The NHL trade deadline is six days away, and there appear to be more buyers than sellers.
This has become typical in today’s league, with the three-point system keeping more teams in the playoff race. There are three teams within four points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conferece, and one such team in the Western Conference.
Teams currently in a postseason position also will be looking to make roster upgrades to improve their playoff standing. Let’s face it, no one wants to play the Washington Capitals or defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1.
Let’s take a look at some of the notable buyers and sellers leading up to the Feb. 29 deadline.
Place: 2nd in Pacific
The Ducks are in an interesting spot. They are one of the league’s most talented and hottest teams with an 18-2-1 record since Jan 1. Now is the time to go all-in, but the Ducks also have plenty of talented young players who make a positive impact now and will make a more profound one in the coming seasons. Anaheim general manager Bob Murray must balance going for the Stanley Cup in 2016 with making sure he has enough depth to compete long-term.
The Ducks also are in a unique position on the blue line. They’re one of the few teams that don’t need a top-four D-man and have a few blueliners to trade, giving them a strong position in the market. Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm both are restricted free agents in the summer and could each command $5 million or more annually in their next contract. One of them could be dealt for a top-six forward.
2013 first-round pick Shea Theodore, who’s played well after making his NHL debut this season, also could be dangled for a forward upgrade.
Anaheim might not do anything given its recent success, but Murray still should try to improve a team that’s lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champs in each of the past two postseasons.
Place: 4th in Metropolitan
The Penguins, like the Ducks, have been red-hot in the New Year. Pittsburgh is 12-5-4 since Jan. 1, and Sidney Crosby’s uptick in scoring is the primary reason why. The Penguins captain has tallied 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists) in those 21 games and now ranks eighth in the NHL in scoring. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is having a good season with a .921 save percentage.
Pittsburgh’s scoring improvement, Fleury’s consistent play in net and the Pens’ league-best score-adjusted puck possession rate over the last 25 games could make this team a really tough out in Round 1 of the playoffs.
The Penguins must upgrade their bottom-six forwards, though. There’s very little scoring depth in this group. A veteran defenseman capable of logging 20-plus minutes and killing penalties would be ideal, too. Pittsburgh lacks playoff experience on its blue line.
St. Louis Blues
Place: 2nd in Central
The Blues’ road to the Stanley Cup Final almost certainly will include series with the Dallas Stars and the Blackhawks, which should automatically make them buyers. St. Louis is an excellent team, but it doesn’t have the scoring depth (23rd in goals scored per game) to overcome teams like Dallas and Chicago that have three or four lines that can fill the net..
The Blues have been aggressive at previous deadlines, so there’s no reason for them to stand pat this time, particularly since injuries to top-six winger Alex Steen and goalie Brian Elliott are testing the team’s depth.
Prospects and young players at the NHL and AHL levels such as Ivan Barbashev, Robby Fabbri, Ty Rattie and Jordan Schmaltz could be dangled for the right player. St. Louis also owns its first-round pick this summer and next summer, which gives it extra ammo to make a move.
Other buyers: Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, Florida, Boston, Tampa Bay, New York Rangers, New York Islanders
Toronto Maple Leafs
Place: 3rd in Atlantic
The Leafs are for sale. Toronto has acquired multiple players, prospects and draft picks by trading defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Roman Polak over the last few weeks, and we should expect that trend to continue.
Toronto also has veterans and pending unrestricted free agents such as P.A. Parenteau, Daniel Winnik, Tyler Bozak, Matt Hunwick and James Reimer to consider moving for future assets.
The Leafs have done well in their rebuild so far and already own 12 picks in the 2016 draft, including two selections in five of the seven rounds.
Place: 6th in Pacific
The Flames have come crashing down this season after reaching the Western Conference semifinals in 2015, just as the analytics community predicted. Calgary’s chances of earning a wild-card berth this campaign are very slim, as it’s 11 points out. So, it makes more sense to sell pending UFAs for draft picks and prospects.
The most notable players in that group are defenseman Kris Russell, right winger David Jones and center Jiri Hudler. Even if the Flames want to re-sign Russell, giving him up now for assets and then signing him in the summer is the smartest plan.
Place: 5th in Pacific
The Canucks are eight points out of a wild-card spot and are trending in the wrong direction with a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games.
The best plan is to sell, particularly pending UFAs such as top-six right winger Radim Vrbata and top-four defenseman Dan Hamhuis. Any team hoping to upgrade its right wing depth should inquire about Vrbata, who’s been a proven goal scorer for many years. Hamhuis would have to waive the no-trade clause in his contract to be moved.
That said, judging by general manager Jim Benning’s lengthy list of bad trades despite his short time in the position, Canucks fans might want their team to just do nothing at the deadline.
Other sellers: Buffalo, Arizona, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, maybe Philadelphia
Thumbnail photo viaAaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images. Salary info via General Fanager.
Thumbnail photo via Feb 11, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (15) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
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