The NHL trade deadline is March 5, and for the 16 teams on the playoff bubble, this is the last opportunity to improve the roster with a marquee addition.
There haven’t been many deals made in the trade market this season, and one reason why is the lack of teams completely out of the playoff race. Teams are often reluctant to become sellers until close to the deadline because it waves the white flag and can anger the fanbase.
Here are four contending teams most in need of a trade.
The Penguins will easily win the Metropolitan division, but their depth on the blue line is a huge concern entering the playoffs. Veteran defenseman Paul Martin will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand and Kris Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke in January.
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero should make a move for a defenseman, and two good targets are Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers and Andrew MacDonald of the New York Islanders. Shero could dangle his 2014 first-round pick and defensemen prospects Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington to acquire this type of blue-liner.
The Penguins are in win-now mode and cannot afford to open the playoffs with a banged up blue line in front of an unreliable starting goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. Shero might also look for a left-winger to replace Pascal Dupuis, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Buffalo Sabres forward Matt Moulson would be a perfect fit in Dupuis’ spot alongside Sidney Crosby.
Los Angeles Kings
On paper, the Kings don’t look like a team that needs offense, but they are ranked 26th in goals scored and 27th in power-play percentage. Only three Kings players have more than 11 goals this season, and this lack of scoring has put L.A. on the edge of the playoff race.
Two players general manager Dean Lombardi should target are Islanders winger Thomas Vanek and Moulson. Both are quality goal scorers, excellent on the power play and would fill a top-six role. Moulson makes the most sense because of his team-friendly $3.13 million salary cap hit and the cost to acquire him would likely be less than Vanek.
Los Angeles has arguably the best goaltender in the world in Jonathan Quick and a blue line capable of playing dominant defense, but this team won’t beat the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks — the first and third-highest scoring teams in the NHL, respectively — in the Western Conference playoffs without adding more scoring depth.
The Wild hold a four-point lead over the Vancouver Canucks for the first wild-card playoff spot in the West, and with veteran goaltenders Josh Harding out indefinitely and Nicklas Backstrom nursing abdominal stiffness, Minnesota should target a netminder.
If the Wild want to make a major move, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller is an option. The Sabres goaltender has played well on a horrible team with 15 wins and an impressive .923 save percentage. He also has 47 games of playoff experience. Minnesota does have the assets needed to make a move for Miller, including the team’s 2014 first-round pick, as well as talented young players including Charlie Coyle, Johan Gustafsson and Jason Zucker.
A deal for New Jersey Devils veteran Martin Brodeur would be a less expensive move for Minnesota. Brodeur’s future in New Jersey is uncertain, but he may be asked to waive his no-trade clause.
Minnesota likely will play the Blackhawks or Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, and the Wild have no chance for an upset without a goaltending upgrade.
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit only has a 49.9 percent chance to make the playoffs, and given all of the injuries to key players this team has dealt with, general manager Ken Holland should make at least one move before the deadline.
The Red Wings could use additional scoring depth (they rank 19th in goals, 20th in power-play percentage), and Nashville center David Legwand might be a target. He would most likely be a rental as an upcoming UFA. According to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, the Red Wings are interested in Canucks center Ryan Kesler, but the asking price for the two-way forward is incredibly high.
Finding a top-four defenseman, preferably one to play alongside Niklas Kronwall, is another need for Detroit. Girardi and MacDonald would be the best targets for Holland. Both of them are defensive-minded players capable of killing penalties and logging 20-plus minutes against quality opponents. An offensive defenseman such as Vancouver’s Alex Edler, who’s signed through 2018-19, is another good option for Detroit.