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NHL Trade Watch: Three teams that shouldn’t waste any more time before making a move

The NHL trade deadline is quickly approaching, and these three teams on the playoff bubble shouldn’t wait until the last minute to find trade partners.

The NHL trade deadline is less than three weeks away, yet all remains quiet on the trade front. 

That’s not entirely surprising, however, given it took until 10 days before last season’s deadline for the trade action to really pick up. But when the first significant trade was completed, a deal that sent Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes to the Calgary Flames in exchange for two draft picks, it sparked a flurry of action that didn’t stop until the trade freeze went into effect.

So, while we don’t yet know which team will fire the opening salvo ahead of the 2017-18 deadline, there are a few teams who shouldn’t be wait any longer to find a trade partner. Here are three clubs in need of a trade in short order to help improve they’re potentially dwindling playoff chances:

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
There are a few teams that view this season as an important year to make a post-season run because it could signal one of the final years their championship window is open. But for the Islanders, making a run — or simply making the playoffs, at this point — is of utmost importance when it comes to even having that window open at all. With captain John Tavares inching ever-closer to free agency, New York needs to prove to their 27-year-old superstar that they’re serious about chasing the Stanley Cup. The best way to do that right now? Do something about the team’s atrocious defensive play.

There are two ways that Islanders GM Garth Snow can approach this situation, but the area most have been clamoring for him to address is the goaltending issues that continue to plague New York. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have vastly underperformed, and it’s no wonder the Islanders have the worst goals-against average given their puck-stopping duo has combined to post a .898 save percentage this season. True, trade options are likely limited, but it may be possible for someone such as Jonathan Bernier, Antti Raanta or Petr Mrazek to be plucked away from their respective teams to give the Islanders a boost in goal.

The best way to ensure a goaltending acquisition would be successful, however, is to also pursue a rearguard who can have some impact on New York’s battered and struggling blueline. There are a number of rental options available, from a top target such as Mike Green to secondary options such as Nick Holden, who plays for the rival New York Rangers. But a more intriguing acquisition might be Jack Johnson, who requested a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets in recent weeks. Johnson is a capable top-four defender who could give some support to Nick Leddy and the hopefully soon-to-return Johnny Boychuk.

The Islanders certainly have the assets to move to address their needs, too. Three-time 20-goal scorer Brock Nelson has had a tough time this season — he has 11 goals and 20 points in 54 games — and could be a prime trade candidate, particularly given the abundance of offense New York already possesses. In addition, the Islanders could consider moving a free agent-to-be defenseman such as Thomas Hickey.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
As noted above, Johnson has requested that the Blue Jackets deal him at some point before the deadline. There is no guarantee that happens, of course, but with Columbus struggling to produce offense and fighting tooth and nail to hang on to a wild-card spot in the East, exploring trade options for the veteran defenseman — especially those that would bring and offensive contributor in return — might be the best move for GM Jarmo Kekalainen right now.

To be sure, the offensive concerns are considerable for the Blue Jackets. Entering Friday’s contest against the Washington Capitals, Columbus has the third-worst goals per game of any team in the league. Consider that with less than 30 games remaining in the campaign, the Blue Jackets only have one player with more than 15 goals — and Josh Anderson, who has 16 goals, has only lit the lamp twice in his past 13 games. The good news for Columbus is that there are some options available on the market.

In all likelihood, the top available option, Evander Kane, will be a bit too rich for the Blue Jackets’ blood. But the secondary players, those who won’t take four solid assets to acquire, might be worth looking into. The idea of bringing back Rick Nash is intriguing, but only if the price works for Columbus. That said, Nash’s teammate in New York, Michael Grabner, could be a perfect target. The speedy winger has 21 goals this season and would likely come much cheaper than Nash. Another interesting option might be Thomas Vanek, who is having a solid year with the Vancouver Canucks. His 15 goals and 37 points make him one of the higher-scoring rental options, and he’d be a good addition to the Blue Jackets’ dreadful power play. Another potential acquisition is the Islanders’ Nelson. Yes, he’s in the midst of a down season, but a change of scenery could do him well and provide him the opportunity to recapture his form. 

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One attacking player who comes in and makes a difference could be all that Columbus really needs, too. Defensively, the Blue Jackets have been one of the strongest teams in the NHL. They’re tied for 10th with 2.75 goals against per game, and the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky is enough on some nights to steal games for Columbus. If the offense comes alive, the Blue Jackets could actually make some noise down the stretch.

CAROLINA HURRICANES
This was supposed to be the year. After struggling to even fight for a wild-card spot despite boasting some of the best underlying numbers in the league over the past two seasons, the summertime additions of Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk and, most importantly, goalie Scott Darling were expected to propel Carolina to the post-season for the first time in eight seasons. Instead, without some clever maneuvering from GM Ron Francis ahead of the deadline, the Hurricanes’ playoff drought is at risk of stretching to a ninth campaign.

Much like New York, there are two areas Carolina would love to be able to address. Primarily, though, the Hurricanes’ concern should be finding a way to generate more offense. It’s something Francis has reportedly been seeking to attend to in the past, but the time seems right for Carolina to get serious about pursuing some additional scoring. Many of the same options that are open to the Blue Jackets are also available for the Hurricanes, but Carolina arguably has the better trade chips and could target some other players, as well.

For instance, the Detroit Red Wings have two prime-aged scorers who could potentially be available at the deadline in Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. The Ottawa Senators have reportedly considered moving Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derick Brassard or even Mike Hoffman (hough they may have changed their minds on Hoffman). The Arizona Coyotes’ young winger Tobias Rieder could also be an option, as could someone such as Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Hurricanes could have the assets necessary to pry one of those players away from their current club, too. 

Each of those teams would likely welcome a skilled defender, and Carolina can offer just that in Justin Faulk. In past trade speculation, Faulk’s name has popped up, and with the stable of young rearguards Carolina has available — Jaccob Salvin, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin, among others — Francis would be able to pull the trigger on moving out the 25-year-old without crippling the blueline. Not only that, but the Hurricanes’ prospect depth and young core allows them to sacrifice some future assets with which other teams may not be willing to part ways. That’s the benefit of having five prospects ranked in the top 100 of THN’s 2017 Future Watch edition.

Carolina would also likely benefit from an improvement in goal, as Darling hasn’t lived up to his potential this season. However, it seems unlikely that Francis moves any assets to shore up the goaltending with Darling in the first season of his four-year pact and veteran Cam Ward on the books until season’s end. The hope instead will be that Darling or Ward can piece together a solid run of play down the stretch and help the Hurricanes end their post-season drought.

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