NHL Power Rankings: Playing Matchmaker Ahead of the Trade Deadline

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In the last week, both the Penguins and the Leafs kicked off trade deadline festivities by acquiring Jason Zucker and Jack Campbell, respectively. In the spirit of matchmakers of yore, we’ll pair one team with its best potential suitor. That doesn’t mean teams don’t have other options—in most cases, they do—or will find what they’re looking for. But without further delay, here’s how we see the league stacking up this week with an eye toward Feb. 24’s approaching trade deadline:

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31. Detroit Red Wings | 14-40-4 | Previous Ranking: 31

Biggest Need: Add prospects, one last time.

Match: Lightning

Detroit’s downward spiral affords first-year GM Steve Yzerman the opportunity to sell, work the process and bring whatever lineup-building wizardry from his tenure in Tampa Bay. Veteran defenseman Trevor Daley has reportedly asked the Red Wings front office to move him to a Cup contender and, while not barren, Detroit doesn’t have a bevvy of blue-chip blueliners in the system. Whether by way of the draft or a trade, the Red Wings have the flexibility to address their need while keeping its young forward core intact.

30. Los Angeles Kings | 19-33-5 | Previous Ranking: 30

Biggest Need: Draft capital.

Match: Flames’ second round pick

Firmly distanced from playoff relevancy, the Kings are rebuilding but have just two non-conditional picks that aren’t their own in the next three drafts. GM Rob Blake started to address that by trading goaltender Jack Campbell to Toronto and can continue to stock the system by trading former 30-goal scorer Tyler Toffoli, an impending free agent who’s asking price won’t be as costly as a player like Chris Kreider.

29. Ottawa Senators | 18-27-11 | Previous Ranking: 28

Biggest Need: Sell, smartly.

Match: No one, maybe.

GM Pierre Dorion turned unrestricted free agent Ryan Dzingel into Anthony Duclair and two second round picks, and now Ottawa has nine selections in the first and second rounds of the 2020 and 2021 drafts. At some point, the Senators retaining its players makes more sense than shipping them away. J.G. Pageau and Dylan DeMelo both offer more value to Ottawa than what the team would receive in return, and veterans Ron Hainsey and Craig Anderson’s contracts might be too rich to find a new fit.

28. New Jersey Devils | 20-25-10 | Previous Ranking: 29

Biggest Need: Hope.

Match: Look inward.

The Devils usually escape being labeled as a hapless, struggling franchise, but the team hasn’t made the postseason or won more than 40 games more than once since 2012. Trading away its superstar, flailing despite selecting at No. 1 overall in two of the last three drafts and unsuccessfully building from within sparks more frustration than hope, and that won’t be something that’s fixed by launching a fire sale and moving players like Sami Vatanen, Kyle Palmieri and Blake Coleman. That leaves Wayne Simmonds as the only unrestricted free agent without a movement clause that could help the Devils sell without tearing everything apart.

27. San Jose Sharks | 24-28-4 | Previous Ranking: 26

Biggest Need: Rebuild on the fly.

Match: Hurricanes

From Stanley Cup hopefuls to cellar dwellers, the Sharks won’t have much to show for their disastrous season as its first round pick belongs to the Senators. San Jose’s prospect pipeline isn’t bursting with NHL-ready talent, either. There won’t be a rebuild, but moving UFA-to-be Brenden Dillon to the contending Hurricanes helps add to the Sharks system without robbing it of young players like Kevin Labanc.

26. Anaheim Ducks | 23-26-7 | Previous Ranking: 27

Biggest Need: Jolt the rebuild.

Match: Coyotes

For the first time since 2001, the Ducks are a near-lock to miss the playoffs for a second straight season. Anaheim has little in the way of rentals, but it has cap space to take on hefty contracts in return for assets. If the Coyotes decide to but at the deadline, Anaheim could look to take on Michael Grabner’s $3.35 million cap hit.

25. Buffalo Sabres | 25-24-8 | Previous Ranking: 23

Biggest Need: Support Jack Eichel.

Match: Jets

Fans protested outside KeyBank center, holding signs emblazoned with slogans like “Where’s Terry?” and “I’m tired of suffering.” Soon, Jack Eichel might feel the same way: Since he entered the league in 2015–16, only the Red Wings have scored fewer goals per game than the Sabres. An institutional lack of offensive talent has kept Buffalo out of the postseason since 2011, and the franchise has to do something to support its superstar. Looking to capitalize on defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s up year could be an avenue the Sabres explore, but the offseason seems like a more suitable place for that to happen.

24. New York Rangers | 28-23-4 | Previous Ranking: 25

Biggest Need: Young, talented forwards.

Match: Blues

The Rangers possess the deadline’s most sought after forward, Chris Kreider, and are on the verge of mucking up its three-headed goaltending situation by awarding 24-year-old netminder Alexandar Georgiev with minimal starts. New York’s system is loaded with blue-chip defensemen but stand to gain from hedging on Kaapo Kakko, Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov and adding talent both behind and in front of them. Prying a forward like Jordan Kyrou from the Blues would be an ideal addition for New York, but GM Jeff Gorton could go the route of the Kevin Hayes trade and seek a pick and a prospect.

23. Chicago Blackhawks | 25-23-8 | Previous Ranking: 22

Biggest Need: Sell, appropriately, Erik Gustafsson.

Match: Golden Knights

With Alex DeBrincat’s extension about to kick in, the Blackhawks are projected to have less than $10 million to spend in the offseason. Chicago’s defense has been a mess, and Gustafsson doesn’t have a clear role next year behind a developing Adam Boqvist and Calvin de Haan’s eventual return. Vegas has been open about seeking a defenseman and has the draft capital to snag Gustafsson away from Chicago.

22. Minnesota Wild | 27-23-6 | Previous Ranking: 24

Biggest Need: Get younger.

Match: Penguins. Congrats!

The Wild found its match two weeks ahead of the deadline, sending winger Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh for a 2020 first round pick, Alex Galchenyuk and and Calen Addison. Minnesota is the league’s second-oldest team and are in line for a proper retooling.

21. Montreal Canadiens | 27-24-7 | Previous Ranking: 21

Biggest Need: Hope for change in the offseason.

Match: No one.

The Habs are where no team wants to be: stuck in the middle. A 5-2-0 record in their last seven games has jumped them up to … 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Restricted free agent Max Domi isn’t available, according to The Athletic, and Ilya Kovalchuk’s influence on the locker room has started to outweigh the possibility of collecting found money. The Canadiens remain one star away from turning into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and that’s not something that’s likely to change this month.

20. Winnipeg Jets | 29-24-5 | Previous Ranking: 20

Biggest Need: Defense, defense, defense.

Match: Rasmus Ristolainen

As bad as Winnipeg’s defense has been this season, the team’s blue line is about to get much younger. Dmitry Kulikov and Lucas Sbisa are potentially on their way out, while Sami Niku (23), Dylan Samberg (21) and Ville Heinola (18) could earn consistent starting roles next season. That’s not a bad thing, but adding another steady blueliner or two wards against growing pains. Winnipeg has jumped back into wild-card contention, but might not have the right combination of assets to sell what the Sabres would be looking for in a potential trade for Ristolainen.

19. Arizona Coyotes | 28-23-8 | Previous Ranking: 17

Biggest Need: Cap space.

Match: Ducks

After trading for Taylor Hall, the Coyotes have less than $50,000 in room under the cap and even less offseason flexibility if they re-sign their newly acquired winger. Grabner carries a $3.35 cap hit into next year and is drifting on Arizona’s fourth line and finding him a new team gives the Coyotes a little more breathing room.

18. Calgary Flames | 29-22-6 | Previous Ranking: 18

Biggest Need: A top-six, cost-efficient winger.

Match: Tyler Toffoli

Flames GM Brad Treliving indicated the team would look to improve after trading Michael Frolik and his $4.3 million cap hit in January. Calgary hasn’t been the offensive juggernaut it was last year, ranking 27th in goals for per game, and Toffoli could slide in as the team’s second line right wing next to Sean Monahan.

17. Nashville Predators | 26-22-7 | Previous Ranking: 19

Biggest Need: Find value for Mikael Granlund.

Match: Oilers

The Predators opted for a change-of-scenery exchange when they swapped Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund at last season’s deadline, but it hasn’t panned out. The 27-year-old Finnish winger has 23 points in 61 games with Nashville and the team’s offense has improved despite his less-than-anticipated impact. His production has increased under John Hynes but, for whatever reason, he hasn’t clicked in Nashville’s system.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets | 30-17-10 | Previous Ranking: 16

Biggest Need: Recuperate lost draft picks.

Match: No one.

The Blue Jackets armed themselves at last year’s deadline by trading away their second round selections in the next two drafts, as well as its 2020 third round pick. It worked out, and now Columbus is in a position where it is both over-performing and can sell at the same time. Seth Jones’s injury prevents the Blue Jackets from becoming buyers and with GM Jarmo Kekäläinen reportedly hesitant to move Josh Anderson, the team’s biggest potential asset, Columbus doesn’t have many avenues to load up before the offseason.

15. Vegas Golden Knights | 28-22-8 | Previous Ranking: 14

Biggest Need: One more defenseman.

Match: Erik Gustafsson

Top-pairing defenseman Shea Theodore has been excellent for the Golden Knights this season, ranking second among all blueliners in corsi-for percentage (58.01%) and fourth in expected goals for percentage (57.88%), but the team has sagged defensively. With less than $1 million in cap space, Vegas could fit Gustafsson under the cap without too much fiscal gymnastics while also meeting its need for a puck-moving defenseman.

14. Edmonton Oilers | 30-20-6 | Previous Ranking: 15

Biggest Need: A second-line winger.

Match: Mikael Granlund

The Oilers are a touch more balanced this season and have performed better at 5-on-5 recently, but it’s still not a huge strength. The aforementioned Granlund, an impending free agent, is a buy-low candidate, or Edmonton could look to Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou as a player that can help the Oilers beyond this year.

13. Philadelphia Flyers | 31-19-7 | Previous Ranking: 13

Biggest Need: Kick the tires on the market for Shayne Gostisbehere.

Match: Ducks GM Bob Murray

In the month that Shayne Gostisbehere missed following arthroscopic knee surgery, the Flyers ranked top five in shot attempts against, high danger attempts against and expected goals against. That’s not to say Gostibehere’s absence sparked defensive improvements and there’s no rush to give up on him. But, Ghost carries a $4.5 million cap hit through 2023 and feeling out the market isn’t a bad idea.

12. Florida Panthers | 30-20-6 | Previous Ranking: 9

Biggest Need: Bolster the blue line.

Match: Alec Martinez

One of the league’s top offensive teams, the Panthers are set up front but have issues with goal prevention. Sergei Bobrovsky has been better of late, despite playing in front of a team allowing the seventh-most high danger attempts and eighth-most goals against per 60 minutes. As such, Florida GM Dale Tallon has expressed an interest in adding a defenseman but limited cap space makes that difficult. Martinez fits what the Panthers are looking for if the Kings are willing to eat some of his salary.

11. Vancouver Canucks | 31-21-5 | Previous Ranking: 12

Biggest Need: Strengthen the defense.

Match: No one.

The Canucks’ 8-3-0 record in January launched them to the top of the Pacific Division, but this season has largely been found money for Vancouver. There’s no reason to gum up roster construction—especially when Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are due contract extensions in 2021—to chase postseason success this year. Free agency is a better route for GM Jim Benning to look for help.

10. Dallas Stars | 32-19-5 | Previous Ranking: 10

Biggest Need: An infusion of scoring.

Match: No one.

The Stars were in a similar position last season and coughed up a second and third round pick for Mats Zuccarello, only to lose in the Western Conference semifinals and let Zuccarello walk in free agency. With limited flexibility and without a deep prospect pool, Dallas’s best hope lies in Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn flipping a switch and providing the team with more offense than they have until this point.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs | 30-19-8 | Previous Ranking: 11

Biggest Need: A shutdown defenseman

Match: No one.

Toronto acquired Campbell from the Kings and addressed its need for a backup goaltender, the timing spurred by Frederik Andersen’s absence with an upper-body injury. While the Leafs wait for an update on Morgan Rielly’s progress this week, Toronto’s defense still remains a weakness. Flush against the cap, there’s not much the Leafs can do without placing Rielly on long-term injury reserve.

8. New York Islanders | 33-16-6 | Previous Ranking: 8

Biggest Need: Forward depth.

Match: Kyle Palmieri

Devils forward Kyle Palmieri has notched five-straight 20-goal seasons, comes with term and would lift the Islanders forward group. The problem: What is Lou Lamoriello willing to give up, and is New Jersey willing to part ways with Palmieri? The Isles have the same issue with potentially acquiring J.G. Pageau. The Islanders missed out on landing a star in Artemi Panarin last offseason and the team isn’t in a spot to send away prime assets for a rental.

7. Carolina Hurricanes | 32-21-3 | Previous Ranking: 7

Biggest Need: A fill-in for Dougie Hamilton.

Match: Brendan Dillon

Dougie Hamilton was on his way to a potential Norris trophy but surgery to fix a broken left fibula has sidelined him since Jan. 17, with mixed feelings on if he’ll return. The Hurricanes have an extra pick in each of the first three rounds of the draft this year and, while not coming close to Hamilton’s offensive output, Dillon would give Carolina a steadying force on the blue line.

6. Colorado Avalanche | 33-16-6 | Previous Ranking: 6

Biggest Need: Depth on defense.

Match: Alec Martinez

The Avalanche don’t have any glaring needs, but rostering just one defenseman with significant playoff experience (Ian Cole) and not having strong backup options beyond its top six could be a weakness in a grueling postseason. Colorado has oodles of cap space and should use it, whether that’s on Martinez or a higher-priced player like Sami Vatanen.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins | 34-15-6 | Previous Ranking: 5

Biggest Need: Injury insurance.

Match: No one.

Defenseman John Marino had been one of the season’s standout rookie defensemen, but he took a Steven Stamkos slap shot to the face and reportedly broke three bones in his cheek. It’s another injury in a season filled with them for Pittsburgh and it’s a major hit to the team’s blue line for the time that Marino is out. However, the Penguins might’ve already made its move by acquiring Zucker unless it acquires a familiar face in Ron Hainsey.

4. St. Louis Blues | 32-15-9 | Previous Ranking: 3

Biggest Need: A top-six forward.

Match: Chris Kreider

What the Blues decide to do at the deadline hinges on Vladimir Tarasenko, and whether he can return by season’s end. If he can’t, Kreider’s blend of size and skill becomes an easy fit for a St. Louis team looking to replace a five-time 30-goal scorer this season.

3. Washington Capitals | 36-15-5 | Previous Ranking: 1

Biggest Need: Insurance on the blue line.

Match: No one.

With the third-most points in the NHL, the Capitals don’t need anything to vault them forward in the final stretch of the season. Nevertheless, Washington is rotating Martin Fehervary and Jonas Siegenthaler as its sixth defenseman and any injury would make the blueline a bit more uncertain. Someone like Sens blueliners Mark Borowiecki or Dylan DeMelo could help, but the Caps might decide to stand pat on the heels of a successful season so far.

2. Boston Bruins | 34-11-12 | Previous Ranking: 2

Biggest Need: Secondary scoring.

Match: Chris Kreider

A yearly tradition. The Bruins have a perennial need for a forward to come in and bolster the team’s top three lines. Boston’s core is intact for another season, but a potential contract extension for Torey Krug could cut into a large chunk of the team’s salary cap in the offseason. Kreider would provide a huge boost for the Bruins, but Boston would have to pay a premium to land him.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning | 37-15-5 | Previous Ranking: 4

Biggest Need: One more defenseman.

Match: Trevor Daley

Filing last season away, it’s hard to imagine a franchise in all of professional sports positioned better for long-term success than the Lightning. Tampa Bay has its core locked in place for the next three seasons, each player is in his prime and they will likely have two first round draft picks this year. Plus, the Lightning are playing their best hockey of the season right now. Adding a veteran like Daley will help the Lightning go from knocking on the door of a Stanley Cup to bursting right through it.