This week we’ll take a look at positional needs and potential swap scenarios in the Central Division.
With the Eastern and Western Conferences tightly-bunched and most teams still having playoff aspirations, just who will buy vs. sell vs. stand pat is largely undetermined, with bottom-dwelling Arizona and Colorado the only sure sellers. The week and-a-half leading up to the March 1 trade deadline should bring more clarity. The impending expansion draft and prospect of teams losing good players in positons of depth has created an urgency for some to get something now for players they risk losing to Las Vegas.
Note: Stats are as of finish of Feb. 18 games.
MINNESOTA WILD (39-13-6, 84 points) – STANDING PAT/BUYERS
Despite cooling off from their 12-game December win streak, Minnesota holds a sizable nine-point lead over Chicago in the Central, and an eight-point margin over Pacific Division leading San Jose. With so much success, and seemingly good chemistry, they may forgo any deals. However, they might be tempted to tinker a bit as they, like Anaheim, likely will lose part of their deep defenseman corps to the expansion draft.
Minnesota could add some depth to their bottom-six as promising rookie Alex Tuch is somewhat raw at this point, and Tyler Graovac’s production has been a little lacking this campaign.
Prone to deadline activity, GM Chuck Fletcher may fortify his forwards in exchange for defense, but with very little salary cap space available, money would need to go out to add a significant piece. Scandella, Brodin, Folin, and even Dumba have circulated as possible trade chips, and with plenty of young blue line talent including Gustav Olofsson, Zach Palmquist, and Mike Reilly to fill that role this could happen. Of the three, Scandella’s $4 M cap hit would make the most sense to deal, but Dumba’s potential and $2.55 M price tag could clear enough space, and be a suitable chip for a higher-level forward acquisition. If dealt, Folin’s $850,000 hit wouldn’t create much space, but the low number and his solid play may be attractive.
Given the numbers somehow make sense, all of the popular forward targets would be attractive, and certainly Dumba and Folin fit the young, talented defensive profile rebuilding teams might like. Hanzal, Brian Boyle, Patrick Eaves, Vrbata, even Iginla given some careful cap maneuvers could look good in Minnesota. Buffalo’s Brian Gionta and the increasingly popular deadline objective Patrick Sharp could also fill the role well. A reunion with playoff-tested vet Ryan Carter who has been working out with the Wild may be a smart, small move as his learning curve will not be steep, nor will his salary, and he can likely mix well with current Wild chemistry.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (35-18-5, 75 points) STANDING PAT/BUYERS
With a firm hold on the second spot in the Central, the Blackhawks are in a similar position as the Wild and other front runners – solid defense, successful chemistry, and an interest in forward depth upgrades. They are also deep at goalie, and that’s a good thing heading down the stretch and into the playoffs. Still a case can be made that Chicago would move Scott Darling (13-5-2, 2.24 GAA, .927 SV %), UFA at season’s-end, for the right price. Also like the Wild they have little cap space to play with, leaving usually active GM Stan Bowman with limited options.
Of the many forwards rumored available one intriguing name is Alexandre Burrows considering his scrappy playoff role with the Canucks against Chicago in the past and his versatile, still gritty game. Patrick Sharp would also be a welcome returning sight in Blackhawk red, and having won three Cups with coach Quenneville wouldn’t take long to acclimate. In a season plagued by concussions, the fading Stars are likely to deal the 35 year-old UFA to be, but his nearly $6 M cap hit is problematic considering they probably seek youth to build around which usually doesn’t carry enough money going out to make salary cap sense. All of the messy salary cap, contractual, and expansion protection obstacles aside, Darling would be an improvement in goal for Dallas. With their declining situation in goal, Winnipeg’s Drew Stafford might also be part of a package to lure Darling, and would help solidify Chicago’s forwards.
As Artemi Panarin’s new deal will add $5.2 M (up to $6 M from a bit over $800,000 currently) to the payroll starting next year, Chicago will need to be careful to acquire anything more than an expiring deal. Perhaps another upcoming UFA Thomas Vanek and his relatively small $2.6 M cap hit could be a fit, but with Detroit also cap-strapped, reliant upon long term injured reserve money space, and in rebuild mode, they surely seek inexpensive prospects and draft picks Chicago may or may not want to part with.
ST. LOUIS BLUES (31-23-5, 67 points) – STANDING PAT/BUYERS
Coincidence or not, Mike Yeo’s tenure as head coach has accompanied a drastic turnaround as St. Louis has gone 7-2 since the change. What’s more, Jake Allen is back on track (5-2-0, 1.87 GAA, .934 SV%) during post-Hitchcock era games, perhaps changing the Blues’ trade strategy which earlier focused on improving in goal. With Carter Hutton also serving well in back up duties, the Blues have climbed to third place in the Central and shifted focus to improving their crop of forwards.
As primary deadline target Kevin Shattenkirk enters UFA territory this off season, and Patrik Berglund’s contract also expires (he too is on a hot steak with six goals since the coaching switch) St. Louis has some attractive assets should GM Doug Armstrong wish to deal. They can afford to wait for Shattenkirk’s highest bidder, but teams looking to the future may not offer much and choose to hold off until after the season in hopes of signing him to a long-term deal. Loud rumors currently surround Toronto and Montreal, as well as persisting talk about the Bruins and Rangers (near his hometown of New Rochelle, NY) and surely the Blues would like to avoid improving potential Western Conference playoff foes, although Edmonton (with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle as possible trade bait) has been linked recently. The Leafs possess a ton of early picks in the next two NHL Drafts to pedal, and Shattenkirk could bring veteran stability to a squad shooting for their first playoff appearance in 13 years. The right package might bring back a Bozak or Van Riemsdyk, although one would think their leadership important to a Toronto playoff push. Montreal also has plentiful picks over the next two drafts that’s could interest St. Louis, and a power play pairing with Shea Weber would be deadly for “new” coach Claude Julien as the playoffs approach, but it’s not clear which forward(s) might be a logical fit for both clubs. The Blues don’t have to deal Shattenkirk, especially with new momentum heading toward late season success, and someone must wow St. Louis in order get this high-priced rental.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS (27-22-8, 62 points) BUYERS
Nashville made its splash during last offseason getting Subban for Weber and, in spite of having abundant salary cap room (projected $18.4 M by the deadline) GM David Poile will be wary of making further drastic changes. After a rocky start to the campaign, the Predators have stabilized and are leading the wild card chase in the Western Conference but could benefit from a forward to round out their top-six.
After acquiring Vernon Fiddler and Cory McCloud as depth pieces, another deal would likely focus on one of the top dogs, perhaps even someone from the projected Avalanche bonanza. Duchene has been mentioned frequently in Nashville rumors, apparently likes the city, and the Predators have interesting defensive prospects in Samuel Girard and Dante Fabbro, as well as Vladislav Kamenev who profiles as a future top center. Both at 26 years of age, defensemen Ryan Ellis and Matias Ekholm would likely attract the Colorado brass and could be potential parts of a Duchene package.
Coyote center Martin Hanzal might be a good fit as well, provided a good haul of young talent and picks are exchanged. Kevin Fiala might also interest an Arizona squad more focused on forwards than defense. Nashville is likely in these and other conversations with Colorado and Arizona, but there will be and have been many others at their tables. Iginla, Vrbata, or Doan could come for lower prices should Nashville seek a veteran top-six presence for the stretch run and possible playoffs.
WINNIPEG JETS (27-29-5, 59 points) BUYERS
The Jets have had a weird year. After a promising early stretch led by offensive firepower brought by rookie sensation Patrick Laine and his counterpart at center Mark Scheifele, goaltending woes that were thought to have been solved by Ondrej Pavelec’s departure and Connor Hellebuyck’s development are not. The Jets stand 27th in goals allowed per game (3.13) and their biggest target at the deadline remains a goaltender. Just three points out of the final wild card spot, this area requires the most attention from GM Kevin Cheveldayoff who has a whopping $24.3 M in cap space to play with.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Ben Bishop always come to mind for the goalie-needy with cap room, but a resurgent Brian Elliott may also hold appeal, although a deal with the team they are directly hunting in the wild card race might not be plausible, especially when he is Calgary’s current number one option. Scott Darling, Keith Kinkaid, and Phillip Grubacher, all upcoming UFAs may also be potential targets and Drew Stafford, a pending UFA as well, could be a bargaining chip to offer a team seeking experience and skill on the wing with a formidable extra goaltender.
DALLAS STARS (23-27-10, 56 points) SELLERS
Dallas has really disappointed. With a crushing number of early season injuries their formerly high-scoring offense has been unable to counter defensive and goaltending shortcomings, leaving the Stars nearly out of the playoff race and likely looking to sell. Dallas has sunk in the standings to the point that somewhat surging Arizona has a fighting chance of passing them before season’s end. The Stars are facing more of a rebuild than re-tooling and have several pieces that could aid them in their efforts. With UFA forwards Sharp, Patrick Eaves, and Lauri Korpikoski potentially leaving, as well as Johnny Oduya on defense, Dallas may be a popular trade target for contenders seeking veteran contributors whose salary will disappear in the offseason.
Goalie and defensive help are primary needs, and those with surpluses or expansion draft concerns in either area including Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Minnesota on defense and Chicago, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Washington in goal might swap for Eaves, Sharp, or Oduya looking for a late season/playoff boost. With slightly more than $10 M in cap space at the deadline, Dallas can take on salary which might make them a more suitable partner than other teams on a down year. GM Jim Nill may want to pursue Marc-Andre Fleury ($5.75 M) or upcoming UFA Ben Bishop rumors at this point, provided they can protect either from the expansion draft, and sign Bishop should they go that route. With both the Penguins and Lightning in tight salary cap quarters, one might be willing to deal for Eaves’ $1M expiring contract and career-best contributions (21 goals, 16 assists in 59 games).
COLORADO AVALANCHE (16-38-2, 34 points) SELLERS
As the worst team in hockey by bounds (13 points behind runner-up Arizona) with two young and relatively inexpensive NHL stars, the Avalanche are players in nearly every NHL team’s trade rumors. Landeskog, Duchene, and to a lesser extent upcoming veteran UFA Jarome Iginla interest those in the market for forwards, and Tyson Barrie attracts those seeking scoring from the blue line.
The likely haul for either of their two young forwards is a first round pick, an established but youthful defenseman, and several upper echelon prospects. Colorado wants and needs cheap developing talent and draft picks not just because that’s what rebuilding teams do, but also due to limited cap space. Their defense is horrid and seems the first order of business in upcoming transactions.
GM Joe Sakic should have lots of offers including promising pieces for Avalanche fans to watch develop for a future likely featuring current untouchables Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and 2016 first round pick Tyson Jost. Exactly who ponies up depends upon their level of desperation, but the Kings have been one of the most frequently rumored with their surplus of defense at the NHL level and below, and need for scoring to compliment Kopitar and Jeff Carter.
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