The Wild West: Trade Deadline – A Seller’s Market: Who’s Buying?
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 next few weeks leading up to the March 1 trade deadline should bring more clarity. The impending expansion draft and prospect of teams losing good players in positions of depth has created urgency for some teams to get something now for players they risk losing to Las Vegas.
This week we’ll take a look at positional needs and potential swap scenarios in the Pacific Division. Next week we’ll tackle the Central Division:
SAN JOSE SHARKS (33-18-5, 71 points) - BUYERS
Holding first place in the Pacific Division by a slim margin, the Sharks will be looking to bolster their roster for another Stanley Cup push without relinquishing key pieces. With Thornton and Marleau as UFAs this offseason, there may be greater urgency to take one last hard swing with both long-time Sharks. While Aaron Dell (6-3-0, 2.05 GAA, .928 SV%) has played admirably in limited action behind workhorse goalie Martin Jones, San Jose may be in the market for a more experienced back-up to give Jones a breather occasionally, and serve as a viable replacement in case an unthinkable injury happens. Halak or Pavelec could likely be had for a low draft pick, but Dell appears a better option than either at this juncture. Keith Kinkaid’s name has also surfaced as a possible target, which makes sense with New Jersey’s increased depth in goal (Ken Appleby, Mackenzie Blackwood, and the currently injured Scott Wedgewood in the AHL).
While their top two lines are solid, San Jose could use more experience on their bottom lines to compliment Labanc, Meier, Tierney, Karlsson, and Donskoi depending upon where he slots in as he returns from an upper-body injury. With Joel Ward’s production dropping (21 G, 22 A, 79 games last year, 6 G, 15 A, 54 games this year) and Matt Nieto off to Colorado, possible forward acquisitions include Arizona wing Shane Doan, who at 40 years old would surely enjoy his first playoff run since 2012, and perhaps his final shot at the Cup. Rumor has it that they have been trying to land Doan for a good number of years. Looming free agent center Martin Hanzal is another Coyote that could interest typically deadline-active GM Doug Wilson, but the greater need seems to be at wing. Jarome Iginla might fit in teal at right wing as he’s expressed a desire to be traded from the floundering Avalanche to a playoff contender, would certainly lend a veteran presence, and likely costs little more than a draft pick or prospect.
ANAHEIM DUCKS (29-18-10, 68 points) – FORWARD BUYERS/DEFENSEMEN SELLERS
With limited cap space (just $2.8 M in long-term IR relief) Anaheim, second to San Jose in the Pacific, would like to land another forward that can score and there are a few that might be had for a draft pick and/or one of their ultra-deep defensive corps. Reserve netminder and pending UFA Johnathan Bernier might also draw interest, and shedding his $4.15 M cap hit would create space needed to reel in a potent scoring piece. With another former Maple Leaf Jonas Enroth excelling at AHL San Diego (9-1-0, 1.20 GAA, .954 SV%), Bernier’s exit might not impact the Ducks greatly.
Perpetually part of this year’s deadline rumors, the Coyotes look to be shopping Radim Vrbata ($3.25M including bonuses) and have clearly shown an interest in blue line help since Arizona’s first-year GM John Chayka took charge. Sami Vatanen ($4.875M), in the midst of somewhat of a down season, might be an attractive get for the building Coyotes, or perhaps as part of a package deal to fortify the porous Avalanche defense as the Ducks, among many others, would love to land Matt Duchene ($6M) or Gabriel Landeskog ($5.6M). While both are NHL bargains, Anaheim acquiring either would require significant Duck salary departing. Jarome Iginla could also be a valuable contributor down the stretch run and in the playoffs, but also carries a $5.3M cap hit. Manson, Montour, Larsson, and Theodore are also possible Duck blue line trade bait, and it would be smart for Anaheim to make a deal before this summer’s expansion draft potentially erodes their defensive depth. UFAs-to-be Thomas Vanek ($2.6M) and Alexandere Burrows ($4.5M) might also be worthwhile, less-pricey targets. Anaheim GM “Trader Bob” Murray likely will make a move or two in spite of the salary restrictions.
EDMONTON OILERS (29-19-8, 66 points) BUYERS
In the closely-clustered Pacific the Oilers are positioned near the top, currently just five points behind San Jose in third place. For success-starved Edmonton which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006, things have significantly improved this year but there are still some holes. Added front-line experience, as well as offensive firepower from the blueline could help propel the Oilers deep into the playoffs. With nearly $25 million in cap space, GM Peter Chiarelli can shop for top-notch talent and St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk is usually the first likely-to-be-traded defender mentioned, but with the Blues’ goaltending issues Pittsburgh’s Fleury and Tampa Bay’s Bishop seem more likely trade targets for St. Louis than any goalie Edmonton might offer. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could be the cornerstone of such a swap, as the Blues would benefit from the depth he would provide at center, and he is perhaps expendable. Jordan Eberle is also frequently rumored to be available but, particularly with the 26 year-old right wing having somewhat of a down year, Shattenkirk can fetch much more. While the Oilers wouldn’t relish dealing either of their top six forwards, both likely could be had for the right offer. Perhaps Edmonton would be best served waiting until the offseason and after the expansion draft to court Shattenkirk with a long-term, lucrative deal. And perhaps, in this best Oilers’ season in recent memory, messing with team chemistry too significantly is not wise.
Tyson Barrie is another possibility, but with the dearth of Colorado defensemen a significant package of prospects and/or picks would be required. Promising defender Brandon Davidson (likely expansion draft material) has reportedly drawn interest from Colorado, who could be part of such a deal, but it would take much more than him to land Barrie. Arizona’s Michael Stone, a UFA at season’s end might be a worthy rental target, but doesn’t bring the offensive firepower the Oilers reportedly seek on defense. Still, his added physical presence could be a late season asset and might be a name to watch. Toronto’s Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick are also available for perhaps a mid-round pick and could bolster the Oilers’ blueline, but not it’s scoring.
Instead of a big-name defender, it might be more realistic to target front line help or a goalie to spell NHL games-in-goal leader Cam Talbot. As with San Jose, Pavelec and Halak are cost-effective options but not guaranteed to be effective in net. Outbidding others for Arizona’s veteran forwards (Doan, Vrbata, or Hanzal), or swapping with the Avalanche for Duchene and Landeskog if they want to remain young, and Iginla if they more seek a veteran presence are the most obvious routes. Dallas’ Patrick Eaves presents a less-pricey option. As an experienced and physical veteran having the best scoring year of his 12-year career (21 G, 14 A), the Stars might be willing to deal him while his value is at its highest. Rumored to be seeking defense, the Stars might be interested in creating a deal involving draft picks, Davidson, and/or Oscar Klefbom who is also rumored to be on the block. While certainly not a stellar combo, Lehtonen or Niemi might serve better if used less frequently as Talbot’s back-up and could be part of such a package.
LOS ANGELES KINGS (28-23-4, 60 points) BUYERS
The Kings are perennially solid and deep on defense, and have found a gem in goal with revitalized Peter Budaj as they wait for Jonathan Quick’s potential return, but their scoring remains a weak spot. Holding a slim edge over Calgary for the Pacific’s second wild card spot, GM Dean Lombardi will be looking to add point production to their front lines at the deadline. Trevor Lewis, Dwight King, Dustin Brown, and Marian Gaborik have provided little alongside Anze Kopitar. Gabriel Landeskog would sure look good on a line with the star Slovenian, and with their needs on defense Colorado might be swayed by young King defenders such as Paul LaDue or Kale Clague, who at 18 years of age has impressed as a potent scoring threat with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings (6 G, 37 A in 71 games last year – 4 G, 29 A in 38 games this year) as well as Team Canada in the WJCs (0 G, 6 A in 7 games). Given the right circumstances, LA might be willing to part with Jake Muzzin (27 years old) or Alec Martinez (29 years old) who is having a career season as part of a package to acquire Landeskog. Reduce the offer somewhat, and Jarome Iginla could be another intriguing pick up from the Avalanche. While each is a tad older than perhaps the Avalanche would prefer, either would bring an instant upgrade. If they avoid the big splash, scorers such as Thomas Vanek or Brian Boyle might fit the mold and would require less in return. Of course Arizona’s trio of Doan, Vrbata, and Hanzal are also out there and can be had for prospects and picks, but with defense being the Kings’ area of strength and not the Coyotes’ primary need, a deal with the desert seems less likely.
CALGARY FLAMES (28-25-3, 59 points) BUYERS
Without quite the same degree of success this year Calgary, like Edmonton, is experiencing a hockey resurgence and are contending for the playoffs, just one point behind the Kings for the second wild card position. Upgrades on the blue line or another scoring forward would help their final push, and their goaltending hopes for Brian Elliott have not worked out well so there has been speculation that a Ben Bishop or Mark Andre Fleury deal might loom. Such goalie exchanges would be hard to engineer given salary cap restrictions on all sides. Pittsburgh seems most interested in defense, something the Flames seek as well, so we may not have a shift in goal there just yet. In addition, all three teams have interesting goalie tandems which will be influenced by June’s expansion draft protection scenarios. It may be best to wait until the summer for a drastic Flames change in net.
In the meantime, the Avalanche and Coyotes may prove deadline deal partners as both Tyson Barrie and Martin Hanzal could add scoring punch and Flames defensive prospects Oliver Kylington, Brandon Hickey, Adam Fox, Rasmus Andersson, and Brett Kulak would surely generate interest in Colorado. Young forwards Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk and Hunter Shinkaruk could contribute to Arizona’s future front lines and help fetch Hanzal. Other names to consider are Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist of the sinking Red Wings for picks and good prospects, or Tyler Johnson at wing from salary-strapped Tampa who could add punch to the Flames’ current stable of forwards as well. At 5’ 8” Johnson may not ideally fit on a line with the diminutive Johnny Gaudreau, but likely to reach 50 points by the end of the campaign he would be a welcome addition by crafty GM Brad Treliving nonetheless. With Elliott, Chad Johnson, Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland and Kris Versteeg all UFAs at the end of this season, each might be used as a trade chip to other contending clubs seeking rentals.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS (24-25-6, 54 points) PROBABLY SELLERS, PERHAPS STANDING PAT
Vancouver is on the cusp of two worlds. They aren’t out of the playoff race, but hovering around .500 they are one cold streak away from that, and one hot streak away from snatching the second wildcard spot from LA and Calgary (if both go cold). Seeing as they are grey up front and getting greyer (the Sedin twins are 36, and Loui Eriksson at 31 has disappointed), they may opt to forgo a playoff push, with the potential payoff an early exit to a top seed. While Team President Trevor Linden has publicly stated that they will not be buying, except for perhaps draft picks, the next few weeks should prove if this is a smoke screen or their true intent.
With Alexandre Burrows (35) and Ryan Miller (36) upcoming UFAs, each holds value but also no-trade clauses. Other potentially interesting players, defenseman Alex Edler (30) and wing Jannik Hansen (30) are both contractually committed to the Canucks beyond 2016-17 but also must approve any trades, and with young families in BC that may prove problematic. GM Jim Benning has a rocky road to improving the team by March 1, and unless one of the veterans will accept a trade to a contender the Canucks risk losing several valuable assets to free agency and potentially the expansion draft. The prospect of chasing the Stanley Cup with the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Oilers, or any other team on the precipice of the playoffs looking for a goalie might tempt Miller, who has quietly been responsible for keeping the Canucks within striking distance, and could fetch young forward talent to compliment Horvat, Baertschi, and Granlund.
ARIZONA COYOTES (18-28-7, 43 points) SELLERS
Along with Colorado, the Coyotes are one of only two true sellers as of now. Mired in last place in the Pacific, and sporting the second worst record in the NHL, they must continue to build by adding prospects and draft picks. Pending UFAs Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Michael Stone, and Martin Hanzal can all play valuable roles for contenders, and many will likely go to the highest bidders at the deadline. While Arizona’s defense was a priority this past off season for GM John Chayka this trade deadline we will likely see an emphasis on adding depth at forward to complement their promising young core featuring Domi, Strome, Dvorak, Keller, Rieder, Duclair, Crouse, Perlini, MacInnis, and Fischer. There are many possibilities with so many shoppers and potential buyers, but Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar might benefit from changes of scenery and fit the profile of young, talented centers (Arizona’s greatest need on the front lines) available for veteran Coyotes. Goalie Mike Smith, performing reasonably well for a losing team, could be an attractive piece for contending teams in need of a number 1 or 1A netminder such as Dallas and St. Louis, but Smith has at least publicly expressed a desire to stay in the valley for the near future and has a no-trade clause.
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