NHL Power Rankings: Early Trade Deadline Edition

Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP

The trade deadline is in full swing.

With the moves by Montreal and Los Angeles to acquire Eric Staal and Brendan Lemieux, respectively, one of the busiest times in the NHL season is officially underway. Teams will now be spending the next two weeks evaluating their teams and trying to fill any holes they may find before the deadline comes up.

The last couple of years have provided busy trade deadlines and key moves that are still impacting teams today. Mark Stone, the Vegas Golden Knights’ first-ever captain, was traded for and extended by the organization two seasons ago. Tampa Bay overpaid for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but were rewarded as both played key roles in the team’s Cup run last year. Not all moves made will have the impact of such deals, and there is likely going to be at least one major mistake revealed down the line. However, for teams looking into the present, they will have an assortment of trade chips to bargain over.

Granted, this deadline will take place amidst the league’s COVID protocols, so the heavy wheeling and dealing might not occur in some cases. That said, there are still plenty of storylines worth digging through. How will Nashville kickstart what is looking like an impending rebuild? Will Rickard Rakell set the market for top-six wingers like Filip Forsberg and Johnny Gaudreau? Will Taylor Hall be headed to a serious contender five months later? All of those questions and more will be decided shortly.

For now, though, it’s time to look at the season again and figure out just where everybody stands. While going through the week will still be done, any analysis on team needs will be determined here. Where do the teams stand since we hit the halfway point? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to March 27.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Even): Business as usual for the Lightning, who are looking as complete a team as there is in the NHL. Expect them to sit tight at the deadline and have Nikita Kucherov be their “big acquisition” come playoff time.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): Being up close to the cap will mean any move the Knights make will guarantee a roster player going the other way. If they do decide to swing a deal, though, expect one for a wing to slot with Cody Glass and Alex Tuch to give Vegas yet another impact line.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (+2): The Hurricanes have been going through a strong stretch of play, losing in regulation just once in the last fourteen games. It’s unlikely the Hurricanes will disrupt their current roster with this momentum, but it will all depend on how confident they are about their chances against the Lightning.

4. Washington Capitals (-1): Don’t look now, but Alex Ovechkin is beginning to find that goal-scoring magic again. With 10 goals in as many games, he’s making a late-season push for what would be his tenth Rocket Richard Trophy.

5. Colorado Avalanche (+2): Riding a ten-game point streak, the Avalanche are jockeying for position with Vegas and Minnesota in a competitive race for the West Division crown. With a good supply of young players and contracts they can ship out, would it be surprising for Joe Sakic to land one of the big assets of the deadline to push the Avs over the top?

6. New York Islanders (Even): Just when everything was starting to come together for the Islanders, captain Anders Lee suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Given the high-powered offenses that their East Divison foes have, the Islanders will have to make an aggressive bid for a big asset to keep pace.

7. Minnesota Wild (+1): A team shaping up to be a postseason pest, the Wild have a big four-game stretch coming up against Vegas and Colorado that will likely determine their standing in the West. If they struggle to gain traction, they could pull a surprising move at the midnight hour (pairing Kirill Kaprizov with Nikita Gusev, maybe?)

8. Toronto Maple Leafs (+1): Good bounce-back week for the Leafs, rattling off three straight wins to balance out a three-game losing skid. With how close the North Division is, though, and Kyle Dubas’ admission that top prospects are available for trade, Toronto is shaping up as the deadline’s most aggressive buyer.

9. Florida Panthers (-5): Winning only two of their last six games has put the Panthers in a tight spot, losing ground to Tampa Bay and Carolina in the standings. With arguably the most difficult road to the Cup in front of them, expect Florida to make an unexpected move or two to keep up (consider them a dark horse candidate in the Rickard Rakell sweepstakes).

10. Winnipeg Jets (Even): A solid three-game winning streak was broken by Calgary on Saturday, but the Jets are still in the hunt for the North Division lead. With this year’s deadline playing host to a decent number of defensive rental pieces, expect the Jets to swing a deal for at least one new blueliner.

11. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): While the Penguins have stayed the course and have put themselves in a good position to make the postseason, GM Ron Hextall might still want to make his mark on the team. With so many forwards currently on injured reserve, do the Penguins decide to bring in some reinforcements?

12. Edmonton Oilers (+1): With a series against Montreal postponed due to COVID, Edmonton finds themselves in the middle of a season-defining tilt with Toronto. If they come up short against their eastern rivals, expect Ken Holland to be more aggressive at the deadline to get help for McDavid and Draisaitl.

13. Boston Bruins (-1): A loss to Buffalo would have undoubtedly knocked the Bruins further down the rankings, but they pulled through in the end. Still, coming so close to an embarrassing defeat should be enough to indicate that the Bruins need a big piece to be considered for Cup contention.

14. St. Louis Blues (Even): Dropping three straight and getting outscored 11-2 last week has the Blues flirting with disaster, as they’re currently tied with Arizona for the last playoff spot in the West. The Blues will almost certainly have to be aggressive at the deadline to keep their playoff hopes alive, including a backup goaltender to take the pressure off of Jordan Binnington.

15. Montreal Canadiens (Even): It’s a good thing the Habs went after Eric Staal when they did, as they became the first Canadian team to enter the league’s COVID protocols. Given the Canadiens were supposed to be one of the league’s bigger buyers at the deadline, how will this alter their plans?

16. Chicago Blackhawks (+1): Similar to the Blues, the Blackhawks’ recent rut has put the fringe teams in the Central Division in position to knock them out of the postseason. Getting Kirby Dach back will be a nice boost, but the Blackhawks will now have to decide whether to continue the rebuild or try and cement their postseason standing.

17. New York Rangers (+5): Despite terrorizing the Flyers by 17-3 in two games, it looks like it won’t be enough to stop the Rangers from selling. Lemieux and other depth pieces might be gone, but it may be a tougher ask to get someone like Ryan Strome or Alexandar Georgiev out of Broadway.

18. Philadelphia Flyers (-1): Redemption against the Rangers on Saturday still puts the Flyers three points behind the Bruins for the last playoff spot in the East, and the Bruins have played three less games. The Flyers will likely have to make a desperation push if they want to make the playoffs, which means top prospects and premium draft capital might be up for grabs.

19. Los Angeles Kings (Even): Getting swept by San Jose and an upcoming road series against Vegas could put a dent in the Kings’ dwindling playoff hopes. It would be wise for the Kings to stop their spending at Lemieux and focus more on keeping their future intact, but would they be willing to mortgage part of their farm system if Jack Eichel becomes available?

20. Vancouver Canucks (Even): Getting outscored 9-1 in their series against Winnipeg might be the end of Vancouver’s playoff ambitions. If Jim Benning’s awful contracts keep the Canucks from being active at the deadline, expect that to be the main reason the Canucks have a GM opening in the offseason.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets (Even): Three straight losses, including a rough loss to Detroit on Saturday, puts Columbus in the same boat as the other two teams ahead of them. Despite not being totally out of postseason contention yet, the Jackets would still be wiser to cut their losses and sell to replenish a depleted farm system.

22. Calgary Flames (-6): Saturday’s victory against Winnipeg would’ve been great if it didn’t break up a four-game losing streak, including being limited to two goals against Filip Gustavsson and the Senators. Expect smaller moves at the deadline but, if the Flames do miss the postseason, expect an even larger blowup in the offseason.

23. Arizona Coyotes (Even): A statement win against Colorado and third-stringer Adin Hill’s impressive showings against San Jose have the Coyotes close to a playoff spot. The Clayton Keller rumors are likely finished for this season, but what do the Coyotes do with a defensive corps loaded with expiring contracts?

24. Dallas Stars (Even): Defeating the Lightning was nice, but it was the only win the Stars could muster this week. Nearing the finish of a disappointing season, the Stars would be wise to sell off depth pieces and give their top prospects like Jason Robertson more time in order to assess their abilities.

25. Nashville Predators (Even): Yes, the Predators have won six of their last seven, but I’m not buying it. Even if the Predators wait to sell Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm and any rental forwards should still be put on the market to help the Preds build for the future.

26. San Jose Sharks (Even): Losing six of their last eight should be enough for San Jose to call it quits on this year. The rebuild continues with moving expiring contracts, but I don’t think Sharks fans would be opposed to Bob Boughner being a one-and-done deal at the helm.

27. New Jersey Devils (Even): A shutout loss to the Capitals has highlighted the Devils’ struggles, but they’re sitting on some decent assets. If they can get some good deals for the likes of Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Ryan Murray, and even selling high on P.K. Subban, Tom Fitzgerald could walk out of the trade deadline looking like a genius.

28. Ottawa Senators (+1): Filip Gustavsson’s strong showings against Calgary likely have him pegged as Ottawa’s goaltender of the future. They won’t make the postseason, but the quartet of Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Gustavsson emerging ensures Ottawa’s season isn’t a total failure.

29. Detroit Red Wings (-1): Defeating Columbus doesn’t brush off a 12-1 annihilation of the Red Wings in their previous three games. Unless the Anthony Mantha trade rumors are accurate, the Wings won’t be getting a whole lot to help the rebuild out.

30. Anaheim Ducks (Even): It doesn’t matter if Rickard Rakell is one of the rare offensive producers the Ducks have; trading him to kickstart the rebuild while his value is still high is imperative for the Ducks’ long-term success. If Bob Murray isn’t willing to fully commit to a rebuild, it may be time to consider if he’s part of the problem.

31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): The Sabres are one more loss from tying the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins’ record for the longest losing streak in NHL history. Past that, the only other reason to care about the Sabres is how much they’ll get out Taylor Hall, Brandon Montour, Rasmus Ristolainen, etc.

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