We are now officially under one month away from the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. Teams are out scouting and trying to formulate their plans on how they’re going to approach the day. Conversations will be had. Then comes the ultimate decision. Which trades do they pull the trigger on?
As for the individual teams, everyone is in a different place. Some teams are clearly selling thinking about their future. Some teams need a little extra time before they decide which direction to go. Then there are others who have their sights on the Cup and are ready to go for it now.
With all these possibilities comes different kinds of pressure. Today, we will discuss the three teams that are under the most pressure to get this trade deadline right. Why are they under so much pressure? That’s because falling short is not a viable option for them. If they fall short, that could lead to some big changes to some key players on their team. Which three teams are under the most pressure? Read on.
Is this finally the year for the Avalanche? They better hope so because the price of doing business is going to go up significantly in the form of Nathan MacKinnon. His friendly contract has just one season left after this one.
MacKinnon is priorities one, two, three, four and five for the Avalanche when the time comes. Meanwhile, they have two cracks at the Cup with his $6.3 million cap hit in tact.
This season is as good as the Avalanche have looked in recent years. They have Darcy Kuemper playing out of his mind despite the 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday. Do they perhaps look at getting someone to play behind him? It’s an important decision especially in the event something crazy happens.
Nazem Kadri is enjoying a career year and leads the Avalanche in scoring. The usual suspects in Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog are producing as expected. But who is going to provide depth scoring if the top guns are slowed?
It’s obvious that the Avalanche are all-in. They have had good teams in recent seasons but have yet to show they can get over the top. That’s why this deadline means everything to them. Given that they are close to the cap as it is, they will have to be creative in order to find the right deal.
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Do they bring in a Claude Giroux-type player? Or do they focus on adding in other parts of their lineup? Regardless of how they choose to approach this, the next two years could prove to be painful in terms of who stays and who leaves because of MacKinnon’s next contract. Plus both Kuemper and Pavel Francouz are UFA after this season. A decision will have to be made about their future in net.
The Avalanche are comfortably in front in the Western Conference. Home-ice advantage would be huge for them. In order to secure that, they must make the right moves at this deadline. They have to prove they can slow down Vegas, Edmonton, Calgary, Minnesota and other top West contenders. It’s now or possibly never for this version of the Avalanche and it starts at the deadline.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Could this be the last of the Core Four as we know them? Maybe, especially if they experience another early playoff failure. Investing that much money in four players (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander) severely limits what can be done with the rest of the roster.
There’s no questioning how skilled the top players are. But has the time come to make the Core Four be comprised of three forwards and a top defenseman? Recent Cup winners suggest that it’s imperative to have a top defenseman on your team.
As is, the Maple Leafs will get a chance to silence their doubters and go on a deep playoff run. In order to do that though, they will have to be especially creative to make moves to improve their roster with the salary cap a huge hurdle.
Give GM Kyle Dubas credit. He’s already started making moves thinking of this season and next. Nick Ritchie is in Arizona and off their books while acquiring a depth defenseman in Ilya Lyubushkin. But there seems to be more coming.
There has to be more if they want to knock off the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Maple Leafs would play the Lightning in round one without home ice advantage. Oh boy.
The Maple Leafs are a must-watch team for that reason. They are feeling immense pressure to win now or else they might have to start breaking up their core. And then there’s the whole Matthews thing after his contract is up in 2024-25. It would be wise of the Maple Leafs to win in the next couple of seasons before we consider his run to UFA status.
Another playoff failure could lead to huge changes. They need to prioritize winning the Atlantic. A successful deadline could help them in that regard. But with the cap an issue and the Panthers with an eight-point lead, the Maple Leafs are in a difficult spot with a ton of pressure on them. This will be fascinating to watch.
And then we have the team with the best player in the world in Connor McDavid. That automatically puts the Oilers on this list. Every playoff failure only compounds the problem more. That’s another year of McDavid’s prime wasted.
So what will the Oilers’ approach be? Although they’ve been better since Jay Woodcroft took over the head coaching duties, he can’t play in net. Mike Smith got run in their most recent game against the Minnesota Wild. As good as McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are, the Oilers are as good as their goaltending allows them to be. Can they really allow a Smith/Mikko Koskinen tandem to start the playoffs?
GM Ken Holland cannot afford to sit back. He must find the right moves to get the Oilers in a position to make a deep run. Why are the Oilers on this list as having the most pressure? That’s because the noise about McDavid’s future will only get louder if they continue to fail in the playoffs.
That alone should ensure the proper level of desperation for the Oilers to make the right moves. They did add Evander Kane up front. But what will they do in net and with their depth? Who steps up when the stars are shut down? The heat is on to find the right combination of deadline moves.
If the playoffs were to begin today, they would play against the Golden Knights without home ice advantage. Can this current version of the Oilers win that series with this goaltending? While possible, it’s not likely. They better do something.
The countdown is on. The Avalanche, Maple Leafs and Oilers are facing a mountain of pressure. They must get the deadline right. Otherwise, their teams as we know them might have a much different look come 2022-23.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.