Is this the calm before the storm?
We certainly hope so.
The NHL trade deadline arrives one week from today and it's awfully quiet out there. Usually by now a number of deals have been made, as teams usually like to act ahead of time. The circumstances are strange this year to say the least, though, and some playoff races that are still developing are re-shaping the market at the 11th hour.
This will be a big week for many teams to decide what to do. Going alphabetically, we explore one question they're each facing one week out.
Anaheim Ducks: What is Rickard Rakell's status?
It appears the currency for sellers at this year's deadline are rental players. With a persisting flat cap and looming Seattle expansion draft, cap space and flexibility will be important to have, so there may not be many teams looking to acquire players with term. That, in part, is what's made the lead up to this deadline so quiet.
The Ducks don't have many rental players available. Ryan Getzlaf would be an interesting name but there's been no indication GM Bob Murray will be doing that. If the Ducks were going to make a move of note, Rickard Rakell's name was popping up in the rumour mill. Even though he is signed through next season, his $3.789 million cap hit is reasonable. But Rakell was injured last week and place on the IR this past weekend, eligible to return this week. It's not clear how long he'll be out, or, if the market for him will meet Murray's demands.
Arizona Coyotes: How to weigh playoffs against need for futures?
The Coyotes are very much in the running for the West's fourth spot, along with St. Louis, San Jose and Los Angeles. They're getting through a rough spot here where neither Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta are healthy, but both are nearing returns now. When they arrived to the bubble last summer they were underdogs to Nashville, and came away with a 3-1 series win before the Colorado buzzsaw got them 4-1. Playoff experience is a big deal for developing younger players, and to the GM and owner looking to gain momentum for ticket sales next season. There is a case to be made for at least letting this team have another go, if not add to it and reward the group.
But the reality is also that draft picks and prospects are needed. The Coyotes are without their own first-rounder already and only have six picks total this year. They're also tight to the cap, with a Conor Garland raise coming this summer and with three important veteran UFAs on the blue line and one in net (Raanta). In that view, you could make the case for the Coyotes to be sellers to some degree, especially knowing a playoff berth gets you a Round 1 date with likely Colorado, possibly Vegas.
Boston Bruins: Trade more of the future for a rental scorer?
The Bruins are fourth in the East (four points clear of Philadelphia) a week from the deadline and face some serious questions about their Stanley Cup candidacy, especially with so much uncertainty around Tuukka Rask's health. The Perfection Line is still, well, perfect and there is no concern there. But scoring behind it is a hole. Last year, Boston acquired Ondrej Kase for a first-round pick. Kase has great underlying numbers and his goals and points per 60 at 5-on-5 rates suggested a diamond could be unearthed here. But he's played just two games this season and has had a hard time getting healthy.
There will be a transition here in the near future, but the window is theoretically still open. So, will GM Don Sweeney push more chips in and make another first-rounder available, or will he play it a little more subtle in 2021?
Buffalo Sabres: What is Taylor Hall's trade value?
It's actually a refreshing start to the week for the Sabres, who are 2-0-2 in their last four games. But they're still sellers, and Taylor Hall is the biggest rental they have to move.
Last year, New Jersey moved Hall as a rental to Arizona in December and got back three prospects plus first- and third-round picks. It's hard to see how the Sabres get something similar given the soft buyer market and economic situation around the league. But, boy, could they use another first-rounder and some prospects. Hall has struggled this season no doubt and that can make it hard to judge where he really is at right now, but there is an intriguing support player there for some contender to buy into. But if the market isn't big enough, what will the trade return look like and could it be underwhelming?
Calgary Flames: Is this the end of the current core?
With scoring drying up and losses piling up the Flames' playoff hopes are all but over, with sixth place in the division now more likely. They're closer to being last than fourth. It's all but certain GM Brad Treliving will be a seller at this year's deadline, with David Rittich and Derek Ryan among the rentals they could move out and Sam Bennett's trade request likely to be granted.
But given how poorly the team responded this season and that it wasn't a new characteristic, the biggest questions now have to do with the core and the plausibility of moving forward into another season with it. Johnny Gaudreau has been encircled by trade rumours for a while and has just one season left on his contract. His partner, Sean Monahan, has two seasons left and is now the No. 2 centre on the depth chart. Either, or both, could be on the table now, though it may be better to get those deals done in the off-season. So while this week may not be the last games for the leaders of this core, the next month could be.
Carolina Hurricanes: Could they be the surprise team of the deadline?
The Canes are very much a Stanley Cup contender this season, but to even reach the semifinal they'll have to get through the defending champion Lightning. Carolina has scoring, a solid defence and three netminders, one of which they could dangle at the deadline. They have a first-rounder and the prospects they took in the first-round of the past two drafts. Most crucial is they have enough cap space to go after just about anyone who could be available. There is a path to something special in these playoffs for Carolina, and with the Lightning in the way they may have to conjure up something just as special at this deadline to get an edge.
Chicago Blackhawks: How many futures can they pick up?
The Hawks have been a good story for much of this season, but they've been slowing down lately and are two points out of the playoffs, plus Dallas is pushing just three points back and four games in hand. GM Stan Bowman has talked about being willing to take on expiring money to help others in trade if it also comes with a worthwhile pick or prospect. That's what this deadline is all about. Mattias Janmark and Carl Sodberberg are the rentals they could be looking to move.
Colorado Avalanche: Will they target another goalie?
The Avs already picked up one goalie, getting 25-year-old Jonas Johansson from Buffalo in March. One of his two starts have been good so far, but he has just 15 NHL games on his resume with a 2-8-3 record and .890 save percentage.
Philipp Grubauer is the starter, no doubt about that, but he has an injury history and went down in Round 2 of last summer's playoffs. By the time Colorado was eliminated, they were playing third-stringer Michael Hutchinson. The Avalanche have very real Stanley Cup hopes and enough cap space to look for a security blanket at the position with more experience than Johansson. The market for the position is deep and, we'd think after what they went through last season, Colorado might try to pluck one.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Will David Savard be the best defenceman available?
With just one win in their past seven games, Columbus is fading badly and even a good week ahead of the deadline might not be enough to get them out of sell mode. They hung around the playoff picture for a long while, but offence has vanished, chemistry has sagged and not even Patrik Laine can find a goal lately. It is obviously time to look ahead to what's next and they have a few players for the rental market.
But as the Blue Jackets have slowed, Nashville has been exploding back into the playoff race and how hold fourth in the Central. That's leaving it a question as to whether someone like Mattias Ekholm, signed through next season, needs to be traded any more. Ryan Ellis is signed much longer term. There isn't a need to rush those deals now.
The market is already soft, so if one of the teams with the most talent available is now considering staying quiet it will make things that much better for Columbus. David Savard is in the last season of his contract and would bolster the right side for any team with that need. The conditions might settle in such a way that he becomes the best available.
Dallas Stars: Buyer or seller?
Three straight losses early last week were followed by two wins and a 1-0 loss to Carolina on Sunday and now the Stars are...no more clear at all in figuring out their place. Five points out of a playoff spot, but with three games in hand, the Stars have trouble scoring and the loss of Alex Radulov for long stretches has devastated them. But also, returns from Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop could be coming along. Is that enough at the deadline to be a soft buyer, or will GM Jim Nill make a bolder decision on either side of the buy/sell line? After a couple pauses this season, the Stars' schedule has been brutal, but they've done well to stay in the picture.
Detroit Red Wings: How much is sold off?
The Red Wings are hard sellers, this much we know. Still a ways off from returning to relevance, GM Steve Yzerman is building this thing through the draft so he'll take the traditional route of draft pick accumulation by being open to trading any expiring contract UFA and Detroit has nearly 10 of those. But will there be anything beyond that?
If Detroit is going to have a shot at a substantial return you're looking past the rentals and wondering what might happen with Anthony Mantha or Tyler Bertuzzi.
Edmonton Oilers: Will they be able to keep up with moves made by Toronto/Winnipeg/Montreal?
The Maple Leafs have made it clear they're aggressively trying to buy and could move top prospects or picks to bring in what they need. The Jets have a clear need for help on the blue line and in recent seasons when GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has had a specific need, he's acted on it. The Canadiens have already made a bunch of moves before and during the season to make a run of their own and may not be done yet -- Marc Bergevin is all-in.
Edmonton is as much a challenger to come out of the North's playoffs as any of those teams, but are at the cap ceiling with less flexibility to find a trade than any of them. As Ken Holland noted, any trades will have to be money in, money out. But there are needs here in the bottom-six, which also means the acquisition costs are less prohibitive. It won't be easy to find a move, but can they afford to stand by while other competitors are active?
Florida Panthers: How to offset the loss of Aaron Ekblad?
Still getting used to the idea of the Panthers being an actually good NHL team. They were figuring to be buyers anyway this deadline to reward a team that finally took a big step up and has seen much improved defensive play from a year ago. But the loss of Ekblad for the rest of the regular season is a devastating blow and makes the search for a blueliner even more urgent.
There will be no replacing Ekblad, who was in the running for the Norris Trophy this season, but there is cap room to make a considerable splash if they so choose. Florida has more than a few attractive young players and prospects they could use along with all of their own draft picks they still hold. Florida was in the market for at least some blue line depth before Ekblad's injury, but without him GM Bill Zito could elect to push more chips to the middle.
Los Angeles Kings: Is Dustin Brown a trade candidate?
No stranger to the rumour mill over the years, Brown's $5.875 million cap hit would not have been an easy one to move when he was struggling to score and put up points. It seemed his best years were behind him. Now at 36 he's having a pretty good season again with 15 goals in 34 games and his physical nature is coveted come playoff time. The Kings aren't going to be buyers at this stage, are five points back of the playoffs, and Brown's cap hit for this season and next may still be too much without any retention. Alex Iafallo is the only rental who may be available out of Los Angeles, so if GM Rob Blake is in search of more future assets is it possible there's any market for Brown now?
Minnesota Wild: How hard do you push in with this team?
The Wild have been one of the better and certainly more surprising stories of the season. Not that Kirill Kaprizov caught anyone off guard, but how quickly his arrival changed the outlook and on-ice performance of the team is staggering. And it's not only him -- Jordan Greenway, Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek are all under 25 and contributing at significant levels, while Kaapo Kahkonen has helped settle the net and given it a long-term view. Things are trending up here.
But where are they in their evolution and what sort of action will they take to bolster a run? They'll need to get through probably both Vegas and Colorado to reach the playoff semifinal and have two first-round picks this summer so they have currency to buy. But is it still a bit early for a rental addition, or do the Wild fancy themselves a team that can surprise us even further in the playoffs?
Montreal Canadiens: What else does Marc Bergevin have up his sleeve?
Bergevin has been all-in on a Cup run since last off-season when he made the bold trade for and signing of Josh Anderson, brought in Joel Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli and Jake Allen, and bolstered the taxi squad with veterans Corey Perry and Michael Frolik. Without much cap room left, Bergevin said he was finished, then went out and squeezed Eric Staal in last week. Then he said he was done again.
Anyone believe that?
If Bergevin can find an upgrade and has the pieces the other team wants, we have to expect he'll figure out a way to get it done. If money needs to move out, perhaps a depth roster player with an expiring deal could go to make it happen. There are options here and, given Bergevin's actions with this year team, we can't assume the Habs are done. No matter what he says.
Nashville Predators: What does the Central's fourth playoff spot really mean?
A few weeks ago the Predators were the Kingmakers open to all sorts of possibilities that could have had an impact even beyond this season. We're talking Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula as rentals, Mattias Ekholm as a two-year big move, and the however-small possibility of Filip Forsberg or Viktor Arvidsson as blockbuster candidates.
But the Preds are back again after a 9-2-0 run and in control of fourth place in the Central. Columbus and Chicago are fading, while Dallas is still in the vicinity thought their compact schedule is perhaps more daunting than anyone's. The rentals could possibly still be on the table, but GM David Poile never had to move anyone else, so will he instead stand pat now? It's always important to get to the playoffs, but that could mean a first-round meeting with Tampa Bay and it's hard to see them putting much of a run together. Will seeking futures still be a priority at this point, or is Poile going to reward them and give the team another chance to make magic?
New Jersey Devils: Where is Kyle Palmieri going?
There was some wonder if Palmieri would be re-signed instead of traded, so it was interesting that he was scratched on Sunday ahead of the deadline.
Palmieri is one of the most consistent scoring wingers out there and the market for his type may be big enough to generate a decent return. The Islanders, Maple Leafs and Bruins would be some of the contenders where a fit might make sense, and it could get deeper from there.
New York Islanders: Who will replace Anders Lee?
GM Lou Lamoriello will strike. We can all be sure of that right? He's got a clear need for a top-six scorer after captain Lee went down to injury, the cap space to get one with Lee on LTIR, and a team that's been one of the best in the NHL all season after reaching the conference final last summer. So who will it be? Kyle Palmieri? Taylor Hall? Someone we're not thinking about yet?
New York Rangers: Is there anything to do?
The Rangers' re-tool has been swift and blessed with some nice lottery luck. Things are still developing here and while the playoffs seem a long shot at this point, you're still left feeling good about where the ship is headed. Brendan Smith would be the only pending UFA who could be available, but beyond that is there anything else that needs to get done now? It's possible Alexandar Georgiev is out there, but he's exempt from the Seattle expansion draft anyway so there's no urgency.
Ottawa Senators: How many of their rentals will go?
The Sens are solid sellers, but not to the possible degree of the Red Wings. Ottawa has a few more of its young pieces already in place and they're entering a stage where surrounding those players will be a priority. They'll be in the market to sell whichever rentals they can.
So is there a market for Artem Anisimov anymore? Ryan Dzingel has five goals in 13 games with Ottawa after struggling in Carolina, so has that built his value back up a bit? Braydon Coburn comes cheap, and with a no-trade clause -- would he waive it to run at a Cup again?
Philadelphia Flyers: Is Chuck Fletcher the wild card to watch?
This week could be key for the Flyers, who have been trending in the wrong direction for a while now, but are still just four points back of Boston for the East's last playoff spot and the Bruins aren't exactly on cruise control either. Those two teams will meet three times between now and next week's deadline, which could set the tone for how both act leading up to it.
No one sees the Flyers as firesale sellers, but if they do trend that way Scott Laughton could be a coveted rental for many playoff-bound teams. Beyond that, Fletcher has the potential to surprise us if he elects to shake things up here. It wouldn't be a sell off of NHL assets, but maybe instead a re-shaping of the team with a bigger hockey trade. Or it could be a quiet deadline for Philadelphia altogether. The organization has historically moved boldly at times and it seems they're about due for something like that again.
Pittsburgh Penguins: How will the Ron Hextall/Brian Burke front office position Pittsburgh to chase a Cup?
When these two came in following Jim Rutherford's decision to step down, the Penguins were facing directional questions. They were 5-5-1 at the time, Evgeni Malkin was floundering and they didn't much look like a Cup contender anymore. Hextall, meantime, arrived with a builder's past from his time in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia, so naturally there was wonder how that would mesh with the Penguins' usual all-in approach.
"We're looking to make the Pittsburgh Penguins the best team we can this year. We'll see where it goes, we'll see how good we are, we'll see how our players respond and we'll address things as we go along," Hextall said at his introductory press conference. "You always have to look at the future, but you have to look at the present and the focus right now is on making the Pittsburgh Penguins the best we can right now until the end of the year."
It's hard to see how things could have gone much better since then, with Pittsburgh on a 19-7-1 run and now challenging for top spot in the East. They swept the Islanders in a two-game series last week. Pittsburgh will have $1.12 million in deadline cap space, but also don't hold a first-round pick this year. How can they find the boost the team needs, and how much more of the future can, or will, they mortgage for it?
San Jose Sharks: Will Patrick Marleau break Gordie Howe's games played record as a Shark?
In one of the more unlikely outcomes recently, the Sharks are back in this thing after a 6-3-1 run and four straight wins. They probably won't be buyers and don't have many rentals, but would they trade Devan Dubnyk if someone comes calling and move on with Martin Jones in net who, granted, has been having a good run for the past while?
Last year the Sharks traded Marleau to the Penguins at the deadline before he re-upped with San Jose in the summer again. Now he's on an expiring contract again and has talked about the possibility of being moved. But one week after the trade deadline passes, Marleau could break Howe's all-time record of 1,767 NHL games played. Does San Jose's recent run now make it easier to just keep him and have him reach that milestone with the team that drafted him?
St. Louis Blues: How motivated a buyer is Doug Armstrong to get into the playoffs?
The Blues haven't really been close to their Cup-winning form this season and are one point out of the playoffs right now, behind Arizona, with the Sharks gaining momentum and pulling into a tie. So even just getting to the post-season isn't a guarantee at this point.
But this is a core built and contractually committed to with one goal in mind and so how would missing the playoffs look, even in this strange year? With the possibility their own first-round pick is in the lottery, can they risk moving it without the option to defer a year, or are the playoffs just too important to miss out on for where the team is at right now? The other issue is there's not any cap space for Armstrong to work with, so presumably a trade would have to involve something a little more in depth than just a pick.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Will the rise of Carolina or Florida push them into the market?
The defending champs will probably make the biggest addition of all between now and the end of the season when Nikita Kucherov comes back for the playoffs. Still, you wonder what Julien BriseBois could have up his sleeve. The Lightning have navigated rough waters with the cap and always seem to find a way. They could also stand to add a bit more depth to the back end, where they've had to go pretty far into their depth chart at times this season.
The Panthers have quickly risen up and stayed there all season, while the Canes solidify themselves as a contender. Both of those teams are deadline wild cards with the cap space to do something substantial if they so choose. How will the Lighting react to all that, and can they find a way to surprise us under the cap again?
Toronto Maple Leafs: What is Frederik Andersen's status?
Jack Campbell has prevented this from blowing up into a bigger problem by winning all of his starts this season, and allowing more than two goals only once in five games since Andersen went down. But the highest-paid goalie on the roster hasn't played or skated in over two weeks and there's no clear indication of how much longer he'll be out.
“The feedback I’ve been given is that he is progressing well,” Keefe said last week. “I guess we’ll continue to monitor him and reassess him next week.”
While the search for a top-six forward is a priority and maybe some help on the blue line, goaltending might have to be under consideration if there is either no further clarity on Andersen, or the reassessment comes with bad news. As great as Campbell has been, he's dealing with his own health issues and hasn't dressed for every game he's not starting, or practised the day after making a start. For that reason the Leafs may just need a third option who's healthy right now. And if they go down that road, it'll be harder to also get the forward they want.
Vancouver Canucks: How are all the players and coaches coping?
To be honest, this question was going to be all about rental players and who the Canucks might move or try to re-sign instead. But what's going on with the team now is much bigger than hockey. They likely won't return to the ice at any time this week and next week is in question as well. The bigger concern right now is on the health of everyone in the organization. Best wishes to all.
Vegas Golden Knights: Is there any more room to surprise us with a move?
Whenever anyone of note is available, the Vegas Golden Knights always seem to be among the suitors. The cap dancing they had to do to fit Alex Pietrangelo showed they'll jump through hoops to get the players they want though, granted, that is much easier to do in the off-season.
In a Q&A with The Athletic's Jess Granger last week, GM Kelly McCrimmon talked about the different ways a team can create cap room -- from LTI, to moving a body off the roster, to using a third team to retain salary and make a deal work. He also mentioned he wasn't desiring moving anyone off the roster, and why would he? The Golden Knights have made plenty of additions and commitments and are entrenched as a contender by now. Still, with Colorado likely to do something and the Wild with the potential to, you wonder if the Golden Knights can find another way to shock us.
Washington Capitals: Which goalie do they covet?
The Caps will be as all-in as ever to try and win another Cup here, though as is the case with many teams, the cap is pinching them. Goaltending has been an interesting situation here all season long. Vitek Vanecek stepped up when Ilya Samsonov contracted the coronavirus earlier this season. He was to be the third-stringer this season until Henrik Lundqvist had to take the year off.
Samsonov, meanwhile, has had a bumpy season so you wonder what the team thinks about its situation in net. Both players are young and neither has even a game of Stanley Cup playoff experience, so with such a deep pool of potentially available goalies, do the Caps find a way to go out and get one?
Winnipeg Jets: What are they willing to pay for a defenceman?
GM Kevin Cheveladyoff is, for the most part, a cautious GM who errs on the side of development instead of heading to the trade market. But when the window opens, you sometimes have to take a cut and Cheveldayoff has done that in recent years, too. He's traded a couple of first-round picks to get a second line centre rental at the deadline and was forced into a situation to trade Patrik Laine this season already. That gave a boost to the valuable centre position, but didn't solve their greatest need.
Winnipeg's chances of being the last team standing in the North Division are as great as any other in Canada, with a forward core to rival any team's and a goalie who is the best in this group of seven. The weakness is the blue line, which could use another upgrade. The Jets had been linked to everyone from Mattias Ekholm to any sort of depth addition, so what is Cheveldayoff thinking and willing to spend this time?