The NHL trade deadline is creeping closer and will be here before we know it.
There are already some major deals going down with the likes of Jake Muzzin, Derick Brassard and Nick Bjugstad already on the move, but there is going to be plenty more action to come over the next few weeks.
I’ve already broken down the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions so far, so let’s switch gears to the Western Conference and take a look inside the trade deadline scenarios for every Central Division club.
What to look for:
The Jets made a big splash at last year’s deadline by adding pending UFA Paul Stastny in an intra-division deal with the St. Louis Blues, and I expect GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to be on the hunt for big-game additions once again this time around.
Winnipeg brings essentially the same blueline to the table this year as the one that got them to the Western Conference final last season. While a depth addition to the back end is always a possibility, there’s little doubt that the target here is an impact, offense-first forward to support the top line of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
Whether said addition comes at the center ice position again or on the wing, the already offensively-gifted Jets will become all the more dangerous with a big-time addition to lengthen that dynamic group of forwards.
It’s absolutely in the cards that the Jets go after a big-name forward like they did last season, and it’s quite possible that name could come from the Ottawa Senators.
They don’t have a specific need up front, which makes the current Senators duo of Matt Duchene and Mark Stone very appetizing to this Jets brass. Stone is an elite 200-foot winger that puts up a point per game while Duchene would most likely fill that second line center role and push veteran Bryan Little down to the third line as the acquisition of Stastny did a year ago at this time.
There seems to be a wealth of forward help on the market this trading season and I fully expect the Jets to be big-time players in this market.
What to look for:
The Predators have exactly what every other team in the NHL wants and needs to succeed late in the season: an embarrassment of riches on the back end.
They sport arguably the best top-four defensive group in hockey with Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm who is enjoying a monster season on that Predators blueline. And by the way, they have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner behind that group in Pekka Rinne.
What the Preds don’t have, at least on paper, is reliable secondary scoring behind the top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson. GM David Poile is quite likely to go toe-to-toe with the aforementioned Kevin Cheveldayoff in talks with teams like the Senators for those top available forwards, although there is plenty to choose from at this point in time.
The Predators are in a nice spot to obtain that offensive punch at the deadline. They have their first and second round draft picks in each of the next three years in the cupboard along with plenty of cap space to work with.
It’s also go-time for this franchise. They reached the Stanley Cup final two years ago before falling to the rival Jets in a hard-fought second round last season. Contention windows don’t remain open forever and Rinne is now 36 years old. This has been one of the best teams in the NHL for a few years now, but there haven’t been any rings to hand out to this point.
I fully expect Poile to be in dialogue with teams like the Senators (Duchene, Stone), Blue Jackets (Panarin), or Flyers (Simmonds) to get some help up front.
It should be fun to watch the Preds and Jets work to outduel one another over the next few weeks.
What to look for:
It’s been a bumpy season for a Wild team that came out hot, stumbled for a large stretch and then recently found another gear as they battle the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for that third spot in the Central.
Like the two teams above, Minnesota gets the job done on the back end with a stout group of defenders along with reliable goaltending. It doesn’t sound like their is a lot of optimism in regards to whether Matt Dumba can return for a playoff run this season which would seemingly leave the door open for a move to bolster the blueline.
There’s also plenty of room to upgrade the forward ranks, although the Wild will have to be a little more creative in terms of the salary cap to make any big-name addition.
The Wild have already made one notable move when they shipped winger Nino Niederreiter to the Hurricanes for help down the middle in Victor Rask, but Minnesota might want to bolster that center depth once again.
Eric Staal is a free agent after the season and Mikko Koivu’s best offensive days are behind him at the age of 35. I don’t expect Minnesota to be players in the rental market, but I wonder if they could make a deal for someone like Duchene with the verbal agreement that he would re-sign with the club in the summer.
Unlike the Predators and Jets, the Wild don’t appear to be big-time contenders in the west, so my approach for this club would be to think win-now, but with the future ever present in any deadline decisions that are made.
What to look for:
The Stars are another club that’s already tested the trade waters so far as they have traded for both Andrew Cogliano and Jamie Oleksiak so far, but I expect more additions moving forward for a club desperately looking to make the playoffs after missing out on the dance each of the last two seasons.
The Stars are quietly one of the NHL’s very best defenses, but even if they weren’t up there with the best, the main point of conversation in the Dallas war room would be how to acquire upgrades up front.
The Stars have scored one goal or less in six of their last nine games and have scored more than three in a game just once in that span. The top line has once again been split up, a big-time hint that head coach Jim Montgomery is looking for offense in a bad way.
Stars CEO Jim Lites recently shredded his top two forwards in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin through the media, which to me is as curious as it gets. They aren’t among the league leaders in scoring, but they are undeniably two thirds of the team’s offense with former linemate Alexander Radulov accounting for the other third.
After this trio, Jason Spezza is the most productive forward with six goals and 21 points in 48 games followed by Radek Faksa with eight goals and 17 points in 50 contests. The simple need here is secondary scoring a plenty of it.
It’s time for GM Jim Nill to get aggressive and pull the trigger on some big-time offensive upgrades in support of his criticized star players.
What to look for:
The Avalanche came out the gates hard this season and looked like full-blown contenders in what was shaping up to be an uberly competitive Central Division.
Instead, the Avs find themselves clinging onto the second Wild Card spot in the west and just a point or two ahead of five other teams that could force their way into a spot on any given night.
The needs on this club are two-fold. While offense behind the dynamic top line is much-needed, the Avs have slipped into the bottom third of the league in team defense and haven’t received much in the form of goaltending since Semyon Varlamov stole the show in the season’s opening weeks.
While the back end can surely use some help, the Avalanche aren’t going to start shopping for goaltenders with Varlamov and 2018 draft day acquisition Philipp Grubauer sharing duties in the crease.
Erik Johnson is dealing with concussion issues, but his return at some point will help the blueline.
In my view, this team’s situation is very similar to the Stars’. If the top line doesn’t get the job done, the Avs lose more often than not. GM Joe Sakic knows more than anyone that you need secondary scoring to win come April and as of right now the Avalanche are by no means guaranteed to be playing hockey past the end of the regular season.
They need offensive help, and they need it soon if they plan on keeping their head above water.
St. Louis Blues
What to look for:
Sure-fire sellers as of a few weeks ago, the Blues have gone 5-2-1 over their last eight games to get within three points of a playoff spot entering the month of February where the schedule gets rather condensed.
As a result, the Blues have gone from sellers to a team in wait-and-see mode in a hurry. The Blues play 12 more games prior 3 PM ET on February 25th, and you have to think that their record in that span will determine their plans.
They have three notable expiring contracts in Pat Maroon, Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson, three players that won’t fetch much of a return at all as rentals. Therefore, if they did sell, it would be players with term such as Brayden Schenn or Alex Pietrangelo.
The Blues would be well served to be cautious buyers leading up to the deadline. If they can go on a similar streak over their next eight games like the 5-2-1 stretch they’re currently riding, it would put themselves in a position to make the playoffs, something that was unspeakable just a short time ago.
Still, it’s hard to imagine St. Louis as any type of threat in the postseason with the roster as is. Every team in the league goes on a nice little run at some point over an 82-game schedule, and it would be a dicey move to send future assets away in a trade, especially after sending a conditional first-round pick to the Sabres in the package for Ryan O’Reilly.
The Western Conference playoff race has been rather soft, especially compared to the east. St. Louis’ 49 points would place them 13th in the east and 10 points out of a playoff spot. Things can change, but I don’t expect the Blues to be anything but minor sellers at the deadline.
What to look for:
The Blackhawks are in a re-tool mode, however, they still have some assets that could be of value to contending clubs, one of which is Duncan Keith.
Keith is one of a handful of legacy players from the Blackhawks’ glory days, and he is in charge if his own fate with a full no-movement clause that was built into that 13-year contract that doesn’t expire until after the 2022-23 season.
He’s not nearly the same player he once was at the age of 35 as he’s scored just three goals over his last 133 games. If any teams feel he has anything left in the tank, there is a trade to be worked out here so long as the financials make sense considering Keith carries a $5.54M cap hit over the next four seasons after this one.
At least, that’s how I would handle it.
GM Stan Bowman should certainly be taking calls on any and all players given the current state of the organization. The Blackhawks would be in lottery pick territory if the season ended today, which is better than barely missing the playoffs.
They have a handful of 24-and-under players on the current NHL roster making either entry-level money or will be rather cheap to re-sign on RFA contracts. For once, the Blackhawks aren’t against the ropes when it comes to the salary cap, which frees up their options.
In a drama-filled world, the Blackhawks would listen intently on Patrick Kane given his reasonable salary relative to production before he gets too far into his 30s. In a more realistic scenario, it’s likely the Hawks are rather quiet at this year’s deadline before doing some business in the summer.