It’s that time of year again. When the true identity of teams (and the management that makes them up) is defined by the moves they make on a lone day in February. The front runners will make their names heard loud and clear, the darkhorses will impress the analysts and a handful of teams will say, “better luck next year”. We call it the NHL Trade Deadline, and boy is it an exciting day.
The trade deadline has become a fan sensation, where NHL fans sit and watch analysts cover each move as it happens. Some years are busting at the seams with trades galore and others don’t live up to the hype, but each year people keep coming back. And month’s before the date arrives rumors begin flying about what the day will bring.
The trade deadline itself has an indirect result. It shows us that a growing salary cap situation and a league-wide shift towards younger, cheaper players has pushed the term “parity” to it’s hockey-based limits. Even those teams who seem eternally destined for the cellars of the NHL (like those poor Edmonton Oilers) are just so close to being a contender. Just take the Pacific Division for example: we’re closing in on the 50-game mark and the third seed in the division is being coveted by separated at most by just eight points. The right team’s win streak combined with another one missing even just one step can change the entire landscape of the playoff scene for that division.
The trade deadline can be that moment when a team catapults itself into a playoff spot through slick wheeling and dealing, dooms themselves by making unpredictably negative moves or staying neutral and watching the whole thing play out from afar.
So who will make a run at the cup this year? Who will continue with their full blown rebuilds? And what kinds of moves will those teams that are amidst a rebuild-on-the-fly make?
NHL Trade Deadline: Buyers
Montreal Canadiens (24-20-4) 4th in Atlantic Division, 4th in Wildcard Race
A 9-0 start to the season was abruptly derailed by the non-entity Vancouver Canucks of all teams. Since that start the team has gone 15-20-4. They’ve been surpassed quickly by the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings and fighting with their arch rivals the Boston Bruins for that final divisional spot. If there was ever a time in Montreal to make get-rich-quick move… now’s the time. The team has struggled immensely to create consistent offense. They’ve won just three of their last ten games and Carey Price could be out long term… again… or still… or however you want to phrase it.
The Habs would most likely be in the mix for some forward scoring depth or even possibly a veteran goaltender to help bridge the gap until Price’s undisclosed return date. Without a veteran goalie the Habs playoff chances continue to dwindle. Compatible trade partners that the Canadiens could realistically approach include the Vancouver Canucks (Radim Vrbata, Alex Burrows or Chris Higgins), San Jose Sharks (Patrick Marleau) or the Winnipeg Jets (Andrew Ladd, Drew Stafford). If the Canadiens were to seek out a veteran goaltender their options are limited. In Vancouver Ryan Miller would be available for the right price but his $6 million salary would create a problem for Montreal. Jonathan Bernier would probably be made available but would he be an upgrade from the current situation in Quebec?
Anaheim Ducks (21-18-7) 5th in Pacific Division, 5th in Wildcard Race
The story above about how the Canadiens came rocketing out of the start gates is the complete opposite for in Anaheim. For the Ducks, this season almost turned ugly, really ugly, really quickly. The Ducks, who were off-season favorites to hoist the 2016 Stanley Cup, began their season with nine losses in ten games. They’ve picked up their winning a bit but their scoring has remained essentially anemic. They’ve managed just 95 goals for… the lowest total in the NHL. That’s a group of forwards that contains Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano and David Perron. It’s a group that had speedster Carl Hagelin for half a year before ending their experiment with him in favor of Perron. For whatever reason (there’s a sneaking suspicion it’s the coaching) this group just can’t score.
So the Ducks, who are faced with the task of turning around a frightening start to the season and are desperate for points right now, are in the market to get better. That’s for sure. The team could target Toronto for a player like James Van Riemsdyk, Shawn Matthias or Brad Boyes. The other team’s that might interest Anaheim’s needs would be division rivals Vancouver, who have already sent Kevin Bieksa and Kesler to SoCal. Radim Vrbata or Alex Burrows could do wonders on the team’s brutal scoring record.
Ottawa Senators (23-20-6) 6th in Atlantic Division, 5th in Wildcard Race
The Sens are the verge of the playoffs. Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson have been incredible for them. But they lack depth. Ottawa could very well be a team that makes the playoffs and makes unexpected noise, much like they did just a few years ago. In order to do so they will need to make some moves. The team has defender Jared Cowen, who’s been mentioned previously in trade rumors as bait and would need to bolster both their offense and defense.
Florida Panthers (28-15-5) 1st in Atlantic Division
Don’t fix what ain’t broke…right? Well here’s the one loophole in that. Why not continue to maintain something that’s working so smoothly so that if you ever hit a bump in the future you’re prepared for it. Florida is winning. And they’re not stopping. Their 12-game win streak set NHL records and after a short slide they’ve won two in a row. That makes 14 wins in their last 18 games. So again, you’re asking why would Florida make any moves?
Jaromir Jagr is the leading scorer in Florida…at age 43. The young group of talented forwards has come together nicely this year but Florida’s weakness is their lack of veteran depth. For the Panthers there is a prime partner – the Vancouver Canucks – who seem to be in the mix for just about everyone in this article… anyways Vancouver has some pieces (Vrbata, Burrows and Weber) who would compliment Florida’s game plan.
NHL Trade Deadline: Sellers
Winnipeg Jets (21-24-3) 7th in Central Division, 7th in Wildcard Race
Where to begin with the Winnipeg Jets. The anticipation of an NHL team making it’s way back to Winnipeg was incredible. The MTS Centre sells out every night and people are passionate about being Jets fans. But the team itself… it’s a broken record. They’ve stuck with the same corps of players regardless of getting stomped in the playoffs last year. They have’t spent the money to bring in any big names or new blood and really can’t find their way out of the rut they’re in.
For guys like Andrew Ladd, Drew Stafford, Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler the situation must be getting frustrating, and with all of those players being near or already in their 30’s the time for them to compete for a Stanley Cup is now. There are a handful of teams that need veteran forward help (Montreal and Florida). Each one of those players would add a strong secondary scoring shell for their new team.
Toronto Maple Leafs (17-20-9) 7th in Atlantic Division, 8th in Wildcard Race
The rebuild is on in Toronto whether the club fully acknowledges it or not. The Maple Leafs have little chance at making the post-season this year and so now’s finally the time to shed any contracts they don’t want. They’ve got veterans Joffrey Lupul, Brad Boyes, Michael Grabner and Shawn Matthias who are all veteran forwards that could help a team looking for depth. On the back end Roman Polak and Dion Phaneuf are both aging defenders who would be welcome additions on playoff competitive teams.
The assets that Toronto has, other than the two veteran defensemen, wouldn’t attract a huge return, but the team could collect a handful of picks in the next few drafts that would give them even more organizational depth rather than risk losing a most of those players to free agency this summer.
Vancouver Canucks (20-18-11) 4th in Pacific Division, 4th in Wildcard Race
Perhaps the most interesting situation on this entire list is in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the Canucks have somehow remained competitive for a playoff spot with a massive amount of youth on their roster. Some would argue that the team is so close to a playoff berth that they should be considered buyers not sellers, some would argue the opposite. The reality is that Benning is not going to part with his prospects or young players. Not a chance. His vets though… he’s keeping an open mind.
35-year-olds Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows would both attract serious interest from playoff teams like Florida, New York, Detroit etc. Ryan Miller might be an (expensive) answer to a team in need of goaltending for the stretch run. Powerplay specialist Yannick Weber could fill a small role with a playoff team like Anahiem who needs offense and Dan Hamhuis could be the silent leader that a squad like Pittsburgh needs.
Then there’s Brandon Prust and Matt Bartkowski who both have expiring contracts and haven’t impressed in their short time with Vancouver. The Canucks have all sorts of players who could made available. Prepare for another huge shift in Vancouver. The team is historically quiet at the NHL trade deadline but this year might be different.
Who do you think are buyers and sellers at this year’s NHL trade deadline? Do you think it will be a busy day! We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.