The NHL Trade Deadline is still a few weeks away and maybe it’s too early to say that the market is in any way open for business.
That said, boy did the Buffalo Sabres ever set about handling their own tank-y business this week by orchestrating trades that sent out Jhonas Enroth, Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers while bringing Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and others into town.
By traditional trade deadline measures, the Sabres are ahead of the market. The lion’s share of deals don’t go down until the final days and hours before the March 2 deadline. Most teams aren’t content to call themselves sellers (or, completely out of contention) until the final possible moment.
Only Buffalo’s very obvious tankery and a timely deal to be made with the discontented Kane allowed them to get to work so early.
Soon, though, the rest of the league will pick up on the trade action, and the Metropolitan Division has its own share of would-be sellers who are going to send their veteran assets to market.
With the top-four set and Philadelphia still within shouting distance of a Wild Card berth, the division’s bottom-three teams have the look of sellers. But how much can each team look to shed, and what should they be looking for in return?
19-26-7, 28th in NHL
The Hurricanes have been playing something like good hockey of late — 6-2-2 in their last ten games while playing a brand of hockey that is more competitive than their overall record suggests.
That shouldn’t take them out of the draft lottery race, however.
Carolina currently ranks eighth in the Metropolitan, 15th in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the NHL, more than happy territory if a shot at Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel is the goal. With the playoffs out of sight, it’s time for the Hurricanes (and their somehow-bloated payroll) to start trimming the fat with an eye toward the future.
That might start with defenseman Andrej Sekera, who has been one of Carolina’s bright spots on defense. At 28, Sekera is in his money-making prime. With word that Carolina won’t be reaching a reported “Marc Staal Deal” with Sekera, he looks to be one of the better defenders available this Spring.
Elsewhere, the Hurricanes could look to part ways with veterans Tim Gleason and Jiri Tlusty, who would make good, proven additions to contenders in search of depth. And, if they get really lucky, the Hurricanes could find takers for the albatross contracts of goaltender Cam Ward and forward Alex Semin (although that’s about as likely as Winnipeg getting a fair haul for the injured and disgruntled Evander Kane. So crazier things have happened, no?)
Carolina is pointed in the right direction, but the rebuild is still very much on. It’ll be up to first-year GM Ron Francis to see what he can make of his first deadline.
Columbus Blue Jackets
23-26-3, 26th in NHL
Earlier this week we wrote about the Blue Jackets’ weird position against the NHL trade deadline — that is, they’re a contender dressed in seller’s clothing.
Columbus’ injury problems have been nothing if not outrageous this year. They’re on pace for more than 500 man-games lost to injury, a number crested only by the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. This is the youngest team in hockey and one that has core pieces in place in all parts of the lineup.
On the veteran front, though, Columbus has a handful of players on the other side of 30 — but only a handful. Scott Hartnell, James Wisniewski, Curtis McIlhenny, Jordan Leopold, Fedor Tyutin and Mark Letestu are all 30 or older. Among that group, Letestu, McIlhenny and Leopold are all free agents after this season.
Could Columbus move them and acquire a few picks and prospects in return? None are more than a depth player in Columbus or elsewhere, but moving them for assets now and replacing them with similarly skilled, similarly priced players in free agency seems like a better way to maximize assets.
Columbus isn’t going to splash into this trade market unless they go out of their way to do so (and at least one rumor has it that they might). However, a good deadline isn’t always a noisy one. The Blue Jackets could move some UFA assets now to create space and add to the cupboard down the road.
As flat as this horse has become, there’s not much to blame for their shortfalls besides a depleted lineup, and there’s no real way to address that but to throw a little salt over their shoulder and wait for next year.
Making smart, small moves between now and then could be the difference between falling prey to injury problems and having the depth to overcome them in the future.
New Jersey Devils
21-24-9, 24th in NHL
Every team that finishes outside the playoffs gets a lottery ball. And while the Devils currently aren’t the odds-on team to land one of the coveted top-two spots, they are in fine position to start the sell-off and reload through trades and free agency.
Like Columbus, the playoffs are out of sight. Opposite Columbus, the Devils are the oldest team in hockey — and it’s not even close.
The Devils have 15 players on their roster listed at 30 or older. They field an average player age of 30.28 years old. That makes them the only team that is, on average, on the wrong side of 30.
The NHL’s second-oldest team (St. Louis) checks in at 28.45 years old. Columbus is the youngest at 26.09 years old. There is nearly as much of a gap between the youngest and second-oldest team (2.36 years) as between the second-oldest and New Jersey (1.83 years).
If that and a double-digit Wild Card deficit don’t scream rebuild, nothing in New Jersey apparently ever will.
Key among the group of would-be trade assets is ageless winger Jaromir Jagr, who brings the bell curve up and who may very well be their top trade piece. Jagr leads the team in scoring with 29 points, itself a terribly low mark for a team’s leading scorer (the Devils rank 27th in goals per game) but good enough to still make him one of the top forward targets on the trade market.
Outside of Jagr, the list of veterans continues. Tuomo Ruutu, Marek Zidlicky, Bryce Salvador, Brian Gionta and Michael Ryder could all be moved for future assets. Even longtime Devils like Dainius Zubrus and Patrik Elias could command a decent return, should they want to part ways with their longtime franchise.
At 12 points out of the Wild Card picture, the Devils’ season is essentially done. The head coaching trio of Lou Lamoriello and former Devils Adam Oates and Scott Stevens should give way to a new coaching prospect next year, and that coach should be able to inherit a team on the upswing.
Rebuilds aren’t really part of the picture in New Jersey. However, what was once the league’s longest non-Red Wings playoff streak has since given way to three playoff misses in the last four years (and it’s going on four in five).
New Jersey might not be able to haul in top assets without moving some of its younger players. However, most of its veterans are on or near expiring contracts, and they can command something in the trade market, when prices are at their highest.
It’s not the way things are usually done in New Jersey, but it’s a good place to start nonetheless.
Statistics accurate through games played on February 11.
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