Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
It is now less than two weeks until the NHL trading deadline. That means we are entering the stretch run towards the possible movement of players from potential sellers to possible buyers as some teams concede any chance of qualifying for the playoffs and others try and improve towards either qualification or playoff dominance. Although contractual and financial considerations cloud the trading waters, it would appear there might be a significant number of players changing teams, even if we have to wait until those changes are made on the actual trading deadline day, February 29.
Unrestricted free agents of high interest who are on potential sellers’ lists include Andrew Ladd, Calgary’s Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano and Kris Russell and Toronto’s Roman Polak and James Reimer. Other teams pretty much out of the picture include Buffalo, Columbus and Edmonton, none of whom have top tier UFAs, yet could barter established veterans, especially those who can score goals, for a combination of top prospects and high draft choices. Of course, the problem with picking up established goal scorers like the Jackets’ Scott Hartnell or the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle is fitting their high salary under the salary cap. Any potential trade must send players with equal cap value back to Columbus or Edmonton.
Teams on the bubble, yet unlikely to qualify for the playoffs with high interest UFAs that are tradable, include Carolina (center Eric Staal, winger Kris Versteeg, and goaltender Cam Ward), Philadelphia (Sam Gagner and Yevgeni Medvedev), Arizona (Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Boyd Gordon and goaltender Mike Smith) and Vancouver (Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis). Other bubble teams perhaps willing to trade capable veterans under contract would have to include Montreal, Ottawa and New Jersey. The same salary cap restrictions exist, though, and that makes it difficult to make realistic, workable trades that benefit both teams.
That means those teams more likely to qualify for the playoffs that are the most interested in trading up, especially for help on offense, would include (in order of relative offensive deficiencies to date despite the presence of big-name stars) Anaheim (2.2 goals per game with Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler), St. Louis (2.4 with Tarasenko, Steen and Backes), Detroit (2.5 with Larkin, Zetterberg and Datsyuk), Nashville (with Forsberg and Neal) and Pittsburgh (2.6 with Crosby, Malkin and Kessel), Los Angeles (2.65 with Kopitar, Toffoli, Carter and Lucic) and Tampa Bay (with Stamkos and Kucherov) and Colorado (2.7 with Duchene, MacKinnon and Landeskog).
Of particular interest is that Backes and Stamkos are both scheduled to be UFAs at the end of this season and have not yet signed with the Blues or Lightning. Although it is unlikely either will be traded before the deadline, it is entirely likely both will be with different teams next year. If Backes doesn’t re-sign with St. Louis, Minnesota could be a likely destination. And although Tampa Bay could ink Stamkos to a big contract, it is my firm belief that he will be sporting a big Red Wing on his jersey next season.
Those teams likely to qualify for the playoffs yet in need of defensive help are (in order) Colorado (2.75 goals against per game), San Jose and Dallas (2.7), Boston and Nashville (2.6) and possibly the Rangers and Pittsburgh (2.55). It may be hard to believe teams with goaltenders such as Semyon Varlamov, Martin Jones, Antti Niemi, Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist and M.A. Fleury need defensive help, yet the defensive needs speak more to overall team defense and consistent fore-and back-checking from the forwards than to any perceived weakness in goal.
Those teams with the most points that don’t appear to need to change much at all would be Washington, Florida and Chicago, although that does not mean they won’t make minor changes or shore up perceived depth weaknesses, especially up front. And it must be noted that all three have been relatively injury free and possible injuries in the next two weeks could also have an influence on stability and depth and could lead to potential trades.
Of teams currently in playoff spots, Detroit, St. Louis, Colorado and Tampa Bay have the most man-games lost to injury while the Rangers, Chicago, Washington, San Jose and tonight’s visitors, the Dallas Stars, have been the least injured teams in the NHL this season.
The name most mentioned in potential Blues’ moves is that of high-scoring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who becomes a UFA after the 2016-17 season. Although many think it would be a mistake to deal the power play specialist, Shatty’s high value and upcoming new contract may make him expendable, especially for a much-needed goal scorer. Yet, that doesn’t make much financial sense since a scoring star is going to cost just as much, if not more, than a new contract for Shattenkirk a year from now. The same can be said for upcoming UFA David Backes, who reportedly is seeking a multi-year deal for at least $6M a year. And Patrik Berglund’s relatively high contract ($3.7M) makes him available, even if there is little interest from other NHL teams. The big Swede is signed through the 2016-17 season.
Money could be saved by not signing (or re-singing at much lower salaries) upcoming UFAs Troy Brouwer, Carl Gunnarsson, Steve Ott, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall. RFAs include Jaden Schwartz, Dmitrij Jaskin, Joel Edmundson, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Jordan Binnington and Pheonix Copley. Only Paajarvi is likely not to be re-signed.
Yes, the next two weeks until February 29 are going to be most interesting, eh?