Here's what you need to know about the NHL trade deadline: Most of the deals happen prior to deadline day. As a result, the sports networks that dedicate day-long coverage to the final day are often left to over-analyze the impact of a fourth-line winger who’s been swapped for a late draft pick.
With that in mind, be ready for some of the better players on the market to be moved this week in advance of the February 27 deadline, and look for Canadian teams to be among the most active buyers and sellers.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs GM Brian Burke rarely makes a big splash on deadline day, usually making small tweaks at the end of the day rather than overpaying for a big name early on. With coach Ron Wilson’s job likely hinging on a playoff berth this season, Burke might be forced to change his tune. The Leafs are definitely buyers.
But don’t expect Toronto to be a legitimate contender in the Rick Nash sweepstakes. Nash might be the big, two-way forward Burke loves, but he won’t pillage the cupboard he’s been building up for three years in order to make a deal. The Blue Jackets are apparently looking for a package that includes an everyday player, two blue-chip prospects and a high draft pick in return for Nash.
Instead, look for Burke to work a deal for another underachieving Columbus forward – Jeff Carter. Carter is a centreman the Leafs GM has been pining over for years and he comes with a lower price tag and lower cap hit. In exchange, Burke will happily move either soft forward Mikhail Grabovski or defenceman Luke Schenn and a deep prospect like Keith Aulie.
Look for Nash to end up in Los Angeles, where GM Dean Lombardi is desperate to make a playoff run and can put together a package that includes backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, defenceman Jack Johnson or flighty forward Dustin Penner.
The Habs’ season has been a dismal failure, and what’s worse, they don’t have a ton of tradable assets to rebuild with. While the Canadiens will definitely be sellers during trade talks, don’t look for too many players to move.
Part of the reason is that the Habs’ best trade bait – rugged defenceman Hal Gill – has already been traded to the Nashville Predators. Canadiens management would happily move Scott Gomez for a bag of pucks in order to get away from his annual $7.3 million cap hit, but no team would gamble a player who’s scored only one goal this year can turn it around with a change of scenery.
While no player on the team’s roster can be considered untouchable beyond Carey Price, the only candidates likely to be moved are Travis Moen – who would be a great penalty-kill specialist for any playoff-bound team – and Andrei Kostitsyn. Both players will be unrestricted free agents at season’s end.
The Habs will likely get little more than draft picks in return. But for Montreal, the rebuilding process starts now, so draft picks will be welcome.
The Oilers, who have improved enough to climb out of last-place overall this season, still have a long way to go to return to their glory days. They’ve got some of the best young players in the game, but need to fill holes in their defence, goaltending and bottom six forwards in order to be considered a legitimate playoff threat in the years to come.
There’s been a lot of chatter about the Oilers trading Ryan Smyth, but that’s not going to happen – in large part because Smyth actually wants to play in Edmonton, the NHL’s equivalent of Siberia. Flash-in-the-pan Sam Gagner also won’t be moved unless a team is willing to overpay for a guy who did nothing before or after his miracle eight-point night.
Instead, the Oilers will move oft-injured forward Ales Hemsky as a rental to the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators or L.A. Kings. Because he’s a free agent after the season, it’s unlikely the Oilers will be able to get more than a couple of draft picks for Hemsky, who could be a point-a-game player if he ever managed to stay healthy enough to play a full season.
The Jets are another team that’s on the playoff bubble, currently in a battle with the Leafs for the eighth and final spot in the East. But even if the Leafs turn a major deal, don’t look for the Jets to overreact – they have the best fans in hockey and are more focused on the long-term than a playoff berth this year.
The Jets have been dangling Johnny Oduya as a rental option because he’s an unrestricted free agent in the summer. As a steady, stay-at-home defenceman he’ll get some nibbles, but for nothing more than a draft pick or prospect in return.
The Sens have been the surprise team of the year, with a good mix of veterans and youth. After a horrific start, the team has rallied around mercurial netminder Craig Anderson to become a playoff contender. There’s no reason for the Sens to change the chemistry they’ve established, and they will likely stand pat through the deadline. If anything, GM Bryan Murray will try to trade up for a better first-round pick in this year’s draft, which is expected to be deep.
The Canucks look as strong this year as they did last year when they made it all the way to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final before bowing out to the Boston Bruins. The only question in Canuckland is whether they’ll keep both of their goalies – headcase Roberto Luongo and young stud Cory Schneider.
Canucks management has made it clear they want to keep both netminders – and with Luongo’s history of collapsing during critical games, it makes sense for the Canucks to have a backup they can turn to in case of emergency. Teams like Columbus, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay have probably called GM Mike Gillis about Schneider, but unless it’s an offer they can’t refuse, the Canucks won’t make a deal. Schneider is a restricted free agent at the end of the year, so Vancouver will at least get something in return if someone takes a run at him in the summer.
The Flames should be sellers, but they probably think they’re buyers. Modest winning streaks have the Flames on the fringes of playoff contention yet again this year, though there’s no reason to think the team can advance beyond the first round.
Centre Olli Jokinen would be a great trade candidate if the Flames were thinking long-term, but unfortunately Jokinen has been one of the Flames’ better players of late so they likely won’t move him. Defenceman Jay Bouwmeester has been a disappointment, but his $6.6 million cap hit until 2014 is a scary investment. Only Lee Stempniak and Cory Sarich might get some interest, but because the Flames think they can make a playoff run this year, it’s unlikely they’ll move either unless it’s for an immediate upgrade.
Instead, the Flames will stand pat and fold again, either before or during the playoffs, leaving fans wondering when the long-overdue rebuilding process will actually begin.