NHL trade deadline buzz: Goalie market, Penguins-Caps moves among hot topics

ByEmily Kaplan ESPN logo
Friday, February 23, 2024

We're two weeks away from the NHL trade deadline, which means conversations are dialed up and trades can happen at any moment. Here's the latest on what I'm hearing on discussions going on around the league.

THE GOALIE MARKET is simmering, though I still don't think all of the goalie-needy teams are going to end up with goaltending insurance at the deadline. For example, the Oilers seem comfortable riding it out with Stuart Skinner, shifting their focus to impact forwards and defensemen. The Montreal Canadiens seem poised to move Jake Allen. I've heard theNashville Predatorscould trade Juuse Saros. The time to strike on a Saros deal might be now, as top Preds prospect Yaroslav Askarov is tearing it up in the AHL (.920 save percentage, 2.12 GAA and 4 shutouts in 27 games).

AJacob Markstrom-to-New Jersey deal got so close, I'm told Markstrom didn't think he'd leave the area when the Flames were on a New York/New Jersey road trip earlier this month. It fell through, but I think the Devils are still aggressively looking at options, and Saros could be one of them. GM Tom Fitzgerald has full power from ownership to do anything he can to make the team better. Goaltending is the obvious need, even though 23-year-old Nico Daws has helped stabilize the situation lately. But an impact defenseman is also key as the Devils are vulnerable and inexperienced without top blueliner Dougie Hamilton.

The goalie everyone is curious about is Marc-Andre Fleury. Right now, he's not on the market. If there's any realistic chance of the Wild making the playoffs at the trade deadline, Fleury isn't going anywhere. Fleury and Wild GM Bill Guerin are extremely close, having won a Stanley Cup together as teammates in Pittsburgh. Guerin is going to do right by Fleury, and both of them want it to work out in Minnesota. But if the Wild are hopelessly out of the race -- say, 12, 13 points out of a spot -- the conversation changes. Fleury has not missed the playoffs in 17 straight seasons, a streak he takes pride in. Fleury is a fierce competitor and wants to win again. But he also wants to play, so it would have to be the exact right situation for him to agree to a deal. I'm told he's not going anywhere to be a cheerleader and sit as the designated backup. Fleury wants starts. We'll see how it shakes out, but it sounds like it would take an exact set of dominos to fall for Fleury to finish out the season in another jersey.

STEVE YZERMAN IS perhaps the most secretive general manager in the league. He won't even publicly (and for all I know privately) put a timeframe on the Red Wings' rebuild. However, in talking to sources around the league, it sounds like Yzerman is focused on making the playoffs this season, capitalizing on a strong first half.

Coach Derek Lalonde had told me what a gut punch it was for the players at this time last season when management decided yet again to collect for the future, trading away Tyler Bertuzzi, Filip Hronek, Oskar Sundqvist and Jakub Vrana. I was surprised, then, a few weeks ago when I heard that David Perron, a pending UFA and an emotional leader in the locker room, was potentially on the move. I do think there were legitimate discussions about trading Perron, but they have since quieted. In fact, I believe a contract extension for Perron could be in play either right before or after the March 8 deadline. If it doesn't get done, don't be surprised if they re-engage over the summer on a potential new contract in Detroit.That said, Yzerman has been listening to offers on his defensemen

THE PANTHERS HAVEemerged as the best team in the Eastern Conference. The players have bought into Paul Maurice's structure -- which is demanding, both physically and mentally, but tough as heck for other teams to crack.

Credit Florida's pro-scouting staff for finding so much talent (Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Stolarz, Oliver Ekman-Larsson,Dmitry Kulikov, Evan Rodrigues and Gustav Forsling are all shining examples) and a steady resurgence from Sergei Bobrovsky, who has thrived under the team's robust goaltending coaching department.

Do they get better at the trade deadline? When I talked to GM Bill Zito this week, he told me the team is in a different place than the past two seasons. In 2021, when they made splashes for Claude Giroux andBen Chiarot, it was "vital to the franchise" to win a playoff round. Last season was about keeping that progress and momentum going. Now, fresh off a Stanley Cup Final appearance, the Panthers would still like to add -- and have a healthy $5 million cap space to do so. But Florida feels it has to find more talented players in lower rounds because they don't want to empty what's becoming a bare cabinet of assets. The Panthers don't have a first-round pick until 2026, and are without their second-round pick this year too. Things can change with one phone call, especially when it gets closer to March 8, and Florida isn't opposed to adding either forward or defense depth.

ONE OF THE stealth teams every year at the trade deadline is the Tampa Bay Lightning. GM Julien BriseBois always seems to have some tricks up his sleeve. Tampa Bay is right in the mix for a playoff spot in the East.

They've been trading away future assets for Cup chases the last several years. This season, they've dealt with the injury bug. But in some ways, it's been a positive because they can test out their young players and European free agents. Last season, Tampa Bay only made one call-up at forward for one game all season. I've heard they are considering adding a forward at the deadline. But the most glaring need is defense, which is especially thin with the loss ofMikhail Sergachev (fractured tibia and fibula) for the regular season. BriseBois confirmed Sergachev has a chance to return if the team makes a long playoff run. He told me Sergachev's loss doesn't change their objective -- Tampa Bay was already on the lookout for deadline improvements. There's been a lot of smoke around the league that the Lightning are the likeliest destination for Calgary defensemanNoah Hanifin,who wants a chance to play in the United States. He makes a lot of sense there, but we'll see how it shakes out.

WHEN I TALKED to Caps GM Brian MacLellan earlier this month, he told me he was going to determine soon whether his team would be looking to trade players at the deadline. The decision would be dictated by the team's position in the muddy wild-card race. "At some point," he said, "the math just doesn't add up."

Most people I talk to around the league believe Washington will try to unload some contracts to position better for the future. MacLellan said he is balancing doing right by legacy players -- specifically captain Alex Ovechkin and his quest for the NHL all-time goal record -- while trying to stay competitive and get younger. It's a delicate tightrope. Nic Dowd and Joel Edmundson are two players I heard were drawing league-wide interest. I believe Anthony Mantha is getting some interest based on a strong season, too. I also believe there is a distinct possibility Max Pacioretty could be traded.

Pacioretty signed a one-year, bonus-laden deal in Washington after coming off his second Achilles surgery. Considering all the 35-year-old went through to come back -- he literally traveled the world searching for solutions -- idling on a non-contending team for the last two months isn't ideal. In his 16-year career, Pacioretty has never won a Stanley Cup, and he knows his time is ticking. He was traded away from Vegas the year before they hoisted the Cup. Pacioretty's deal has a full no-movement clause -- a rarity for Washington. Ovechkin is the only other player on the roster with that protection. That means he has full control of his situation. If Pacioretty moves, it would be for a situation where he feels like he has a serious chance to win. Geography is also important for Pacioretty and his family.

MACLELLAN REMARKED HOW similar the situations were for his team and its biggest rivals over the last decade, the Pittsburgh Penguins. GM Kyle Dubas held a news conference this week laying out the Penguins' situation. Dubas said the team's middling performance, especially since the All-Star break, has him looking at ways to shake up the roster.

"Everything that we do will be with the intention of delivering a championship contender for the team without [Sidney Crosby and the core veteran players] having to go through years of pain to get there," Dubas said. "That's my commitment."

Interest inJake Guentzelaround the league hasn't waned at all, despite him being on injured reserve through the March 8 deadline. It still seems likely Guentzel is on the move. I've heard the asking price on Guentzel is multiple first-round picks (or a first-round pick and equivalent in top prospects or roster players). One rival executive said "the Guentzel asking price is ridiculous."

The Penguins have made it clear that all non-core players on their roster could be available -- and not just looking for future assets, but hockey trades too (though those are typically easier over the summer). Veteran Reilly Smith hasn't had the smoothest transition in Pittsburgh, but there's increasing league-wide interest in the veteran forward, who won a Stanley Cup last season with the Golden Knights. Two of Smith's former teams, Vegas and Florida, could be fits -- as could the Hurricanes.

TWO TEAMS THAT are talking about various players right now are the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche. The Canes have 13 players on their roster who are due for new contracts this summer. Given the way Carolina operates -- they put a value on players that is often different than anyone else's value, and they stick to it -- it's not surprising that they've tried to move some of these players for "hockey trades." The Canes, who have nearly $7 million in deadline cap space, really seem open to anything, and it would be shocking to see them do nothing at all at the deadline. It sounds like their emphasis has been on adding forwards though.

The Avs have been clear that they need some goalie help as All-StarAlexandar Georgievhas seen a heavy workload. But I believe they've been making calls on centers too, and are in the mix for some defensemen, like Calgary'sChris Tanev.