As the March 2nd trade deadline nears, speculation will increase to an unintelligible cacophony. While many fans are on the edge of their seats awaiting a blockbuster trade involving stars, prospects and picks, moves of this grandeur seem more and more unlikely in this cap-era NHL. Come this deadline however, there might be deals made that could see two NHL captains, an ageless Jaromir Jagr and possibly most of the Edmonton Oilers roster looking for real estate agents. Teams expected to be busy are the Calgary Flames, who’ve got some cap space and the Philadelphia Flyers, who need to patch holes in their defence. Other teams like the Boston Bruins might be forced to move secondary pieces out of necessity just to dump salary.
Whether they’re a playoff bubble team or a team looking to pick up a rental for the post-season, everyone is hoping to make a move, a move that will elevate their team to the next level. Oh, yes, it’s going to get loud as the date approaches this year seeing as it’s going to take a herculean effort to dethrone the reigning Stanley Cup champions despite their struggles. The Los Angeles Kings who are looking at taking the hardware home three times in four years. While they're currently on the bubble, nobody would want to face them in the postseason.
Could a move or two this year lift a bootstrap team to elite status? Or will we see a perennial contender handicap its future by picking up a terrible contract in hopes of short gains?
Either way, in a month from now, the debate will have quieted and it won't be long before the postseason will start and those moves will be put to the test.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs
Since firing head coach Randy Carlyle earlier this year and now on a 9-game losing streak fans are screaming for a yard sale. The team has won just one game since Carlyle's dismissal; yikes.
It looks like management will be heeding their call come trade deadline and it looks like the only player safe is Morgan Rielly. The Leafs are in an odd spot at the moment: Do they blow the roster up and start another rebuild for a third time in a decade or do they move pieces of their core and hope Cup contention is two or three years away? They will answer that question with whether they move Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf. If they move Phaneuf, who could find himself a spot on the Dallas Stars, the Leafs are doing some major tweaking, but tweaking none-the-less. If they get rid of Kessel, the Leafs are saying they won't have a cup-contending team while no.81 is in his prime.
They could move both pieces, but that seems unlikely. However, the Leafs have other pieces they should deal such as Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and James Reimer. The word for sometime now is that the Colorado Avalanche have been in talks with Toronto over Ryan O’Reilly. The Avs might be interested in Phaneuf so there could be a potential package where the leafs trade both their captain and Lupul or Bozak for a O’Reilly and a Tyson Barrie or a Erik Johnson. It would be interesting to see Phaneuf back on the same team as Jerome Iginla as rumour has it they didn’t get along too well when they played together in Calgary.
9. St. Louis Blues
For the past two years the St. Louis Blues have been sleeper favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Both times, they were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. So this year fans and critics alike have been understandably reticent to name the Blues, who are near the top of the league with 68 points, as potential contenders. If they were in the Eastern Conference they would stand a much better chance of going the distance in the postseason.
Unfortunately for them, they are in the West and predictions say they look to face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. If they want to advance, they are going to need to strengthen their secondary scoring with a veteran depth forward, preferably a left-winger who can play on any of the four lines. Only a couple names come up in this conversation, however, but the Blues might be able to score either a Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs or a Antoine Vermette of the Arizona Coyotes. Both players have been said to be on the chopping block for sometime now and either could probably be acquired for a serviceable Chris Porter and a second round draft pick.
8. Nashville Predators
A team running four lines generally has eight wingers and four centers. The Preds tend to like to be a little more unorthodox than most and have seemingly done away with right wingers all together and opted for no less than 10 potential centers and five left wingers. it seems to have worked out for them so far as they currently sit first in the NHL with 70 points.
However, in this cap-era NHL, centers come at a premium and Nashville could do well by shipping off some of its older stock such as Olli Jokinen, Matt Cullen and Derek Roy for serviceable wingers. Teams looking for veterans to help strengthen their playoff run could use a Jokinen, however it’s doubtful the Preds would trade with anyone in the West. From the looks of it the Ottawa Senators, who have the third youngest roster in the league, could use some veteran presence to tutor some of their young potential. Any package consisting of the Sens’ right wingers Mark Stone and/or Erik Condra for Roy and/or Jokinen might be a win-win if the Preds eat some salary in the transaction.
3 Philadelphia Flyers
Vinny. He wants to move and the Flyers want to move him. Vincent Lecavalier isn’t the player he once was, but he’s still got a scoring touch if he can stay healthy. That’s a big if, though. He does have the experience and talent to help a team in a playoff run. The Flyers will probably have to eat some of his salary, though they should probably do their best not to, seeing as they face impending cap issues once forward Kimmo Timonen returns to the lineup.
If they do make a move they should try to get a solid defenceman back to strengthen their middling blueline. There is the possibility of a Mike Green of the Washington Capitals for Vinny. The Flyers could make it a package of Luke Schenn, Brayden Coburn, and Nicklas Grossman for a stay-at-home defender or even a second-round pick.
2 New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are old. At an average 30 years of age, they are the oldest team in the league, which could very well be the product of lukewarm drafting the past few years. That said, they are also sitting with a -25 goal differential that they can expect to be around for sometime. The Devils have fired a coach, having once chased a playoff spot to entering the Connor McDavid lottery.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello has let it been known for awhile now that forwards Steve Bernier, Michael Ryder and defenceman Peter Harrold have been made available, but it looks like he has added Jagr to that list as well. Though he has voiced that he wants to stay in New Jersey, Jagr, who becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, understands that he might be on the way out. Word is Lou is out shopping and a team that might be interested in some of his aged wares is the Winnipeg Jets who might be interested in a veteran that could help them advance in their playoff run. The Jets might be interested in moving young defenceman Adam Lowry for Jagr but the Devils might require a pick to make the move as well seeing that the future hall-of-famer is essentially a rental. Other possibilities for Jagr include returns to Boston or Pittsburgh.
5. Calgary Flames
While the other Alberta team is lowering the lifeboats, the rebuilding Calgary Flames might make a move to enter the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Currently sitting with over $19 million in cap space, Brian Burke has been quoted as saying that, “we are budgeted as a full-cap team,” meaning that they are looking to hit that financial ceiling.
From the season the Carolina Hurricanes are having, they might be a good place for Burkie to go shopping. For the playoff push, Eric Staal might be a great, albeit an expensive pickup, if they can package some picks with a top-six forward for the Canes’ captain. His contract expires at the end of next season, so if he works out, Calgary could negotiate down Staal’s huge salary or trade him next year.
4. Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have spent themselves into a tight corner. They have the fourth least amount of cap space. Their play has improved and they will likely make the playoffs, but that lack of cap space prevents them from picking up a free agent, or retaining salary in a trade. And for more figures they only have 2.64 goals per game, which is 21st in the league.
The word on the street is that GM Peter Chiarelli is looking to make some moves on offence. Unfortunately for the Bruins, little could equal what Johnny Boychuk or Jarome Iginla brought to the squad last season in terms of scoring. However, something should be done. The rumor mill suggests the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres could be looking for some more draft picks (those the Bruins got in the Boychuk trade) in exchange for winger Chris Stewart, who at the moment appears to be highly sought after. This would be a good move for both teams as the Bruins would receive a winger for their third line that they desperately need and the Sabers receive potential for the future.
3. Dallas Stars
From the onset of the 2014-15 NHL season, the Dallas Stars were expected to be the new scoring juggernauts in the NHL. Having added Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to an already formidable team led by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen in net, Dallas seemed mighty scary. However, the numbers so far this season show a team that can’t keep the puck out of their own net.
Sitting at 27th in goals against with 159 and 27th in goals against per game at a 3.22 average, many want to oust Lehtonen from between the posts. Not a bad idea to dump the inconsistent netminder, but on whom? This year, as was last year, is not a year for dealing in goalies. At $5.9 million a year, they’d have to package him and retain salary, which depending on how much, they might be able to do, though chances are slim.
However, if they are going to make a move for a playoff spot, they are going to have to make a move now. Murmurs suggest that they are looking to shore up their defence, and rightly so. Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf has swirled around the Stars recently, but a trade there is unlikely for at least the foreseeable future.
1 Florida Panthers
The return of Roberto Luongo has been huge for the Big Cats. Since being traded from Vancouver in March of last year, he has taken the Panthers from 29th in goals against to 19th.
Where the Panthers haven’t improved though couldn’t be helped by Luongo, and has persisted since last season: They can’t seem to buy a goal. This matters less the more you can prevent them from going into your net, but at the end of the day, scoring wins you games. The Panthers are losing ground on the Bruins and Capitals, who occupy the final two wildcard spots. They sure could use some firepower. A good place to look would be the Edmonton Oilers who desperately need a change. They could possibly pick their pocket of a Nail Yakupov or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Florida could probably get away with it for a package that contained a pick, prospect and maybe an aging first-liner like Brad Boyes.
1. Edmonton Oilers
The firing of Dallas Eakins will not be enough to right this franchise. It was arguably the wrong move to make, though the impetus for change was correct. From the murmurs coming out of the dressing room, the Oilers have been mentally broken for sometime and they need to bring in new bodies, not only to cleanse the team’s palate of self-pity, but to create a sense of hope.
Management is going to have to trade some of its former number one picks like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov. Any move they make will likely be below market value. Unfortunately, that might be the only thing this team can do to vent its dressing room from the stench of losing. Who will score these sought-after players? It could be anyone’s guess. The rumors say they are looking to acquire for every position and that no one on the team is safe (though Hall seems like he is probably staying in Edmonton). They could look to Toronto for goalie James Reimer who is often said would look good back with former Leaf teammate Ben Scrivens, possibly in a package including aging Joffrey Lupul for Yakupov and picks. But that is one of numerous possibilities this team needs to be considering and pursuing.
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