In fact, we basically had three sellers between the two divisions — one team that sent a letter to fans promising painful farewells to beloved players; one team that won three Stanley Cups and then took a humbling step back this season, partially because everyone the roster outside of the mascot has a no-move clause; and also the Colorado Avalanche.
Not so in the Atlantic Division, where there are three solid playoff teams, an also-ran — and then the rest of the division is like the night market in Marrakech. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Note: Salary cap information is from Cap Friendly, while personnel information is from media reports and our own reporting.
Deadline cap space: $4,133,153
Biggest needs: Top-four defenseman, scoring winger
Assets in play: The Bruins have all of their picks for the next three drafts, save for a fifth-rounder this season. They also have a robust collection of young players they could toss into a deal, from forwards Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and Austin Czarnik to defenseman Brandon Carlo. In a perfect world, they also find a way to make buried minor leaguer Matt Beleskey (29, unrestricted free agent in 2020, $3.8M cap hit) disappear in a deal.
Deadline game plan: The Bruins and Oilers have been scouting each other, leading NBC Sports’ Joe Haggerty to believe that a trade could be brewing that would send Patrick Maroon to the B’s. Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli, Boston’s former GM, would certainly have some knowledge of the Bruins’ prospect pool. Maroon would come cheaper than the Rangers’ Rick Nash, whom the New York Post says is on the Bruins’ radar.
The other interesting name in the Bruins’ orbit is Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (28, 2019, $4.7M, limited no-trade clause), who would bolster the left side for Boston and arrives with another year on his deal. Outside of the whole “New York making a trade with Boston” thing, this feels like a good fit.
Deadline cap space: $4,711,668
Biggest needs: Veteran scoring winger
Assets in play: The Panthers have picks in every round for the next three years, including the Arizona Coyotes‘ second-round pick this season. They have winger Radim Vrbata (36, UFA, $2.5M) and defenseman Alex Petrovic (25, RFA, $1.85M) on expiring contracts.
Deadline game plan: We don’t have a “tweener” category here, but that’s pretty much where the Panthers are. They have a few assets available they’d like to move, but GM Dale Tallon said the goal is to keep the team’s core together and add to it.
What might they add? Elliotte Friedman recently reported that they would be a “stealth candidate” for Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty. That would be a smart move: Florida is a good market for him, and he’d be a very solid addition to their top six.
But mostly, expect the Panthers to stand pat instead of dabble at the deadline. Another way to read Tallon’s comments: This team has seven players signed through 2022, which limits the mobility of those contracts. So there’s your core.
Deadline cap space: $8,954,035
Biggest needs: Top-four defenseman, depth winger
Assets in play: The Lightning have all of their draft picks over the next three seasons. They have some intriguing prospects and could throw defenseman Slater Koekkoek (23, RFA, $800K) into a deal.
Deadline game plan: Adding a defenseman is the priority. Mike Green is the most obvious choice and fit, given the Lightning’s needs and the way he possesses the puck. Or perhaps the Lightning turn to Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson (31, UFA, $4,357,143), who has asked for a trade.
But McDonagh is the better option than both of them. He has loads of playoff experience, playing a shutdown role. He has several players singing his praises in the Lightning room in former teammates Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman and, most of all, former defensive partner Dan Girardi. Best of all: His cap hit is reasonable ($4.7M) and his contract ends in 2019 — just as the Bolts will need to commit to another round of blockbuster contracts with Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
I kind of love McDonagh on the Lightning, in a “last piece of the puzzle” way.
Deadline cap space: $4,711,668
Biggest needs: Top-four defenseman, scoring winger
Assets in play: The Leafs have all of their picks in 2019 and 2020. This year, they have their own pick in every round but the third and sixth, but they have picks from the San Jose Sharks in the second and third rounds. They also have wingers Josh Leivo, Nikita Soshnikov and fourth-line veteran Matt Martin in play.
Among defensemen available, Mike Green makes the most sense. He’s a possession player and a right-handed shot, two things coach Mike Babcock covets, and he adds another experienced presence on a team that already has a few of them. There’s a lot to love with this possible deal, including the assets the Leafs could offer the Wings. And GM Lou Lamoriello loves building from the crease out.
There’s also talk the Leafs have looked into Vancouver Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson (26, UFA, $3.5M), despite indications that it would be an ill-advised move. But the priority in Vancouver is to get him re-signed.
Deadline cap space: $25,851,373
Likely available: LW Evander Kane (26, UFA, $5.6M); LW Benoit Pouliot (31, UFA, $1.15M); C/RW Sam Reinhart (22, RFA, $894,167); D Josh Gorges (33, UFA, $3.9M, limited no-trade); G Robin Lehner (26, RFA, $4M); G Chad Johnson (31, UFA, $2.5M)
Would they actually deal? Center Ryan O’Reilly (27, 2023, $7.5M)? There are three reasons he might move. The first is value, of which he has plenty, and the Sabres have many holes in their lineup to address. The second is that contract, which GM Jason Botterill didn’t give him and which doesn’t have trade protection. The third is Casey Mittelstadt, who tracks to be the Sabres’ second-line center in short order.
Deadline game plan: Another lost season for the Sabres, who are like a Russian nesting doll of rebuilds at this point: Botterill’s inside of former GM Tim Murray’s. Obviously the plans start with Kane, and the high price that’s been placed on him for months. He’s one of the best pure goal scorers available, but that might not translate to a first-round pick, an NHL player, a prospect and a conditional draft pick.
Lehner also wasn’t a Botterill guy, so that gives the GM pause about his future — as does the fact that teams like the Flyers and Islanders could use his services. As for Sam Reinhart, there are those who feel it’s time the Sabres cut bait with the second overall choice in 2014, but he’s still only 22.
Best-case scenario: The Sabres get full asking price on Kane and win the draft lottery.
Deadline cap space: $233,525
Likely available: D Mike Green (32, UFA, $6M); G Petr Mrazek (26, RFA, $4M); Xavier Ouellet (24, 2019 UFA, $1.25M); LW/RW Tomas Tatar (27, 2021 UFA, $5.3M); LW/RW Gustav Nyquist (28, 2019 UFA, $4.75M, no-trade clause)
Would they actually deal? Andreas Athanasiou (23, RFA, $1,387,500)? The speedy winger is putting up the best per-game numbers in his career and is coming off a bitter contract impasse with GM Ken Holland.
Deadline game plan: Trading Green. There’s going to be a robust market for the puck-moving veteran defenseman, with the Lightning and the Maple Leafs among the suitors — two teams that could end up facing each other in Round 1 of the playoffs. If the Wings can’t pull at least what the Blues got for Kevin Shattenkirk last season, it’ll be a whiff.
Keep in mind that wherever Mrazek ends up for the rest of the season, that team can walk away from him in the summer during arbitration.
Tatar is, for my money, a better player than Nyquist, and he has no trade protection. But he also has the higher average annual value on his contract and the longer commitment. Not for nothing, but Dallas GM Jim Nill and Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman were with Detroit when these two were drafted.
Best-case scenario: The Wings find there’s a bidding war for Green and get above-market value for him.
Deadline cap space: $32,416,345
Would they actually deal? Forward Andrew Shaw? He’s one of the payers who generates the most interest among other general managers — scoring, playoff experience, however you define “grit” — but the Canadiens reportedly don’t want to move him, given that he’s signed at $3.9 million through 2022.
Deadline game plan: For a team in the midst of a disastrous season that has the hockey world wondering how its general manager is going to survive, there’s every chance that the Canadiens have a quiet deadline. Plekanec wants to remain with the Habs, and they’re talking new contract with him. The discussion about Pacioretty being moved seems to be generated from outside the organization because he’s had a considerable falloff on his goal-scoring numbers. Galchenyuk will be rumored to be moved until the day he actually is.
Best-case scenario: The Canadiens trade Plekanec to a Stanley Cup contender for a healthy return and then re-sign him after the season.
Deadline cap space: $6,852,499
Likely available: C Derick Brassard (30, 2019 UFA, $5M); C Zack Smith (29, modified no-trade, 2021 UFA, $3.25M); C/RW Ryan Dzingel (25, 2019 UFA, $1.8M); C Jean-Gabriel Pageau (25, 2020 UFA, $3.1M); LW Mike Hoffman (28, 2020 UFA, $5,187,500); D Johnny Oduya (36, UFA, $1M)
Would they actually deal? Star defenseman Erik Karlsson (27, UA 2019, $6.5M)? Well no, probably not at the trade deadline. But that’s not to say they won’t trade him after getting a serious sense of his future with the franchise after July 1. Then again, who knows? There’s not a whole lot you’d call “predictable” or “stable” with the Senators these days.
Deadline game plan: The first part of the plan was executed on Tuesday night, as Ottawa sent defenseman Dion Phaneuf and forward Nate Thompson to the Los Angeles Kings for veteran winger Marian Gaborik and center Nick Shore. It was a move that will save the Senators, at a minimum, around $4 million in salary. It’s a move that seems to fit with owner Eugene Melnyk’s comments in December that his payroll is “way too much over a revenue base that we have.”
So the business-influenced player purge should continue. The Senators feel Brassard is the best center available on the market at the deadline, and they expect to be compensated for that. Hoffman’s recent chemistry with star Matt Duchene would seem to argue for Ottawa keeping him but perhaps not when they owe him more than $10 million over the next two seasons. (I still think it’ll take a whale of a package to land him, if he’s available.)
The game plan is simple: Save money and maximize the return.
Best-case scenario: The Senators are able to flip players with term into great young prospects.