Where are the NHL contenders ahead of the trading deadline
The last important window for NHL teams to strengthen their rosters closes as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.
Each of this season’s four makeshift divisions has a similar dynamic, with three teams comfortably seated at the top and then a group of budding clubs in search of fourth and final playoff spot. Only six teams have seven or more points out of a playoff berth. This year’s deadline appears to be competitive, but business is also likely to be hampered by logistical issues.
Due to health protocols, players traded across the Canada-U.S. Border would be required to self-quarantine for seven days upon arrival on their new team.
Even players traded between two US-based teams, like former Ranger Brendan Lemieux, who was traded to Los Angeles, will likely need to be quarantined, the duration depending on several factors. The deadline is about a month before the end of the 56-game regular season, so teams will make deals with the playoffs leading.
The best teams may seek the final piece for a Stanley Cup race, while clubs one step below must decide whether to sell or make a move to try and jump into the playoffs.
In addition, the salary cap was stable this season and will not increase next season. Some teams have set their maximum budgets below the cap, which puts financial flexibility at the forefront.
Some teams are also looking to align their rosters to minimize the impact of the upcoming expansion draft, in which they can protect up to 11 players and their entry-level players from selection by the Seattle Kraken.
Candidates: Islanders, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins
The Islanders will be without Anders Lee, their captain, for the remainder of the season, and they lost a strong contributor to defenseman Devon Toews in the offseason. The upside is that Lee’s move to the long-term injured reserve list gives them the flexibility to accept pro-rated wages.
A top six forward to replace Lee and reinvigorate the Islanders’ middle offense and power play seemed like an obvious choice. The Islanders acquired winger Kyle Palmieri and veteran center Travis Zajac from the Devils on Wednesday in exchange for a first-round pick in 2021, a conditional fourth round in 2022 and two minor league forwards.
The Devils have kept 50% of Palmieri and Zajac’s salaries, which expire after this season, so the Islanders could pursue yet another move before Monday’s deadline.
“I’m delighted to have them in our organization right now,” said Lou Lamoriello, Islanders general manager. Lamoriello drafted Zajac in the first round in 2004 during his tenure with the Devils. “I know what they bring on the ice. I also know who they are as people, how well they will fit in in the locker room here. Chemistry is extremely important to me.
The Capitals and Penguins are each against the salary cap. Washington could make the most use of depth down center, where a pair of injuries exposed the team early in the season, and on goal, where its two main goaltenders have only had 61 combined games of NHL experience this past. this month.
Pittsburgh is reaching its prime at the right time, and its recent play hasn’t shown many shortcomings. In years past, the Penguins were bold on the trade deadline, but they are under new leadership, that of first-year general manager Ron Hextall, who in the past with the Flyers was traditionally more conservative than his predecessor, Jim. Rutherford. The Penguins also don’t have a first, third or fourth round pick in the 2021 draft, but may have some flexibility in the salary cap if center Evgeni Malkin remains on the long-term injured reserve until. ‘in the playoffs.
The Devils and Buffalo will likely be sellers, with the Sabers preemptively scraping Taylor Hall, 2018’s most valuable player, from recent games, according to multiple reports. Even after trading Palmieri, the Devils have three veteran defenders heading to unrestricted free agency this season and two more next year.
Candidates: Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers
The Maple Leafs have been the most formidable team in the division for most of the year, and fueled their courage with low cost veterans like Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and Zach Bogosian in the offseason. They’re tight against the ceiling, as are the Edmonton Oilers, who would like to find a way to further increase the supporting cast around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid is number one in league scoring and Draisaitl is second.
The Second Place Jets are expected to have around $ 3.5 million in flexibility, which could be used to acquire a solid piece if they are creative. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been flawless in pursuing big jobs, acquiring Paul Stastny in 2018, Kevin Hayes in 2019 and Pierre-Luc Dubois this season.
The Jets also have some flexibility for next season, should they choose to pursue a non-hire. The Jets will likely focus on their blue line, and the most coveted bilateral defenseman would be Mattias Ekholm of Nashville. But the Predators enjoyed a six-game winning streak to close March and set a hefty price tag.
Within the division, Vancouver defenseman Alex Edler is a veteran on an expiring deal that could forgo his no-move clause to join a contender, though his $ 6million cap may be a bit unwieldy . Calgary center Sam Bennett called for a trade ahead of the Flames’ change of coach. Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau, a powerful scorer who is largely a finesse player, may not be an ideal choice for Darryl Sutter’s style of play. Sutter, who rarely talks about individual players in a positive or negative way, used Gaudreau’s 500th career game last month to use sarcasm to ask for more of Gaudreau.
Candidates: Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes
The Lightning turned into a magnificent title defense, even without having winger Nikita Kucherov, their best forward, all season. Carolina were Central’s best team in March, with breakout performances from forward Martin Necas – 17 points in 14 games – and goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic, who posted a 6-1-1 record with a average of 1.85 goals against. Florida led the combination of wingers Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov to another successful month in what has been one of the best seasons in franchise history.
While Tampa faces the salary cap, Carolina and Florida in particular have flexibility. Most Carolina defensemen would likely be exposed in the expansion draft, so it’s possible the Hurricanes will make one at the deadline to avoid a situation where they lose one of their regulars in the offseason. They would likely look for a striker in return, as their goalie situation solidified between Nedeljkovic and now healthy Petr Mrazek, who returned to the lineup this week for the first time since January 30.
Florida has the most selection room of any team in the playoffs, but also has significant holes in their lineup. The Panthers’ top defenseman Aaron Ekblad will be out until June with a broken leg, creating a significant void. Nashville could shape the deadline as a whole, as it can chart its course based on whether or not its late March push continues. If the Predators choose to sell and reconfigure, they could bring in talented players like Ekholm, forward Mikael Granlund and defenseman Ryan Ellis.
Candidates: Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild
Opposing coaches and players like the Kings’ Todd McLellan and Drew Doughty have publicly admitted that Colorado, Vegas and Minnesota have virtually playoff spots. That leaves St. Louis, Arizona and San Jose in a three-way scrimmage for last playoff spot.
Colorado had March’s top scorer, right winger Mikko Rantanen, top goaltender, Philipp Grubauer, who won the league’s top 12 games with a 1.56 goals-against average.
Vegas, which has been aggressive throughout its brief history, has a deep but already costly list. While Colorado has a few options, they also have a surplus of talent in almost every position, with the possible exception of the backup goaltender, given that Pavel Francouz has been injured all season.
Minnesota is in desperate need of help on a power play that ranks among the league’s bottom five. Despite the emergence of Joel Eriksson-Ek, the Wild lack a true No.1 cross, and a flexible passer could open up opportunities for playing pilots like winger Kirill Kaprizov and defenseman Jared Spurgeon. A creative and game-making hub would likely be high on Minnesota’s wishlist, but the hub market is expected to be slim.
Anaheim is the most likely seller, although his position has been complicated by injuries as forward Rickard Rakell and defenseman Hampus Lindholm are ruled out.