1. Washington Capitals: 61 Points (28-15-5)
The Washington Capitals are deadline buyers, there’s no doubt about it. The Caps have goaltending and all the scoring they need. The main thing that they are missing is depth. To win in the playoffs, a team needs to be able to roll four forward lines and three defensive pairings. Right now the Caps could really use an upgrade on their third line of Chandler Stephenson, Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, and could benefit from getting Christian Djoos off of the second pairing and into the third.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that they only have $1 million in cap space, meaning that they are really going to have to be creative in their trades. The big move that the Caps could make is to deal Evgeny Kuznetsov and his $7.8 million contract, but that likely won’t come until the draft this offseason. I expect a mid-season deal to involve rookie Jakub Vrana to entice a team to retain salary. Vrana has had a good year, and any deal with him has a large potential to look like a Filip Forsberg trade, but they don’t have too many players they can afford to swap.
2. New Jersey Devils: 56 Points (24-15-8)
I know that looks weird; why would the Devils, who are second in the division, sell at the deadline? Well, it’s important to remember that the Devils are technically still in a rebuild. Just because the Devils won the draft lottery last year, doesn’t mean that it is over. I don’t think they should make any drastic moves, but they have a couple of pieces that they can move for a solid return.
For instance, the Devils currently have three goals in the NHL: Cory Schneider, Keith Kincaid, and Ken Appleby. On top of this, New Jersey also has Eddie Lack in the AHL. If Kincaid is healthy before the deadline, he could be a goaltending addition to a team like the Islanders who are looking at any and every option between the pipes.
In addition, the Devils also have eight defensemen on the roster. Trading Ben Lovejoy, who is under contract through next season, could be the best option. At 33, he doesn’t have any long-term impact on the team, but could be used in a package to get some young players and picks in return.
3. Philadelphia Flyers: 56 Points (24-16-8)
The Flyers are in the same exact boat as the Devils. They are a team that needs to retool and continue their rebuild, but they find themselves in a playoff spot and tied for second in the division. They also haven’t exactly been hitting the ball out of the park this season. Halfway through January, they were last in the division. Their recent 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games is not likely to hold up.
Forward Valtteri Filppula is the most likely trade candidate. The 33-year-old winger is in the last year of his deal with a $5 million cap hit. The Flyers are very unlikely to re-sign him to another contract, so they might as well get something for him instead of losing him for nothing. Though he is past is prime, he has 10 goals and 11 assists showing that he can still contribute on the scoresheet. He will slot in well with any team looking for a center - say, maybe, like their cross-state rivals. Just something to think about.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 55 Points (26-19-3)
The Artemi Panarin trade this offseason completely changed the Columbus Blue Jackets. They now have skill on multiple lines which makes it tough for the opposition to hone in on shutting a single player down. However, the Blue Jackets have been banged up with three of their top nine out with Injuries. That mixed with Jack Johnson’s trade request will make the deadline an interesting one for Columbus.
So, who’s a good fit for Johnson? Well, you don’t have to look far: the New York Islanders are looking for a top four defenseman. However, the Isles are also looking to buy and probably don’t want to sell off a top-six forward to make it happen. More realistically there are the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins that could look to trade for the defenseman.
The Canadiens are without Shea Weber and have been shopping Alex Galchenyuk. The Blue Jackets could package Johnson with some picks and they could receive another top-six forward to slot in immediately. Boston could trade David Backes, with retained salary, or someone like Ryan Spooner to come in add depth to the wings.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 55 Points (26-21-3)
Until Sidney Crosby retires from the NHL or somehow joins another team, the Penguins will always be in buy mode. The most concerning thing for the Penguins is that they tried to upgrade their third line center already this season with Riley Sheahan, and it has not worked. The Pens still have their first and second-round picks this year and their top three picks next year.
There have been rumblings here and there that Mark Stone could be available from the Senators, but they would have to package multiple picks and a player. I would think the player in mind would be Carl Hagelin, who is making $4 million per season through next year. Any first round picks the Senators can get this year are extra valuable due to the fact they are without a first-round pick this year or next and a 2018 second-round pick from the Matt Duchene and Mika Zibanejad trades respectively.
6. New York Rangers: 53 Points (24-20-5)
The New York Rangers are a team in limbo. They have some great young pieces, but in general, they are an aging team with a thin farm system. I would expect the Rangers to look at all options at the deadline to acquire young talent and picks for a retool. The only players that wouldn’t be on the board would be Jimmy Vesey, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad, and Brady Skjei.
With Rick Nash’s contract up after this season, he would seem to be the top candidate to move. However, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, and even Henrik Lundqvist (!) could be shopped out to other teams. All three players could be part of a franchise-changing trade that could allow the Rangers to retool in two seasons instead of a five to seven-year rebuild. I don’t expect a Lundqvist deal will be made, but if a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling, you have to look at making a deal.
7. New York Islanders: 53 Points (24-20-5)
Regardless of where the Islanders are in the standings, they must be the most aggressive buyers in the league. This deadline is all about convincing John Tavares to stay with the team. The Isles have already completed one piece of that equation which was to secure an arena, and now they have to show him that they’re serious about the pieces that they add.
The Islanders need goaltending in the worst way possible, and an upgrade on defense. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that they would be a good trading partner with the Buffalo Sabres to acquire Robin Lehner, and I still believe that deal will get done for a relatively low price of a draft pick. The Islanders will also need to target a defenseman, and I can see Vegas being the right team to make a deal with.
Despite being the top team in the league, I still believe that Vegas GM George McPhee is going to look to add prospects and picks this year for the right pieces. During the expansion draft, McPhee picked a plethora of defensemen and I could see one of them being shipped to the Isles for picks/prospects. Nate Schmidt would be their top target, but I could imagine the Isles landing Brayden McNabb or Jason Garrison.
8. Carolina Hurricanes: 50 Points (21-19-8)
Looking at the standings, it would make sense for the Hurricanes to sell right? However, it is illogical to sell at this point, and we all know that new ownership normally brings with it aggressive trades. The issue with the Canes is that the farm system is stocked. There isn’t enough ice time at the AHL level to develop all of their players, and the Canes are almost at the 50 contract limit.
The Canes have goaltending issues, sure, but the fact of the matter is that they don’t have a star. They need someone to really bring in the excitement and to put the puck in the net, and they need it now. Ideally, the Canes would trade for a center like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, I just don’t think the Oilers are ready to give up on him (but who knows with their trade history). Centers are expensive and often aren’t on the mid-season market.
This could mean the Canes could look at upgrading the wings and two players come to mind there are Evander Kane and Alex Galchenyuk. Both players would be an immediate add to the top six and would make the team way more dynamic in scoring. Plus with Kane, the Canes would be adding size, although it’s an open question whether his well-chronicled off-ice issues would present an obstacle too high for the Canes front office to overcome. Having a pairing of, say, Kane and Sebastian Aho, would cause opposing defensive players to be a little more aware of not only getting scored on but getting run over by Kane. No matter what move is ultimately made, the Canes have to be desperate on this trade market if Tom Dundon wants to fill seats and build excitement around this team.