1. Washington Capitals: 65 Points (30-10-5)
The main question for the Caps is, what do they really need? They have a great core in place that is dominating the Eastern Conference right now, and don’t have any glaring weaknesses. They only have about $800,000 in projected deadline cap space, so even if they wanted to make a move, it would require them moving one of their current players. Out of their roster only Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom, and Radko Gudas are pending unrestricted free agents. The rest of the team is signed for relatively long term so a trade would mean a player for player, or player for cap room situation, which I can’t see realistically happening with how well they have performed this season.
While I do feel that they have some contracts that aren’t good in the long term, none of them stand out as being an anchor or particularly bad at the moment. That will be a problem they will run into in two to three seasons, though, when T.J. Oshie is 36 and still making $5.75 mil for multiple seasons, or continuing to pay Carl Hagelin until 2023. These are all future situations that they can deal with when they come up, but for now they look good.
2. New York Islanders: 57 Points (27-12-3)
The Islanders are second in the division with the second most cap space in the league, and in turn should be the most aggressive buyers in the league at the deadline. The Islanders will want to improve on their playoff performance from a year ago which saw them sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins before being swept by the Carolina Hurricanes , and hopefully make a stronger push deeper into the playoffs this season.
"They get it tied up and go ahead and you think you can see what your resiliency level is and we stayed resilient and got it tied up. Overtime was crazy. We’ll take the two points. It was well-needed." - Barry Trotz pic.twitter.com/nfg4nKsquL— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 8, 2020
The Isles have received contributions from young players like Devon Toews and Noah Dobson who are still on entry level deals. This gives them more freedom to trade picks and players to get stronger. They can turn other teams’ salary dumps into a bigger move without sacrificing their current roster or picks. It is not often that teams have this luxury, but the only thing they must worry about in the offseason is having the cap for Mathew Barzal’s next contract and they are not in danger of running into trouble with that.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 57 Points (26-12-5)
It’s said every year, and it’s always true: as long as the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are contenders. Year in and year out, GM Jim Rutherford is active at the deadline and this season will be no different. The writing is on the wall that Alex Galchenyuk will get dealt at the deadline for — you guessed it — a third line center. It will be the third season in a row that the Penguins will be looking for this role to be filled. They tried it with Derick Brassard and with Galchenyuk but neither have worked.
The Penguins can also leverage their goaltending depth to make a deal. One rumored trade partner is the Ottawa Senators. They could trade Galchenyuk with a goaltender or picks for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Pageau makes just $3.1 million through the end of the year, so it is easily affordable for the Penguins. They could also look to update a defense corps that has been injury prone all season and could use an upgrade to their second or third pairing.
4. Carolina Hurricanes: 52 Points (25-16-2)
With the addition of Justin Williams, the forward group is now crowded, with one of the everyday players now sitting in the press box. Having Williams back also gives Rod Brind’Amour more flexibility with lines, and players can be shuffled up and down lines based on streaks and have more options when puck luck dries up.
Williams will start in the bottom six until he has his legs back where he could easily slot in with the top line with Sebastian Aho and most likely Teuvo Teravainen. The Canes now have options to bump Nino Niederreiter or Warren Foegele down to the fourth line, possibly to replace Brock McGinn.
In an interview before Williams signed, general manager Don Waddell said that the team was looking to add a defenseman. This would seem counter intuitive since they added two this off season and already have a log jam with Haydn Fleury. This would mean that the Canes are likely looking to move on from Jake Gardiner.
He is under a pretty team friendly deal and still has value on the market. The Canes would need to get a sure fire top four defenseman in return and could do so by adding a pick or two to the deal. The Hurricanes have two picks in each of the first three rounds, which allows them to make a deal without auctioning the entire draft. The trade will have to really be worth it for it to make sense for the Canes to move a team friendly contract and picks to make it work.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: 52 Points (23-15-6)
Logically the Flyers will sell, but they just fired their last GM who was preaching the slow rebuild route, so why would they stay put or sell this season?
The Flyers are on the playoff bubble and have a reason to feel confident in their current group. Much like the Canadiens, they feel that it would be unacceptable to miss the playoffs for another season, so the Flyers will buy at the deadline, but how? They are going to have less than a million dollars in cap space so they would have to move salary to acquire players.
The most intriguing way is with multiple trades, with the first including Shayne Gostisbehere. While he is young, he has regressed the past couple of years and could use a change of scenery. They also need to clear his $4.5 million off the books if they want to acquire any pieces. The Flyers would get a large return that could also be used in another package to acquire a forward. One more fun scenario would be to make a trade for Wayne Simmonds, reuniting him with his old team and providing a ready made fit.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 50 Points (21-15-8)
The Blue Jackets are in the most unique and toughest spot in the division when it comes to the trade deadline. They went all-in last year at the deadline, trading picks and prospects to load up for last season, while also keeping their expiring players. Now, the bill has come due: they are on the outside looking in and do not have a second-round pick or a third-round pick in this year’s draft. They need to get all the assets that they can to re-tool. They still have young stars in Seth Jones and Pierre-Luc Dubois that they can build around, but don’t have proven talent in net or a real scoring threat.
One other unique aspect of their roster: Nathan Gerbe is their only UFA at the end of the season. They don’t have any rentals they can ship off, so they are somewhat limited in what they can do. They do have the seventh most cap space in the league, so where they can be the most effective is in picking up contracts from contenders for picks and/or prospects.
Even while contending, the Canes have done this to add a first-round pick in this year’s deep draft. That makes the most sense for the Blue Jackets to pull off, and could even net a vet or two that could be helpful around the locker room.
7. New York Rangers: 44 Points (20-18-4)
The Rangers have had one of the highest profile rebuilds that the NHL has seen, but they are also doing it right. They have been able to acquire tons of picks so that, even when prospects like Lias Andersson don’t work out, they aren’t in a terrible place. Speaking of Andersson, he is one of two prominent players that should be dealt at the deadline, along with Chris Kreider. Kreider is as good as gone for the Rangers, with many expecting him to carry the price of a first-round pick, but the Rangers should still be happy with a second-round pick and a larger package. There is always the thought that he could re-sign there after all.
"I wasn't panicking. I just laughed it off and saved the next one."— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 8, 2020
Hear from Shesty after his come-from-behind first NHL win: pic.twitter.com/Asly7a09hm
Andersson is a little bit of a tougher situation. We have seen this with Jesse Puljujarvi with the Edmonton Oilers and the Dallas Stars with Julius Honka as well. All three organizations are content to sit with their asset in their control unless they get their full asking price. The other issue is that this is a trade that is more likely to be an off-season deal. Prospects don’t get traded at the deadline except as part of a go-for-it deal, and sellers, generally, don’t sell to other sellers.
8. New Jersey Devils: 37 Points (15-20-7)
Sell! Sell! Sell!
Despite not being in a “full rebuild,” the Devils should burn it to the ground and get anything and everything that they can at the trade deadline. They have four main pieces they can move at the deadline: forward Wayne Simmonds, defenseman Sami Vatanen, defenseman Andy Greene, and goaltender Louis Domingue.
Simmonds and Greene are both rentals but may not see a ton of demand. Simmonds could carry a $2.5 mil cap hit if the Devils retain maximum salary allowable, but has just four goals and 10 assists through 41 games, which is his worst statistical season. Greene is 37 with five assists and is playing on the top pairing, but on most teams would likely be a third pair bolstering guy.
31 Thoughts: @FriedgeHNIC on how recent Stanley Cup champions have approached the #NHLTrade Deadline, how John Hynes fits as head coach in Nashville, and much more.— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 8, 2020
Presented by @GMCcanada.https://t.co/KgXOrdxFW9
Vatanen is just 28 and has been useful both with the Anaheim Ducks and the Devils, with impact both offensively and defensively recording at least 20 points in six of his seven NHL seasons. Teams acquiring him at the deadline would also be looking to sign him long term, so they could receive more assets from a conditional deal if he signs, think Erik Karlsson trade to the Sharks. This could be their best chance to get any meaningful assets mid season.