For those of you that missed it, the NHL Trade Deadline is officially here. The actual date is still three days away, but the first domino has fallen, with Andrew Ladd–arguably the biggest name on the market–going from the Winnipeg Jets to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a first-round pick, Marko Dano, and a conditional third-round pick. Chicago also came away with a pair of NHL players and had the Jets retain some of Ladd’s salary.
With the deadline fast approaching, general managers will be furiously working the phones in an attempt to improve their team’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup, either for this season or in the future. Some squads will be buyers, others will be sellers, while some teams might just stay the course on deadline day.
One team that is probably going to be buying on the 29th is the Florida Panthers. Their unique mix of emerging stars and wily veterans finds themselves atop the Atlantic Division despite coming into the 2015-2016 season only one year removed from finishing 29th overall.
Dale Tallon will certainly have his work cut out, as the Cup window for the Panthers is both opening and closing. Sure, most of the team’s stars (Aleksander Barkov (20), Jonathan Huberdeau (22), Aaron Ekblad (20)) are still incredibly young, but vital pieces of the core are also starting to creep up there in age. Jaromir Jagr (44), Brian Campbell (36), and Roberto Luongo(36) may not have many years of elite level play left.
Clearly, the team doesn’t feel inclined to go all in just yet, which is probably a smart call given the young nature of the roster.
Matheson and Crouse could both be classified as top prospects, and it’s clear that Panthers management valued them more than Ladd.
So what should the Panthers do? In order to break down Florida’s strategy headed into the deadline, we’ll look at a couple of things: Florida’s needs, their assets, their untouchables, and finally, some potential trade targets.
What do the Panthers need?
First up in determining an optimal trade deadline strategy is figuring out what the team needs are. The Panthers aren’t quite yet at the point where they need to add as much as they can headed into the postseason, but the addition of a couple of extra skaters certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Today’s Slapshot has already taken a look at the team’s forward group, coming away with the following conclusions.
- The top six forwards on the roster are already in the upper half of the league, and when fully healthy, the team has two lines capable of dominating the opposition.
- The bottom six doesn’t look too good. Current players could form a decent shutdown line, but the third line will need to add scoring pop if it’s going to help the team in the postseason.
- Nick Bjugstad is a great option for third-line center compared to what some other teams will be using, but he’s going to need wingers. Brandon Pirri doesn’t work well with Bjugstad, and the best situation might be to use Pirri as trade bait in an attempt to find two new wingers for Bjugstad. If the duo is to be kept together, a possession-driving, playmaking wing has to be brought in.
The defensive corps could also use an upgrade, as excellent possession driving skaters such as Brian Campbell and Aaron Ekblad end up driving the bus, while others hang on for the ride.
Alex Petrovic and Dmitry Kulikov have proven themselves to be a capable second pairing, but the duo of Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson simply can’t be trusted to play together. The terrible performance of Mitchell and Gudbranson earlier in the year cost the team, and the Panthers only started improving after the two were split up, and the defensive pairings were juggled.
Willie Mitchell has also been plagued with injury problems, and has been out of the lineup for over a month. Steven Kampfer has played well as his replacement, and though he is a solid seventh defenseman, he’s definitely not a player you want to be relying on in the postseason.
With all this in mind, the ideal situation for the Panthers involves being able to play Campbell and Ekblad on the same pairing. When together at the start of the season, that duo controlled an incredible 56.8 percent of the unblocked shot attempts, and 61.5 percent of the goals. Those are elite numbers, and having a reliable top pairing in the playoffs will go a long way towards winning rounds.
Petrovic and Kulikov make a solid second pairing, controlling 49.8 percent of the unblocked shot attempts when paired together. The third pairing cannot be left as Mitchell – Gudbranson. Someone will need to be added to the defense, hopefully a left-handed shot who is capable of playing a defensive role, controlling play, and filling in on the middle pairing if necessary.
Needs: One or two playmaking wingers capable of driving possession, and one left-handed, top-four defenseman.
What assets can the Panthers trade?
Let’s get the obvious assets out of the way first. The Panthers have six selections for the 2016 NHL Draft, and eight selections for the 2017 NHL Draft. Here’s the full breakdown, courtesy of General Fanager.
The team also has a number of prospects and roster players that could be dangled as trade bait.
- F – Brandon Pirri – The 24-year-old winger has 24 points in 52 games, and is coming off of a year where he scored 22 goals in 49 games (but only had two assists). A team looking for some depth scoring might be willing to give up a decent return for the former Chicago Blackhawk.
- F – Rocco Grimaldi – It’s hard to make it in the NHL when only 5’6″, and it’s starting to look like the diminutive Grimaldi won’t become a full-time NHLer. Still, a rebuilding team might be intrigued enough by his incredible offensive skill set to take a risk, and send something back in return.
- D – Ian McCoshen – The Panthers would probably like to hold onto McCoshen, who is putting together a monster season at Boston College. The 20-year-old has been a force on the blueline all year, and looks to be a pretty good NHL player. You have to give up value in order to get value, though, and with Mike Matheson playing well in the AHL, McCoshen just might be the best piece of trade bait the team can afford to part with.
Who on the current roster is untouchable?
It’s hard to call players untouchable, as even the best guys in the league could theoretically be moved if the right deal came around. Still, teams inquiring about these players should be told no unless the haul coming back to the Panthers was massive.
- F – Aleksander Barkov – At 20-years-old, Barkov is starting to establish himself as one of the best two-way centers in the entire league. When quickly compared to how current stars such as Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar performed at his age, the puck possession metrics often favor Barkov. It would take an insane return for the Panthers to even consider moving Barkov, who has the potential to be a top five center in the league by next season.
- D – Aaron Ekblad – The list of young players who are way too good for their age continues with Ekblad, who is already a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL, despite being a 20-year-old playing in just his second season. When he hits his prime, Ekblad could easily win multiple Norris trophies.
- F – Jonathan Huberdeau – If Barkov is going to be the Panthers’ batman, then Jonathan Huberdeau makes an excellent Robin. The 22-year-old has 40 points in 59 games this year, and could end up being a reliable 60-point producer for the majority of his career.
Potential trade targets
Keeping in mind that the Panthers need a couple of playmaking wings and a middle pairing defenseman, here are some players that the team should be targeting over the next couple of days.
W – Teddy Purcell
Teddy Purcell is a solid, possession driving winger who can get the puck away from the opposition and onto the stick of his center. His 5 on 5 primary assist rate (A1/60) the past three seasons ranks him 107th out of 323 skaters who have played at least 1500 minutes, so there’s definitely some playmaking ability present. As an impending UFA, he could work as a rental player for the Panthers, and would certainly provide an instant boost to the third line. His $4.5 million dollar cap hit also isn’t too much of a hassle, and keeps Florida under the salary cap.
The cost would likely be something a little less than a second round pick, and based on chatter from hockey insiders on Twitter, it sounds like Tallon has already talked to the Oilers about Purcell.
W – Jiri Hudler: Looking at the same timespan as we did for Purcell, Hudler ranks 16th in primary assists per 60 minutes of 5 v 5 ice time. The price for Hudler would probably be considerably higher, given that he’s only one year removed from a 76-point season, but if the price is right, Hudler could be a perfect match for Nick Bjugstad. His $4 million dollar cap hit fits the Panthers under the cap, and depending on how things shape out on LTIR, they could still have plenty of space to work with.
Puck possession, playmaking ability and an impending UFA? The only holdup is the asking price. The return that Winnipeg got for Andrew Ladd could set the market for Hudler, and it could cost a little too much for Dale Tallon to get the 32-year-old out of Calgary.
W – Kevin Hayes
This last one might be a bit of a stretch, but the New York Rangers do have some tough decisions to make soon. Re-signing all three of Chris Kreider, Keith Yandle, and Hayes is going to be difficult given their current cap situation (especially if they want to add players in free agency) and the team would really be making the wrong move if they let Yandle walk in the offseason.
The Panthers could offer to give them decent market value on one of their pending RFAs, giving the Rangers a bit more cap room to work with and picking up a very good player in the process. Looking at primary assists per 60 minutes yet again, Hayes is third in the entire league. He provides solid puck possession play to go along with the high assist rate, and could work well with Bjugstad on the third line; both players have size and skill.
Acquiring Hayes might cost the Panthers a first round draft pick, or a high-end prospect, or some combination of picks and prospects, but they’d be picking up a young player who would contribute to the lineup right away and grow with the rest of the young talent on the team. It’s an unconventional trade that isn’t likely, but there’s no denying that adding Hayes to the roster (at the right price) would only benefit the Panthers.
D – Evgeny Medvedev
The Philadelphia Flyers took a bit of a gamble when they signed Medvedev to a one-year, $3 million dollar contract this offseason. The 33-year-old Russian blueliner would be playing his first professional season in North America, and 33-year-old rookies just aren’t that common of a sight in today’s NHL.
Still, Medvedev has played very well and hasn’t struggled on the smaller ice. He’s posted a 51.4 percent Fenwick For percentage, and a 3.4 percent relative Fenwick percentage. The Flyers are a better team with him on the ice, and even though he doesn’t rack up points, he fits Florida’s needs perfectly. He’s a left-handed defenseman who will provide a massive upgrade to the defensive corps.
Depending on which other players the Panthers add, they may struggle with Medvedev’s $3 million dollar cap hit, but if they can get him onto the roster, it’s more likely than not that he’ll give the team a boost.
D – Radko Gudas
Radko Gudas plays on the same team as Evgeny Medvedev, and is, in almost every way, a more appealing trade option. He has better possession metrics (both his 52.5 Fenwick For percentage and 5.4 relative Fenwick are higher than Medvedev’s), he gets more 5 v 5 ice time per night (16:11 vs. 15:34), has a cheaper contract (992K vs. 3M), and is even younger (25 yrs vs. 33 yrs).
The only two problems with Gudas are his likely cost (he’s a strong, young defenseman playing on a cheap contract) and his history of cheap hits and dumb penalties. Gudas can’t help your team on the ice if he ends up getting suspended for a number of games, and given his history, he’s one or two vicious headshots away from being out for a considerable chunk of games.
Still, if Gudas can keep it clean, and the Panthers can pry him away from the Flyers, he should really help out the defensive group.
Tallon should be putting out feelers for almost every player in the league at this point, trying to see if someone is open to moving a key piece for a little bit less than they’re actually worth.
Those trades usually don’t happen, though, mainly because other NHL general managers are typically smart hockey minds. Tallon really has his work cut out for him this trade deadline, but if he plays his cards right and makes the right deals, he could set his team up to not only be a formidable opponent in this year’s playoffs, but also for years to come.