Now that the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend is in the rearview mirror, the league's trade season is underway in earnest. The next several games for each team will be pivotal, as general managers decide whether their teams should be buyers, improving their chances for the Stanley Cup playoffs,or sellers, perhaps accelerating rebuilds.
Get caught up on the assets and restrictions, as well as potential moves and latest buzz, for all 31 teams ahead of the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline. Big thanks to Cap Friendly for salary-cap and trade-restriction intel used throughout.
Note: Emily Kaplan profiled the Metropolitan and Central Division teams, and Greg Wyshynski did likewise for the Atlantic and Pacific.
What to watch: You know those ticket machines at arcades that make the munching sound when you feed them tickets? Yeah, that's the Ducks with other teams' contractual headaches at the deadline. GM Bob Murray is going to have more than $15 million in deadline cap space with which to play, according to Cap Friendly, and the expedited path to Anaheim's rebuild would be through the acquisition of young, NHL-ready players through the absorption of, say, Cody Ceci's contract from Toronto or Michael Grabner's from Arizona.
Two players of intrigue on the Ducks' roster: Ondrej Kase, the 24-year-old winger with a $2.6 million cap hit, whom Anaheim had in play when it was chasing Justin Faulk; and Josh Manson, the 28-year-old right defenseman signed through 2022 at $4.1 million per season. Pending unrestricted free-agent defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Korbinian Holzer could also be in play.
Our take: The Ducks have a collection of players in their 20s around whom to build in the short term, with more talent on the way. Adding to that mix with a few salary-based acquisitions would be prudent. Then, in the summer, they can take a long look at where veterans such as Manson, Henrique and Silfverberg fit in their long-term plans.
What to watch: Let's go ahead and declare that whatever the Coyotes do at the trade deadline isn't going to be as big as what they did in December. That isn't to say the Taylor Hall trade will be the final move for GM John Chayka this season as far as impact moves, however. The problem is the Coyotes are capped out, which used to be a weird thing to say about the Coyotes but is the new normal under new owner Alex Meruelo.
The question becomes what Arizona could move to bring in additional players at the deadline. Could that player be Grabner, whose numbers are down in a diminished offensive role and whose contract ($3.35 million against the cap) runs through next season? Or will the Coyotes roll with what they have?
Our take: Unless Chayka is willing to flip some roster players, the Coyotes' ability to bring in some short-term help is seriously restricted. But the good news is that, when healthy, the Coyotes might not need much of it to finish with a Pacific Division playoff seed.
What to watch:It's time for the Bruins' annual "trade deadline search for an impact forward," a tradition that has previously added players including Rick Nash, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, obviously with varying degrees of success.
The most logical fit is Tyler Toffoli, the Los Angeles Kings winger who has bounced back with a solid offensive season (0.55 points per game) after his numbers plummeted last season. A second-rounder and a prospect can get it done. But we can't help but imagine that team president Cam Neely wouldn't mind seeing Chris Kreider, a power forward after his own heart, join the black and gold. And that wouldn't be the first or last bit of business between Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and Boston.
Our take:The Bruins have a deep but unremarkable prospect pool and nearly all of their draft picks. They've had to make the money work, but renting Kreider -- and bringing the Boston College product home -- would be a game-changer in the Eastern Conference.
What to watch:After acquiring Michael Frolik from the Flames in January, GM Jason Botterill has been in the hunt for even more help at the forward spot. He has also had to deal with players who have asked out from the Sabres: Forward Evan Rodrigues, a pending restricted free agent, and pending unrestricted free-agent defenseman Zach Bogosian have reportedly both asked for trades. The Sabres have a 7% chance of making the playoffs and have 16 free agents (restricted and unrestricted) this summer. Buckle up.
Our take:This is Botterill's third season in Buffalo, though it seems longer than that, doesn't it? It'll be interesting to see how he maneuvers at the deadline, considering there's no telling what his future with the team could be if the Sabres miss the playoffs again. Does Kim Pegula add a president of hockey operations above him? Does the team make a change at GM? This is an important deadline for the Sabres ahead of an absolutely critical summer in which they have only 10 players under contract for next season.
What to watch: The Flames are going to find that right-handed shooting forward to play in their top six. They cleared out Michael Frolik's cap hit for added elasticity at the trade deadline. Tyler Toffoli of the Kings would fit the bill as a rental. It's expected that the Flames are also going to be in pursuit of Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the Senators.
One wild card, if they're looking to add term: Kyle Palmieri of the Devils, whom the Flames have scouted recently. He's signed through 2020-21.
Our take: The Flames will get their top-six winger from somewhere to help bolster the NHL's No. 25 offense, which is down from third last season. But with $16 million in cap space this summer, adding a player with some term isn't out of the question.
What to watch: The biggest priority for the Hurricanes entering the 2019-20 season was building off of last season's playoff success. The Canes have momentum, and they don't want to take a step back. Carolina is well-positioned to make another playoff run but was dealt a big blow when Dougie Hamilton -- playing himself into the Norris Trophy conversation -- broke his leg in January (he's out indefinitely). It doesn't help that Jake Gardiner, signed to a four-year deal this summer, has had some growing pains in his first season with the club.
The Canes are poking around to see if they can replace Hamilton's spot, ideally with a right-shooting defenseman. Sami Vatanen could fit well. Alec Martinez could also be attractive, considering he has term. Carolina might also want to beef up its goaltending and has been keeping tabs around the league. If the team can snag Robin Lehner from Chicago (a frequent trading partner for the Canes) that would be a coup.
Before the Hamilton injury, the Canes were prioritizing the search for scoring help. They did get a boost when former captain Justin Williams rejoined the team in January. Don't be surprised if they're in on some available forwards.
Our take: As the Canes deal with life without Hamilton, going for an extra blueliner would make sense. Acquiring Martinez from Los Angeles wouldn't break the budget, and the Kings would gladly make the deal if they can get some of the Canes' draft picks.
What to watch: The Blackhawks are still figuring out how to approach the trade deadline. Their performance over the next two weeks -- a road-heavy slate that includes the Western Canadian swing -- will determine what GM Stan Bowman does. The Blackhawks played well entering the All-Star break, and they look poised to go on a big second-half push, just like they did last season (though they fell short of the playoffs).
If you look at the big picture, the Blackhawks are a team retooling on the fly, trying to get another run out of their aging core (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, et al). If they determine that they're still at least a year away, there's plenty of players they could trade.
The goalies would provide the most external interest. The Blackhawks could move on from Corey Crawford this offseason (when he's an unrestricted free agent), but it's hard to imagine them trading him now, considering all he has done for the franchise. Robin Lehner has been sensational, and if the Blackhawks don't want to re-sign him to a big deal this summer, moving on from him now could recoup value. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson would add a lot of value offensively on the blue line, and the pending UFA should draw interest. Plenty of teams are inquiring about versatile forward Brandon Saad (under contract through next season), but the Blackhawks would move him only if the return were impressive.
Our take: The Blackhawks should either be sellers this deadline or stand pat and make some moves this summer. Adding to this group -- when a playoff spot is far from a given -- doesn't seem prudent.
What to watch: We've been touting the Avalanche as Stanley Cup contenders going back to the preseason, and they haven't done anything to change our minds. This is a balanced team. GM Joe Sakic made several notable moves this summer to address the biggest area of need for his team: scoring depth. The Avs are a much more balanced team outside of their big three -- Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog -- thanks to additions includingAndre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi.
However, you can never have enough forward depth, especially as you prepare for a playoff run. The Avalanche seriously considered a trade for Taylor Hall earlier this season, signaling that they're at least thinking about ways they can improve. That also means they might be sneaky contenders for some of the bigger names this trade deadline.
Another area Sakic might consider is blue-line depth. Again, if you're prepping for a big playoff run, you'd rather have a surplus of capable defensemen. This team might not need a big name; think something along the lines of what the Capitals did in trading for Michal Kempny two seasons ago.
Our take: MacKinnon has said that this is the first time he truly believes his team can win a Stanley Cup. Why not add a few luxury pieces to see if he's right? It would be great if Colorado could snag a big name (Kreider? Vatanen?) at the deadline.
What to watch: The Blue Jackets owned the 2019 trade deadline, going all-in knowing that they were going to lose key free agents in the summer. It resulted in a stunning sweep of the top-seeded Lightning in the first round, but it wasn't enough to make a deep playoff run.
Against what many predicted this preseason, the Blue Jackets are in playoff position yet again. Goaltending was the biggest question heading into the season, but Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo have over-delivered in a big way. Injuries piled up, but the Blue Jackets have persevered. Ideally, GM Jarmo Kekalainen would like to add to his group to reward the strong first-half play. However, he doesn't have much flexibility. Due to last season's splurge, the Blue Jackets are somewhat bare on the futures front. If Kekalainen does acquire a player, expect it to be somebody with term. No more players such asMatt Duchene or Ryan Dzingel for this group.
Our take: Given that Kekalainen can't afford to lose more draft picks for rental players, he should leverage one of his better assets, Anderson, to get a player with term who could offer scoring help. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets should stand pat and try to ride it out with this group.
What to watch: The Stars, once again, are an excellent defensive team. But when it comes to goal scoring, they have some problems. That's especially troublesome, considering the team is paying nearly $20 million for Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (the latter is performing much better than the former) and splurged another $7 million to ink Joe Pavelski this summer. It has been a slow start for the former Sharks star in Dallas.
Some of the limited production falls on the Stars' structure, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with having a defensive identity. However, a lack of timely goal scoring could lead to another early playoff flameout. Now that Stephen Johns has come back from a nearly two-year absence due to headaches, the Stars have eight healthy defenseman. Could that mean capital for a "hockey trade?"
Our take: The Stars would be better off if they could acquire some scoring help, but they don't have a ton of flexibility. After paying for Zuccarello at last year's deadline and seeing it not work out, Dallas should take a more conservative approach.
What to watch: If GM Steve Yzerman's rebuild of the Red Wings is a movie, the opening credits aren't even finished rolling. There's a ton of work to be done here, and it's clear that Stevie Y intends to amass talent via the draft, with nine picks in the first three rounds the next two seasons. There's more to be had, too, if he can find takers for his unrestricted free-agent defensemen:Mike Green (34), Jonathan Ericsson (35) andTrevor Daley (36), who all have some trade protection.
Then there's the Jimmy Howard issue. The 35-year-old is an unrestricted free agent this summer. In theory, he's a solid veteran backup on a contending team. In reality, he has been terrible this season, with minus-7 goals saved above average. There might not be a market for that.
Our take: Yzerman's going to keep this rebuild slow and steady, but he has shown in the past that he can be aggressive in dealing young players while their stock is high. Please recall the 2013 deadline shocker when Yzerman's Lightning traded Cory Conacher to Ottawa for Ben Bishop. Along with dealing the obvious veteran assets, the Wings could use a trade or two like that.
What to watch: The Oilers' role at the trade deadline has yet to be determined. There's a lot of hockey left to play, and if Edmonton remains in the thick of this Pacific Division dogpile, it's conceivable that this team will try to add pieces at the forward position, such as Jean-Gabriel Pageau. But that kind of player might cost a little more than GM Ken Holland is willing to ante up for a rental at the deadline. Some cheaper options, due to both being signed beyond this season: Miles Wood ($2.75 million AAV through 2022) and Blake Coleman ($1.8 million AAV through 2021) of the Devils. There's nothing concrete here -- just spitballing solutions for the Oilers' speed deficit.
But if the Oilers are out of the playoff mix for some reason, that could open the possibility of Holland starting to reshape this roster, potentially putting 2021 UFAs such as defensemen Adam Larsson and Kris Russell in play for contenders.
Our take: Holland has been on the job for close to nine months, and he should have a good handle on this roster. The biggest moves probably come in the offseason, what with all the free agents and the Jesse Puljujarvi matter to be resolved. But getting into the playoffs is paramount for the Oilers and Connor McDavid, so if they're close, a deadline move is to be expected.
What to watch: The blue line. Although we could see the Panthers adding to their bottom-six forwards with a pending UFA rental, GM Dale Tallon has reportedly been searching for the right fit for a defensive defenseman on his roster. Two California defensemen, Alec Martinez of the Kings and Brenden Dillon of the Sharks, leap to mind as options, given that both play the left side. But Martinez has another year left at $4 million against the cap, and Dillon is a pending UFA.
There's also speculation that the Panthers might want to add a veteran backup for Sergei Bobrovsky, rather than venture into the playoff race with Sam Montembeault and Chris Driedger, especially after the latter's recent groin injury.
Our take: Most of Dale Tallon's biggest acquisition plays have happened in the summer, but then again, the Panthers haven't always been this poised to become a playoff team during his tenure as general manager. At 3.67 goals per game, the Panthers were the NHL's best offensive team leading into the All-Star break. But they could certainly use some veteran help on the defensive side.
What to watch: There was some surprise last summer when GM Rob Blake wasn't that active in reconfiguring this roster. As he told ESPN, that's because the Kings wanted veteran stopgaps in place ahead of their youth movement. Now the Kings look poised to ship out some veteran players at the deadline.
Chief among them is winger Tyler Toffoli, a right-handed-shooting pending UFA who is going to get a look from several teams, including Calgary, Boston and Pittsburgh. Defenseman Alec Martinez has another year on his deal but could be in demand on the right side. Plus, role players such asTrevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford could be on the block as well.
As always, keep in mind higher-priced veterans such asJeff Carter (signed through 2022 at $5,272,727 AAV) and Jonathan Quick (signed through 2023 at $5.8 million AAV), though a deadline move for either seems unlikely.
Our take: It won't be a complete sell-off, as the Kings' prospects remain a couple of years away from ripening. But Toffoli, Lewis and Martinez (depending on the offers) appear to be very much on the block.
What to watch: Bill Guerin is still getting his feet wet as a rookie GM and figuring out exactly what he should do with the roster he largely inherited from former GM Paul Fenton. Realistically, this team isn't going to make the playoffs this season -- despite some encouraging flashes -- so Guerin should consider selling to set himself up for the future. There aren't any obvious candidates for players the Wild want to get rid of -- and captain Mikko Koivu is the only pending unrestricted free agent -- so if Minnesota makes a move, it will be a substantial one.
Some Wild players on other teams' radars include Ryan Donato (a high-upside offensive talent who is making $1.9 million through next season) and Jason Zucker (who was almost dealt multiple times last season and is definitely of interest to a team such as the Penguins). Other teams have at least inquired about Matt Dumba ($6 million cap hit through 2023) and Eric Staal (who was almost traded last season, then signed a team-friendly deal to stay for two more), but it would require a big return for the Wild to say goodbye to either of those players. Teams might give a call on Jonas Brodin, but do the Wild really want to give up on a 26-year-old defenseman having a career year while playing top-four minutes (and making slightly more than $4 million against the cap)?
Guerin has taken a patient approach in his first few months on the job, and we don't get the sense that he's willing to do anything too drastic now, either.
Our take: Guerin has been patient so far. With his team stalling -- and now that he has a good assessment of what he has -- the trade deadline would be the perfect time for him to make a move and begin putting his stamp on this roster.
What to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk is one of the best things to happen to the Montreal Canadiens this season. Not because his eight points in nine games are going to rally them to a playoff spot -- there's only a 9.5% chance that they emerge from the Eastern Conference, per Money Puck -- but because his trade value is at its apex. How many offensive difference-makers at the deadline make $700,000 against the cap and are bound for free agency next summer?
The Habs have other expiring assets to move at the deadline, including pending UFA Marco Scandella ($4 million cap hit) andDale Weise and Nate Thompson at forward. Since this is wheelin' and dealin' GM Marc Bergevin we're talking about, there's always a chance that someone with a little term (such as 2021 UFA Tomas Tatar, their leading scorer) is a surprise trade-deadline option.
Our take: Barring an emphatic rally -- and there's belief in the Canadiens' room that they could have one when healthy -- this will be three straight seasons under Claude Julien without a playoff berth. And that's OK! The Canadiens have a collection of strong, young players, a ton of tradable assets and cap space with which to play this summer. As for the deadline, getting something palpable for Kovalchuk would be an asset flip worthy of an HGTV show.
What to watch: The Predators have been a baffling team. Their 5-on-5 play is decent, but their goaltending has not improved, and wins have been hard to come by. They have posted a winning streak of more than two games once this season. The team was hoping that firing Peter Laviolette and replacing him with John Hynes could give this group a jolt, but time is running out quickly. The Predators are on the bottom end of the Central Division and have to make up ground. And, oh yeah, they have the third-toughest second-half schedule by opponents' point percentages.
If Nashville can't string together a few good wins over the next two weeks, GM David Poile might be forced to sell. Kyle Turris has been on the trading block for most of his Predators tenure; he simply hasn't been a fit. If Poile can get a good offer, he'll trade him. If not, Turris -- and his $6 million salary -- will stick around. Now, if Poile really wants to switch things up, he could look to move another one of his players with term, such asNick Bonino.
Nashville also has a few pending unrestricted free agents it might try to unload. Craig Smith would add veteran leadership to many teams, and Mikael Granlund could be an intriguing option, though his $5.75 million cap hit might scare away some teams. If Nashville decides to be a buyer, it can look to add another defenseman, especially if Ryan Ellis remains sidelined long-term.
Our take: It's an uphill climb for the Predators to make the playoffs this season. They should trade their pending UFAs, including Smith and Granlund to recoup future value.
What to watch: Nothing has gone the Devils' way this season. After landing Jack Hughes at No. 1 in the 2019 draft, New Jersey tried expediting its Stanley Cup timeline. But the big summer splashes -- such as trading for P.K. Subban -- didn't pan out. The Devils fired coach John Hynes, traded away Taylor Hall when it became clear he wanted to test free agency in the summer and fired GM Ray Shero. Longtime assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald is now the interim GM, and he has a few decisions to make.
The Devils know they are out of the race this season, so the goal is to position themselves for the future. No player on this roster -- save for Hughes and 2017 No. 1 pick Nico Hischier -- should be untouchable. The most pressing decisions come for veteran pending free agents: defensemen Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen, as well as winger Wayne Simmonds. There would be a market for all three players. Greene, 37, the Devils' captain, has not played for any other franchise in his career and has a full no-trade clause, so it's up to him if he'd like to be moved. The 31-year-old Simmonds didn't exactly work out as a rental player for the Predators last season, but plenty of teams covet his skill set, physical play and leadership come playoff time.
More attractive to other teams would be the Devils' players who still have some term, such as forwards Blake Coleman and Kyle Palmieri, whose contracts expire after 2020-21. The next few months are an extended audition for Fitzgerald to get the full-time job, but it's unclear how much latitude the interim GM has from ownership to do something bold.
Our take: Everything should be on the table for the Devils. Failed quick fixes this summer masked the fact that this team should still be rebuilding. If New Jersey can get nice packages for players with term -- such as Palmieri and Coleman -- it should do it.
What to watch: Of all the GMs in the NHL, Lou Lamoriello is the hardest to read. He rarely telegraphs anything. We do know, however, what the Islanders need: scoring help. New York blazed early, going on a 15-0-2 run, but has cooled off considerably since. Once again, the Islanders are in the top third of the league in goals against and bottom third in goals scored.
A third-line center should be the biggest priority. Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the Senators -- one of the most coveted rentals -- would be a great fit but is maybe too pricey for the Islanders, who are wary of giving up top draft picks. Other middle-six forward options could include Tyler Toffoli, Craig Smith andTrevor Lewis. Snagging Ilya Kovalchuk from the Canadiens would be especially intriguing, considering his history with Lamoriello. (In 2018, Kovalchuk told TSN's Darren Dreger that he had kept in touch with Lamoriello since his exit from the Devils in 2013 and called the Islanders GM "a great man.")
Although we often applaud the Islanders for being a well-structured defensive team, don't count them out on acquiring a defenseman as a replacement for Adam Pelech (lost for the season). Brenden Dillon of the Sharks could be a fit. The Islanders could also consider pending free agent Erik Gustafsson of the Blackhawks. Gustafsson offers a lot of value offensively (and on the power play) but has a tendency for defensive lapses.
Our take: The Islanders stood pat at last season's deadline, and though they still made the playoffs, they flamed out due to a lack of offense. This season, Lamoriello shouldn't make the same mistake. The Islanders should be aggressive in acquiring a third-line center and at least take a flier on an extra defenseman.
What to watch: The next few weeks are crucial for the Rangers as they determine their path going forward. This team is straddling the end of a rebuild and the beginning of a new era of contending. A four-game homestand from Feb. 3 to Feb. 9 against the Stars, Maple Leafs, Sabres and Kings could determine which direction GM Jeff Gorton goes at the deadline.
The two big names to watch are Alexandar Georgiev and Chris Kreider. The 28-year-old Kreider is on an expiring contract. There is a chance that the Rangers will re-sign him, but there are plenty of contending teams (such as the Blues, Penguins and Bruins) that would jump at the chance to acquire him (given the right price). Georgiev, meanwhile, is likely the odd man out in the Rangers' three-goalie carousel, especially if Henrik Lundqvist maintains that he does not want to waive his no-movement clause. Georgiev's value has never been higher, and backup-needy teams such as the Maple Leafs are very interested. Ideally, the Rangers could acquire a first-round pick in return. They aren't in a rush, though. Georgiev's situation could be settled at the NHL draft in June as well. Veteran Jesper Fast is also a free agent this summer and would be a nice boost for a contending team, but the Rangers might want to re-sign him.
The wild card is Lias Andersson, the No. 7 pick of the 2017 draft who requested a trade and then went home to Sweden. New York recently loaned Andersson to Swedish Hockey League team HV71, signaling that the relationship might not be as frosty as it once was. If New York could find the right partner, it would move Andersson, but the Rangers don't want to lose him for nothing, considering he's only 21.
Our take: The Rangers might get better value for Georgiev if they wait until the draft. They should do that, unless a team is willing to give up a first-round pick now. New York should try re-signing Kreider and Fast instead of trading them; they both add value as role models for younger players and have embraced being part of the rebuild.
What to watch: Suffice it to say, there was much more to watch last season when the Senators had Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel on the block. To hear GM Pierre Dorian tell it, the Senators have made their re-signing pitches to the players they've ended up dealing over the years -- let's include Erik Karlsson in that mix, of course -- and will likely do the same with their best asset at this season's deadline, 27-year-old top scorer Jean-Gabriel Pageau. There's a chance that he wants to remain a Senator and the feeling is mutual, but in the long-term outlook for both parties, a trade would seem to make the most sense, as there's definitely a market for him.
But Pageau is one of many unrestricted free agents for the Senators who could move at the deadline. That list includes forwards Mikkel Boedker, Vladislav NamestnikovandTyler Ennis, defensemen Mark Borowiecki and Dylan DeMelo, and goalie Craig Anderson.
Our take: Dorion doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves for maneuvering through a near-constant cycle of player turnover in Ottawa -- which can be blamed on many things, including ownership's foibles -- and this is yet another round of selling. Ultimately, he'll be judged by how the Senators utilize their draft picks in this rebuild. They should have even more of them after this deadline.
What to watch: When the Flyers hired veteran coach Alain Vigneault this summer, they said they wanted him to bring a winning culture. Philly is on the cusp right now. General manager Chuck Fletcher would probably like to add to his team -- specifically, a forward -- but a salary-cap squeeze is going to make that difficult. Fletcher has also already indicated that he isn't in the market for a rental; if Philly gets someone, it will be a player who has term.
The big wild card here is the health of 2017 No. 2 draft pick Nolan Patrick, who has not played this season as he deals with a migraine disorder. Fletcher has remained optimistic that Patrick will play this season -- perhaps as soon as this month -- but time is ticking. This is what Fletcher told me in December regarding his mindset entering the deadline: "We worked hard at adding to our depth this year, and since we have so many young kids, typically they only get better as they get more experience, so I think we have a chance to get better with the club that we have. We hope to get Nolan Patrick back at some point, and that would be a tremendous boost to our lineup. He really would be a great acquisition since we haven't had him all season. If we can add him, that could be the boost that we need at the time. But we'll see. We'll see how healthy we are, and we'll see how we're playing."
Our take: The Flyers should stay patient. They just don't have enough flexibility to make a move right now. There's still a chance that they get Patrick back, which would give them a boost.
What to watch: Through the first half, the Penguins endured injury after devastating injury and still found ways to win. GM Jim Rutherford -- who is always looking to tweak his roster -- likely wants to reward this group for sticking through it. Rutherford isn't desperate to make a trade, but he's definitely working the phones looking for a top-six forward who can score some goals.
The Pens are without prolific scorer Jake Guentzel for the rest of the regular season; the top-line winger was once again on pace for a career high in goals. Minnesota's Jason Zucker and Ottawa's Jean-Gabriel Pageau are both firmly on Pittsburgh's radar. Pageau is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Senators might be unable (or unwilling) to pay him. Meanwhile, Chris Kreider and Brandon Saad are other players the Pens have checked on; both could be excellent wingers for Sidney Crosby. Kreider would be pricey -- especially if dealt in-division -- while Saad has been sidelined since Dec. 21 due to an ankle injury.
Our take: Mike Sullivan has been worthy of the Jack Adams, considering how he has guided this group. Rutherford should reward Sullivan, and his players, by acquiring a top-six winger to replace some of Guentzel's production.
What to watch: All eyes are on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, as the 40-year-old Sharks legends face a ticking clock down to the deadline in what is becoming a lost season in San Jose. Marleau is making just $700,000 and doesn't have trade protection; is there a market for him, and if so, would GM Doug Wilson seek to move him after his emotional homecoming? Thornton makes $2 million against the cap and has a no-move clause. He has been in position to potentially leave before and has always chosen to remain a Shark. But what if there were one last crack at a Stanley Cup?
Realistically, expect pending unrestricted free agents such as forward Melker Karlsson and defenseman Brenden Dillon to be shipped out at the deadline.
Our take: There are two schools of thought about the Sharks not being "everything must go" sellers at the trade deadline. The first is that Wilson and ownership believe the core of this team remains solid and that it can return to contention after a mulligan -- OK, a borderline disastrous mulligan, as they have a 6.6% chance of making the playoffs (per Money Puck) and Ottawa owns their lottery pick -- this season. The second is that they have to believe the first because of the trade protections and the elephantine contracts handed out to veteran players. In any case, don't expect too many dramatic changes at the deadline for the Sharks.
What to watch: Stanley Cup hangover? Yeah, OK. The Blues have been one of the most consistent -- and dominant -- teams throughout the first half of the season. That has been largely without star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who underwent shoulder surgery in late October. Tarasenko's health is the key to the Blues' deadline strategy here. An initial timeline pegged a return right around the end of the regular season. Tarasenko was aggressive with his rehab early -- the Blues had to tell him to relax a bit -- and he has resumed skating recently. If Tarasenko returns before the end of the regular season, the Blues need to account for his $7.5 million salary to be cap-compliant.
On the other hand, we can see a situation as we did with Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks in 2014-15, as in Tarasenko returns for the playoffs and the Blues can spend Tarasenko's cap space in the meantime. You can bet GM Doug Armstrong is talking to team trainers and Tarasenko daily. If St. Louis adds to the group, it will likely be for top-end talent up front. The Blues have been linked to New York's Chris Kreider (as have, well, pretty much all contenders), and he could be an excellent fit.
Our take: The Blues are a deep team that has thrived despite some adversity this season. Armstrong likely wants to reward this group, and if he can get a top-end talent such as Chris Kreider or Jean Gabriel-Pageau, that's great. If not, the Blues will be just fine.
What to watch: What was it -- two months ago? -- that the Lightning were going to fire Jon Cooper and blow up the roster because they were, like, six points out of the wild card with games in hand? Good thing they didn't do that.
The Bolts are back to being Stanley Cup favorites, with a lineup that doesn't have many holes, save for one: a right-handed, right-side defenseman. Sami Vatanen of the Devils might be the best player available in that category. He's a pending unrestricted free agent, and the Devils would likely retain some salary -- he has a $4.875 million cap hit -- to sweeten the deal.
Our take: Under GM Julien BriseBois' predecessor, Steve Yzerman, the Lightning were notorious for making moves at the deadline for players with term, or whose rights they could control, rather than rentals. So while a player such as Vatanen could make the most sense, could the Lightning be in play for someone with a little more term on his deal, such asJeff Petry of the Canadiens, should Montreal make him available? In any case, another veteran hand on the blue line would solidify what's already one of the NHL's best rosters.
What to watch: The Leafs' defense is going to be in the trade deadline spotlight. The blue line remains the weakest aspect of the team -- assuming Frederik Andersen trends up after the All-Star break -- and some upgrade needs to happen before the postseason. The thinking from James Mirtle of The Athletic is that the Leafs could absorb Morgan Rielly's contract when he comes off long-term injured reserve and acquire a significant defenseman on the right side.
The trick would be to move out Cody Ceci's $4.5 million cap hit in a deal that could see Toronto move a player such as 23-year-old forward Kasperi Kapanen for a right-shooting defenseman. Could they go back to the Kings' well for Alec Martinez? Is Anaheim's Josh Manson (signed through 2022) in play, despite having by far his worst season in the NHL? What about two players signed through 2023: Matt Dumba of the Wild ($6 million AAV) or Damon Severson of the Devils ($4,166,666 AAV)?
Our take: Toronto GM Kyle Dubas has been spinning plates with the team's salary-cap space since last summer's contract for Mitch Marner, and the circus act continues at the deadline. One assumes a defenseman with term is going to be the target. Parity, as many teams consider themselves very much in the playoff hunt, and rarity, as finding an available right-side defenseman, aren't in Dubas' favor. But if the Leafs are going to seriously contend for a Cup, blue-line tweaks are a must.
What to watch: With the Canucks solidly in the playoff picture, will GM Jim Benning seek to add pieces at the deadline? The first question is "with what?" Their first-round picks this season and next are tied up conditionally with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will get this year's if the Canucks make the playoffs and next year's if they don't. The Canucks have picks in the following rounds this season, but most rentals cost at least a second-rounder, and it's hard to imagine they'll put this year's in play.
Plus, barring injury, Benning has to like the way the pieces currently fit here, and the Canucks will get a boost when forward Micheal Ferland returns following his concussion.
Our take: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. By that, we mean if the Canucks remain relatively healthy in their key positions, we expect Benning to roll with this crew and make alterations in the summer.
What to watch: Considering the Knights turfed the only coach they've known as a franchise because they were a scant few points from a playoff spot, we'll say anything can happen with Vegas.
But the primary need for this team remains a puck-moving defenseman, as has been the case since their inception. (Remember how close Vegas was to snagging Erik Karlsson in its inaugural season?) Sami Vatanen of the Devils, formerly in the Western Conference with the Ducks, would seem like a logical fit here, as long as New Jersey picks up part of the freight.
Our take: There's an obvious sense of desperation from owner Bill Foley to bring the Cup to Vegas. What used to be a six-year plan for a championship was "moved up" after their inaugural success, in his words. This aggression could lead to something dramatic at the trade deadline, if the opportunity presents itself to GM Kelly McCrimmon. Although we aren't sure what would be more dramatic than firing a beloved coach in his third season in exchange for one of the franchise's adversaries in Peter DeBoer.
What to watch: Two years ago, the Capitals made a minor move at the deadline, trading a third-round pick for Michal Kempny, a little-known, Czech defenseman who was struggling to stay in the Chicago Blackhawks' lineup. It turned out to be a terrific fit, as Kempny helped Washington win its first Stanley Cup. If the Capitals do anything this season, expect it to be something similar: a minor move that might not make too many ripples.
Washington is one of the league's most complete teams. It has top-end talent plus an extremely effective fourth line. The blue line and goaltending are solid. GM Brian MacLellan will still consider ways to improve his team. After all, the Caps are well-positioned to win their second Cup in three years. Why not try to go all-in? Potentially on the shopping list is a blueliner or a middle-six forward.
Our take: An extra blueliner would be a nice luxury but not a necessity. Unless the Caps think they can land on another Kempny-like value, they should stand pat.
What to watch: The Jets used to be one of the deepest defensive teams in the league. All of that changed in a blink. Winnipeg lost four of its six top defensemen from 2018-19 before the season and has been using a hodge-podge defensive group since. The Jets have, somewhat miraculously, held it together, thanks to their talented forward group and solid goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. But the cracks have revealed themselves, and the Jets are at risk of having their strong first-half foundation crumble fast.
To save the season, Winnipeg might look for blue-line help. Expect them to be in on Jeff Petry or Alec Martinez -- or any defensemen with some term. That said, considering the way the past few weeks have gone, the more likely scenario for the Jets is that they stand pat or are sellers. The blue line might be beyond repair at this point, and there's no need to give up future assets when a playoff spot is uncertain.
Our take: Sometimes you need to eat a loss when things don't go your way. Nothing went the Jets' way to begin the season. Although they performed admirably for a few months, Winnipeg is sinking fast, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff should avoid the temptation to add to this group.