes Claude Giroux, Filip Forsberg, Jakob Chychrun, and Marc-Andre Fleury, among others. These are top of the roster impact players that could meaningfully elevate a team by adding a significant piece to an area in need of an upgrade.

But we know that the trade deadline also tends to involve a lot of “depth” players being moved, those further down the lineup, or maybe even for use only in case of injury. Emergency options.

The most commonly moved piece at the deadline tends to be depth defencemen. There are a lot of them available, they won’t cost much to acquire, and you might find it necessary to have an extra body with NHL experience down the stretch and into the playoffs. Last year this included players such as Haydn Fleury, Jordie Benn, Erik Gudbranson, Ben Hutton, and Erik Gustafsson.

Very few teams will go through the playoffs without injuries to their roster. And if one, or two, defencemen are forced to miss games, a team can be exposed very quickly. Adding depth to the “D” core is a sound strategy. But who is affordable and who can provide quality minutes if called upon?

Taking the focus off of the more well-known names potentially available before the deadline, here is a look at some intriguing depth defencemen who could be a bargain addition to someone’s roster.

Nick Holden: Ottawa Senators
Contract: $1.7 million AAV this season, $1.3 million AAV next

His average TOI for the season is (20:05) which tells the team acquiring him that he is capable of playing big minutes as a veteran 34-year-old. If we dive deeper into his body of work we see that his TOI over the past 10 games has gone to (22:06) with a season-high (25:05) thrown into the mix.

He’s capable of playing in the top four. He has the skill, fitness, and sense to be relied upon in key defensive zone scenarios. Imagine him being a contending team’s No. 5 or No. 6 in the playoffs and only having to be used at even strength and the PK? Not sure what Ottawa plans to do with this player – they did re-sign him for one season in January -- but he would be a nice add if I’m buying.

Marc Staal: Detroit Red Wings
Contract: $2 million AAV this season. Expiring deal.

The Wings recently played a football game against the Maple Leafs, with Toronto coming out on top by a field goal in their 10-7 win. Would it surprise you to hear the veteran defender took 22 shifts that night (TOI 15:18), contributed two assists and (surprise!) ended the game with a plus-1?

He’s averaged just shy of 17 minutes a night this season. He has played heavy minutes against top flight opponents and is used on the PK. Imagine him as your No. 5 or No. 6 come playoff time. He’s not the quickest or fastest option, but he manages the game and provides a reliable approach. Pick up the phone and at least ask if there is interest in giving this player a chance to win a Cup!

Robert Hagg: Buffalo Sabres
Contract: $1.6 million AAV this season. Expiring deal.

Not much in the way of flash and dash, but he will provide decent minutes at even strength and on the PK. At times he might surprise opponents with some physical play. His 17:06 of average ice time is the highest it has been in a few years. He’s proven to be a plus player on good teams and his minus-11 this season isn’t terrible considering the Sabres are a team in transition. Hagg might be the sleepiest addition on this list, but he would be a nice add to slide into the bottom pair of a team’s depth chart. Don’t expect much offence though.

Mark Pysyk: Buffalo Sabres
Contract: $900,000 AAV this season. Expiring deal.

He’s been through some ups and downs the past couple years, but rebounded nicely this year. His average TOI (18:42) is a full six minutes more than his average last season in Dallas. He competes, skates well, is decent moving the puck, and can occasionally chip in offensively. Let’s not forget this is a player who has a history of also playing forward in a pinch. He could become a No. 6 defenceman (No. 7 at worst) and a fourth line forward (13th at worst) if needed. Someone to consider. He’s being deployed at even strength and on the PK this season in Buffalo.

Brett Kulak: Montreal Canadiens
Contract: $1.85 million AAV this season. Expiring deal.

It appears Marty St. Louis has taken a shine to this player judging by Kulak’s uptick in ice time and how he is being deployed since the coaching change in Montreal. Or … are they showcasing him to other teams? The extra ice time is coming from his role on the PP. He won’t be asked to be a PP contributor on a contending team, though. A closer look at his recent segment of games sees his all-around game has been trending up as well. He’s a plus-8 in his past seven outings. This guy skates, competes, and flies a bit under the radar overall when compared to other names in Montreal being shopped. He’s 28 years old and worth the ask.

Jacob Middleton: San Jose Sharks
Contract: $725,000 AAV this season. RFA in the summer.

A 26-year-old, big body defender who has taken time to arrive at the NHL level as a regular. Teams crave this kind of player. He complements a puck rushing/transitional partner. A player who can help now and in the future. Plus he's affordable!


Luke Schenn: Vancouver Canucks
Contract: $850,000 AAV through 2022-23 season.

His AAV makes sense and there’s an extra year on his deal. Shut down “D” who has won a Cup in a limited role. Has provided more than expected this season for Canucks.

Calvin de Haan: Chicago Blackhawks
Contract: $4.55 million AAV this season. Expiring deal.

Teams will inquire. His season has been uneven, but so have the Hawks as a group. AAV could be an issue.

Anton Stralman: Arizona Coyotes
Contract: $5.5 million AAV this season. Expiring deal.

See Schenn, Luke: A much better season than expected. Body of work has been reliable. Like de Hann, though, AAV will be an issue.


Teams won’t overlook adding these kinds of pieces to their teams and will get creative in the process. They know extra bodies are historically required to survive the marathon that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you want to hoist the Cup, add depth.

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