As we head into the final weeks before the NHL’s March 2nd trade deadline, the rumour mill has run amok with a plethora of scenarios, many of which have very little chance of coming true. There are two types of teams in this conversation. The Buyers are looking to improve their teams in hopes that they actually make the playoffs and go deep. Then there are the Sellers who are teams not heading for the playoffs, and will try to offload hefty contracts of under achievers, or obtain prospects or building components for players becoming UFAs at the end of the season and will not be resigned.
The Buyers will be wary of mortgaging away the team’s future by trading draft picks or young prospects to obtain a rental player to help them in their quest to hoist Lord Stanley in June. The Buyers must also keep in mind the Cap situation as they may not be able to re-sign UFA’s they obtain. The Cap plot thickens as the Loonie plummets. In the June 2014 League meetings, Gary Bettman estimated that the current 69M Cap would increase to 73M next season. In December Bettman stated that if the Loonie holds at .80 cents compared to the US buck, the Cap will be closer to 71M and possibly lower. This has a huge impact on the trade deadline, since many teams were counting on a 4M increase, and may now have no Cap space to work with.
Despite all the challenges, there will still be player movement in the next few weeks. Even though we have about 30 games left in the season, the playoff picture is starting to look pretty clear, particularly in the east.
The Arizona Coyotes have made it clear that they will be rebuilding next year, so we can expect them to be shopping some highly touted UFA’s such as Martin Erat, Zbynek Michalek, and Antoine Vermette. GM Don Maloney is looking for top prospects and high draft picks of course, so none of these players will come cheap. There is also a lot of interest in Keith Yandle, but the 28 year old two way defensemen with two years on his contract will likely cost a top prospect and a high draft pick.
The Edmonton Oilers who are competing for the first round draft pick once again, and have fans wearing bags over their heads and burning their jerseys will obviously be sellers. The Oilers need to move out some of their offensive talent and improve the second worst defense in the league. RFA Nail Yakupov and UFA Derek Roy are available for teams looking for a low cost scoring boost. UFA Jeff Petry is a solid defenseman who has no plans of resigning with Edmonton in July, so he is available for a high pick or prospect. Many think Jordan Eberle is also available for a first round pick. UFA Goaltender Viktor Fasth is also available however the only team with any interest may be the Minnesota Wild.
The Buffalo Sabres are having a dismal season and will be trying to improve their team by trading UFA forwards such as Chris Stewart, Drew Stafford, and Torrey Mitchell. Both goalies Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth are UFAs and will be available. There is a lot of interest in Tyler Myers but the Sabres see Myers as a cornerstone to rebuild the team around so it is highly unlikely he will move.
The Carolina Hurricanes will also be trading off some talent. Andrej Sekera the 28 year UFA defensemen, is a solid stay at home type, and would make a fine addition to any team looking for rearguard help in the playoffs. The Canes will also consider trading Cam Ward and his 6.7M salary with just one year left. The Wild may be interested in Ward, and they have the Cap space. If the Wild are looking like a playoff team as March approaches they could make an offer. Jiri Tlusty is another UFA that will not resign with the Canes in July, so look for him to move to a team that needs help at Center. There are rumours around Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but with 4 years left at 6.5M most teams don’t have the Cap space, and won’t be willing to pay the high price GM Don Maloney will want for Ekman-Larsson.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are having a disappointing season after last year’s impressive playoff performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Jordan Leopold is a 34 year old UFA in July, and will likely move to a team needing defensive help in the short term and will not have to pay a high price.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will definitely be selling after another inconsistent season they will miss the playoffs again. They may want to trade Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul but expensive long term contracts will make it very difficult to move these players. Dallas is interested in Phaneuf, but they would have to offload some Cap space. The Leafs will likely be able to move some of their UFAs like Santorelli, Winnik, and Franson. RFA Nazem Kadri may get moved as well, possibly to Nashville.
There are many teams looking for help on defense, starting with the Wings looking for a solid D man to support work horse Niklas Kronwall. The Montreal Canadiens could use some youth on defense to help out P.K. Subban and the cast of aging warriors like Gonchar, Markov, and Weaver. The current Montreal defensive corps cannot take them deep into the playoffs. Both teams will be looking at Franson, Michalek, Sekera, and possibly Jeff Petry. Other teams interested in Cody Franson are the Preds and Bolts.
The Ducks would like to strengthen their defense and improve their chances to make a run for the Stanley Cup. They have some Cap space available so they could make a move at someone like Dion Phaneuf. Colorado is another team in the market for a defenseman to fill in for injured Erik Johnson, but have no Cap space so it would have to be a rental player that they would lose in the summer like a Sekera or Michalek. Pittsburgh may try to improve their defense by going after Jeff Petry. With no Cap space the Pens would probably not be able to resign in the summer. The Pens are hungry to advance deep into the playoffs since that Stanley Cup they won is a distant memory now, and with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not getting any younger the time is now.
The list of teams looking for some more offensive juice going into the playoffs is led by the old foes Boston and Montreal. Both teams are fairly solid and have great goaltenders, but are hovering at about 130+ goals and are not exactly filling the net. Boston is interested in Chris Stewart, and Montreal is one of many teams looking at Antoine Vermette. Vermette is probably the most intriguing player at this trade deadline and with so many teams interested, the price will be high.
Vancouver is in a similar situation and is trying to work out a deal with the Leafs for Santorelli. Like any GM, Jim Benning wants to see his team in the playoffs, but realizes that this team will not go far, and they will not sacrifice young prospects or draft picks for a long shot.
Winnipeg appears to be playoff bound but with the sudden departure of Evander Kane, they are in need of a forward to fill his spot. Rumour has it they are looking at Leafs UFA Daniel Winnik, but will have to compete with the New York Islanders for him. Winnipeg would like to get rid of Kane, but will not be able to do so until the off season after Kane’s surgery is completed, and a proper evaluation can be done
There are rumours that the Calgary Flames could be interested in Mike Richards as they are on pace to make the playoffs with their best showing in a decade. The Flames have the Cap space and need a veteran with experience like Richards for their run. They would not have to give up future prospects; just pay the ~20M on his contract for the next 5 years. In order for this to work, the Kings would have to pay 30% of his salary. This is the only likely destination for Richards, and it could be a good fit for everyone.
The trade speculation is endless as we approach the deadline. We could see a flurry of activity in the upcoming weeks, and there may be very little action. The difference with past seasons is that in the Eastern Conference, the picture is much clearer, so rather than having just a handful of teams looking to sell, there could be as many as 7 in East and 2 or 3 in the West.