Five Realistic NHL Trade Deadline Blockbuster Scenarios

Image Credit: NHL.com

First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

The NHL season is nearing the halfway point and, as we approach the new year, the landscape has become quite clear. Some teams are emerging as clear contenders, others are firmly entrenching themselves in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, and the rest stand on shaky ground where one slip-up could end their season in the spring. With every team’s strengths and weaknesses now apparent, the Trade Deadline is already shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory.

Obvious non-competitors like Arizona, Chicago, and San Jose boast some of this year’s premium trade assets that can fetch them a decent price on the market. Vancouver and St. Louis have experienced massive bouts of inconsistency, leading both to the brink of a blowup. Meanwhile, while competitors like Boston, New Jersey, and Vegas have all had moments of brilliance, there are still holes that can be patched up in their lineups. This is exactly the point of the Deadline: sellers put up a quality player and initiate bidding wars between the buyers, whom consist of potential contenders hoping to land a final piece and fringe teams looking for a sparkplug to kickstart a journey into the playoffs and beyond.

Here, I want to discuss five potential scenarios that could occur at the deadline involving some of the biggest names on the market. While future ramifications could make these ideas a bit murky, the players going to new teams have the skillset that contenders need right now. This isn’t to say that all of these players are guaranteed to be moved at the Deadline either, given the high prices teams will have to pay to acquire them; consider these more as sales pitches to specific teams to convince them that a certain player is what they need to get over the hill.

So how does this Deadline play out in Nerd World? Let’s find out.

Scenario #1: A Legend Gets Closer to Home

New York Islanders acquire: F Patrick Kane (25% salary retained), 2023 5th Round Pick

Chicago Blackhawks acquire: F Oliver Wahlstrom, 2023 1st Round Pick, 2024 3rd Round Pick

It was clear from the offseason the Blackhawks had that they weren’t interested in being competitive. Trading Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa, letting Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome walk in free agency, and signing mid-tier free agents like Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou to use as trade assets later made that philosophy clear. Once that happened, the focus shifted on franchise legends Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom have expiring contracts and no longer fit with the Blackhawks’ timeline. While neither of them have had memorable seasons thus far, this can largely be equated to the fact that there is practically no one around them for support. While the argument could be made for Toews’s decline, Kane’s history of production still warrants a high price for his services. Pairing him with a true top center like Mathew Barzal can allow him to do more than he’s been able to in Chicago, potentially setting him up for a strong final quarter of the year. Also, while he has a no-move clause attached to his contract, he’d likely be willing to waive it for a chance to return at least close to home (Kane is a Buffalo native) and compete in the playoffs once again.

While Kane would fetch a high price, the Islanders would still come in relatively cautious. The idea of Kane being an expensive rental is a valid cause for concern, and the Islanders don’t have a farm system that can easily replace anything they might lose. Still, a team as historically offense-starved as the Isles should know that they need to change something, and Kane represents a piece that can turn them from inconsistent fringe team to a tough out in the playoffs. Kane would replace Wahlstrom in the lineup, while Chicago would have a solid young NHL player to build a new core around. Adding an extra first would give the Blackhawks potentially three first-round picks in a stacked 2023 draft, giving them the opportunity to kickstart a rebuild with elite talent. The extra third is a sweetener that can have a condition attached to it, but the Hawks retaining salary and adding an extra pick would likely remove any ideas of protection.

The Islanders have needed an elite offensive option for a long time, while the Blackhawks are firmly in a transition period.

Scenario #2: The Hockey Trade

Minnesota Wild acquire: C Bo Horvat, Conditional 2024 4th Round Pick

Vancouver Canucks acquire: D Matt Dumba, F Caedan Bankier, 2023 1st Round Pick, Conditional 2024 2nd Round Pick

The Canucks seem ready to blow it all up. Extension talks with Horvat seem to have been unsuccessful. Brock Boeser has struggled to mesh with Bruce Boudreau’s system and has been allowed to seek a trade. Thatcher Demko pre-injury was seen as a potential buy-low opportunity. Now, rumors have even begun to circulate that Quinn Hughes can be had if a team is willing to pay the massive price needed. While the Canucks have plenty of pieces that can make a rebuild easier, they also need to build a team with capable players to stay competitive. They have the opportunity to accomplish both goals with this trade to Minnesota. The Wild have needed a top-flight center for a little while, and those flaws have been exposed in their two most recent playoff series with Vegas and St. Louis. The idea of gaining Horvat on a career year should be appealing to them, and it is likely he would be on a line with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello to form a terrifying top line.

Helping Minnesota’s case is the fact that they can offer Vancouver something they desperately need. Dumba has been a name floating around the trade mill for a little while, and the emergence of a defenseman on the right side in Calen Addison may finally give Minnesota the excuse they need to ship him out. While Dumba does have a 10-team no-trade list, I would doubt the Regina native has any team from Western Canada on that list, especially a team like Vancouver who would pair him with Hughes and give him top-pairing minutes out of the box if the latter stays. Bankier has been impressive enough to be on a stacked Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships. Being able to play center should make him even more appealing for the Canucks to add him to the trade. The 2023 1st is a given for a trade of this magnitude, but the conditional picks added would only be if Horvat or Dumba re-sign with their new teams. Otherwise, the picks will not be added in order to keep the value even.

Vancouver and Minnesota certainly have something the other side wants, and it’s become apparent neither player is returning next season. Not only would this give both teams something for their impending free agent, but put them both in a position where they can be successful.

Scenario #3: Hello, Old Friend

New Jersey Devils acquire: F Timo Meier (25% salary retained)

San Jose Sharks acquire: D Damon Severson, F Alexander Holtz, 2023 1st Round Pick

While the Sharks would be more eager to get Erik Karlsson’s contract off of their books, they are more likely to get what they want out of trading Meier. After a slow start to the year, Meier has broken out offensively and looks sets to complete his third 30-goal campaign. While the Sharks would prefer to keep him, he’s also due a $10 million qualifying offer next year that, if accepted, would push him into unrestricted free agency. The risk of losing arguably their best player for nothing is a risk that the Sharks should be unwilling to take. While a lot of teams will want to acquire Meier, the Devils have arguably the best case for him. He’s the piece that the Devils need for them to take the next step up and be a credible threat, while also being young enough (26 years old) to fit with the timeline New Jersey has. Even better for Meier is that he would likely be on a line with Nico Hischier, his real-life friend and linemate on Team Switzerland. While we know what Meier is capable of at this juncture, Hischier is still an ascending talent. Adding Meier can only make him better as a player, and the 1-2 punch of Hischier and Jack Hughes has the potential to become the best in the league at the center position.

While New Jersey would have to make the financials work between a Meier extension and those of the likes of Jesper Bratt and Fabian Zetterlund, they do have some expiring contracts that can be dangled to make the money work. Severson would be a logical choice, as the Devils have emerging young options like Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec who can slide in on the right side. While the Sharks would have an option for an NHL player that can fit in their lineup, the real prize for them here is Holtz. Holtz was expected to cement a top-six role for the Devils this season, but the success the team has experienced this season and the emergence of guys like Zetterlund have clouded his future with the team a bit. Grabbing Holtz would mean the Sharks can pair him with a friend and former teammate as well in William Eklund. Having two top prospects who know what the other is capable of can assist their development dramatically, and I could see both of them being on a top-six line with either Tomas Hertl or Logan Couture. Again, a first-round pick would be necessary, especially if the Sharks are retaining salary.

One player reunites with a friend to push for a Stanley Cup, the other reunites to help push a team back to relevance. This is as realistic and logical a trade option as it gets for the Sharks to move a top talent.

Scenario #4: The Shoe Finally Drops

Edmonton Oilers acquire: D Jakob Chychrun

Arizona Coyotes acquire: F Jesse Puljujarvi, D Philip Broberg, 2023 1st Round Pick, 2024 2nd Round Pick, 2025 3rd Round Pick

Chychrun has been one of the big names on the trade block for a while, but a combination of injuries and struggling to do everything on a poor Coyotes team has kept conversations from truly getting off the ground. However, a strong return to form this year could change that. While the Kings and Senators have been linked to Chychrun in the past, both teams are struggling to keep pace in the playoff hunt right now. If Chychrun wants to go to a team that can compete and the Coyotes want to find a team willing to give them the assets they want, Edmonton would be a good place to look. The defense has struggled to gain much traction this year, forcing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to try and bail the Oilers out of trouble too many times. That needs to change if the Oilers want to build off of last season’s successful run to the Conference Finals, and Chychrun can be a piece that helps with that. Chychrun has already flashed great potential and still has some term left on his deal, making him an affordable “final piece” option.

The main question with Chychrun is the package that would come back, which the Coyotes described as similar to the deal last deadline that sent Hampus Lindholm to Boston. That means we’re looking at an NHL player, a quality prospect, and multiple high picks. While the Oilers have some options to choose from, Puljujarvi stands out as a player in desperate need of a change of scenery. He’s struggled to do much with either McDavid or Draisaitl, and his lack of confidence has started to show in recent times. Moving him to a place like Arizona where the pressure is drastically reduced and more opportunities to be a consistent top-six presence can only help him out. Broberg could also benefit to a move to the desert, as Arizona has had some success with defenseman like him. Shayne Gostisbehere and Juuso Valimaki have looked like solid reclamation projects, and the development of Janis Moser has been promising. Another gem in Broberg can help create an underrated unit for Arizona to work with. The picks are roughly the same as the Lindholm deal, except one of the second round picks is turned into a third for Arizona to compensate for a higher-ceiling player in Puljujarvi. Regardless, this deal gives the Coyotes a potential 21(!) picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts. That’s a rebuild trending in the right direction.

Arizona is hoping to get some franchise talent in their system as they try and finally find a combination that works on the ice. Trading away Chychrun for this type of return would help in achieving their ultimate goal.

Scenario #5: Blowing Up the Blues

Toronto Maple Leafs acquire: C Ryan O’Reilly (50% salary retained)

New York Rangers acquire: F Vladimir Tarasenko (25% salary retained)

St. Louis Blues acquire: (from Toronto: F Calle Jarnkrok, F Nick Robertson, 2023 1st Round Pick) (from NYR: F Vitali Kravstov, D Matthew Robertson, 2023 1st Round Pick)

The Blues have had a nightmare season thus far, at least according to their own expectations. Not only have they been insanely inconsistent on the ice, but the team has started to see multiple cracks on the surface. While the dominating headline has been Jordan Binnington trying to become the next Ron Hextall, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko’s expiring contracts have also come to the hockey world’s attention. Tarasenko has been pushing for a trade out of St. Louis for the past couple of years, while O’Reilly’s up-and-down year has cast doubt over him staying. Toronto has been scouting the Ontario native O’Reilly lately, and a need has arisen for them. A center lineup of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and O’Reilly would be among the league’s best, and adding the veteran would certainly help their penalty kill. Meanwhile, Tarasenko would give the Rangers a quality option on the right side, instantly elevating him to the top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, as well as working on the power play with Artemi Panarin. Both would be great options for teams hoping to go far in the postseason.

Meanwhile, what would the Blues gain from trading away two quality forwards. With Toronto needing to shed a little salary outside of the 50% salary retention, the Leafs will look to see who can go the other way. Alexander Kerfoot and Justin Holl would stand as choices, but my first decision would be Jarnkrok. He’s a versatile forward with term left, giving the Blues some options in their middle-six as they rebuild their lineup. Nick Robertson would also be helpful as the prospect going back. While adding him would feel like a punishment to the Leafs for the salary retention, it’s also hard to see where he fits in Toronto’s lineup, especially if they try and re-sign Michael Bunting. He’d get the chance for top-six minutes in a rebuilding St. Louis, likely being paired with Robert Thomas or Jordan Kyrou. Meanwhile, the Tarasenko trade would net the Blues a new power forward and reclamation project in Kravtsov. Kravtsov hasn’t developed as planned in New York, and Gerard Gallant hasn’t been particularly high on him. With a team like St. Louis, Kravtsov would get an opportunity to gain a spot in the middle six. The Rangers also sent Nils Lundkvist off to Dallas due to the glut of young defensemen in their system, and Matthew Robertson would likely also fall victim to the numbers game. With options like Torey Krug and Marco Scandella also on the trade block, a move to St. Louis would give Robertson a path to the NHL. Both teams would have to give their first-round picks in this deal, giving the Blues three picks in the 2023 draft to work with and kickstart a rebuild.

It’s been a tough season for the Blues, but that doesn’t mean it has to end in failure. Getting such returns for their stars would make their transition period easier to swallow.

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