Trade deadline season is upon us. That means lots of time for fun and speculation about “who goes where” heading into another playoff push. Teams are always trying to get better and there are always lots of pieces up for grabs. This season’s flat salary cap situation is going to make trades a lot more difficult, but that doesn’t mean moves won’t happen, just that general managers will have to get a little creative to make things work.
One of the interesting pieces in the lead-up to the deadline is Columbus Blue Jackets’ defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. The 27-year-old is in the prime of his career. He tends to make his presence known by using his 6-foot-3 and around 220-pound frame to keep opposing forwards at bay. The solid defensive defenseman showed he can score too, setting a career-high in points last season with 33. He’s also a glue guy in the locker room, beloved by fans and teammates alike. All of this to say, there is rightfully going to be a significant amount of interest in him.
Before we get too deep in the weeds here, my stance is that in trading Gavrikov the Blue Jackets would be losing a gigantic part of their locker room in a way that could cause damage to overall morale. However, if you look at their already crowded defense corps, their significant number of A-list defensive prospects, and his expiring contract, there is an argument to be made that Gavrikov should be used as trade bait by the Blue Jackets. Let’s look at some teams that should have an interest in the Russian defender.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ perpetual need for a top-four defenseman strikes again. Some salary cap flexibility has come about with Jake Muzzin out of the picture for the forseeable future. That gives them the chance to go and add something of value at the deadline.
The blue line should be a priority since Muzzin’s absence coupled with the recent injury to Morgan Rielly has really shown how thin they are on defense. While Gavrikov doesn’t bring the sky-high ceiling of Jakob Chychrun, I would argue he has just as high of a floor. Since Gavrikov joined the Blue Jackets he’s been a steady and reliable member of the top-four which is all that the Leafs really need from a defenseman. They have more than enough star power up front to keep their offense rolling.
Now where Gavrikov brings more to the table is the size of his cap hit. Currently at the bargain price of $2.8 million, he is a prime candidate to be sold as a rental. That low number would be beneficial to the Leafs – who should be trying to swing for the fences. With all of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander set for unrestricted free agency in the next 2-3 years, if they want to win with this core they’ve got to do it now. Adding Gavrikov over a higher-priced defender allows them to address their backend but still have enough cap space to look for help at other positions.
Similar to the Maple Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers are not bereft of high-end offensive talent. We saw last season that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl alone are capable of carrying them to the Western Conference Final. What they need is some defensive stability to be able to hold off other offensive teams.
Stuart Skinner’s emergence as a legitimate NHL goalie inspires some confidence from a goaltending perspective and Jack Campbell can’t really be as bad as he’s played through the first half of this season, can he? Give the defensive corps another legitimate top-four defenseman and I would expect to see an even better showing from each of those netminders. Enter Gavrikov.
Gavrikov’s presence on the Oilers’ blue line instantly makes them better. Slot him on the second pairing with Tyson Barrie and you’ve got the potential for some magic. It also allows Brett Kulak to slide down to a third-pairing role – where he is far better suited. You could even try pairing Gavrikov with Evan Bouchard to see if that kickstarts the young defenseman, who has had a slow start to the year.
Related: Blue Jackets & Oilers Can Be Partners on a Blockbuster Trade
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I wrote an entire article on why the Blue Jackets and Oilers should connect to make a big trade and it doesn’t just involve Gavrikov. In it, I argue they should consider packaging another piece with him for an even bigger return for both squads. So many factors make these teams’ fit each other like puzzle pieces that would make them great trade partners at this year’s trade deadline.
The wild card race in the Western Conference is going to be a tight one. One of the teams that are in the hunt and could probably use a little help staying there is the Minnesota Wild. They’ve been hot, winning eight of their last ten games, but could use some reinforcements.
Looking at the left side of their defense, it’s not an inspiring trio of Jonas Brodin, Jacob Middleton, and Jon Merrill. It doesn’t help that father time seems to have finally caught up with Alex Goligoski who was counted on for some added depth. Add Gavrikov into the mix and there is a solid top-four in him, Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, and Matthew Dumba.
There are a few reasons why this works. Financially, the Wild don’t have a ton of room to play with considering how much dead cap they have from the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts. Also if Minnesota is able to re-sign Gavrikov he could be a decent replacement for Dumba, whom many believe to be on his way out the door.
However, there are a few things that work against the Wild buying Gavrikov. First, over the last couple of seasons the Wild have shown an incredible ability to play greater than the sum of their parts. So it would not surprise me if they opted out of this deal simply because they didn’t want to tinker with the locker room chemistry. The other thing is that Minnesota is a couple of bad weeks away from being a substantial seller at the deadline. They are still building their team of the future and if they fall significantly out of a playoff spot by March 3, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them sell more assets than they buy heading into the last leg of the season.
With the trade deadline looming, one of the top defensemen on the market is Gavrikov. There are a plethora of teams that should be interested in him. It is going to take a lot to pry him from Ohio but these three teams could make an offer that the Blue Jackets simply can’t refuse.