The NHL trade deadline is March 21, and while that gives each team plenty of time to execute trades, preparations must begin now. Once the first domino falls, everything quickly ascends, with the final few days becoming total chaos.
However, the playoff picture is stunningly clear given that there’s still roughly half of a season remaining. The eight Eastern Conference slots are all but locked up, while there are only a few teams in the West unsure of where they stand. To varying degrees, these teams will be looking to make additions.
Every team would love to make a huge splash, but many face obstacles such as the salary cap and trade acquisition cost. And teams have to make moves that reflect how likely they are to actually make a run for the Stanley Cup.
With those conditions weighed, here are ideal trade targets for the eight Eastern Conference teams expected to make the playoffs. Western Conference teams will be published next week.
This is the best Florida Panthers team ever assembled, even including their 1995-96 team that made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final. After a hard-fought first-round exit against the Lightning last season, they are on their way to winning a loaded Atlantic Division and are legitimate contenders. The Panthers will need some help finagling the salary cap but have the assets necessary to make a big move.
While the roster is well-rounded, the one area that could use an upgrade is left defense. Righty MacKenzie Weegar is currently soaking up minutes on his off-side. Behind him, Gustav Forsling is having a good season offensively but has been just OK defensively. The third-pair spot has been filled by a rotation of replacement-level depth players. The Panthers also need an upgrade on the penalty kill.
The best and most obvious option for them is Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun. He hasn’t had the best season for a team in total rebuild mode—who can blame him—but he’s shown before that he can be a No. 1 defenseman. While he is capable offensively, he really shines on the defensive side of the puck. Chychrun, who has been linked to the Panthers, is signed to an affordable $4.6 million cap hit through 2025 and could be the difference-making piece Florida needs not just this season but for multiple seasons ahead.
Ideal Deadline Target: Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are 7-3-0 in their last 10 and sit fourth overall in the NHL by points percentage. It’s a team with both star power and a deep depth chart. This is a great team as is, but the Atlantic Division is a gauntlet, and a sixth straight first-round exit would be unacceptable.
There’s nowhere the Leafs are sorely lacking, but their right defense behind TJ Brodie has been lukewarm at best. Justin Holl is fine and a team can do worse than Travis Dermott on the third pairing, but with their forward group so loaded this is the best bet for them to make a move.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Colin Miller, an unrestricted free agent this summer, is not a flashy player and doesn’t put up many points, but he is capable of preventing zone entries and defends well in his own end. He could be a fit on Toronto’s second defensive unit alongside the more offensively proficient Jake Muzzin.
For the cost of a second- or third-round pick, Toronto could make a solid addition without depleting a prospect pool it will need to lean on to fill its roster when the impending cap crunch comes for some of its depth.
Ideal Deadline Target: Colin Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Tampa Bay Lightning
The salary cap plus the Seattle expansion cost the Lightning Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman, among others. They did keep all of their key players and have done a nice job filling the gaps with cheap depth.