No one is about to press the panic button, but clubs failing to meet expectations might start testing the trade waters. What do those teams need and who could they target?
It’s not all that uncommon for the trade market to be quiet in the early part of the season. Across the first few weeks, teams aren’t about to panic and pull the trigger on any major moves that shake up their lineup. After all, a win here or offensive explosion there can assuage the concerns of even the most consternated fan bases in the opening month.
But October shifts to November and Thanksgiving grows ever closer south of the border, every loss comes with a touch more anxiety, especially for the clubs that had visions of post-season glory before the puck was dropped on the campaign. And given that’s the case, one can’t help but wonder what those teams, the ones who entered the season with high hopes, will do as they seek to meet their own expectations or fight their way back into the playoff picture.
Some teams have already gone out and addressed perceived issues. The Penguins, for instance, saw a need down the middle and filled it with the acquisition of Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings. The Toronto Maple Leafs saw a chance to net a young, promising netminder in Calvin Pickard from the Vegas Golden Knights and did so, giving up prospect Tobias Lindberg and a sixth-round pick. Meanwhile, the Arizona Coyotes, in dire need of someone, anyone, who could guide them to a win, sent a fifth-round pick to the New Jersey Devils for goaltender Scott Wedgewood.
Relatively speaking, though, those are all minor deals, and what we’re really waiting for is the first eye-popping trade of the season. If recent history is any indication, we might have to wait a while, but here are the teams who could be first to make a notable move:
The Need: Carolina was expected to take a big step forward this year, and that could very well still happen, but the Hurricanes are going to need to add some scoring up front to make it a reality. After 10 games, Jeff Skinner is the only Hurricane with a near point-per-game scoring rate and he’s also the only player with more than three goals. Only the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers have fewer goals.
Potential Targets: Everyone’s thinking it, so we may as well go ahead and suggest Matt Duchene. His name has been mentioned in connection with the Hurricanes previously and it would seem a fit. Carolina could use the speed and scoring, plus Duchene has 30-goal potential. Another option might be James Neal. Sure, the Golden Knights are in a playoff position now, but Vegas is going to have a tough time retaining Neal. He offers size, scoring and experience, all things the Hurricanes could use.
The Need: It’s no secret Colorado is looking for a rearguard who can anchor the blueline now and into the future. As it stands, the back end only has two truly experienced NHL defensemen in Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, so finding a fresh face who can grow with the team through this down period for the Avs is of utmost importance. Obviously, trading Duchene is the way to get that done, but we’re months into that trade saga without a resolution.
Potential Targets: The Hurricanes have a wealth of defensemen who fit the bill. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce aren’t going anywhere, but maybe Noah Hanifin or newly minted co-captain Justin Faulk is an option. Or how about the Predators, who boast a similarly deep defense corps? Is there a way to pry, say, Ryan Ellis away from Nashville? Or maybe targeting a younger player, like rookie Samuel Girard, can get a deal done.
The Need: Who would’ve thought the Connor McDavid-led Oilers would have the league’s lowest goals per game through the first month of the season? Edmonton, a Stanley Cup favorite, has just three wins and is managing 2.18 goals per game. This isn’t the way anyone expected things to go for the Oilers. Team speed is a concern, as is scoring on the wings. Fixing both in one fell swoop would be the ideal scenario.
Potential Targets: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently mentioned Chris Kreider as someone who could be moved if the struggling New York Rangers decide to change things up, and, this past weekend, he noted Edmonton as a place Kreider could be a fit. Now, he wasn’t saying there’s anything imminent, but he’s bang-on in suggesting it would make sense. Kreider is big, fast and has a scoring touch. Check, check and check for the Oilers. Kreider’s not the only option, however. Speedy scoring wingers? How about Evander Kane? His deal with the Buffalo Sabres is up at the end of the year, so he could be a rental option down the line.
The Need: Montreal has its issues keeping the puck out of the net, to be sure, but no one is going to suggest the Canadiens sit Carey Price down. There’s really not much reason to believe the blueline is a glaring issue, either. Montreal is allowing only 30.9 shots against per game. Two of the Canadiens’ biggest issues, though, are on special teams. The power play is the seventh-worst at 13.7 percent and the penalty kill is fourth-worst at 76.2 percent. Both could use some fine-tuning.
Potential Targets: Why not look to Vegas for some help? Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has been a fixture on the penalty kill throughout his career and could bring some veteran presence to that unit. He’s being used sparingly by the Golden Knights. And for help on the power play, it might be worthwhile to enquire about Thomas Vanek. He’s played, and played well, in Montreal before. He can bring some offense in limited minutes.
The Need: Aside from the part about taking a step forward, just about everything that goes for the Hurricanes goes for the Predators, too. They’re a defensively sound club that simply hasn’t shown any offensive punch through the early part of the season. Nashville has the third-lowest goals-per-game rate despite having an excellent power play and the only player with a double-digit point total is Filip Forsberg. He’s also the only Predator with more than three goals.
Potential Targets: Sure seems like Nashville would love to have Neal back in the fold, but getting him back from Vegas might cost more than the Predators want to spend. That’s the case with any top-tier scorer, however, and that includes Duchene, who has certainly been mentioned in connection with Nashville. As stated previously, the price is going to be a talented defenseman, and the Predators will have to make certain they’re making the right choice if they decide to part ways with any of their defenders.
NEW YORK RANGERS
The Need: Not to kick the Rangers while they’re down, but New York could basically use players at every position. Henrik Lundqvist could really use someone to spell him from time to time in goal, the blueline could probably use a piece or two and New York would likely be all ears if someone was offering up a defense-minded pivot. Tough to fix what ails the Rangers with one move, though.
Potential Targets: Let’s start with the crease. The best option available might be Michael Hutchinson. Lundqvist has worked well in tandem with young backup keepers and Hutchinson has been a more than serviceable second-string netminder in recent years. Defensively, the Rangers can’t add a big name, but low-level options could include someone like Andrej Sustr, whose chances are few and far between with the Tampa Bay Lightning right now. Up front, how about a reunion with Dominic Moore? He’s been in and out of the lineup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Need: Hard to believe we’re talking about a team coached by Barry Trotz as being poor defensively, but the Capitals haven’t looked good in their own zone and it’s about time they bring someone in if they want to take at least one more solid kick at the can with this group. Washington has surrendered the seventh-most shots against per game and the time spent in their own zone has resulted in the third-fewest shots for per game.
Potential Targets: He’s hurt right now, but there should be more love for THN colleague Matt Larkin’s suggestion earlier this season that the Capitals should pursue Niklas Hjalmarsson. He’s a pure defensive defenseman who’s on a great contract given his value. Hjalmarsson was minute-munching defender on three Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks teams and he’s got everything Washington could want in a rearguard. It’s also hard not to like Larkin’s idea of pursuing Chris Tanev. It’s just a matter of pinning down the cost.
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