Aside from the top few clubs, there’s a decent amount of parity in the NHL right now. That means a lot of teams are still technically in postseason contention. Which in turn, makes it a little tougher to get deals done.
Nobody wants to punt the season and trade away guys that can help right now in exchange for future assets if there’s still a chance they can sneak into the playoffs.
The Feb. 29 deadline is just over a week away though, so something’s got to give. We’ve already seen a couple deals, and now we’re starting to see teams fall too far back to have any realistic shot at a playoff spot. With that in mind, here’s a look at six clubs that have probably slipped too much to play for this year anymore — and what each one could offer a contender.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Well, they have the second worst record in hockey, and they’ve given up 27 goals over their last six games — five of which were losses. On the bright side, they unveiled a cool, old-timey logo earlier this month.
Bottom line: this wasn’t expected to be a big season in Toronto. Even the craziest Leafs fans realize their club is in rebuild mode, and that means a singular focus on acquiring more pieces for the future. They already dealt Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa in a move to free up cap space and contract restrictions, and they’ll likely do more if they can. As it stands, only two players on the entire active roster (Leo Komarov and Jake Gardiner) are signed beyond next season. And only a couple more are even inked beyond this summer.
Roman Polak could make a lot of sense for a contender looking for a little depth on the back end. Honestly though, there are few (if any) untouchables suiting up for Toronto right now.
Here we go again. The Oilers are more fun to watch now than they were a year ago, but that’s not really translating into wins. Granted, some of that is a result of Connor McDavid missing extended time with a collarbone injury. But it’s not the only reason.
Assuming they land the top pick in the draft again, Auston Matthews will give them almost too many skilled forwards. And even if they somehow don’t win the lottery (read: the lottery just gets completely cancelled for some reason), they still could move a fairly big name up front. That may not happen until the summer though, if it happens at all. Until then, Teddy Purcell and Nikita Nikitin are probably the guys most likely to get shipped out.
Columbus Blue Jackets
One of the few teams on this list that was projected as a playoff team by many before the season began, Columbus has actually been out of it longer than just about anyone. If they wanted to get real crazy, the Jackets could trade away their 23-year old No. 1 center in Ryan Johanse… oh wait.
Well, since he’s already gone, veteran defenseman Fedor Tyutin is probably the expendable piece with the most value on the trade market.
The Sabres are in an odd spot. They’re not making the playoffs, but it’s not like they had Cup aspirations for this season anyway. Thing is, they already made a bunch of moves to clean house a year ago, so most of the guys on the roster are either a) young players they plan on keeping for awhile or b) vets that are filling roster spots but probably won’t command a ton of attention from teams looking for a rental.
Pending unrestricted free agent Jamie McGinn — who has 12 goals and 13 assists while making $3 million this season — could make the most sense for a team looking for some forward depth.
Andrew Ladd (need I say more). Or maybe they finally make that Jacob-Trouba-for-Travis-Hamonic deal with the Islanders that we’re all waiting for.
The Flames find themselves in a somewhat similar spot to that of the Sabres, in that they had already made moves for a rebuild before this year. Unlike Buffalo though, Bob Hartley’s squad was coming off a season in which they won a playoff series.
Still, the focus here is on the future. And the fact that they need to pay franchise cornerstones Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan soon makes it that much more likely that they deal away UFAs Jiri Hudler and David Jones.