NHL Trade Deadline Push: Decision time for key deal makers

On this edition of 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek discuss the possibility of a new women's professional hockey league, players to watch as the NHL trade deadline approaches, and whether Edmonton could be the next Heritage Classic host.

It wasn’t the sort of sound bite you wanted to hear from an NHL GM so close to the trade deadline, but Ottawa’s Pierre Dorion shared a grim outlook to those hoping for a busy week of dealing.

“I hate to be Debbie Downer, but don’t get too excited,” Dorion told reporters on Friday. “In all my years as GM, this has been the quietest.”

Granted Ottawa, a seller, wasn’t projected to be among the more active teams anyway. Sure, Dorion has to make a call on Nick Paul, an energenic bottom-six winger on an expiring deal. Anton Forsberg, with a .924 save percentage and 12-7-2 record since Dec. 1, could be an intriguing add to the goalie market if the Sens weigh he has greater value to them there than on a re-sign. That’s about as big as Dorion could realistically go anyway.

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But then on Saturday, we got similarly lukewarm updates on the market from Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman during Hockey Night in Canada’s 32 Thoughts segment. There, we heard that it’s turned quiet around Claude Giroux, while Tomas Hertl’s name is “not out there” at the moment as the Sharks gear up an offer to try and re-sign the centre. John Klingberg, one of the higher-end defencemen in the rumour mill much of this season, may now instead be an own-rental for the Dallas Stars as they make a playoff push, just one point out with four games in hand. “Pretty safe to say we can take him off the trade board,” Marek said.

Ah, but it can all change in a second.

There is still a pile of names out there and a number of teams with picks, prospects or other assets to move as they try to upgrade their rosters to some degree. Marek listed 36 trade candidates just last Thursday and you can bet on a number of them being dealt before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline on March 21.

There are plenty of motivated buyers and all it takes is one of them to make a move and then more dominoes could fall.

Will Toronto add a goalie, or Florida a defenceman? Will the Calgary Flames make another deal and add a Ben Chiarot-type of defenceman? Can the Bruins find a second line centre, or swing big on someone like Jakob Chychrun? Will Ken Holland reward the Oilers and give them a better chance now that they’re settling into a groove and claiming third in the Pacific, with second place still attainable?

It’s set to be a big week — and decision time for the key deal makers around the league.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Here’s what the Eastern Conference standings look like today:

Buyer in Focus: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins haven’t won a playoff series since 2018 and in the past three seasons they’ve totalled just two official playoff wins. The core is getting older and, when Ron Hextall was hired as GM in February of 2021, he talked of balancing the need for a win-now approach as long as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang were around, while also keeping an eye on the future.

The organization has made just one first-round draft pick in the past seven years and only one of the 35 prospects they did take in that time has become a regular on this year’s team (Dominik Simon). Their prospect cupboard is bare. Malkin and Letang (and Bryan Rust, too) remain unsigned, all able to test free agency in July. In some ways, both the near- and long-term future feel vulnerable right now.

And yet there seems to remain only one option: Buy a scoring winger at the deadline and see if this group has another run left in it.

The centres are all in place. Malkin, Crosby and last year’s buy, Jeff Carter, make a strength down the middle. Crosby’s line with Rust and Jake Guentzel is productive enough, but the team hasn’t been able to find the right partners for Malkin. Kasperi Kapanen, a former fit, has just nine goals on the season and none in his past 18 games.

Scoring depth is a weakness right now — since Feb. 1 the Penguins have the lowest goals per game of any Eastern Conference team currently occupying a playoff spot.

So who could Hextall target and what would it cost him?

Draft picks held by the Penguins, per CapFriendly.

Rental Rickard Rakell, on his best scoring pace in four years, could be a good complement to Malkin. Given there should be a market for a player like him, the expectation should be that the Penguins would have to give up their 2022 first-rounder.

For more of a middle-six option, how about Calle Jarnkrok out of Seattle? Another rental option, perhaps he wouldn’t necessitate trading that first-rounder.

But, if he’s going to move any more futures, Hextall would prefer picking up a controllable player. When Carter was acquired last season, he had another year left on his deal and didn’t cost a first-rounder.

The Vancouver Canucks could have complementary scorer Conor Garland available, and he’d be more of a longer-term fit with another four years on his contract. Brock Boeser has the goal-scoring upside they seek and is 25 years old, but is due a $7.5 million qualifying offer as a summer RFA. J.T. Miller, signed through next season, is the best player the Canucks may trade, but his value has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

There’s the interesting Jim Rutherford-Patrik Allvin connection to Pittsburgh and, after mentioning last week that the Canucks desire a defenceman to build a foundation on together with Quinn Hughes, Elliotte Friedman noted the Penguins do have a blueliner Vancouver covets.

“The Canucks, it’s known they’re looking for a young defenceman. One of their targets is John Marino,” Friedman said on Saturday’s 32 Thoughts. “I don’t know if this is going to happen though…It just sounds like it’s been difficult to get a match.”

The debate around the Pens is whether or not to trade that first-rounder, something Hextall has not been keen on. Seven more days and we’ll find out what his chosen path is.

Seller in Focus: NY Islanders

The goalie market is a weird one. Usually the movement at the position happens in the off-season, when teams search for bargain tandems, or bet a mid-range salary on a downward-trending talent rebounding again. The trade market for proven, No. 1 goalies isn’t so well defined either.

A week away from the trade deadline, though, there are a few teams who fancy themselves contenders that are on very shaky ground at the position. And if you’re expecting to win a round or two, let alone the Stanley Cup, goaltending is about the last thing you want to feel nervous about.

I explored the goalie market last week and the big takeaway is that there are plenty of backup options, but very few available who would be distinct and reliable upgrades. Marc-Andre Fleury is one, though his openness to a deal remains unclear. The only other might be New York’s Semyon Varlamov, though with one more year still left on his contract the Islanders don’t have to make that deal in the next week.

The price certainly has to be right, and we’d imagine starts with a first-round pick or equivalent prospect. If Fleury ends up wanting to stay in Chicago, Varlamov would become the top target. Would someone step up to meet Lamoriello’s ask?

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said over a week ago that he would be sticking with Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, and that his focus was adding to the blue line. Improving defence is certainly a must in Toronto — outlined thoroughly here by our own Justin Bourne — but since Dubas made those comments, Campbell was forced out two weeks with a rib injury and Mrazek allowed eight goals on 49 shots in Thursday and Sunday losses.

Edmonton is back to having a struggling Mike Smith on IR, relying on Mikko Koskinen to keep steady for an extended stretch, and with Stuart Skinner as the wild card. The Oilers are third in the Pacific now, with a defensive game that’s been coming into form under Jay Woodcroft. GM Ken Holland has said he doesn’t want to move assets for a rental, which might make Varlamov’s extra year attractive — if he’d be willing to sign off on a deal to Alberta (he has a 16-team no-trade list). Even Vegas, spiralling down the standings, now has uncertainty in the crease.

All of those teams need to get to the playoffs and have high expectations to win at least a round (and honestly, probably more than that).

While all eyes have been on Fleury as the top goalie available at the deadline, Varlamov and his extra year of control present an interesting alternative.

What to watch for this week:

• Claude Giroux will play the 1,000th game of his career Thursday at home to the Nashville Predators. Once past that milestone, Giroux’s trade window opens, though Jeff Marek reported on Saturday that it’s been “a little bit quiet” around him lately.

• Another goalie-needy team, the Washington Capitals, will face the Islanders at home on Tuesday.

• Toronto’s most important game of the week comes Thursday at home to Carolina, a playoff measuring stick affair. As Frederik Andersen trends up again in a bid to make a late Vezina push, if whoever Toronto’s starter is that night answers with a whimper, could this be the one that really nails home the need for a netminder?

• The Penguins are in Arizona on Saturday. Could they leave with Phil Kessel back on their team?

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Here’s what the Western Conference standings look like today:

Buyer in Focus: Vegas Golden Knights

It’s getting ugly folks.

The Golden Knights start the week just one point up on Dallas for the final playoff spot, with four more games played. The Vancouver Canucks are even nipping at Vegas’ heels , just three points back with a game in hand.

Injuries have been a major factor in Vegas’ slide. Mark Stone’s two-way dominance has been missed. Reilly Smith is out and Max Pacioretty followed him Sunday. Alec Martinez is still out. Robin Lehner missed the last two weeks of February (when they went 1-3-1) and is now out indefinitely and with an uncertain status.

That last one has led to a suddenly critical situation and now Vegas has to be considered in the goalie market. Even if Lehner was able to return, it’s clearly a risky proposition to have Laurent Brossoit as the backup right now. With all the other roster chaos going on here, the Knights need to find some stability in net to try and get them through.

Since Feb. 13, the only playoff team with a worse 5-on-5 save percentage than Vegas’ .914 is the Toronto Maple Leafs. In that time, Vegas has allowed the fifth-fewest 5-on-5 shots per 60 and scored the 10th-most 5-on-5 goals per 60. Granted they have allowed a heavy amount of high-danger chances, but Lehner could make up for some of that. Neither Brossoit nor Logan Thompson have proven that capability yet.

Previously, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli indicated the Golden Knights had called about bringing Fleury back, an idea the team immediately denied. But, again, if you’re looking for a difference-maker at the position, there are only but a few options.

Since adding Jack Eichel to the lineup, Vegas is 4-8-1, and while his arrival was supposed to fill the one last area of need they had (elite No. 1 centre) the reality is there are tons of lineup issues right now.

If there is one thing we know about the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s that they don’t do anything small. With a playoff spot now hanging in the balance, what do they have up their sleeve for us this trade deadline?

Seller in Focus: Anaheim Ducks

The most interesting team to watch at the deadline, the Ducks have the potential to be kingmakers.

They have a pile of impact players to offer up to the rental market. Need a tough, physical defenceman who can play 20-plus minutes? Josh Manson is your guy. Rakell is a secondary scorer that more than a few teams could use; he is second on the Ducks in 5-on-5 goals. How about a cheap, bottom-six forward whose sandpaper style is always desired in the playoffs? Look no further than Nic Deslauriers. Then you wonder about Ryan Getzlaf, who was a late addition to the rumour mill at last year’s deadline. Could he accept a change this time? The Ducks even have a younger player with contract control possibly on the block: Max Comtois led Anaheim in scoring a year ago, but the 23-year-old’s follow up has been a challenging one.

The biggest question of all for the week ahead though: Will GM Pat Verbeek get defenceman Hampus Lindholm under contract?

Another pending UFA, Lindholm is a player the Ducks simply cannot let go for nothing. While it’s been reported that Anaheim is wary to invest too much term in any of its UFA re-signings, Lindholm, 28, might have to be an exception if they realistically hope to keep him. He’d be the best defenceman available — if he is indeed available — in trade, and shouldn’t have much trouble getting a long-term offer from someone in the summer.

It was a good start to the year for Anaheim, but they’ve faded and aren’t quite ready to challenge yet. The Ducks are 4-9-1 since the All-Star break and four teams now separate them from a playoff spot. They are firm sellers and could be key to a busy few days of dealing.

What to watch for this week:

• If Jakob Chychrun is moved by March 21, it has the potential to be the biggest deal of the day. The ask is reportedly huge for the young defenceman. So the news that he will be out two to four weeks with a lower-body injury on Monday figures to have an impact on he market. The Coyotes play in Ottawa and Montreal Monday and Tuesday before returning home for a Saturday game against Pittsburgh.

• The Oilers have three home games this week against Detroit, Buffalo and New Jersey. It’s an opportunity to build up some confidence, space in the standings, and expectations for something notable to be added at the deadline.

• There are eight standings points available to the Canucks this week, with home games against New Jersey, Detroit, Calgary and Buffalo. If they are able to get six of them, it would require Vegas to win two of their three games (@WPG, vs. FLA, vs. LAK) to remain ahead in the standings.

• Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog will have knee surgery and the team hopes he’ll be back for the stretch. Defenceman Sam Girard is expected to miss at least four weeks. There are seven weeks left in the regular season. With Landeskog on a more uncertain timeline, will he land on LTIR this week, and expand Colorado’s options at the deadline?

• Four games left until the deadline for the San Jose Sharks — they can’t possibly go past Sunday’s game at home to Arizona without Tomas Hertl’s name on a contract extension and still keep him, can they?

• Los Angeles will be in Vegas Saturday night where they could perform well enough, and/or increase their standings lead enough, on the Golden Knights to inspire the front office to perhaps go into the trade market more than they would have as a bubble team.

• Minnesota, soft on defence and in goal for the past number of weeks, play just two more games before the deadline: at home to Boston and Chicago Wednesday and Saturday. That’s a lot of time for GM Bill Guerin to think long and hard about how he wants to approach this team before next season’s Parise-Suter cap penalties pinch them.

• Dallas’ Braden Holtby missed Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury. Monitor his situation this week. A possible trade candidate, the Stars may prefer to keep him as insurance in their own run. But an injury to Holtby may even make it less likely that someone like Anton Khudobin would be moved.

• Seven more days and just two more games before the Anaheim Ducks have to either have Hampus Lindholm signed, or add a top-tier defenceman to the market.

• Chicago plays at home to Boston Tuesday and not again until Saturday in Minnesota. Will Marc-Andre Fleury make up his mind before getting on that flight?

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