With the NHL trade deadline only a few days away, let’s look at some of the possible scenarios that can play out with each of the seven Canadian NHL teams.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
As you may have heard, the Maple Leafs front office has been what one may call “active.” They’ve added a top-six forward (Ryan O’Reilly), a top-four d-man (Jake McCabe), and two competitive depth forwards (Noel Acciari and Sam Lafferty). Their roster is pretty set.
Needs: What they “need” is to get cap compliant, which they won’t be when goalie Matt Murray returns from long-term injured reserve — they’ll need to move something like $1.15 million off their books. They can do this by trading a roster player (Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, Justin Holl might be options), but I don’t think they’ll want to move guys they use a lot. They can waive a depth player (or two) and hope they don’t get claimed — anyone who clears could be recalled for playoffs or before when there’s an injury.
OR … they could look to trade Murray (likely with an asset attached) and find a cheaper goalie. If we’re talking team needs, a No. 2 goalie looks like one to me, but general manager Kyle Dubas and crew may have more trust in Murray than I do.
Best (reasonable)-case scenario: The best short-term deal (which may go beyond “reasonable”) is the Leafs still make a trade for Mattias Ekholm, which would involve serious salary retention and in turn cost them Matthew Knies. That would instantly change how you look at their d-corps. As far as Hail Mary’s go, a guy like Jakob Chychrun would sure help their power-play, and I think Arizona’s goalie Karel Vejmelka is legit. What would Chychrun/Vejmelka + the Murray contract cost the Leafs? Their 2024 first-round pick and Knies, or more? Sorry, “reasonable” may have left the ballpark here.
What likely happens: The Leafs either tuck an “injured” player on LTIR after their back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday (a “sort of” hurt player may get a longer vacation than they normally would), or else they waive a player and cross their fingers. They could also play a guy short, and … essentially do nothing, in terms of getting cap compliant.
That’s what likely happens to make room, but I still think there’s another deal coming from Dubas yet, either for a defenceman or goalie. This team is loaded up front.
No general manager in the league should feel more pressure than Ken Holland. It’s possible that the best five (and possibly six) teams in the NHL this season will be in the Eastern Conference, meaning the West is anyone’s to claim. The Oilers have plenty of talent and a future Hall-of-Famer in Leon Draisaitl, but more importantly, they’re getting the best NHL season I think I’ve ever witnessed from Connor McDavid. They cannot (absolutely cannot!) waste it by crossing their fingers and just hoping things work out while saying “the prices to add were too high.”
Needs: Good, sturdy defencemen who defend. Preferably two of them. By Sportlogiq’s expected goals data, the Oilers are the best offensive team in the league (alongside the New Jersey Devils). Their goalies are only OK, so they need to help them out. They’re going to need to protect leads in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they need some bodies that make you feel comfortable in that setting.
Best (reasonable)-case scenario: Vladislav Gavrikov would be a start (he plays 22 minutes a night for Columbus against top competition), but that’s kind of the floor for their potential adds. He’s not perfect, but he’d make them better and that’s all they need to know. Nick Jensen is sneaky good and could help them a ton. But most of all, they’re rumoured to be in on the big names like Ekholm and Chychrun. If they can grab one of those guys (and maybe Luke Schenn?) they’d be considered West favourites alongside Colorado.
What likely happens: They’ll get a big name. When you’re as good and as close as the Oilers are to being the best in the West, there can’t be any half measures. They’ve been hyper conservative with their trading, have loads of assets and need to act now.
Every year since 2018, the Jets have started hot and faded. This year they’ve started hot and … are fading. How much does the typically conservative Kevin Cheveldayoff want to trade future assets away to improve this core that he may be skeptical of? On the other hand, winning the division isn’t out of the question here, so how much can they afford to just sit by? They’ve got good players who may be gone after next year (Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck), so you can look at it two ways: it’s crucial to go in and try to win now, or you’re going to need assets to rebuild if you do lose those pieces, so you can’t spend them. Winnipeg’s a good but not great team in a tough spot.
Needs: A top-six forward, or at least a couple more of the Nino Niederreiter-quality forwards, and a top-end defenceman to push their other D into more manageable roster slots.
Best (reasonable)-case scenario: I think the Jets tend to prefer players with some term, so could they pull off something like a Lawson Crouse addition out of Arizona, a young 25-year-old top-six forward on a cheap deal? While we’re talking Arizona, is Chychrun a possibility for them?
What likely happens: I don’t see the Jets going all-in, and most of the big impact player are off the board already. I could see them adding someone like Lars Eller or Max Domi to give them a better shot at winning a round or two in the short term, but Cheveldayoff rarely takes big swings, which some find frustrating.
The Flames are the strangest team in Canada. They’re that kid in high school who seems to have so much potential yet just can’t put it together. After a frustrating year in the all-Canadian North Division, it came together for the Flames last year, but they just can’t get traction this season despite still having plenty of talent. The play of their Jacob Markstrom hasn’t helped.
Needs: Again, they need better goaltending, which is the sort of thing that can come around when with a player of Markstrom’s calibre. But, honestly, I don’t think the way head coach Darryl Sutter leans on Markstrom helps. They also need a little pep in their step, as they’re the rare NHL team you might label as “slow.” Otherwise, there’s no glaring need with this team, which is why they’re perplexing. They could use some depth help and to straight-up just start playing better hockey — part of which falls on the coach.
Best (reasonable)-case scenario: The best case might be a bigger swing on a d-man like Matt Dumba, or a big and fast player like Josh Anderson, but frankly I’m not sure either of those contracts would appeal to the Flames. Chychrun would help them, of course, but other teams seem more desperate to add him. If you can’t tell, I can barely sell myself on them doing the type of drastic deals that usually fall in this section.
What likely happens: What’s more likely is depth help. Maybe a veteran d-man on the cheap here (Schenn or Dmitry Kulikov types). Less likely, a middle-six forward who can shoot the puck in the net.
My two cents here is that the Flames are closer to being good than their play has shown thus far (they’re pretty solid all the way through), and that going in on something bigger could move the needle in positive way and get some momentum going for a playoff push, even if that involves moving out players in the process. Brad Treliving’s contract is rumoured to be up after this season, which is another reason for him to want to push in a bit more. But his comments about their intentions have been pretty muted thus far.
The Sens suddenly find themselves five points out of a playoff spot with 23 games to go. It’s a long shot — particularly given the volume of teams ahead of them — but it’s not out of the question, and the team may want its players pushing forward through meaningful games. That’s the first real step on the way back to Cup contention. The ownership situation looms, though. They may not want to take on a big deal as a sale is being executed.
Pierre Dorion said that with seven games to go before the deadline, the team would decide what he should do next. They’ve gone 3-2-1, meaning he doesn’t have perfect clarity, but may be leaning towards adding rather than subtracting.
Needs: Like many teams trying to excel this time of year, they could use another quality d-man, ideally a right shot.
Best (reasonable)-case scenario: Right-shot D that are trade candidates include Schenn, John Klingberg, Colton Parayko, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jensen and Dumba.
Dumba, Parayko … again, I’m not sure about what the team is willing to take on term-wise, so maybe a smaller bet would be the right fit for the Sens where you don’t mortgage the future (this isn’t their Cup-contending window yet), but still hope to make playoffs.
What likely happens: I think they add a d-man and enjoy the “everything to gain, nothing to lose” push for the playoffs.
Ah, Canada’s beloved tire fire. It feels like everyone could go or no one could go, and nobody would be surprised either way. Schenn will get dealt, but after that, who knows? Conor Garland, Brock Boeser, Tyler Myers, heck, JT Miller … all possibilities.
Needs: A fresh start, particularly with the salary cap. I admired Bill Guerin when the Minnesota Wild bought out the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and he said, “this is going to hurt, but we just need to start over.” Maybe that means buying out Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the Canucks. There’s just so many contracts with underwater value that they just need to unload before they can begin to build.
Best (reasonable)-case scenario: I wouldn’t say JT Miller’s contract is underwater in terms of value, it just makes no sense for the Canucks given their next expected contention window isn’t for a few years, so I’d love to see them move it. The best-case scenario is just acquiring picks and prospects and freeing up cap space, all of which should be doable in the days ahead.
What likely happens: They half-dabble towards the proper rebuild. I’m in the minority here, but I do think they’ll trade Miller, but not do much more than that (other than the obvious Schenn trade). It’s hard to move big contracts, and head coach Rick Tocchet may want some time to assess what he has in guys like Garland and even OEL. They’ll be busier in the summer.
The Canadiens are the rare team in Canada just kinda doing … OK. They wanted to tank and try for Connor Bedard in a loaded NHL Draft, and they’ve done so successfully. But they also haven’t rolled over, showing some competitive spirit all year, and have hope for the future. In a year where they’ve lost a lot, it’s been OK.
Needs: As with all rebuilding teams, they’re not set at any position. They need it all: picks, prospects, all positions.
Best (reasonable)-case scenario: They unload Josh Anderson and any other expiring deals. Anderson won’t be there when the team is aiming at the Stanley Cup, and so his money could be better spent. Sean Monahan and Joel Edmundson will be tough to move because of their forever-lingering injuries, but in the best-case scenario they’re able to turn them into some kind of assets. Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak … these guys are going to be hard to move without attaching draft picks, but again, any way to clear their cap and gain assets needs to be pursued.
What likely happens: They use their cap space to broker deals as the third party in exchange for picks. Welcome to the NHL’s hard and flat salary cap era, where the thrills never end!