This is a four-part series analyzing where each NHL teams stands heading into the trade deadline based on the context of each division, and the short- and long-term implications of buying or selling with the expansion draft around the corner.
The Pacific Division is completely wide open. Though San Jose appears to still be the cream of the crop, the Oilers have showed flashes of brilliance, and the Ducks and Kings have a track record of previous success. The Canucks and Flames are in a difficult situation determining whether to buy or sell, while the Coyotes have known for months that their season is over.
34-18-5 (73 Points) / 50.9 CF% / 53.6 GF% / 100.5 PDO
The San Jose Sharks, after years of choking, went on a big run last year. They grinded their way through the Western Conference playoff bracket as the third seed in the Pacific Division, and ultimately came just two wins shy of winning their first Stanley Cup in Franchise history.
The look on Joe Thornton’s face when they lost says it all. They finally made it all the way but were stopped by the younger, faster, and, well, better Pittsburgh Penguins.
But it’s not like their window has slammed shut. The Sharks are likely the best team in the Pacific Division this season, and although they aren’t the run-and-gun offensive juggernaut they used to be back in Thornton’s prime, they’re a tight team with strong depth, a lethal power play, and reliable goaltending.
The Sharks aren’t getting any younger. I mean, nobody is, but in the case of this team, it stands out.
Both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are 36 years old and will become free agents next season. Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns are both 31, and while both likely have a few green years left in them, are moving away from their prime.
With Burns, Pavelski, Logan Couture, and other solid players locked up for the foreseeable future, the Sharks are going to be a competitive playoff team for years to come. That said, this is probably their last kick at the can with both Thornton and Marleau on the team. It’s hard to say how much either of them have left in the tank. But with Martin Jones, Tomas Hertl, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic nearing free agency and the new core aging, the Sharks are going to start looking to the future.
At the deadline:
The Sharks don’t have a hell of a lot of flexibility heading into the deadline. They’re pressed right up to the cap, and they don’t have a second or third round pick in either 2017 or 2018. Also, their top prospects, like Mirco Mueller and Timo Meier, are players that they aren’t going to be excited to trade because they’re going to be playing key roles on the team sooner rather than later.
With that considered, it’s difficult to imagine them making much of a splash on March 1.
Ideally they could find another right winger to fill in the top-six and bump Mikkel Boedker (who only has six goals this season!) down the lineup. Obviously depth is good to have, but there aren’t any massive, glaring weaknesses or holes that badly need to be filled on this roster.
Last year, they acquired (in two separate deals) Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, and James Reimer from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for those two second round picks I just mentioned and a collection of salary cap dumps.
If the Sharks do make a move, I imagine it’ll be similar to the ones they made last season. That said, I’m sure they’ll be a little more conservative with their draft picks. Based on the impact Spaling and Polak had on the team in the playoffs last spring, you have to wonder if the Sharks could have won it all if they had been more prudent with who they spent them on.
The Sharks window with this group is likely closing after this playoff run. But they aren’t going to fall off a cliff just like that. They’re built to be a competitive team for years, and considering they don’t have much flexibility to work with, they won’t be looking to mortgage that future just to go for it all in 2017.
29-18-10 (68 Points) / 49.6 CF% / 50.0 GF% / 99.9 PDO
The Anaheim Ducks are in an interesting situation.
Right now, they’re in second place in the Pacific Division, and, as such as they have for the past few seasons, seem poised to go on some kind of playoff run. I don’t think anybody will call them a Stanley Cup contender, but the Ducks are a good team who will certainly make it to the show.
Their core of forwards, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler, are all 31 years old, and along with them, the Ducks have a wealth of young talent that should result in the team being competitive for years to come. Obviously down the road the combined $25 million in cap room to the aforementioned three is going to look ugly, but that’s the reality of being successful in the cap world. You pay for it later.
What makes this situation interesting, though, is the expansion draft.
The Ducks have a wealth of talent on their blue line, and it’s inevitable that the Vegas Golden Knights are going to poach a good player from them this spring. So rather than losing a solid player like Simon Despres or Josh Manson for free, the Ducks could look to sell from a position of strength, and in the process, fill a position of weakness.
At the deadline:
Everything the Ducks do at the deadline should have the expansion draft in mind.
Teams have the option to protect either seven forwards and three defencemen or eight skaters in general. The Ducks need to protect Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, and Kevin Bieksa, unless one of them (ideally the guy at the end of that list) to waive their no-move clause.
So look for the Ducks to move somebody like Despres, Manson, or even Cam Fowler at the deadline so that they aren’t forced to lose any of them for nothing. Ideally, for the Ducks, they could get a top-six winger or third line centre on an entry-level deal who’s expansion exempt. Obviously that isn’t going to be an easy thing to do because other teams are in that same boat and players who are expansion exempt have a tremendous amount of value right now, but that’ll be the goal.
Also, I would imagine the Ducks won’t spend much draft or prospect capital at the deadline. Not only are they tight to the cap, but they could potentially use some of those assets to strike a deal with Vegas to refrain from grabbing a certain player.
The Ducks are good-not-great team that could make some noise in the playoffs but certainly isn’t a Cup contender. Their main focus right now is minimizing the talent they lose at the expansion draft, and as a result, their deadline strategy of being a ‘buyer’ as they would be any other year, will be altered.
29-19-8 (66 Points) / 50.7 CF% / 51.5 GF% / 100.1 PDO
After a hideous decade of futile Oil Changes and endless high draft picks, the Edmonton Oilers are finally back in the mix. This is the first time since, what, like, 2009 that they’ve been rolling into a trade deadline as possible buyers, and if everything goes right, it’ll be the first time they reach the big dance since their 2006 Cup run.
Barring some unforeseen catastrophic disaster (we all know what it is but I’m not going to say it out loud), not only are they going to make the playoffs, the Oilers have the potential to make some serious noise come spring. As we’ll notice as we go along in this series, the Western Conference isn’t particularly strong right now, giving a team like Edmonton a window to make a leap sooner rather than later.
Besides, they really, really need to start winning before Connor McDavid owns the biggest cap hit in the NHL. The Saviour’s entry-level deal comes to an end after the 2017-18 season, and him, along with his linemate Leon Draisaitl, are going to be seeking significant raises from their current bargain salaries.
Obviously they shouldn’t be looking to totally sell the farm to go at it hard this year, because the countless years of suffering the fans have endured has put them in a position where the team can be competitive for years, and that’ll have to involve continually drafting and developing players as time goes along to augment the core around McDavid. But right now, the Oilers have a unique opportunity to make a run while having players on discount contracts.
At the deadline:
The glaring need for the Oilers is scoring depth. Ideally it comes in the form of a winger who can play and produce alongside McDavid so the team isn’t forced to use Draisaitl on his wing. Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, and McDavid have been excellent together, but beyond them, the offence hasn’t been there.
Leon Draisaitl has the ability to drive offence on a line of his own, whether it’s on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ wing or it’s with him as a centre. Regardless, the Oilers can’t have their two strongest forward options on a line together come playoff time, otherwise it just makes them that much easier to shut down.
Another area of need is a power play defenceman. Right now, the Oilers have Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom on their first and second power play units that both feature four forwards. Also, upgrading on Laurent Brossoit, who has virtually zero NHL experience, in net could be worthwhile.
Like I said earlier, this is a good opportunity for Edmonton to buy and facilitate a playoff run. Adding long-term pieces isn’t ideal right now, as new contracts to McDavid and Draisaitl are right around the corner, but this team has enough young talent that selling a first round pick at the deadline for the first time since they acquired Dwayne Roloson in 2006 makes sense for the club.
There are many areas to upgrade (scoring winger, bottom-six depth, power play defenceman, backup goalie, etc.) but none are so glaring that they need to do so in order to make the playoffs. But a move or two could be the difference between going on a long run or not. Or, maybe, Milan Lucic, Benoit Pouliot, and Jordan Eberle will start playing like they can (and should, considering they cost $16 million annually) and this conversation won’t be necessary. Who knows!
The Oilers are finally back in the picture. What world is this?! After years of suffering, the light at the end of the tunnel is near. They aren’t a Cup contender right now, but the organization is badly in need of a playoff run, and with the young talent they have, selling a first round pick isn’t unreasonable.
28-23-4 (60 Points) / 54.8 CF% / 49.4 GF% / 98.4 PDO
The Los Angeles Kings are a difficult team to analyze. Their underlying numbers suggest that they’re massively underachieving, but this is a story we’ve seen from them in the past. The Kings are always bound to put up good shot attempt differentials because of their system, but despite faring well in the possession game (good Corsi, Fenwick, scoring chances, the whole nine yards), they don’t have the skill on their roster to finish their chances and produce offence at a high level.
So while their underlying numbers indicate that they’re one of the better teams in the league, they probably aren’t. That said, this team is still underachieving. Right now, they’re on the bubble, battling with Calgary, St. Louis, and arguably a few others for wild card seeds. But the core of a good team is there, and with some moves, the Kings can probably be more than just a bubble team.
An eighth placed team in the West seldom screams “go for it!” like the Kings currently do.
Its very well known that this team is on the brink of salary cap hell. They were a dynasty for a few years and now they’re paying for it. Not too far down the road, they’re going to have a bunch of guys in their mid-to-late 30s with their prime years well behind them making nearly $30 million.
This core of players isn’t going anywhere, so it’s best to capitalize on them while you still can. Because eventually, unless they can dig their way out of a handful of long-term deals, the Kings are going be an expensive travelling road show of what used to be.
At the deadline:
Like I said, it makes a lot of sense for the Kings to buy. They’re seriously lacking a few complimentary pieces right now, but there’s a core of players here along with a system that has the potential to go on a playoff run if augmented properly.
So far, Jeff Carter has been carrying the load offensively for the team. His 29 goals are far and away the most on the team, and without him, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The next highest scorer on the team is Tanner Pearson with a modest 12 goals, and that makes up the only guys on the Kings’ list in double digits for scoring. Get this team a goddamn goal scorer!
Some depth on defence and possibly a backup goalie would also be nice additions, but the major, glaring need for the Kings to make any noise this spring is certainly a scoring winger.
The Kings, despite their reputation of a team with cap issues, actually have a decent amount of flexibility at the deadline. Their use of the LTIR and quick hand in burying Teddy Purcell and Tom Gilbert leaves them with enough money at the deadline to acquire a pretty significant piece. They also have all of their draft picks for the next three years, so everything adds up.
The Kings are an underachieving team. The extent to which they are is debatable, though. Their underlying numbers suggest a contender, but their past reminds us that if anybody is going to underperform their peripherals, it’s them. With the core they have, though, the Kings could make some noise if they find a way to add a scoring winger to remedy their offensive woes.
28-26-3 (59 Points) / 51.1 CF% / 46.7 GF% / 98.5 PDO
It hasn’t been a very good season for the Calgary Flames. They’re currently sitting within striking distance of a playoff spot, and there’s a pretty good chance that one hot streak down the stretch could catapult them into the big dance, but it’s difficult to imagine this team doing any damage.
While there have been streaks of impressive play, very strong individual performances, and a handful of things to be excited about, the lows this team has gone through are much more glaring in the overall picture. Generally, it seems, the team has struggled to get consistent play from anyone other than a handful of players, and that’s reflected in the fact they’ve gone on far more prolonged cold streaks than hot streaks.
Still, this is a relatively young team with an exciting core moving forward. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Dougie Hamilton are all in their early 20s and are signed to long-term contracts, and while Sam Bennett hasn’t emerged into the top centre many might have hoped, Matthew Tkachuk has exceeded expectations in his rookie season.
The Flames have a handful of ugly contracts coming off the shelf this summer and will have an opportunity to make some pretty significant changes to the depths of their roster over the offseason.
At the deadline:
The Flames have too many holes on their roster to realistically improve themselves enough at the trade deadline to go on a playoff run. They have a handful of assets they could fire off for a decent return, but it’s pretty difficult to justify doing so when you’re only a couple points out of a playoff position.
Come deadline time, the Flames could look to improve their team with more of a long-term acquisition rather than a rental. They could use a better winger than Troy Brouwer in their top-six, and they could also use a defenceman to replace Dennis Wideman in their top-four.
Trading a first round pick, especially in a lacklustre draft like this one, is a fine strategy so long as the return is something that lasts more than just a few months.
The Flames are a bubble team, which is always a difficult situation to be in. On one hand, you want to push for the playoffs, and you want to win. On the other, it’s pretty hard to fib yourself into believing you’re one or two rental assets away from a worthwhile playoff run. The Flames have a nice core moving forward, the best thing for them to do at the deadline would be to augment it both in the short- and long-term. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
25-25-6 (56 Points) / 48.5 CF% / 45.8 GF% / 99.6 PDO
After a nice winning streak vaulted them up the Western Conference standings and into playoff contention, the Vancouver Canucks have started fading black into oblivion. And that’s where you’d expect for them to be.
At the beginning of the season, the Canucks were expected to be a basement team in the NHL. Some predicted they would finish dead last, others suggested they could have a historically-bad season. But realistically, a team with the Sedins, strong goaltending, and some nice pieces on the blue line in bound to win some games here and there. But they simply aren’t deep enough to be a playoff team.
Everyone seems to see that other than the organization’s front office.
The braintrust of Jim Benning and Trevor Linden appear adamant that this team is competitive and that they aren’t going to do into a long-term rebuild. To an extent, I can understand that. Coming into 2016-17, the Sedins were under contract for two more years, and obviously you want to try to take advantage of them being around while you can. Also, going through a rebuild isn’t an easy thing to do. Ticket sales go down, and while many fans will buy hope, even more simply won’t.
The Canucks haven’t missed the playoffs more than three seasons in a row since the late 1980s. It’s always been a priority for this franchise to ice competitive teams, even if they aren’t ones that are likely to push for a Stanley Cup. Whether it’s right or wrong is a completely different question I won’t bother to answer, it’s just reality.
At the deadline:
Benning has stated that he wants to show loyalty to players and not ask them to waive no trade clauses in their contracts. He’s also stated that he isn’t interested in using draft picks to acquire players, especially those of the rental variety. Last season, he didn’t make a move on either impending free agent Radim Vrbata or Dan Hamhuis, and both walked for nothing in free agency.
So where does that put this Canucks team?
Probably in a similar position to where they were last year, really. Jannik Hansen, Alex Burrows, and Ryan Miller are all attractive options for teams looking for short-term upgrades, but if the Canucks play well up until the deadline and are anywhere near eighth spot, it’s difficult to imagine them being moved.
What we could see, though, is longer-term moves. Two years ago, the Canucks acquired Sven Baertschi from the Flames. Last year, they swapped Hunter Shinkaruk for Markus Granlund. Once upon a time they swapped Gustav Forsling for Adam Clendening with the in a deal with the Blackhawks. These moves brought in older, but still young, players to move the team along in development a couple of years.
Not all of those moves worked out. To be honest, a couple of them were really bad, but that’s likely the kind of strategy we’re going to see from Benning and Co. at deadline time.
The Canucks aren’t a playoff contender. For a while there they sort of kind of played like one, but now they’re sliding back down the standings where they belong. While it makes all the sense in the world for them to sell, blow it up, what have you, they won’t do it. It isn’t part of the front office’s mandate, the ownership doesn’t support it, it just isn’t happening. As a result, we’ll likely see the same conservative approach to the deadline as we have in years past from the Canucks.
19-28-7 (45 Points) / 45.9 CF% / 43.0 GF% / 99.4 PDO
It’s been a very depressing season in the desert. Beyond the arena turmoil and rumours of a potential relocation, the Arizona Coyotes have been terribly disappointing this season. Last year, they seemed to take a step forward. Spurred by excellent rookie performances from Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, and Louis Domingue, Arizona exceeded expectations and finished with a somewhat respectable record.
This season has had virtually zero redeeming qualities, though. Their leading scorer is Radim Vrbata, who was added to the team at the last minute. Duclair has taken a huge step backward, Domi was shelved for a good chunk of the season with an injury, and Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, and others have struggled to find their footing at the professional level.
The future still looks bright for the Coyotes, whether it’s in the desert or not, but the hype isn’t as high as it was last summer.
The team boasts a lot of talent, especially in the form of skilled forwards with a track record of success in junior, but like I said, disappointing performances this season has tempered the expectation. The Coyotes will certainly stay the course and look to build through the draft, hoping to hit on that Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews type player they weren’t lucky enough to have.
At the deadline:
The Coyotes have essentially been a dead corpse being forced to dance since the early days of winter. Come deadline time they’ll obviously be looking to sell, as them and the Colorado Avalanche really are the only two teams who are totally out of it.
Those bodes well for the Coyotes, as there are significantly more buyers than there are sellers, and with so many teams bidding, especially those in markets starving to sell tickets and generate interest, they could be able to sell some of their assets off for a higher price than they would in the average year.
Vrbata will be a nice commodity for a team looking to add a top-six scorer, and Mark Stone is an option for a team in need of depth on the blue line. Shane Doan, if he decides to waive his no move clause, could go on a serious playoff run for the first time in his career. And Martin Hanzal, though he has a limited no trade clause, is another name who’s sure to be moved.
It’s been an awful year in Arizona for a wealth of reasons. But despite the struggles on the ice and in the boardrooms, the Coyotes can have a good time on March 1 and potentially restore some faith in their future that might have been lose thanks to this year’s struggles. They’re one of very few selling teams, and they have a handful of players who make attractive commodities for any team set to go on a playoff run.