When it comes to the upcoming NHL trade deadline, the immortal words of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper come to mind: “just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.”
We think we know who is going to be traded between now and March 21, but there’s this feeling in the air that some wild things could go down. With the cap flattening for the foreseeable future, multiple teams dealing with various stages of rebuilding and a small number of high-end contenders, this deadline feels less predictable than in years gone by.
There are also multiple situations across the league where general managers could be forced to tip their hands about how they perceive the future of their franchise. For instance, if the San Jose Sharks trade Tomas Hertl despite having a small shot at making the playoffs, the message to that fanbase will be clear.
Ditto for the Montreal Canadiens, who are in the midst of a season so bad, they have scribes calling them “unwatchable.” Changes are coming for the Habs, but just how drastic will new GM Kent Hughes get with the upcoming makeover? We’ll find out in the coming week.
As we break down each team’s best trade chip, we’ll do our best to stay away from speculation and source reporters when possible. We’ll have to connect some dots in some spaces, and will try to stay away from just saying “first-round pick” for most teams, although for a few of them, that will likely be what they are looking to trade.
As always, sound off in the comments with trades you think you’d like to see your favorite team make or not make. Sometimes making no moves is the best move, after all. Let’s get into the weeds.
Anaheim Ducks: Hampus Lindholm
New Anaheim Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek’s first order of business will be to (quickly) figure out whether or not to trade Hampus Lindholm. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, and losing him for nothing on the open market would be a big blow to the Pacific Division’s most surprising team.
In the most recent edition of the 32 Thoughts column, mega insider Elliotte Friedman wrote the following about the situation in Anaheim:
“At some point, Anaheim considered paying a little more for less term, but I’m not sure how far that went before the GM change. I don’t believe the Ducks, even if in a playoff position, can afford to keep Lindholm post-deadline unless they know he’s staying.”
He hasn’t been featured prominently in trade rumors this year, but Lindholm could be on the move if he makes it clear that he wants to test the open market. The 28-year-old defenseman would be a fantastic addition for teams looking to make a deep playoff run and is capable of playing top-line minutes.
There are a few other quality blueliners who are likely to be traded, and if a contender whiffs on them, they could check in on Lindholm.
Arizona Coyotes: Jakob Chychrun
If this were a list about the players most likely to be traded ahead of the deadline, Phil Kessel would be in this slot. He’s not the most valuable chip the Arizona Coyotes possess, however. That title belongs to Jakob Chychrun, who is arguably the best player available league-wide right now, period.
Earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reported that Arizona was looking for “a young player, a high-end prospect plus a first-round pick,” and a few weeks later noted that the Coyotes had received an offer that met those needs.
The former 16th-overall selection is garnering plenty of interest league-wide, and Arizona general manager Bill Armstrong could be trying to start a bidding war of sorts for his star defenseman. It’s tough to blame him for doing so, too, as he looks to go scorched-earth rebuild in the desert.
Chychrun’s game has Wile E. Coyote-d off of a cliff this season, but there’s no reason to believe that he isn’t still an All-Star blueliner. He’s an excellent puck mover when he’s playing with NHL-caliber talent, and a change of scenery would likely see him return to the levels we saw last year.
He’s young (23), cost-controlled (three more seasons at $4.6 million) and talented. Chychrun isn’t a rental—this is a player who can step in and make an immediate impact for the next three years and change.
Boston Bruins: Jake DeBrusk
Calling Jake DeBrusk a valuable trade chip would be a bit of a mischaracterization. The Boston Bruins won’t be able to trade him for some up-and-coming talent, high draft picks or established top-of-the-lineup player.
Instead, it seems far more likely that the B’s will have to settle for swapping DeBrusk with another underperforming player with some pedigree.
In late January, Athletic beat reporter Fluto Shinzawa spoke to a source who said that “No one’s ready to marry him” due to his up-and-down play. The $4.4 million qualifying offer he will require as a restricted free agent doesn’t help either.
That’s a pretty penny for a wing who is on pace for fewer than 30 points. The acquiring team would need to believe that playing up in their lineup would be a boost for DeBrusk, but that’d be more of a gamble than a sure thing.
There are a few fits that we could see, as discussed in early December, but it’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds. The Bruins could very well end up keeping DeBrusk, unsatisfied with the offers sent their way. He’s been playing better as of late, with five points in his last seven games, but that won’t be enough to get a team to pay top dollar for him.
Buffalo Sabres: Colin Miller
After trading away Jack Eichel back in November, the Buffalo Sabres are without their biggest trade chip. That doesn’t mean they don’t have any players that could interest contending teams looking for a rental, though.
None of them are even remotely close to Eichels’ caliber but could still fetch some mid-round picks or mid-range prospects in return.
Defenseman Colin Miller is arguably their best trade chip at this point, with fellow defender Will Butcher and veteran goalie Craig Anderson also in the conversation.
Miller isn’t the flashiest name, but for teams that strike out on Mark Giordano or John Klingberg, he would be a nice consolation prize.
Miller wouldn’t move the needle as much as Giordano, Klingberg or a player of a similar level, but he also wouldn’t cost the acquiring team nearly as much either.
When the Sabres traded for Miller in late June of 2019, they swapped a second-and fifth-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights.
It shouldn’t be too difficult for them to reattain those kinds of assets, and maybe an additional low-tier prospect or pick, depending on how the trade market unfolds.
Calgary Flames: Nikita Zadorov
This is one of those situations where we’re making an educated guess about a player who could be traded in the next several weeks. Nikita Zadorov hasn’t been mentioned as a skater the Calgary Flames are actively looking to deal but could be swapped out regardless.
There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, head coach Darryl Sutter hasn’t been overly thrilled with Zadorov’s play this season. He was given a chance to play inside the top four but had since slid down to the third pairing.
Calgary is looking to add a top-four blueliner and would likely need to shed money to do so. Zadorov’s $3.8 million cap hit could be a salary general manager Brad Treliving looks to move to clear up the ledger a bit.
The Flames also have several big-name players who will need extensions this summer. Leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau is a pending unrestricted free agent and is due for a hefty raise over his current $6.8 million cap hit.
Calgary also needs to figure out how to make room to keep their trio of restricted free agents in Matthew Tkachuk, Oliver Kylington and Andrew Mangiapane.
Zadorov seems like a likely candidate to be the odd man out here, and there are always teams that are willing to take a chance on 26-year-old defenders with size.
Carolina Hurricanes: A Top Prospect
The Carolina Hurricanes are sitting pretty as an organization. They are battling for the Presidents’ Trophy and could very well finish the year as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, is also in contention to finish as the top seed in that league. And to top that all off, they have the deepest prospect pool in the NHL, according to Scott Wheeler of The Athletic.
“In terms of total quantity of good prospects, there is not a team in the NHL whose pool is as full as the Hurricanes’,” wrote Wheeler, who ranked Carolina’s prospect pool ninth overall in the league.
With so much depth in terms of futures, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where general manager Don Waddell doesn’t take a homerun swing on someone like John Klingberg.
They were connected to the Dallas Stars defenseman back in November, and as they look to win their first Stanley Cup since 2006, Carolina is in the position to improve without subtracting anything from its NHL roster.
That is an enviable spot to be in, and it won’t be surprising to see them move someone like Ryan Suzuki or Jack Drury for a high-end piece.
Both Suzuki and Drury are great prospects, but another Stanley Cup banner would be worth more to the franchise.
The Hurricanes already gave up their first-round selection after the Montreal Canadiens decided not to match their offer sheet to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, so it’d make more sense for them to move a prospect than more picks.