The NHL’s Feb. 26 trade deadline is less than three weeks away. Speculation is ramping up over which clubs could be potential buyers. Here’s a look at the five Eastern Conference teams most likely to jump into the trade market. Later this week, we’ll examine the five likely Western Conference buyers.
Columbus Blue Jackets
With 58 points in 52 games, the Blue Jackets entered this week clinging to one of the two wild-card berths. Having won only four victories in their last 10 games entering Tuesday’s tilt against Washington, the Jackets risk falling out of the Eastern postseason picture.
Blame a popgun offense for their current predicament. Their 2.52 goals for per game average is the league’s third-worst while their power-play percentage (14.4) is second-worst. Both stats are also the lowest for teams holding postseason berths.
Expect Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to shop for a scoring forward by deadline day. Last Saturday, the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks suggested they could be among the suitors for Rick Nash. It remains to be seen, however, if he’d agree to return to the club where his NHL career began. Other rental options could include Buffalo’s Evander Kane or Vancouver’s Thomas Vanek.
New York Islanders
Entering Monday’s game against Nashville, the Islanders (57 points) sat just outside of the final wild-card spot. With five wins in their previous 10 contests, they must rack up more wins on a consistent basis to clinch a berth in the postseason dance.
Goaltending and defense are the Isles’ weaknesses. Their 3.60 goals against per game and 35.4 shots against per game are the league’s worst, while their penalty-kill percentage (73.7) is second-worst. If not for their potent offense, the Isles wouldn’t even be in the playoff chase.
The trade market is pretty thin for goaltenders, with Detroit’s inconsistent Petr Mrazek the best of the bunch. Blueline rental options include Detroit’s Mike Green and Columbus’ Jack Johnson. If GM Garth Snow seeks longer-term options, he has two picks in each of the first two rounds of this year’s draft (stick tap to CapFriendly.com) to use as trade bait. He could also draw upon his depth in young prospects.
Stumbling through December with just six wins in 14 games, the Penguins were in danger of falling out of the postseason race. They’ve since regained their footing, winning seven of their last 10 to begin this week sitting third in the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins’ December slump prompted speculation GM Jim Rutherford could make a bold move to bolster his lineup. His club’s improved play of late, thanks in part to veteran stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, might lessen the need for a big trade.
Rutherford, however, has shown a willingness to make depth moves within weeks of the deadline. TSN’s Frank Seravalli recently speculated they could use a winger such as Buffalo’s Evander Kane and suggested they could still use a skilled third-line center. He also included the Pens among the teams that could pursue New York Rangers winger Michael Grabner.
Tampa Bay Lightning
With 75 points in 52 games, the Lightning sat atop the league’s overall standings heading into Monday’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers. However, that might not stop GM Steve Yzerman from tinkering with his roster. He has a number of promising young players that could prove tempting to potential trade-deadline sellers.
The Bolts don’t have many weaknesses, but their blueline could use additional skilled depth. Veterans Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn are in decline, while rookie Mikhail Sergachev was scratched from two recent games.
Yzerman could consider a rental option, but recent speculation suggests he could look at a blueliner who still has term left on his contract. On Saturday, the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks linked the Lightning to New York Rangers’ captain Ryan McDonagh. The Bolts and Blueshirts have a trade history stretching back to the Martin St. Louis deal in 2014.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs began this week third in the Atlantic Division with 65 points in 54 games. While they’re in little danger of falling out of the playoff picture, there are concerns over their consistency and depth. They also have a bad habit of blowing leads in the third period.
It’s no secret the Leafs could use some defensive help. On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported a depth center and a right-shooting defenseman “are believed to be on the Leafs’ wish list.” They also have two potential trade chips in young forward Josh Leivo (who’s asked to be moved) and Nikita Soshnikov.
On Feb. 1, the New York Post‘s Brett Cyrgalis suggested Rangers blueliner Ryan McDonagh could be a good fit in Toronto. It’s doubtful, however, they’ll part with a young forward like William Nylander, Mitch Marner or Zach Hyman to get McDonagh. The Leafs could seek more affordable blueline rental options by the deadline.
Stats and standings (as of Feb.4, 2018) via NHL.com.