We’re just less than two weeks away from the NHL’s trade deadline, and it feels like the closer we get to April 12, the less clear our knowledge of who’s buying and who’s selling becomes.
Teams like Nashville, Chicago, and Columbus have shown signs of possibly making a run. Teams we’ve got pegged as true contenders — St. Louis, Dallas, to name a few — find themselves in positions in the standings that don’t reflect the talent on their rosters.
The only sure thing is Buffalo, whose only hope of salvaging what’s left of this disastrous season is to collect some picks and prospects in return for some of their players and hope they can build towards something better.
The sole certainty is that the next two weeks will be filled with rumours and speculation. So let’s dig into some of the latest chatter.
What does Ekblad injury mean for Panthers?
Florida Panthers star Aaron Ekblad underwent surgery on Monday to “repair a fracture in his lower extremities,” per the team. The news confirmed what many suspected after he went down Sunday night against the Dallas Stars and needed to be stretchered off the ice: that the club will be without its best defenceman long-term. The Panthers listed his recovery time at 12 weeks, which brings us to a late June return at the earliest. The playoffs are set to begin in the second week of May, with the Stanley Cup Final projected to start in late June or possibly early July.
In addition to being a heartbreaker for Ekblad himself, who was having a career-best campaign alongside partner Mackenzie Weegar and propelling Florida towards the top spot in the Central Division, the news could drastically alter the club’s approach to the trade deadline.
There’s simply no replacing a player like Ekblad… but if you’re Florida, you know you’ve got to do something.
Reports indicated that even prior to Sunday’s events, the Panthers were likely to land a defenceman at the deadline to complement its strong core. Now, do they add two? Swing bigger on a top name? They’ve got seven games between now and the deadline, and they’re in a tough division with challengers fighting for spots… the sense of urgency just got ramped up in what is a truly unfortunate situation for both Ekblad and his club.
If the Blue Jackets are indeed selling at the deadline, David Savard could make a lot of sense here. So, too, could Brandon Montour of the wide-open-for-business Sabres. Both pending UFAs are right-shot d-men, like Ekblad. Predators rearguard Mattias Ekholm is interesting here, too, and offers the stability of an extra year, but is Nashville still selling?
Are the Predators pushing for playoffs after all?
Okay, so about those Predators. If we needed another reminder of the parity that exists in the NHL, this is it. Just a few weeks ago Nashville was toiling in the league’s basement and we were all poring over their roster and bookmarking their CapFriendly page to prepare for a flurry of deadline moves as one of the league’s top sellers. All but a small handful of players were said to be available, with Ekholm headlining what was looking like a warehouse sale.
Then, a five-game win streak suddenly thrust the Predators back into contention. So, what now?
“The issue is, we’ve seen this before,” ESPN’s Emily Kaplan said during an appearance on The People’s Show Monday, adding that she believes the cuts to this roster maybe “won’t be as deep” as many initially projected. “They can go and be a playoff team and then it’s one-and-done and if you don’t move any pieces, you start next year basically as you began this one which isn’t very inspiring.”
So, for teams looking to buy themselves some deadline help, maybe we ought to think of Nashville as not so much a warehouse sale and more a boutique with good but limited inventory and probably very few bargains to be had.
It feels unlikely they’re about to sell Filip Forsberg. But Ekholm? His value has never been higher.
“I do think that Mattias Ekholm still would be in play because he is the best defenceman available, there will be teams that are willing to give up a lot,” said Kaplan.
Mikael Granlund — he of three consecutive goals during the Preds’ win streak — and Erik Haula are still likely to be on the move as pending UFAs, and could bring in a nice return.
“As much as it would be nice to go on a long playoff run, realistically they’re looking at the fourth spot in the Central right now, which means a date likely with the Tampa Bay Lightning or Carolina Hurricanes in the first round,” Kaplan said of Nashville’s playoff hopes. “Do you have them winning that series? I definitely don’t.”
Don’t expect a first-round pick for Hall
As Sportsnet reported over the weekend, the St. Louis Blues were asking around on Taylor Hall. That would make sense, considering St. Louis’s win-now roster makeup and current offensive struggles.
As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pointed out on Monday, a deal involving Hall could be a true deadline transaction, with teams waiting as long as they can to eliminate as much of his money owed as possible.
There’s no doubt that whoever gets Taylor Hall is getting a highly-motivated, very skilled winger. But billing him as a top-line guy probably isn’t the way you’re going to win with him. So, what’s the return for a second-line winger on a team that’s extremely motivated to sell?
“I think the only way he gets a first-round pick here is in some crazy deal where Buffalo retains so much of his salary,” said Kaplan. “Maybe it’s a super late first-round pick, if we’re talking about a team that’s expected to win the Stanley Cup like Vegas or Colorado. But I think a first-round pick, at this point, is probably not realistic. It’s probably a second-round, a prospect, something in the lower range than that.”
Cap space for sale
This quote from cap-strapped Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin — whose continued insistence that he’s not planning any big trades has been met with skepticism — has piqued our interest:
“I know there’s teams who do have cap space that are willing to take on cap space. So, if you want to buy cap space, that’s available,” he said Saturday, via Sportsnet’s Eric Engels. “But there’s a price to pay for that. And depending on the amount you’re trying to buy, the price becomes steeper. Like a three-way deal where a team takes on a player and then retains money and then ships him to the other place — that’s out there, but I’m not going to go into detail what are the teams that are doing that or trying to do that. But that’s also a possibility.”
Who’s really for sale in Buffalo?
OK, we know Buffalo’s open for business. But how open are we talking here? Friedman believes that in addition to the obvious Hall and the already-traded Eric Staal, the team has been asked about players like Montour and Rasmus Ristolainen. Defenceman Rasmus Dahlin is about as untouchable as you can get, but Friedman believes Sam Reinhart also presents an interesting case as a player the team likely wants to keep in the fold. He shared those thoughts, and many more, during a Monday afternoon appearance on The Big Show:
Hurricanes suddenly have a wealth of goalies
On Friday, The Athletic‘s Sara Civian published a Q&A with Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell in which he indicated the club could move a goaltender.
Right now, they’re able to keep all three netminders on the roster under the cap, but that doesn’t give the club much flexibility to add elsewhere.
“If we’re gonna do something at the trade deadline, maybe one of the chips is one of our goalies. I can’t say which one. It depends,” Waddell told Civian.
The best story (and best cap hit) right now is Alex Nedeljkovic, who appears to have finally emerged after developing in Carolina’s system since being drafted 37th overall in 2014. The rookie’s 8-2-2 record, 2.05 GAA, .929 SV% and two shutouts have been huge in Petr Mrazek’s injury absence, and his $737,500 is a GM’s dream. James Reimer has the biggest cap hit of the bunch ($3.4 million) followed by Mrazek’s $3.125 million. All three netminders are free agents following this season, with Reimer and Mrazek set to become UFAs while Nedeljkovic is a pending RFA, with the possibly of being a group-six UFA. That puts Carolina in really intriguing territory.
“I think as you look at the way the schedule is and, hopefully going deep in the playoffs, you’d think you’d want to have three goalies,” said Waddell. “So I think this is a good problem to have, and we’ll find a way to keep three goalies on the roster if we need to.”
The club is poised to make a long playoff run, and we all know the value of goalie depth in the post-season, but Waddell also told Civian he’s considering making improvements of the depth variety elsewhere in the lineup. A right-shot defenceman is atop his list of wants:
“We like our defence, but you know, after you get through our first two sets of pairs, we’ve got three lefties there,” Waddell said. “They all play well, but they all would be better on their natural side.”
(We know they asked about Travis Hamonic, but his desire to remain in Western Canada made that deal a no-go.)
And, after the unfortunate loss of star forward Andrei Svechnikov last post-season, the club learned the importance of depth up front, too — though, as Waddell told Civian, “I don’t think we’re in the rental business.”
Don’t expect Maple Leafs to buy a goalie at the deadline
On the topic of goalies… the Toronto Maple Leafs have a question in the crease as far as Frederik Andersen’s ability to make a full recovery sooner than later from his current ailment that’s held him out of the lineup since March 19.
As has been the case all along, Friedman doesn’t believe that the Maple Leafs are looking to add anyone in net.
“At this point in time, they don’t believe Andersen’s injury — whatever it is — is season-ending. So, that’s No. 1,” Friedman told The Big Show on Monday. “No. 2, what I understand they’ve told other teams is, ‘we don’t have a ton of cap room and we’re not burning it on a goalie unless we absolutely have to.’ So, the fact they’re not running out and saying, ‘I gotta get a goalie,’ says to me that they believe Andersen is coming back.”