NHL Trade Deadline Preview: Teams and players to watch
Our NHL expert, Chris Peters, picks out the teams and players likely to be active ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
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The NHL trade deadline is going to be different this year, just like everything else. It’s going to be difficult for teams to make deals, but the movement that we’ve seen already across the league suggests that general managers are still going to be active in their quest to either sell off pieces to help gain some future assets, or to fortify a playoff-bound team.
The flat salary cap in the NHL has made it harder for a lot of teams to make deals considering so many are already tight to the cap. Most deals have to be dollars in and dollars out in terms of the contracts teams can take on, and there seems to be way more sellers than there are buyers at the moment.
One of the greatest weapons any team can have right now is salary cap space. Teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs are among those that don’t have a whole lot of wiggle room and would have to move contracts out in order to make a deal to improve. That makes it really difficult for each of them to be active at this point, but it’s not impossible.
One other wrinkle that is challenging is going to be Canadian teams’ unwillingness to add players from the American side of the border. Players who get traded still have to sit out in quarantine for at least a week in most provinces, two in others. It doesn’t leave much time for those players to make a regular-season impact, but if the Canadian clubs are patient enough, they might be able to land someone that can help in the playoffs.
The Florida Panthers swung a deal this week with the Chicago Blackhawks to free up some cap space, so it’s not impossible to create some wiggle room. The New York Islanders also made a substantial trade, taking advantage of some of the space freed up by players on long-term injured reserve. As a result they got both Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils to provide veteran help to their roster.
Those two deals in particular have really kicked us off for what could be a late flurry of activity before we reach Monday’s deadline.
Here’s a look at some teams to watch and players that could be moved ahead of Monday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Taylor Hall | F | Buffalo Sabres
The former MVP has not had a great season in Buffalo, but he remains an effective scoring option for a team looking for help down the wing.
The Sabres are starting to turn things around a little bit, but the best thing they can do for the long-term health of the franchise is to get something for Hall now. With an $8m cap hit, it’s not the easiest contract to move.
Buffalo is said to be requesting a first-round draft pick in any deal for Hall, but given his performance this season and that cap hit, it may be hard to achieve that return.
David Savard | D | Columbus Blue Jackets
Veteran defensemen are always a high-value asset as we near the trade deadline. Savard is a big, physical right-shot defenseman who can give a team solid minutes with a $4.25m cap hit.
Contenders could potentially line up for his services, which gives Columbus a little more leverage in trade negotiations. If they can get a few teams to bid on Savard, they’ll have their best chance at getting a significant enough return to make the deal.
Nick Foligno | C | Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets are in sell mode it appears, and their captain could be one of the guys that goes elsewhere.
Foligno is a good two-way player, but his production is on the downswing. He can still help a contender, but Foligno also has a modified no-trade clause and can block a deal to as many as 10 teams, which could limit the Blue Jackets’ options.
Ryan Murray | D | New Jersey Devils
After selling off Palmieri and Zajac, GM Tom Fitzgerald has another attractive trade chip in Murray, who has been a reliable defenseman when healthy. He just hasn’t been healthy very often.
Murray is on an expiring deal and would be a reasonably-priced rental for a contender that needs to beef up their blue line depth.
David Rittich | G | Calgary Flames
Having a reliable backup has become such a necessity for teams right now. Rittich has only been okay this season and at some times below average. But there aren’t a ton of goaltenders out there that are going to be readily available. Rittich looks like he should be as Calgary dwindles out of the playoff race.
He’s a veteran who can be a decent spot starter, but it’s not exactly the most inspiring kind.
Johnny Gaudreau | LW | Calgary Flames
The Flames really should be sellers at this point and it seems like they’ve been rumored so long to be mulling breaking up their core.
The guy who could fetch the best return is probably Gaudreau who, if moved, would add a lot more spice to the trade deadline. I don’t think it’s likely he gets moved, but he’s the one I’d be trying to pry away at the deadline.
He still has another year left on his contract with a $6.75m cap hit, but now could be the time to take advantage of Calgary’s plight and make a splash.
BUYERS TO WATCH:
One of the most surprising teams of the season to date, the Panthers are currently in the thick of a very tight race for the top spot in the Central Division.
After losing top defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a devastating leg injury a few weeks ago, they’ve got some clear needs to address. Additionally, moving out Brett Connolly’s contract to Chicago gave them even more flexibility to make an addition.
They could use another scoring option, but it would not be surprising to see them fortify their blue line more with Ekblad done for the season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
They’d have to get creative to make a deal, but the Leafs could afford to bolster their lineup.
They’ve been rumored to be looking most closely for some scoring help, but they’ve got limited cap space to make such a deal happen. They’d have to move some money out to make it work, but Kyle Dubas has not been shy about taking swings.
It's hard to view this team as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in its current construction. They’re perhaps as close as they’ve ever been and a deal could help put them over the top.
Based on their cap situation, they may need to get a third team involved in any trade that can help eat some cap space for them.
SELLERS TO WATCH:
St. Louis Blues
It’s hard to believe they’re in this position, but the Blues have a chance to collect some assets by shipping out any number of expiring contracts on their roster.
Mike Hoffman seems destined to go if the Blues can find any takers, but others like Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak and Vince Dunn all could be potential options to trade out and net a pretty solid return for the 2019 Stanley Cup champions.
Doug Armstrong is a pretty callous GM when it comes to swinging deals and won’t be looking for anything less than a top return for anything he lets out the door.
Detroit Red Wings
The rebuilding Wings don’t have a ton of pieces that teams are going to be clamoring for, but they have veterans that could potentially collect them some picks.
Luke Glendening is a depth center that provides solid defensive play and should be able to be had for a pretty reasonable price for the acquiring team, while veterans like Bobby Ryan and goalie Jonathan Bernier who could potentially help beef up a contender.
The Wings also have the great weapon of cap space to potentially work as a third party for cap-strapped teams while acquiring draft picks or prospects on along the way.
A few weeks ago, the Preds looked like they’d be a deadline seller, but now they’re in a playoff spot in the Central and surging as a group. David Poile has been a GM for a long time and he knows the window for him to win a Stanley Cup is narrowing.
The Preds are kind of in limbo at the moment because you want to keep contending, but I don’t think there are a lot of deals out there that would make sense for them.
It’s probably best to just ride the roster they have and see if this late-season surge can continue into the postseason.
This is another one of those teams that’s in limbo where it could go either way for them.
The Coyotes have a ton of veterans on expiring deals that could net them some draft picks, but I would understand if they want to just ride it out and see if they can get into the playoffs and make a little noise.
There’s not much to suggest this team would last long in the postseason, though, so they’re not a serious enough contender to be a buyer, but they’re in the race just enough to not really be a seller.
It’s not a comfortable place for a first-year GM in Bill Armstrong, but reaching the postseason could mean a great deal to the club’s younger players and its current ownership group.
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