We're far enough into the season now where teams will have to start deciding if they want to be buyers or sellers.
With most teams at, or coming up to, their 20th game, that kind of statement might be ridiculous in any normal year, but in a 56-game campaign where cross-border quarantine rules will impact any move, clubs will have to make their decisions a little earlier this year.
In this edition of our Rumour Roundup, we look at what the Vancouver Canucks should be thinking about, how the Detroit Red Wings hope the draft unfolds and, after a Monday night win that cooled the temperature around the team a degree, what the Calgary Flames are thinking.
WHAT'S ON THE TABLE IN CALGARY?
Monday's big win against a banged-up Toronto Maple Leafs team will provide at least a momentary reprieve from calls for change from Flames fans that have ranged everywhere from trading Sam Bennett, to shipping out a more significant player, or even moving on from the coach or general manager.
The Flames are still in a delicate spot though, sitting fifth in the North Division and right at a .500 points percentage. Bennett's trade request has gone public and the team's slow start — which they were not victims of Monday — will continue to be a sore spot until they string at least a few games in a row where they get on the board first.
But it doesn't appear anything is imminent here.
"I don't know how it's going to be possible ... there's nothing in the hopper right now that I can tell," Elliotte Friedman told Pat Steinberg on Sportsnet 960 the FAN, prior to Monday's game. "Your GM is a guy who's active. He likes to make calls, he keeps in contact with the league. I think he's one of the most active GMs in the league when it comes to making calls. I think he really tried to be in on Dubois. I think whenever there's somebody out there who's got a name, I think he's involved. I don't see anything imminent, but I think he's got his lines out there."
This is a pivotal stretch in Calgary's season. After beating Toronto, the Flames again face the Leafs on Wednesday before turning around for a back-to-back in Ottawa against the Senators. In fact, five of their next seven games come against the Senators, a team others in the North have beat up on and ended sour streaks against. The Flames haven't had the chance to pick up those points against the division's seventh-best team yet.
Jacob Markstrom's availability is now in question after the starter missed Monday's game with a lower-body injury, something head coach Geoff Ward said was going to keep him day-to-day "for a little bit." That puts Rittich in a spot to get a short run of starts at least, and knowing how hard it is to get goalie depth this season — especially if you're looking at cross-border trades — makes even a patchwork move to solidify the position during this crucial stretch hard to see coming to fruition.
Of course, when you have a GM as active as Treliving, the possibility of a trade always exists. And if the Flames can't catch up to the pack after their series against Ottawa, bigger questions will have to be asked about where this group really is.
"I think he's throwing lines out there and saying 'OK, what about this possibility? Or this possibility?'" Friedman continued. "It's just the way he works. I do think we're getting to the point where we're going to have to talk about the future of this group. I don't think there's anything imminent and we'll see where we'll go."
WHEN WILL VANCOUVER MAKE ITS DECISIONS?
More dire than the Flames in the North Division are the Canucks, the team that went further than any of this grouping in last summer's bubble playoffs but now sits firmly in sixth place. They have played much better recently and still only have two wins in seven games to show for it.
So, despite the recent turnaround in play that just hasn't been rewarded yet, should the Canucks be thinking more about the future anyway?
Interesting thought exercise from Thomas Drance at The Athletic this week, who went over the proactive thinking the Canucks should be doing right now.
We know that the top trade candidates in Vancouver are Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette, a couple of depth players and, with the former at least, someone else's possible reclamation project. Those would be small additions to another team and likely not return Vancouver much more than a comparable player or mid-to-late round draft picks. Those moves would be considered tweaks and nothing more. Even though we're only 22 games into Vancouver's season, it could be thinking more broadly about how to come back better next year, and in the years to come.
On the surface, yes, the Canucks are only three points out of a playoff spot, but they have also played more games than any other Canadian team, making the gulf wider than it appears.
More than Virtanen and Gaudette, should Vancouver instead start getting into a seller's mindset and consider taking offers on a pending UFA, such as Tanner Pearson, who could add a 20-goal scorer's pace to some contender's depth on the wing? With travel and quarantine to consider across the league this season, teams may want to make their moves well before the April 12 deadline so that they get a full run with their new additions.
Should the Canucks be prioritizing getting head coach Travis Green under contract right now instead of letting it linger, with expansion Seattle waiting in the wings to hire its first coach?
And, most importantly, should the team be making sure it puts itself in the best position possible to sign Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to long-term contracts as soon as they can? Both star players will be RFAs this summer and the earliest the Canucks can officially extend them is March 12 (in a regular season that date would have been Jan. 1). In the meantime, they will continue to be crunched by a flat salary cap.
Amid a slow start that has really put the Canucks behind the eight-ball, owner Francesco Aquilini tweeted support for GM Jim Benning and Green, and that the team would be "sticking to the path we’re on."
But maybe those decisions on being a buyer or seller need to come earlier this season with the schedule so short and quarantine a consideration for any team acquiring a player this season.
DETROIT GM STEVE YZERMAN HOPES DRAFT IS PUSHED BACK
Count Steve Yzerman among those who hopes the NHL pushes back the 2021 NHL Draft.
"I would hope they push it back, and give us a chance to watch these kids and give these kids a chance to play and put their best foot forward leading up to the draft," he told Helene St. James.
With a .325 points percentage that ranks 30th in the league, Detroit is one of the teams with the most to lose if not all of this year's prospects can compete, or be properly scouted. The QMJHL has been slowly making its way through a challenging season, while the WHL is scheduled to start this weekend and the OHL is still unclear when or if it can start.
And though leagues are playing in Europe and the United States, allowing some prospects to get game action in those countries, the scouting world has had to depend far more on video to monitor the players than actually being in attendance.
The issues with moving the draft back are aplenty, though, with messy CBA considerations to get over.
"Among the concerns are: If you move the draft back, will players still have to wait seven years until unrestricted free agency?" Friedman reported during the Headlines segment of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. "Will they be able to move down to six? Also, if you're drafted out of the CHL, you've got to have two years until you re-enter the draft. Will that be kept the same or will it be dropped down to one? These are the kinds of issues that they're going to have to solve and I think it's going to be a big challenge."