We’re right in the midst of Olympic fever, but that doesn’t mean NHL franchises aren’t plotting out the rest of their regular season and playoffs. I spoke to a GM this week who was vacationing in Maui, yet still was holding telephone meetings with staff when he wasn’t catching a few tropical rays.
So don’t fool yourself into thinking that trade chatter is dormant. Indeed, there are teams that have to make deals once the Olympic break ends Feb. 24. Here, in no particular order, are six that absolutely need to do something by the March 5 trade deadline:
1. Vancouver. Few teams looked more deeply mired in dire straits heading into the Olympic break than the Canucks, who’d lost seven straight and had only four points (two regulation wins) in their 10 most recent games. They’re at a development crossroads with this group – 12 members of it will be 30 or older by the end of the calendar year, and cornerstones Henrik and Daniel Sedin will be 34 in September – and if they go all-in on short-term fixes to improve their playoff chances, they’re going to find themselves on the same track as the Calgary Flames were all the seasons they thought they could contend with Jarome Iginla and the center du jour.
Much of Vancouver’s roster is blessed/burdened with no-trade clauses, but remember, those contractual stipulations are more about protecting a player from being moved to a handful of particular cities than they are about locking a player in one place for life. And they do have talent that can help other teams. The key here is admitting what they are – and what they are is not very good – before moving on and dismantling a roster whose best chance to win it all has come and gone.
2. Washington. The Capitals are in many ways the mirror image of the Canucks: close enough to a playoff spot to fuel delusions of dangerousness, but far enough away from being a true Stanley Cup contender to simply add one or two pieces via trade and expect to win one or two rounds (if they make the post-season at all). They’ve been rumored to be interested in a veteran goalie such as Ryan Miler, but given that they’re already locked in for $60.8 million in cap space next season, taking on any big-name veteran likely only will make it tougher for them to honestly assess where they are in the NHL’s food chain.
The Caps are only one point out of the final wild card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, but that’s a mirage of sorts; they’re also just two points ahead of New Jersey for seventh in the wild card race – and one of the teams they’re tied with (Columbus) has a game in hand. Regardless, does anyone think Washington puts the fear of the hockey gods into any opponent? Doubtful – and all the more reason to call this spade a spade and stick it into the dirt where it belongs.
3. Pittsburgh. Although the Penguins have maintained their stranglehold on the Metropolitan Division despite a slew of injuries that would overcrowd a small hospital, the playoffs – where depth counts in large amounts – are another story altogether. For that reason alone, expect GM Ray Shero to be his usual active self on the trade front. They need to strengthen their group of wingers and defensemen – not necessarily with superstars or notable veterans (as they did last year with Iginla and Brenden Morrow), but for the war of attrition that is the post-season.
4. Detroit. As the NHL’s model franchise, the Red Wings haven’t found themselves in a position to need a notable shakeup in the middle of a season for decades. However, this season is different. They’re fighting to keep their 22-season playoff streak alive and also slowly transitioning from being a veteran-laden squad to one that can contend for the next two-plus-decades.
They require additional depth and skill virtually everywhere, but defense is a particular area of need; maybe there’s a fit with Vancouver’s Alex Edler, but any infusion of youth would be welcome.
5. Edmonton. Oilers GM Craig MacTavish swore he’d be a man of action when he took over from Steve Tambellini, but people are still waiting for him to make the major maneuvers necessary to pull Edmonton out of their continuing competitive death spiral. Forwards Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky are the leading candidates to be shipped out before the deadline, but Nick Schultz could be on the move as well. Bigger moves (including one involving Jordan Eberle) could be in the cards, but the only unacceptable choice for MacTavish is standing pat.
6. Montreal. It’s a little strange to argue a team that is tied for fourth in Eastern Conference standings points needs to make a deal, yet if you’ve regularly watched the Canadiens play in a helter-skelter fashion this season, you’ll agree something needs to be done.
Whether it’s biting the bullet and looking at trading blueliner Andrei Markov or bringing in longer-term help for the defense corps, there’s enough work still to be done on Montreal’s core to warrant a transaction or two from GM Marc Bergevin. Maintaining the status quo shouldn’t be an option with a lineup that can vanish as quickly as it can vanquish.