NHL Rumour Roundup: Could winger Anthony Mantha be a trade target for Oilers?

Washington Capitals right wing Anthony Mantha skates with the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Jess Rapfogel/AP)

After the sterling, historic win streak that turned the Edmonton Oilers’ season around, Connor McDavid’s club has fallen back to Earth some over the past month.

Perfect in January, the Oilers have lost six of 10 in February, turning all eyes towards GM Ken Holland and the potential reinforcements that might come. Some have pointed to potential goaltenders to bring in, and others have wondered about pieces elsewhere on the roster. In the latest episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek added another name to the mix.

Anthony Mantha’s having a real good season — he’s scoring goals this season,” said Marek in the episode, of the 29-year-old winger who’s posted 18 goals and 29 points through 52 games for the Washington Capitals. 

The totals are Mantha’s best since half-a-decade ago, when he was still in Detroit. And it’s another connection from those days in Detroit that could serve as the bridge between Mantha and the Oilers.

“Washington’s been trying to trade Mantha for a long time,” Friedman said. “But now we’re coming to the time where he’s a UFA, and the salary isn’t as much anymore. He’s gotten hot at the right time. And there’s going to be someone that’s going to say, ‘We’re going to take a chance, because he’s playing for his next deal, and he’ll be highly motivated to play for his next deal.’ … Who knows Anthony Mantha better than anyone else?”

That would, of course, be Oilers general manager Ken Holland, who drafted Mantha while serving as GM of the Red Wings, and who was still in Detroit for the winger’s best seasons in the big leagues. The big-bodied winger — who stands six-foot-five and weighs in at 234 pounds — could certainly be an intriguing addition to the right side of the club’s top six, particularly alongside Leon Draisaitl on the second line, a spot currently filled by veteran Corey Perry.

Of course, the Capitals winger is just one of a number of options potentially under consideration by the Oilers’ front office at the moment.

“I think they’ve got a lot going on,” Friedman continued. “We mentioned [Adam] Henrique, we mentioned Sam Carrick. I don’t think it’s impossible that the Oilers try for both [Anaheim Ducks centres] in the same deal. Another name I heard for the Oilers was Luke Kunin from San Jose.”

Courtesy of their prolific January, the Oilers currently sit third in the Pacific Division, with the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators right on their heels.

Goalies joining Guentzel on the Penguins’ growing trade block?

Speaking of Oilers top-six trade targets, perhaps the most sought-after name up front at the moment is Penguins winger Jake Guentzel, the two-time 40-goal scorer whose future in Pittsburgh remains up in the air.

Penguins GM Kyle Dubas has made the club’s position on Guentzel, and their season, clear — should Sidney Crosby’s squad pull together a convincing win streak before the deadline, they could convince their GM to stay the course, but should they slide, the front office will look to the future and move to add some youth to the squad, a shift that would likely spell the end of Guentzel’s tenure on Crosby’s wing.

According to Friedman, though, the 29-year-old isn’t the only Penguin who could be on the market.

“Someone actually called me on Sunday morning and told me there’s been some talk around Pittsburgh that the Penguins are going to trade a goalie,” Friedman said on the podcast. “Now, initially my assumption was [Alex] Nedeljkovic — he’s making $1.5 million, he’s a UFA after this year. … Generally, he’s been very good. And I can see some teams who need a 1B who could really use him. 

“But somebody said that this is not limited to Nedeljkovic, that I think teams have asked about [Tristan] Jarry, I think teams have asked about [Joel] Blomqvist — who’s their top prospect, who’s played very well in Wilkes-Barre this year. So what I do think there, is Pittsburgh has an extra goalie, and they will listen. That is not impossible, that a goalie moves out of Pittsburgh.”

Jarry, the club’s clear-cut No. 1, would be an unlikely piece to be moved if Pittsburgh has any hopes of playoff hockey this season. Still, with a league-leading six shutouts so far — to go along with his .911 save percentage and history of standout, albeit streaky, play — there would surely be suitors. Former Calder Trophy nominee Nedeljkovic has found his form after a couple tough years in Detroit, and sports a .915 save percentage through 19 appearances this season, while prospect Blomqvist has a .918 in 31 games for AHL Wilkes-Barre.

That said, while Guentzel and potentially a netminder might wind up moved, the Penguins are far from selling off a slew of assets come deadline time, says Friedman, as they look to balance future success with winning now, in the twilight of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s careers.

“It’s pretty clear to me that after they lost at home to L.A., on the Jagr retirement night, that teams started calling them, and they said, ‘What exactly is available here?’” Friedman continued. “The cornerstone players are not available. I think there are other players who have trade protection, that they’re really not eager to go to. I’ve heard that they said they’re going to try to protect trade protection as much as they can. 

“So, unless you’re going to blow them away for someone who has a no-trade or no-move, who’s not a cornerstone player — for example, I think one of those guys is Bryan Rust — I’ve heard Pittsburgh told teams, ‘We’re going to try and respect the protection here.’”

With Flames, Maple Leafs and Canucks entangled in potential deals, where do the trio sit as the deadline approaches?

Outside of Pittsburgh, much of the pre-deadline chatter has focused on the gems that could be pried away from Calgary — defenders Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev (potentially together), and netminder Jacob Markstrom.

As Sportsnet’s Eric Francis pointed out in his piece Monday, the smooth-skating, offensively-gifted Hanifin is perhaps the most likely to move, with the Tampa Bay Lightning seeming a perfect fit in the wake of the injury that took Mikhail Sergachev out of their lineup.

The rugged, defence-first Tanev has been highly coveted for months by a number of clubs — Toronto tops among them — but a deal has yet to materialize. According to the 32 Thoughts duo, there may be some hope in Calgary of keeping their blue line intact.

“Calgary, they tried to get Hanifin [extended]. I can’t prove this, but I have a sneaking suspicion they have continued to try occasionally to get Tanev done,” Friedman said of the two Flames defenders. “If they would’ve been able to keep these guys, you wouldn’t want to see them as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the first round of the playoffs.”

With those offers remaining unsigned, though, it seems more and more likely both Flames blue-liners will see their time in Calgary come to an end soon — the question is simply which jersey they’ll be throwing on next. Friedman threw a new name into the mix on this week’s episode of the podcast:

“I’m purely guessing — I wonder about a team like Dallas,” he said. “I was told on Saturday night that Dallas has been incredibly aggressive, incredibly aggressive. They think they can win the Stanley Cup this year, and they should. And if you look at their blue line, could you see a situation where they could get a righty and lefty? … I know they’re in on Tanev.”

Complicating matters for Dallas, and others who’ve hoped to pry the pairing away from Calgary, is the fact that thus far the Flames haven’t been open to moving out pieces in package deals.

“I believe Calgary has generally resisted that, because they think they can get more for individuals,” Friedman continued. “They resisted Toronto’s deal, Vancouver tried to do Tanev and [Elias] Lindholm — they said no. But again, if you were Dallas, would you think about Hanifin and Tanev?”

The Canucks, of course, did end up getting Lindholm from Calgary by himself in the end, acquiring the two-way talent in a multi-piece deal during All-Star Weekend. And given the haul required to bring in the veteran — who will become a UFA once this season concludes — Vancouver is unlikely to throw out another hefty package for another rental before this season’s deadline, according to Friedman.

“I did hear something else about Vancouver that was interesting. I don’t think Vancouver is out of anything out there — it’s just the way [Jim] Rutherford is — but I heard they’re not interested in giving up everything they’re going to have to give up for two rentals,” Friedman said. “They gave up what they had to give up to get Lindholm — if they have to give up another package to get something good, I don’t think it’s going to be a rental, unless they know they can sign that person.

“If they’re going to have to do what it takes to do something not small, it’s someone that they want to keep.”

Meanwhile, for the Maple Leafs — who’ve been hunting for defence reinforcements ever since off-season acquisition John Klingberg was pushed out of the lineup with injury — the club may potentially have more options to work with given the recent success of their depth pieces. 

“All of a sudden for Toronto, a lot of their guys who are UFAs are getting hot — [Bobby] McMann, [Max] Domi, [Tyler] Bertuzzi … I’m curious to see, does Toronto just let this all play out?” Friedman said on the podcast. 

“It’s going to be interesting to see what Toronto does here in terms of roster construction.”

The Maple Leafs currently sit third in the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of the nearest wild-card squad. Vancouver sits first in the Pacific with plenty of breathing room, while Calgary — who seems to hold the keys to this year’s deadline — sits five points out of a wild-card spot in the West, with multiple clubs above them in that race.

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