It’s that time of year again, when the white flags are unfurled over long-term rebuilding projects and Stanley Cup contenders comb through the construction debris searching for the missing piece that will put them over the top.
This year’s silly season kicked off earlier than usual when the Jets shipped Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and a prospect to the Sabres for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Koel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first round pick. But even as the deals have continued to bubble to the surface, it’s inevitable that we’ll still see dozens of players and prospects, picks and pucks change hands before the 3 p.m. EST NHL trade deadline on Monday.
Most of the moves will have little impact on either side, now or in the future, but there are exceptions. The Kings couldn't have won the 2014 Stanley Cup without the last-minute addition of leading scorer Marian Gaborik. And where would the Predators be now without their 2013 deadline deal that landed Calder Trophy favorite Filip Forsberg?
Dreams can come true this time of year, and we’d like to help. Here are a few suggestions for even-handed swaps we’d like to see before the deadline. You can check out what the buyers need and their available cap space, as well as who will likely be available, by clicking on the box to the left.) Remember, this is all barroom-style speculation, not inside information on impending deals, so don’t run out and buy a Phil KesselSharks jersey just yet. And remember, if it seems like your team is getting hosed in one of these deals, that probably means it’s fair. Flame away in the comment section below!
To Anaheim: D Zdeno Chara
The Ducks are on the verge of their third consecutive Pacific Division title, but that won’t set pulses racing in Anaheim considering that they’ve made first- and second-round playoff exits in the previous two years. And after watching GM Dean Lombardi upgrade L.A. with the addition of Andrej Sekera, the pressure is on Ducks GM Bob Murray to do something. And if he wants to avoid another playoff beatdown at the hands of his arch-rivals, he better do something be big. Fortunately, he has a bevy of assets to work with. There’s a sense that Murray won’t deal away any of his prized prospects in exchange for a rental, and that’s probably accurate. He may, however, be willing to dig deep if the player coming his way has some years remaining on his contract.
Enter the Bruins. It may seem counterintuitive for a team that is barely clinging to a playoff spot to ship out its captain and top defenseman, but stumbling into the postseason doesn’t cover the fact that this team is aging fast and desperately needs an injection of young talent. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has done a lousy job of drafting, meaning there’s no option for a smooth transition to a new generation of players (like, say, in Detroit). Chara would be sorely missed, but it’s time to turn the page on the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup championship and start working toward the next one. That only comes with smarter asset management. Moving Chara would allow Chiarelli to restock the cupboard and get the franchise moving in the right direction ... as long as Boston gets the right players in return. That would mean a package built around a high-end prospect like Theodore, a puck-moving defenseman, and a flashy forward like Rakell.
That’s a high price for Anaheim, but the depth in its system allows the Ducks that luxury. In exchange, they’d get a difference maker, an experienced leader and minute-muncher who, much like Chris Pronger back in 2007, could be the final piece for a championship team. And Chara would remain on board for three more seasons, softening the blow of the price the team paid to get him.
It's possible that Murray could make a less costly addition, someone like Toronto blueliner Roman Polak, but this is no time to chintz out. With Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in their primes, the iron is hot now. It's time to strike.
To Anaheim: LW Curtis Glencross
To Calgary: prospect RW Nick Sorensen, third rounder
Murray’s not done yet. Needing additional scoring punch up front, he’ll target pending UFA Glencross even if it means parting with another of his precious prospects. Sorensen is an interesting kid, a solid scorer in juniors who lost most of his first pro season in Sweden to a hand injury. Since returning to the lineup with Skelleftea AIK, he’s scored his first goal and has four points in 11 games. At 6' 1" and 174 pounds he lacks ideal size, but plays a responsible two-way game that suggests he could be a solid third-liner with second-line upside.
Glencross, whose limited no-trade clause allows a move to Anaheim, could play on the top line alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Glencross has just six games of playoff experience, but that might play in his favor. Nothing wrong with adding a player who’s a little hungry to the mix.
To Washington: LW Erik Cole
To Dallas: prospect F Riley Barber, third-round pick
The Capitals have been looking for the right wing to pair with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom all season long, trying out everybody but goalie Braden Holtby for the job. Cole is an intriguing option—he brings speed, toughness and a solid scoring touch (18 goals this season, three in his last four games). He’s never been a huge playoff scorer (five points in his last 23 games), but he’s also never had the opportunity to play with linemates the caliber of Ovechkin and Backstrom. Cole is the most compelling option on the market.
Washington is loaded with young forward talent, so the Caps could afford to part with Barber, a feisty winger who’s come a long way since being selected in the sixth round in 2012. The captain of Team USA at the 2014 World Juniors (four goals in five games), he has a strong work ethic, high-end hockey sense and solid skating ability. He’s not the flashiest guy, but he’ll be a player. It’s easy to see him slotting into the Stars’ middle six—much the way another former Washington prospect, Cody Eakin, has.
**Update: The teams made this deal on Saturday night (with prospect defenseman Klas Dahlbeck going to Arizona instead of Hartman)**
To Chicago: C Antoine Vermette
To Arizona: prospect RW Ryan Hartman, first-round pick
It’s a steep price for a rental, but the demand for versatile forward Vermette will be high. Coyotes GM Don Maloney would like to extract a first-rounder and a prospect, but throwing Hartman into the mix might get it done. The undersized (5' 11", 181 pounds) 19-year-old can play all three forward positions and has a high-end work ethic and a nasty disposition that makes him an interesting piece moving forward for Arizona.
The appeal of Vermette is obvious. He can slot onto the wing during Patrick Kane’s recovery from a broken collarbone, and then slide into the third-line center role upon the superstar’s return, giving the Blackhawks a solid mix down the middle.
To Buffalo: prospect C Johan Sundstrom, fourth-round pick
The market for Stewart’s particular set of skills—a startling ability to drift unnoticed through an entire game, for example—isn’t anywhere near as heated as Sabres GM Tim Murray would like. That said, New York could use some insurance up front, and if the cost is kept low—a lightly-regarded prospect like low-scoring, agitating center Sundstrom and a mid-round pick—it might work out well for both sides.
To NY Rangers: C Jay McClement
To Carolina: prospect D Conor Allen
The Blueshirts are in need of a quality center, but are shopping with an AHL budget. That makes the veteran McClement a reasonable option. He’s been outstanding on the draw (55.6%), pulls heavy duty on the NHL’s top penalty kill (a team-leading 2:26 per game) and always seems to be on the right side of the puck.
Allen is an NHL-ready defender whose path to the Show is blocked in New York. There’s nothing special about his game—he probably peaks as a third-pairing guy—but at 24 it’s time for him to step up and show what he has. He can do that with the Hurricanes.
To Boston: RW Zack Kassian
To Vancouver: RW Reilly Smith
Funny how Kassian has gone from a room in Le Chateau Bow-Wow to a spot alongside the Sedin twins just days ahead of the trade deadline, eh? Canucks fans may think this is a sign that the big winger has a future with the club, but it says here that it means the exact opposite: Vancouver management has moved on and is simply pumping up his value. That’s good business.
The Bruins would be an obvious fit for Kassian because, hey, they love guys who are big and mean and score erratically. Plus, Kassian is signed through next season at a very manageable hit of just $1.75 million—ideal for a team that’s dealing with a cap crunch.
Smith, who Canucks GM Jim Benning played a role in obtaining in the Tyler Seguin trade when he was with Boston, is an intriguing player. He’s been wildly inconsistent, but has shown flashes of being a dangerous scorer. Given a little nurturing, he could develop into a solid top-six winger for Vancouver—exactly what the Canucks need.
To Montreal: D Jeff Petry
To Edmonton: prospect RW Michael McCarron, third-round pick
The Andrej Sekera trade pumped up the value of the few remaining defensemen on the market, so if the Cup-contending Canadiens want to add a veteran to their second pair, they’ll have to dig deep. The Oilers are hoping to pluck a first-rounder in exchange for pending free agent Petry, but McCarron is a solid alternative. The 2013 first-round pick turns 20 next week, putting him closer to NHL readiness than any kid that Edmonton would draft this June. He’s also having a big year in juniors, with 61 points in 46 games, and at 6' 5" and 237 pounds, he’s the big power forward the Oilers desperately need.
McCarron is also the sort of player that undersized Montreal needs, too, but since they’re unwilling to part with a first-rounder or any of their top defensive prospects, McCarron’s a bullet they have to bite. In exchange they get a reliable two-way defenseman who is much better than his numbers in Edmonton would suggest. With a chance to go all the way, this is the sort of deal the Habs have to make.
To Detroit: C Carl Soderberg
To Boston: prospect F Axel Holmstrom
Depth down the middle is critical in the postseason. Soderberg, a pending UFA whose next deal won’t fit under the Bruins’ cap ceiling, is a classic Red Wings player—smart and defensively responsible with a nice scoring touch—who could be key down the stretch. And at 6' 3' and 220 pounds, he would add a bit of size to a smal forward corps.
Holmstrom is another one of Detroit’s late steals, a 2014 seventh-rounder who has impressed as a rookie in the Swedish Elite League. He’s not the best skater, but he’s shown some surprising offensive ability this season, while adding onto an already solid defensive game. He could mature into an excellent third-line center down the road.
If Soderberg doesn’t work out, don’t be surprised if Detroit looks at someone like Shawn Horcoff of Dallas, a proven veteran who can bring speed and experience to the Wings’ fourth line in exchange for a mid-round pick.
To San Jose: RW Phil Kessel
Yeah, this one’s a bit of a flyer, but bear with me. The Sharks are technically in a rebuild and might be disinclined to part with young assets. But at 27, Kessel is in his prime and locked up for the next seven years at a cap hit ($8 million) that few other teams can take on. He’s a reliable goal scorer who can help San Jose now and in the future. And as we saw in Sochi, at least during the preliminary round, he flashed some serious chemistry with Joe Pavelski.
The Maple Leafs would get a young, NHL-ready player in Hertl (albeit one who hasn’t looked quite as good as he did as a rookie), an undersized but dynamic offensive prospect in Goldobin, who was the 27th pick in last year’s draft, and a first-round pick that would move to 2016 if the Sharks fail to make the playoffs. It’s a return for a player (and a contract) that Toronto would love to move.