The NHL's Most Interesting Potential Trade Deadline Buyers
In part two of our NHL trade deadline preview, we look at the buyers, and which teams might make a big splash for a Cup run.
Photo by James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
Welcome to part two of the VICE Sports NHL trade deadline preview. Yesterday, we took a look at the league's sellers. That wasn't easy given where the market stands right now, and we had to stretch the definition a bit to find enough teams.
We won't have the same problem today, as we look at the buyers. In theory, you could probably make a case for as many two-thirds of the league's teams falling into this category. They won't all be able to find a dance partner, but they'll be trying—or at least, for the more timid among them, pretending to try.
Instead of giving you 20 identical capsules that all say some variation of "They'd like to add some depth in the middle six and on the blueline," let's narrow the field down to the teams that could be the most interesting over the next week.
Where they're at: Back in a playoff spot, albeit barely. That's still a big step forward after a terrible first half that cost the coach his job, painted the picture of a front office in chaos, and had this looking like a lost season. Now they're telling fans they're "all-in" and making it clear that they want to be buyers.
In a perfect world: They need help on offense; the powerplay has struggled and they rank in the bottom third of the league in goals scored. So, in theory, they'd want to be in on someone like Patrick Eaves, Radim Vrbata or Thomas Vanek. Maybe even more than one of them.
But it's more likely that: The team is red hot, and recently welcomed Jonathan Huberdeau back to the lineup after he'd missed the entire season. Aleksander Barkov also returned after an extended absence. That gives the Panthers room to claim that getting those guys back counts as their deadline additions, and they wouldn't be wrong. But GM Dale Tallon has been clear that he wants to do more, so some sort of rental deal to boost the offense seems like a sure thing.
Los Angeles Kings
Where they're at: Hanging around the playoff bubble despite looking like a team that could win it all. So, the usual.
In a perfect world: Dean Lombardi has made big midseason trades that helped the team win a Stanley Cup twice, so he's always a guy to keep an eye on. He's also never been shy about trading first-round picks, and still has this year's in his holster. There may not be many players out there that would be worth that price, and the Kings don't have any obvious holes. But they do have a little bit of cap room to work with, so Lombardi will be sniffing around bigger names that might shake free.
The other question is goaltending. Jonathan Quick has been expected back before the playoffs, but his recovery has been slow and there's a chance he won't make it back this year. If that's the case, the Kings will probably want an experienced backup for Peter Budaj.
But it's more likely that: Only the Kings know what's really up with Quick, but a deal for a goalie wouldn't be a surprise, and an addition up front seems likely.
New York Rangers
Where they're at: Fourth place in the Metro which, thanks to playoff format oddities, is actually better than moving up to second or third.
In a perfect world: The Rangers have a real shot at the Stanley Cup. They score a ton, Henrik Lundqvist is looking like himself again, and if they stay where they are in the standings then their path to the conference final looks clear. But they could still use help on the blueline, and they've been linked to Kevin Shattenkirk since last offseason. He wouldn't come cheap, but he'd move the Rangers close to the front of the line for Cup contention.
But it's more likely that: GM Jeff Gorton has been reluctant to part with futures, reversing years of Rangers habits. Assuming he doesn't want to go overboard for Shattenkirk, a cheaper option could make sense; Buffalo's Cody Franson has been suggested a few times.
Where they're at: Fading in the Pacific; they've dropped to third place and are five points back of the Sharks for top spot. That's not a great look for a team with an old core that sure feels like it was built to win right now.
Here's where it gets fun for the Ducks: They're one of the only teams in the league that have too many defensemen. Literally—if they don't make a move, they're going to lose somebody good at the expansion draft. So a trade of some sort is coming. That could happen in the offseason, and maybe it will, but with almost everyone else in the league desperately looking for blueline help, this seems like a great opportunity for Bob Murray to turn some heads.
In a perfect world: Murray finds some team that's willing to overpay for a defenseman, and takes advantage to add an impact forward.
But it's more likely that: Realistically, the Ducks' extremely tight cap situation makes any major moves a tough fit. They could be forced to sit out altogether, or limit themselves to minor depth moves.
Where they're at: Right on the edge of the Eastern playoff race, and in danger of missing the postseason for the third straight year. They've been hot lately, winning four straight, although they haven't gained any real ground because other teams have been making up games in hand.
In a perfect world: The Bruins have been featured prominently in rumors around Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog, which suggests that they're in the market to do something big. GM Don Sweeney has already fired his coach, and if he doesn't make the playoffs there's a good chance his job could be next. Ideally, he'd be able to land a piece or two to help up front.
The organization seems set on not giving up promising young defenseman Brandon Carlo, which might make it tough to get a blockbuster done. But the Bruins do have some decent prospects, and as a bubble team that could still collapse, their draft picks would be attractive.
But it's more likely that: NHL GMs are notoriously reluctant to make moves when things are going well, so the Bruins' recent winning ways could give Sweeney pause. But again, his job might be on the line. Even if it's not a Landeskog-level name, you'd have to assume he goes out and gets something.
Where they're at: Neck-and-neck with the Habs for top spot in the Atlantic, having made up some big ground over the last few months. That's a surprise—few expected this to be a playoff team, let alone a division winner—and it might have rookie GM Pierre Dorion thinking big.
In a perfect world: They've been heavily linked to Colorado's Matt Duchene, but Dorion is working a full court PR press to try to drive the price down. You can't blame a guy for trying, and if Avs GM Joe Sakic feels his seat getting warm it might even work. Dorion is also apparently looking for a high draft pick for one-time top prospect Curtis Lazar, which is an interesting ask for a guy with one point on the year.
One thing to keep an eye on: Money. The Sens are a budget team, but owner Eugene Melnyk says he's willing to spend if a deal makes sense.
But it's more likely that: A Duchene deal is still possible, but it seems more likely that they'll settle for a rental that won't cost them a top prospect like Thomas Chabot.
Where they're at: In the playoffs. Wait, that can't be right. [Checks math.] Yeah, they're making the playoffs.
They're also just in year two of the Connor McDavid era, so you could argue that they should sit back and enjoy the ride, knowing they've got another decade or two of this to look forward to. GM Peter Chiarelli was busy in the offseason, so you could forgive him for taking the deadline off.
In a perfect world: All that said, the West is wide open. Why not the Oilers? Why not now? They've got prospects, picks and cap space. Is there anyone in the conference that they definitely couldn't beat? Let's do this thing.
(And maybe there's still hope for my dream scenario: The Avs let Jarome Iginla pick his destination, and he turns heel on Calgary by choosing the Oilers over the Flames.)
But it's more likely that: Chiarelli adds some veteran depth, perhaps to both the blueline and the top nine forwards. But he sticks to his publicly stated plan of not doing anything major.
Where they're at: Suddenly in a tight battle for first in the Atlantic, after seeming like they had the division on lockdown for most of the season. They've been mediocre since November and worse than that over the last month or so. It already cost Michel Therrien his job, so now the spotlight is on GM Marc Bergevin.
In a perfect world: Most of the talk has been around the forward ranks, and ideally they could land a center. Duchene would be just about perfect, but he'd cost plenty.
But it's more likely that: The Coyotes are apparently asking for the moon for center Martin Hanzal. Maybe a winger like the Stars' Patrick Sharp or Eaves might make more sense (although you'd assume the Habs don't want another dose of the Vanek experience).
Or maybe Bergevin doesn't do much of anything; he certainly seems to be setting the table for that scenario. That could be a tough sell for fans in Montreal who are watching the season slip away.
(Oh, and here's one more thing to keep in mind. Let's say the Canadiens keep struggling. And let's say Bergevin can't get anything done, and the deadline passes without any major moves. That might put Montreal fans in a surly mood. And guess who comes to town the day after the deadline? This guy.)
New York Islanders
Where they're at: The playoff race, miraculously, seeing as how their season seemed all but over by the halfway point.
In a perfect world: Honestly, they might be sellers. That's where they seemed headed until very recently, and it might not be the worst thing in the world for this team to go that route. Ideally they could get something for Dennis Seidenberg and dump Jaroslav Halak's contract, even if they had to eat some of it. Add some picks or prospects, freshen up the mix a bit, and come back next year ready to build off the unexpected success under interim coach Doug Weight.
But it's more likely that: The Islanders are on the buyer's list for one main reason: Garth Snow could be working for his job here. If the Islanders miss the playoffs, nobody knows how new ownership will react. That's not to say that Snow is definitely on the hot seat, but after ten years on the job he may not want to find out. If that's the case, look for the Islanders to import a rental or two, hopefully at reasonable prices.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Where they're at: Right in the middle of that train wreck at the top of the Metro, which is to say in far better shape than anyone imagined they'd be this late in the season.
In theory, that takes all the pressure off of GM Jarmo Kekalainen. This is already the best season in franchise history, and will stay that way even if they go out in the first round. That may be part of the reason that they're telling everyone that they're going to take it easy at the deadline.
In a perfect world: The Blue Jackets have been whispered as a potential surprise player in the Duchene derby, and there's a potential fit there. They're a young team and don't want to mortgage the future on short-term veterans. But Duchene wouldn't be that, and he'd certainly be the type of acquisition that could shift the balance of power in the Metro.
But it's more likely that: Kekalainen stays true to his word, making a depth pickup here or there without overpaying, and hopes for the best once the playoffs arrive.
Where they're at: First place in the West, and slowly but surely emerging as the consensus favorite to win the conference.
In a perfect world: The Wild are very good, but several of their key pieces are old. Both their division and conference are surprisingly weak this year, so a path to the final is open. They haven't been out of the second round since 2003. They have most of their future picks to work with, including all of their firsts. Really, if you were going to make a list of factors that would point to a team making a big swing for the fences, the Wild check all the boxes.
Well, all except for one: cap space. That complicates things. Still, they've been hunting for a big-name forward for years now. It would be fun to see this team make the sort of move that leaves everyone else thinking "Wow, they're all-in".
But it's more likely that: This isn't a team with any glaring weakness, so it's possible that Minnesota tinkers instead. Don't be shocked if GM Chuck Fletcher goes out and gets a grizzled veteran, someone like a Brian Boyle or maybe even Iginla or Shane Doan.
Other teams that could be buying: Pittsburgh Penguins (although they're pretty much capped out), San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues (who might also be selling, at least when it comes to Shattenkirk), Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames (who've already made a move).
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