The halfway point of the 2021 NHL season is fast approaching, and with it comes a whole new set of wrinkles as teams prepare for what lies ahead.
Every game now means something, whether to secure a top seed in the divisional playoff brackets or better draft position. It also gives teams chances to evaluate where they are and what they can do to improve themselves either now or in the future. The upcoming Seattle expansion draft will throw a wrench in at least one team’s plans, but there is also another time to ponder about: the NHL Trade Deadline.
If you haven’t guessed from how last week’s rankings were formatted, the Trade Deadline is arguably my favorite time not just in the NHL, but in all of sports. A nearly month-long whirlwind of trade rumors, speculation, and potential fits always keeps fans and journalists on their toes as they try and establish any link between a team and a potential trade chip. At this point in the season, we have a guess who’s really selling, but who believes they have to pay a premium in order to make a real chance for themselves?
That’s what I hope to pin down with these rankings, as each team will be given an outlook on how they should approach the deadline, as well as a player or two who might pique their interest. Who’s buying, selling, or somewhere in between? Where is your team after a crazy last week in the league? Let’s begin.
Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to March 6.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Even): Last year’s deadline saw the Lightning make overpayments on Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but it’s hard to argue with the results. This time around, I’d expect the Lightning to look for a salary dump and see if Steve Yzerman would like one of his guys back (with the possibility of adding Luke Glendening for the fourth line, perhaps?)
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (Even): The Leafs have strong records against their likely divisional playoff foes, but they could be in for a whole different ball game against teams with far superior defenses. Adding the likes of Rickard Rakell or Mikael Granlund sounds like a luxury, but it could be exactly what Toronto needs to push them over the top.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): The Knights have been big-game hunters in each of their first three trade deadlines, but cap issues and the hot streak the team is riding right now will likely push them to the sidelines this time around. If they could make the cap work, however, a reunion with original Knight Erik Haula could improve their middle six.
4. Florida Panthers (+1): Given the Panthers may have to go through the Lightning to get past the second round, improvement might be necessary if the team wants to make a push. Eric Staal could be an interesting target to improve their second line, and cheap third-pairing defensemen like Ryan Murray and Dmitry Kulikov could also be of interest.
5. Boston Bruins (-1): With Brandon Carlo joining the ranks of injured defensemen and depth scoring still an issue, the Bruins could easily justify going all-in at the deadline. They’ll be on the likes of Mattias Ekholm and David Savard throughout the month, but the fact that they might be willing to shop Jake DeBrusk indicates a bigger move on the horizon…
6. Carolina Hurricanes (+1): It’s hard to predict what the Hurricanes might do and where they see themselves at the deadline. Here’s a question that may solve this: if Carolina doesn’t expect to retain Dougie Hamilton, do they shop him as a rental for a true contender, or is he the center of a package to bring a major piece over to Raleigh?
7. Washington Capitals (+3): This roster has the makings of a Stanley Cup contender, which might be why GM Brian MacLellan isn’t sure about going into the postseason with two rookie goaltenders. If he’s not convinced by Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek soon, expect the team to launch inquires on the likes of Jonathan Bernier, Antti Raanta, and Ryan Miller.
8. Winnipeg Jets (Even): Did you see the 7-1 pasting the Jets suffered at the hand of the Canadiens on Saturday? If that’s not enough proof about the need for a David Savard-type defenseman on the roster, I don’t know what is.
9. New York Islanders (+3): Mathew Barzal is still an offensive wizard and Oliver Wahlstrom is finding his footing in the NHL now, but I can’t help but feel the Isles still need a big-ticket scoring option to push them into real dark horse territory. They’ve been linked as a contender in the Filip Forsberg sweepstakes, but how much will it cost them, and are they willing to gamble their future on such a move?
10. Philadelphia Flyers (+1): The Flyers have had a Matt Niskanen-size hole on their blueline throughout the season, which is something that must be filled if the Flyers want to truly compete this year. With GM Chuck Fletcher not afraid to make the big move when necessary, expect the Flyers to make a serious push for a top prize like Mattias Ekholm.
11. St. Louis Blues (+2): What the Blues decide to do with Vince Dunn will be indicative of where the team sees itself and how serious they think contention is this season. Regardless, I’d expect them to go after a backup goaltender in order to give Jordan Binnington a much-needed break.
12. Colorado Avalanche (-6): With Nathan MacKinnon potentially missing more time due to injury, Joe Sakic might have little choice but to make a big deadline move in order to keep pace with the top dogs in the West. With the Avalanche in danger of losing quite a few good players in the expansion draft, could one of them get packaged to bring in a once-rumored target in Taylor Hall?
13. Chicago Blackhawks (+2): The big surprise of the season, the Blackhawks find themselves straddling the line between accelerating their rebuild and sticking to the plan. With the play of rookie forwards like Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev, could the Hawks believe Dylan Strome has lost his spot and make a hockey trade for him?
14. Minnesota Wild (Even): A team that’s seemed to live in the middle of the pack for a while now, it’s always impossible to gauge where Minnesota’s heads are at come deadline time. Matt Dumba is still in the mix, but would the Wild risk jeopardizing their playoff chances out of fear for the expansion draft?
15. Edmonton Oilers (-6): A humiliating three-game thrashing at the hands of the Maple Leafs should tell the Oilers all they need to know about what they should do. Expect Ken Holland to get in touch with the Red Wings again (Jonathan Bernier and Marc Staal would both make sense for the Oil) while also looking for options to stabilize the middle six.
16. Montreal Canadiens (Even): With the playoffs no longer looking like a sure thing and Marc Bergevin’s job security going out the window, the Habs might not have a choice but to make a big move. I’m not believing the rumors about Carey Price just yet, but I would expect Montreal to be in the mix for the likes of Rickard Rakell or Kyle Palmieri.
17. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): Not having a first-round pick as ammunition definitely hampers whatever Ron Hextall might try to do this deadline, but that shouldn’t stop him from trying. Bringing aboard a proven playoff producer and middle-six energy player like Sam Bennett would be an ideal scenario to try and break the inconsistency.
18. Los Angeles Kings (Even): With core players turning the clock back to 2012 and the Kings standing right on the doorstep of the playoffs, Rob Blake’s vision for this season might be a little murkier now. Does he decide to accelerate the rebuild on a key piece like Vince Dunn, or does he ship out expiring contracts and wait until the offseason to sell high on someone like Dustin Brown?
19. Calgary Flames (+4): With a coaching change comes a new philosophy, and the deadline might be Darryl Sutter’s first opportunity to introduce his vision of the Flames to the hockey world. A right wing to feature on the top line would benefit the Flames greatly, so Kyle Palmieri or Nikita Gusev might be of interest.
20. Arizona Coyotes (Even): The Coyotes might be one of those weird teams that try to strike a balance between staying competitive and restocking their draft picks. A name like Brandon Montour could be of interest to shore up the defense but, with a lot of defenders on expiring contracts, expect Alex Goligoski and Niklas Hjalmarsson to have at least a couple eyes on them.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (Even): The Blue Jackets appear to be in the market for a center after trading Pierre-Luc Dubois, but this is a team stuck between a rebuilding effort and staying competitive. Could someone like Joonas Korpisalo end up being moved in a hockey trade for the Jackets to pick up somebody they think they need?
22. New York Rangers (+2): The Rangers are still firmly in the rebuilding process, so don’t expect much from them this time around. Keep an eye out in the offseason, though; their connections to Jack Eichel might make them the favorite to pull off the biggest blockbuster trade of the year.
23. Dallas Stars (-4): With the Stars trending towards a down year and players either struggling to stay healthy and/or productive, they’ll have to look at what they have sooner or later. Could smaller pieces like Radek Faksa, Andrew Cogliano, and Jamie Oleksiak be sent out for the Stars to get a closer look at their better prospects?
24. New Jersey Devils (-2): A safe bet to miss the playoffs, it’s high time for the Devils to move on from expiring contracts to get more assets to help the rebuilding effort. Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Sami Vatanen, Ryan Murray, and Dmitry Kulikov are just some of the names to watch as the deadline draws closer.
25. Nashville Predators (Even): With the ideal plan being for Seattle to swallow Ryan Johansen’s deal at the expansion draft, the Predators should embrace a fire sale at the deadline to make up for any lost assets. Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm are two of the biggest trade chips on the market this time around, while pieces like Mikael Granlund, Calle Jarnkrok, and Erik Haula should draw at least something worthwhile.
26. San Jose Sharks (Even): The Sharks don’t really have any worthwhile expiring contracts to send out this year, and they are certainly not in any shape to land any big assets. Smaller deals for the likes of Radim Simek, Matt Nieto, and Devan Dubnyk should be expected, but Doug Wilson could easily decide to send out a big cap hit like Evander Kane to get a rebuild started.
27. Vancouver Canucks (+1): Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette both make for interesting reclamation projects, but the Canucks should have their sights set on moving out more than just those two. Veterans like Tanner Pearson, Brandon Sutter, and possibly even Alexander Edler should all be considered on the trading block.
28. Anaheim Ducks (+1): Josh Manson‘s injury-riddled season and Ryan Getzlaf‘s massive cap hit will make both difficult sells, but that shouldn’t stop the Ducks from firmly embracing a rebuild at last. Smaller pieces like Danton Heinen, Nicolas Deslauriers, Ben Hutton, Jani Hakanpaa, and Ryan Miller are starting points, but the success of this deadline could hinge on what the Ducks get out of Rickard Rakell.
29. Ottawa Senators (+1): Derek Stepan‘s season-ending injury effectively kills any idea of a trade, but the Senators do have other options. There isn’t a whole lot the Senators can get with Chris Tierney, Ryan Dzingel, and Erik Gudbranson, so they may have to send Logan Brown out and hope someone bites at the chance of a reclamation project.
30. Detroit Red Wings (+1): Unless the rumors of Anthony Mantha being a possible trade chip are true, the Red Wings will likely be accepting a series of smaller deals this time at the deadline. Bobby Ryan, Sam Gagner, Luke Glendening, Marc Staal, and Jonathan Bernier should all be expected to be on different teams by mid-April.
31. Buffalo Sabres (-4): This nightmare has to end at the deadline by way of a wholesale purge. Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, Casey Mittelstadt, Brandon Montour, Henri Jokiharju, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Carter Hutton will all be put up for sale, but it’s high time the Sabres admit they failed Jack Eichel and send him out before the situation has a chance to become toxic.