Heading toward the NHL trade deadline, it’s expected most of the playoff contenders will be buyers while those out of postseason contention will be sellers.
Bubble teams, meanwhile, are those barely clinging to a wild-card berth or sitting just outside the playoff picture. Those clubs could become buyers in hopes of bolstering their playoff hopes.
Here’s a look at this year’s NHL playoff bubble teams and the needs they must address to improve their position in the standings.
In recent weeks the Ducks have steadily climbed the Western Conference standings. They began this week with 69 points in 60 games and held a one-point lead over the Calgary Flames for third in the Pacific Division.
On Saturday, the Orange County Register‘s Eric Stephens reported GM Bob Murray noted the asking prices for the best available talent remains high. If those prices drop, however, it’s possible Murray could add a scoring left wing. Notables include the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, Buffalo’s Evander Kane or Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman.
The inconsistent Flames continue to play with fire (pardon the pun). With 68 points after 59 games, they sat one point behind the Ducks for third in the Pacific Division and one point out of a Western Conference wild-card spot.
Their biggest need is depth at right wing. For weeks there’s been speculation claiming they seek a top-six winger. Rumors linked them to the Rangers’ Michael Grabner and Ottawa’s Zack Smith or Mike Hoffman. If recently sidelined goaltender Mike Smith (lower-body injury) remains out longer than expected, they could be in the market for some help between the pipes.
The Hurricanes are in a tight battle to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. After 60 games they had 64 points, putting them one point out of a wild-card position.
To bolster their chances, the Hurricanes need more offense, especially at center. While they could pursue a rental player, ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshynski observes they have the depth in young defensemen and prospects to go after long-term help. Options could include Ottawa’s Derick Brassard or Mike Hoffman. Wyshynski suggests the Rangers’ J.T. Miller.
Following Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Edmonton, the Avalanche (66 points in 58 games) sat three points out of a Western Conference wild-card spot. They’ll get a much-needed offensive boost with the return of leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon, who missed eight games with an upper-body injury.
Still, the Avalanche could benefit from additional secondary scoring for an affordable price. GM Joe Sakic could take a look at New York Rangers winger Michael Grabner or Vancouver Canucks forward Thomas Vanek.
Columbus Blue Jackets
After a franchise-best 108-point campaign in 2016-17, the Blue Jackets are in danger of falling out of this season’s playoff chase. After 59 games they had 63 points, sitting one point shy of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
As ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshynski noted, the Jackets needs help at center and have a trade chip in defenseman Jack Johnson. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday they looked into bringing back former Jackets Derick Brassard from Ottawa or Artem Anisimov from Chicago. Neither player appears available.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings made a significant move last week by acquiring defenseman Dion Phaneuf from the Ottawa Senators in a four-play swap. With his team (67 points) sitting two points out of a wild-card berth after 58 games, Kings GM Rob Blake could have another deal up his sleeve.
On Feb. 14, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen noted the Kings could use some scoring help on the wing. They should get a boost with the imminent return of veteran forward Jeff Carter. Still, Blake could shop around for an affordable winger.
With 69 points in 58 games, the Wild are clinging to the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. GM Chuck Fletcher spent big at last year’s trade deadline for center Martin Hanzal, but he turned into a postseason bust. If Fletcher makes a move this year, he could consider more affordable options.
New York Islanders
Despite being one of this season’s highest-scoring clubs, the Islanders are also among the league’s worst defensive teams. As a result, they’re in a dogfight with Carolina and Columbus for a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
GM Garth Snow could try to upgrade his goaltending but there aren’t many options in a thin goalie market. He could instead look at boosting his defense corps. Possibilities could include Detroit’s Mike Green, the Rangers’ Nick Holden or Vancouver’s Erik Gudbranson.
Standings and stats (as of Feb. 18, 2018) via NHL.com.