Deals are going to get done ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Or at least that's the plan.
Although, there is a shared sentiment by a number of NHL executives that many of them are in "wait and see" mode. But how? How is it that teams are either approaching or have reached the 60-game mark and are unsure of what they are going to do -- if they do anything at all -- at the trade deadline?
Let's just say there are a number of different reasons. One Western Conference executive told ESPN that there is a greater importance when it comes to draft picks. The executive said that five or 10 years ago, there were teams that moved picks with ease. But the realities of the flat salary cap and the need to maximize young players on team-friendly contracts has changed the calculus.
Then there's the actual performance of the team. As of Feb. 26, there were four teams in the Eastern Conference that were either tied or within two points of the Buffalo Sabres for the final wild-card spot. In the West, the Calgary Flames are four points out of the final wild-card spot while the Nashville Predators are within eight points. But the West is also a conference in which one of four teams have a chance at winning both the Central and the Pacific.
"Because of parity, there are a lot of ups and downs that the entire league has gone through with the expectation of the teams like Boston, Carolina, Toronto and Tampa Bay," the executive said. "Everyone else has been hot or cold. You want to take your time if you are on the buyer's market and you want to know what you have. March 3 for a lot of teams might not be the time when you know what you have but you have to make a decision anyway."
Here's a look at six teams and how they could plan to approach the deadline.
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It's understood there were at least six players -- Nick Bjugstad, Josh Brown, Jakob Chychrun, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Ritchie and Troy Stecher -- that the Coyotes could move. Now, it appears that number could rise to seven with numerous reports stating Nick Schmaltz could also be on the market.
Chychrun has remained a healthy scratch for more than a week as the Coyotes look to find a deal. A number of teams have been linked with Chychrun, but it appears the biggest challenge for getting a deal done could be the asking price. ESPN's Greg Wyshynski reported Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong was seeking two first-round picks or a pick and a player who is equivalent to a first-rounder in addition to other prospects as well.
So how does the calculus change if the Coyotes are willing to part with Schmaltz? For starters, it would have an impact on a center market that has already seen Bo Horvat and Ryan O'Reilly generate significant returns for their former clubs. Schmaltz would provide a potential team with a 27-year-old top-six center who has three years left on his contract worth $5.85 million annually, providing cost certainty, while possibly giving the Coyotes even more draft capital for the years to come.
What Bjugstad, a pending unrestricted free agent, presents to teams is a cost-effective option at center who could be used in a middle-six role. He leads all Coyotes forwards in short-handed minutes while also providing a 6-foot-6 presence with 48 percent of his shots coming from the interior and 56 percent of his 13 goals coming at the net front, per IcyData.
And with a number of teams seeking a top-four defenseman, it's possible Gostisbehere could allow the Coyotes to gain significant capital. Gostisbehere is another pending UFA who leads all Coyotes defensemen in 5-on-5 minutes and power-play time. He's on pace for a 41-point season in addition to averaging a career-high 22:35 in ice time.
The Coyotes are thinking about the future. They are one of the teams in the running to win the draft lottery and the chance to add presumed No. 1 pick Connor Bedard to an organization that is still building its prospect pool. As it stands, the Coyotes only have their original first-round picks over the next three years. But this deadline could give them the chance to add more. Plus, it could also bolster what they already have, which is eight picks in this year's draft, 13 picks in 2024 and 10 picks in 2025.
Moving Alex Tuch to injured reserve means he will be out for two weeks while recovering from a lower-body injury whereas Rasmus Dahlin is day-to-day. And this is all taking place as the Sabres are in the last of the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots.
They have what CapFriendly projects to be $18.256 million in available space while also having the sort of draft capital and prospects they could use to their advantage.
Yeah, about that. Sabres GM Kevyn Adams recently told ESPN that the team is going to stick with their long-term plan. Adams said he does not envision any changes to that plan because of where the Sabres are at ahead of the deadline.
"We're always going to look to see if there's ways to improve our team," Adams said. "But as we evolve here, what we're not going to do is compromise on the long-term outlook of our group for a short-term solution. It just doesn't make sense for us."
Adams spoke to reporters right after Dahlin and Tuch's injuries were announced. He said the Sabres could be more open to making something happen compared to what it would have been just 48 hours earlier. Still, Adams reaffirmed that the Sabres' long-term plans have not changed.
Does Adams believe the Sabres are right on schedule or could they even be a little bit further along than he imagined?
"The honest answer is it's difficult to give you an exact answer," Adams said. "The reason is because when you are talking about young players in this league, there are a lot of ups and downs and variables from night to night. It's hard to say going into this season this is exactly where I thought we'd be and why because you're talking about a lot of players that you're projecting on. When you have a veteran team, you have a little bit more of a body work with the expectation of where players might be."
Even before the injuries, there was still a chance the Sabres could have been a factor going into the deadline in another capacity. Adams said teams around the league are open to the fact the Sabres are willing to be a third-party broker and retain cap space.
The typical return for being a third-party broker results in acquiring a fifth-round pick or a pick in a later round. So far, the Sabres have eight picks for this year's draft with four of them coming in the first two rounds.
"There are certain times when it works out and certain times when it doesn't," Adams said. "It comes down to if it makes sense with the financial part of it, what you're adding and why. We are definitely open to that and have been in those conversations over the last year or so."
The understanding is the Hurricanes were among the teams that reached out to the San Jose Sharks about Timo Meier before he was traded to the New Jersey Devils. And even though the Canes have typically not been in the rental market, there was also an understanding they were more than open to negotiating with the Chicago Blackhawks if Patrick Kane wanted to come to Carolina. But that no longer appears to be the case with Kane working toward a move that will see him join the New York Rangers.
Hurricanes GM Don Waddell declined to comment when asked about the possibility of trading for Kane or Meier. Waddell, however, did say the team is in the market when it comes to adding a top-nine forward. He also said the Canes are open to taking on players with term while noting they are "not desperate" to make a deal.
An example of trading for a player with term came in 2020 when the Hurricanes exchanged a first-round pick to the New York Rangers for Brady Skjei, who still had three years remaining on his contract at the time of the trade.
Waddell said the Canes would not want to move anyone from their current roster. But they would prefer to use draft picks rather than prospects to facilitate a trade. Waddell said they would also like to add a defenseman who could play on the second or third pairing, if possible. If not, Waddell said there are defenseman playing for their AHL affiliate they could use instead.
"We had 11 draft picks last year and 13 the year before. We have a lot of players in the pipeline and we get asked about prospects," Waddell said. "You know they all can't make it at the same time. But we feel we are pretty deep there and it is better for us to look at (trading) prospects than picks because those picks are something we can use in the future."
A number of decisions are facing the defending Stanley Cup champions when it comes to how they can approach the deadline. That could start with the decision to place Erik Johnson and/or Gabriel Landeskog on long-term injured reserve. Landeskog has not played this season while Johnson has played in 51 games but is currently injured.
Moving one of them to LTIR would create cap space with the caveat that whomever is placed on LTIR would not return until the start of the playoffs. Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland told The Athletic there isn't a timetable for when Landeskog would return to the lineup while Johnson is slated to be out for an extended period.
There is an option to create cap space. There are also options when it comes to how they would want to spend that cap space. Could they go after a top-six defenseman? Do they try to aim for a top-nine forward and strengthen what they have down the middle? So far, the Avalanche have reinforced their roster by reacquiring veteran two-way forward Matt Nieto while trading away former first-round Shane Bowers to the Boston Bruins in return for goaltender Keith Kinkaid. It continued Sunday when they reacquired veteran defenseman Jack Johnson, a member of last year's Cup-winning team, to add more depth to their blueline.
Winning the Cup last season did come with a bit of a cost. It left the Avs' farm system more bare when compared to other teams. It also places a greater premium for the organization to find success with young players on team-friendly contracts. Especially when they traded their first, second, third, fourth and fifth-round picks from 2022 while also trading their 2020 first-rounder in Justin Barron. They do have their first-round pick for this year but do not pick again until the fifth. And while they have their first-rounders for 2024 and 2025, they do not have their second, third and fifth-round picks for 2024.
Going into the final weekend before the deadline, the understanding was that the Stars wanted to evaluate how the team would perform before making a final decision. Then came the Sunday trade that saw them exchange Denis Gurianov for Evgenii Dadonov. At the time of the trade, the Stars were atop the Central Division standings and two points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for first in the Western Conference.
Before the Gurianov-Dadonov trade, there was a chance the Stars might not make a move at all. But if they did, it appeared they would have been in the market for a forward. Dadonov gives them that with the expectation he can aid a team that is currently 14th in goals per game, but has seen 66 percent of those scores come from six players.
One of the caveats the Stars seem to have is they are not interested in giving up one of their top prospects to get a rental. Here's why. For one, they have prospects like defenseman Thomas Harley who could receive a potential callup from the AHL, which is why they may not need to trade for defensive reinforcements.
Harley also represents why the Stars are reluctant to give up prospects. It's a front office that has used the draft to develop homegrown talents such as Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson. They're seeing the next wave of players like Ty Dellandrea and Wyatt Johnston emerge in addition to Nils Lundkvist, who they received in a trade from the Rangers earlier this season. The expectation is Harley and Mavrik Bourque could be next.
Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk told ESPN on Feb. 15 that he had not yet spoken with the front office about his future and said he was unsure if those conversations would happen. He will be a pending UFA at the end of the season and does not have any trade protection.
So if van Riemsdyk had a choice, what would he want to do? Would he want to stay with the Flyers or would he want to leave?
"That's a good question," van Riemsdyk said with a smile.
The 33-year-old said this season has been "as enjoyable of a year as I've had being back in Philly," when it comes to his teammates and how he has fit in with the coaching staff led by John Tortorella.
"Obviously, I'd like to be in the playoffs at this point but I think we're making a lot of strides from where we left off last year," van Riemsdyk said. "I don't know if that answers the question or not but I've really enjoyed this year and how I've fit into things and with the job the coaching staff has done, it's been fun to be a part of it. We've made a ton of strides and we'll see where it goes."
van Riemsdyk repeatedly stressed how he has seen a change in the Flyers and how he feels like the franchise is trending upward.
Let's say van Riemsdyk doesn't get moved. Is Philadelphia where he would want to be long-term?
"I try not to get too ahead of myself and I've not put enough thought into that to give you a good answer for that yet," van Riemsdyk said. "But like I said, it has been super this year. It has been a big change as far as this past year. It's been a good environment and it's been about hockey and things like that. ... I do enjoy playing and think I got a lot of good hockey left in me and those sorts of things I re-assess like everyone does in the summer when you don't have a contract anymore. You kind of take it from there, and none of those discussions have been had yet. But we'll take it one day at a time."
Clearly, the Kraken have never experienced what it means to be in the hunt for a playoff spot since they are in just their second season of existence. But where they are at this year is a contrast compared to last season when they moved players in exchange for draft capital.
Now, as for Kraken GM Ron Francis? This is new. Until this season, Francis had always been in the role of the proverbial shopkeeper during his four-year stint as GM of the Hurricanes, rather than being the customer in search of a deal. The closest those teams came to the playoffs was in 2016-17 when they finished eight points out of the final wild-card spot. But there were also seasons when the Canes placed more than 10 points behind in the wild-card race.
"I think I said it last year. ... I believe we were in 26 or 27 one-goal games and with some of them, they became two-goal games because of empty-net losses," Francis said. "That is potentially 54 or 55 points you are in on. Frustrating as the year was, we felt we played better than our numbers or record indicated."
So what are the Kraken's plans ahead of the deadline? Days after Francis spoke with ESPN's Ryan S. Clark, ESPN's Emily Kaplan reported there is a chance defenseman Carson Soucy could be made available. Soucy is a pending UFA whose future came into question once the team traded to acquire defenseman Jaycob Megna, who has one more year left on his contract, from the Sharks.
"We have a game plan. That's the biggest thing we are trying to accomplish and that is making sure we are doing the right things," Francis said. "Is there a piece that you think helps your team? Is it something that affects chemistry? Maybe in a negative way? There are a lot of things you factor in."
Francis, who declined to discuss specifics, said the Kraken want to add depth while noting they are "not afraid" to make a move. But they also don't want to make any decisions they feel could hinder them long term.
"I've always said the most dangerous days are trade deadline day and the start of free agency," Francis said. "It is when you can make a big mistake and it needs to be about sticking with what you think is the right way to do things and making the best decisions."