It wasn’t too long ago that the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, and St. Louis Blues were considered potential sellers in the NHL trade market. Entering the New Year, the three clubs were sitting well out of playoff contention in their respective conferences.
As of Jan. 1, the Hurricanes (37 points) were 10 points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference, the Blues (34 points) were mired at the bottom of the standings with the Blackhawks just two points ahead.
Because of where they were at that point in the schedule, all three were regular fixtures in the NHL rumor mill.
The Hurricanes were expected to shop a top-four defenseman for a scorer and ship out winger Michael Ferland rather than risk losing him to free agency in July.
With the NHL’s Feb. 25 trade deadline now a week away, however, there’s no more talk of these three clubs becoming sellers.
As of Feb. 17, the Blackhawks (57 points) have climbed to within three points of a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes (68 points) sit one point behind the Canadiens for the final Eastern wild-card berth.
The Blues, meanwhile, made the biggest surge in the standings. From dead last in the West, they’ve ridden a 10-game winning streak to third place in the Central Division (67 points) and sit sixth overall among the western teams.
With these three clubs now very much playoff contenders, one wonders if their respective general managers will become buyers by the trade deadline.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is playing his cards close to the vest. There’s little media conjecture over his intentions. He likely wants to continue evaluating his current roster can maintain its present pace before deciding if he’ll make a move before the deadline.
If he goes shopping, there could be some reasonably priced rental options on the market. New Jersey Devils’ winger Marcus Johansson or Rangers winger Mats Zuccarello could fall into that category. Then again, perhaps Bowman will attempt to move a salaried player, like Artem Anisimov or Brandon Saad, to add a younger, cheaper, faster player.
Like Bowman, Blues GM Doug Armstrong isn’t tipping his hand. But with his players rewarding his patience in them, it wouldn’t be surprising if he tries to add some depth to help them clinch a playoff berth.
NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti suggested the Blues could still some scoring punch, particularly on the power play. They have considerable prospect depth but Armstrong might be reluctant to give up too much for a playoff rental.
Hurricanes GM Don Waddell already made one notable recent deal by shipping center Victor Rask to the Minnesota Wild for left wing Nino Niederreiter. The addition of Nieddereiter played a key role in the Canes improvement.
Speculation persists Waddell might still shop a right-shot blueliner like Dougie Hamilton or Brett Pesce for a scorer but that talk has faded with the Hurricanes’ rise in the standings. There’s now talk they could retain Ferland as an “own rental” for the playoffs.
Waddell told NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti he doesn’t want to part with draft picks or prospects for rental players, preferring instead to do a one-for-one swap for a player signed beyond this season.
It would also be understandable if the Blackhawks, Blues, and Hurricanes opt to stand pat at the deadline rather than mess with a good thing right now. Don’t be surprised, however, if at least one of these clubs takes the plunge into the trade pool before next Monday’s 3 pm ET trade deadline.