Here we are just one week away from the ever-crucial NHL Trade Deadline (March 1, 2017). As we approach the final full month of regular season hockey, teams in the playoff picture will look to bolster their squads to gain a better chance to advance. With just over 20 games remaining on each team’s schedule, the trade deadline also gives teams out of the playoff picture a chance to throw in the proverbial white towel and get a head start on preparing for the NHL Draft and next season. At the deadline, players, as well as draft picks and “future considerations” are hot commodities, some more frequently bargained for than others.
For this year’s trade deadline in particular, there are a couple of points to keep in mind. First, any picks traded at the draft are not as valuable as they might have been in 2015 or 2016. Scouts have generally touted the 2017 draft class as rather weak, especially compared to the last two NHL Drafts. Nevertheless, draft picks are draft picks and some of the best players in the world were drafted far later than round one without any real speculation of reaching high level of success in the NHL (this list, I will spare you).
Second, with the impending Las Vegas expansion draft looming in June, teams looking to protect their core will be more likely to trade away players in order to keep others. Similarly, there are teams that in any other year would be less likely to make trades. But, the impending expansion draft could force these teams to trade certain players because the thought of losing said players without compensation would be akin to letting pending free agents walk on July 1; why lose a player for nothing when you can get at least something in return?
As a subpart to this second thought to keep in mind, consider the flip-side: a team that is now less likely to trade whereas the team would normally be willing to trade surplus, but-for the expansion draft. For example, the New York Islanders might be keeping Jaroslav Halak so as to bait the Las Vegas Golden Knights into taking Halak rather than Jean-Francois Berube, a valuable backup goaltender (Thomas Greiss will most certainly be protected, unless Garth Snow shocks the world and acquires another goaltender). In this instance, whereas the team would have normally shopped a surplus, the team is holding onto a surplus so as not to lose its options.
While there could be some big surprises on March 1, let’s break down some of the more “obvious” options across the NHL, as well as those that are not so glaring. In a professional sports league, there are bound to be certain teams that just seem like they can’t cut it with the rest of the league. It’s just numbers; a certain number of teams will simply have no chance to win it all. In fact, the Colorado Avalanche was the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention thus far this season. So this is where we start.
Despite an abysmal season, the Avs have some great talent up front in Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. Losing forward Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo via trade wasn’t easy a couple of seasons ago, but the Avalanche are desperate for help on the blue line, despite having young defenseman, Tyson Barrie. While it may be implied that the Avs are looking to move Duchene or Landeskog, General Manager Joe Sakic may not be so inclined to do so. Sure, everybody has a price, but without replenishing the prospect pool, the price will be pretty steep for either Duchene or Landeskog. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of depth forwards moved instead to some Stanley Cup contenders.
I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to mention big-name veteran, Jarome Iginla. “Iggy” will no doubt look to be moved to a Cup-contender, as his days are winding down and with it, his chances of ever hoisting Lord Stanley’s favorite champagne cup. Maybe Iginla rejoins his old chums in Calgary, if Calgary makes a move or two to strengthen the whole squad. I’ll get to Calgary in a bit. Iginla could join the Habs as an added scoring touch, or Boston or Pittsburgh for a second time around. Maybe Iggy finds himself in Ottawa, a squad looking to take the Atlantic Division lead away from the Habs.
Nevertheless, the rumor mill has focused around the Montréal Canadiens in acquiring Matt Duchene. The asking price would likely be 2016 first-round pick Mikhail Sergachev or at the very least, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, or Simon Bourque, all defenseman. But like Sakic, Habs’ General Manager, Marc Bergevin, loaded up on defensemen and even traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber to address the defensive struggles of the bleu-blanc-rouge. Perhaps Bergevin could spare a prospect, especially given the fact that Thomas Plekanec has been struggling.
As per Frank Seravalli of TSN via Twitter, Canadiens’ defenseman Greg Pateryn is on the trading block. Pateryn’s wife went on a tirade regarding her husband’s playing time and being out of the lineup and insulting the former and current Habs bench bosses, before deleting her account. Her actions might have pushed her husband out of Montréal, if not the NHL altogether. Regardless, the Avs need young defenseman. A deal involving Pateryn, picks (plural), and a couple other players could potentially bring Duchene to Montréal.
The New York Islanders could certainly benefit from the likes of Duchene or Landeskog. A top tier forward like the two of them could potentially be an answer for Isles’ GM, Garth Snow, both for the short- and long-term. Right now, such a player on the wing could further boost the production of Tavares’ top line, and the trickle-down effect could mean more solid depth down the lines. Either one could also be long-term options, as both are under 25-years old and signed for a few more seasons. Landeskog would be more desirable for the Isles, as he is not afraid to throw around the body, a quality the top line is missing in the absence of Kyle Okposo. However, no one would turn down Duchene’s impressive speed and offensive capabilities for the right price.
While the Avs are the worst team in the league, the Arizona Coyotes are unfortunately the second-worst. The ‘Yotes are in the midst of waiting for their young players to reap the fruits of their labor. In the meantime, they have some deadline offerings for teams that are looking for deep runs.
Martin Hanzal could be a potential trade piece. Hanzal just turned 30 on February 20 (happy belated birthday, Marty!), but is a veteran center with some major size at 6’6”, 225 lbs. Hanzal’s numbers have always suffered because he has played his entire career with the Coyotes’ franchise. Moving him to a playoff team could be beneficial both for the team that acquires him, and for his own personal statistics. Hanzal would be a rental for any team looking to beef up down the middle. His contract expires come July 1, but comes at a very cheap cap hit, $3.1 mil throughout the season. As per CapFriendly.com, Hanzal has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, the specifics of which dictate that Hanzal need only submit a list of seven teams he would not like to be traded to. Needless to say, a Stanley Cup-contending squad would likely not appear on such a small list. Though trading with a team within the division is frowned upon, I could see Hanzal ending up in San Jose for perhaps a prospect and future draft picks.
35-year old Radim Vrbata could also potentially be on his way out of Arizona. As his career winds down, there could still be one or two more quality playoff runs in his future. His cap his is quite cheap for a guy with a wicked shot, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Vrbata is a prime candidate as a rental for just about any playoff contender.
The rumors surrounding Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues have been swirling for about a year now, centered around his favorite team growing up, the New York Rangers. However, Rangers’ General Manager Jeff Gorton seems to be a bit more conservative than his predecessor, Glen Sather. The asking price for perhaps one of the most coveted upcoming free agents could be quite steep, especially given the fact that he could simply be a rental for this postseason. The Blues might ask for a couple of first round picks, a prospect or two, and a top-six forward. However, if Gorton can lower the price to, say, Derek Stepan and a prospect in Hartford, the Rangers blue line could be subject to a good problem – an abundance of defenseman. This could give the Rangers a chance to deal Kevin Klein to a team such as Edmonton (who are looking for a depth defender), and allow the Rangers some more breathing room to keep Michael Grabner.
I have floated the idea of trading Stepan before. He’s a great two-way forward with great playmaking abilities and is very responsible defensively. Though his points-production is not exactly in line to what one might expect of a top-line center, Stepan is useable in all situations, and his apparent leadership off the ice has earned him an “A” on his chest. On the flip-side, Stepan seems to be at least a half-step behind in Alain Vigneault’s high-speed system, and his deficiency on the draw in noticeable. However, despite Stepan’s accolades or shortcomings, a no-trade clause set to kick in after this season coupled with a $6.5 million cap hit is exactly what Gorton should look to avoid. As they say in New York, it’s nothing personal; it’s just business.
A couple of goaltenders could be on the move as well. Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop will be a free agent this summer. With the absence of Steven Stamkos for the second season in a row (though he’s been spotted skating again), the Lightning are having trouble remaining in playoff contention. Bolt’s GM Steve Yzerman faces a dilemma if he does not move Bishop at the deadline: simply put, he will lose Bishop for nothing. However, Yzerman should find a squad looking for an indisputable number-one goaltender. This way, at least Tampa will not lose the 6’7” tendy for nothing. This would help even more if the team Bishop ends up on is a playoff contender. The Calgary Flames could be a suitable destination for Ben Bishop. Brian Elliot has struggled since his arrival in Calgary so far this season, posting his worst numbers since the 2010-11 season. Elliot had previously posted respectable numbers while playing in a goaltending committee with Jaroslav Halak (before being traded to Washington), and most recently, Jake Allen (who is also facing his fair share of struggles this season). Perhaps Brian Elliot is a goaltender that must split time with another starter. This would make Ben Bishop more of a rental, as most goaltenders would not like to backstop by committee.
Another option for Calgary may come from last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury has found himself in a strange situation whereby his “backup”, Matt Murray, is in the race for the Calder Trophy and has already won the same number of Cups as he has. As per CapFriendly.com, Fleury’s contract dictates that he may not be placed on waivers, and that Fleury must submit of list of 18 squads to which he would be willing to be traded. Eliminating teams that are rebuilding and those that have established starting goaltenders, there is a good chance the Flames could make the 18-team list.
Should Garth Snow take the opposite route to what I suggested earlier, Calgary could also look to reunite Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot as a goaltending duo. Halak has been working on his game in Bridgeport after clearing waivers. In sixteen games played with the Sound Tigers, Halak has posted 1.96 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Halak and Elliot saw a few years of relative success sharing the crease with each other. Unfortunately, the two have been inconsistent on their own. Perhaps a reunion could allow Flames’ Head Coach Glen Gulutzan to “ride the hot hand” and simply go with the goaltender playing well each night, just as Ken Hitchcock had done in St. Louis. This is not the likeliest of scenarios, but this is a viable option worthy of consideration.
Speaking of goalie-by-committee, the duo in Dallas is just not working. It could very well be a product of a somewhat weak blue line, but the Antti Niemi-Kari Lehtonen partnership is just not working. As per CapFriendly.com, Niemi counts for $4.5 million against the salary cap, and his no-trade clause provides for him to submit a list of 15 teams he will not be permitted to be traded to. While Lehtonen’s cap hit is $1.4 million greater than that of Niemi’s, Lehtonen’s modified no-trade clause is far less restrictive than Niemi’s providing for only 8-12 teams that he would not be willing to be traded to (depending on certain conditions related to games played and/or whether the team clinches a playoff berth). Both netminders are 33-years old and their contracts are set to expire in 2018. By then, it could be time for either to be thinking about taking a backseat on whatever team they are playing for, if retirement is not an option.
Knowing all of this, the Stars could potentially move one or both out of the lonestar state and bring in Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, or Jaroslav Halak at the deadline. Otherwise, if Dallas does nothing, regarding their goaltenders at the deadline, only one of them will be protected for the Vegas Expansion, the other being exposed to the Golden Knights without receiving any compensation in return.
The Vancouver Canucks are a less-than-obvious choice for trades at this year’s deadline. Henrik and Daniel Sedin are no longer getting old; they are beyond veterans. Don’t get me wrong, they are still terrific hockey players. While they are still able to play the game well, the Canucks have been getting younger, with guys like Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and Jake Vitanen. The Canucks have handcuffed themselves by awarding Loui Eriksson and Alex Edler, and Alexandre Burrows no-trade clauses. However, a player may waive said clause knowing he is going to a Cup-contender. This could give the Canucks a chance to keep getting younger while dumping some undesirable contracts. However, convincing another team to take on one of these constrictive deals could be super tricky.
Another not-so-obvious move could be Jordan Eberle, forward for the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers have little to no problems in the scoring department. Eberle, on the other hand, is on pace to potentially falling short of 20 goals the first time in his career (statistics indicate in a full 82 games, Eberle hits 20 goals every season played in the NHL, except perhaps this season). With a surplus of scorers, Eberle could reap some help on the backend, or bottom-six veteran experience for a deep playoff run. The 26-year old winger comes with a hefty cap hit, but there are plenty of teams who would be willing to make the fit.
The Philadelphia Flyers could be looking to part ways with Michael Del Zotto. Once billed as an offensive-defenseman after being drafted by the New York Rangers 20th-overall in 2008, Del Zotto has been a major disappoint. This season, he has only posted ten points in 32 games played. Two seasons ago, he posted his best numbers since 2011-2012, but has not lived up to expectations. Perhaps a change in scenery might do him well. But with a $3.875 million cap hit, and becoming a free agent this summer, Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall shouldn’t expect much of a return for him, if anything at all.
Heading over into New Jersey, my advice for the New Jersey Devils is not to do much. Perhaps Devils’ GM Ray Shero could float P.A. Paranteau and Kyle Quincey, as they are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. After all, losing them for nothing would be most unfortunate. However, for Parenteau, 26 points in 58 games for his cheap cap hit is worthy of another cheap re-signing. As for Quincey, surely his best days are behind him. Thus, if Shero can deal him, I say go for it.
On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs organization placed 33-year old impending free agent Brooks Laich on waivers. Laich had failed to crack the Leafs’ squad at the beginning of this season, after being acquired at last year’s deadline from the Washington Capitals. While playing at the NHL level, Laich’s cap hit is a steep $4.5 million for someone like him. While he has been placed on waivers, the Leafs will not be able to terminate his contract despite clearing waivers. Perhaps if Laich clears, other teams may inquire into Laich, asking the Leafs to retain some salary.
A few trades have already been announced. On Tuesday, the Flames acquired defenseman Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a 2017 third-round pick and a conditional fifth-round choice in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, as per NHL.com. Also announced on Tuesday, the Canadiens have dealt Philip Samuelsson to Carolina in exchange for Keegan Lowe. Both are defensive prospects. Lowe will join the Habs’ AHL-affiliate St. John’s Ice Caps, while Philip Samuelsson will join Carolina’s AHL-affiliate – the Charlotte Checkers – where his father, Ulf, is coach.
On Tuesday evening, Calgary Flames’ defenseman Dennis Wideman was a healthy scratch against the Nashville Predators, presumably because he is on the trade block. The 33-year old’s cap hit is $5.25 million and is set to expire at the end of this season. Thus, he is a clear rental option as well as an experienced veteran. There are several teams that could benefit from having Wideman in a deep playoff run. But, the first that comes to mind is Toronto. The Maple Leafs has had youth resurgence this season but what has allowed them to see the success they have thus far is a healthy mix of youth with still-young veterans in the forward units. However, the Leafs are severely lacking a top veteran presence patrolling the defensive zone. A player like Wideman could fit well in Toronto, especially because Calgary and Toronto play in different conferences. The question remains what the Leafs’ brass will be willing to part with in order to acquire Wideman. Perhaps, Brooks Laich, pending Laich’s clearing of waivers?
Calgary could possibly be the busiest squad within the next week. In addition to the Flames, the Avalanche, Coyotes, and other bottom-feeders could be busy as well. The hockey world will not doubt monitor closely, the location in which Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, and maybe Jaro Halak will end up. And of course, fans across the NHL will be shocked, appalled, excited, weary, proud, in distress, and any other emotion by the end of the day on March 1, 2017. Of course, I’ll be back to analyze the aftermath of this year’s trade deadline, and what the various moves mean as the NHL inches closer to the postseason. Until then, stay tuned…