Photo: Nucks Misconduct
With the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline just six weeks away from Friday, teams are in very different positions of approach. Some will be adding some big-name players to their mix to reach the next level of Stanley Cup contenders while others do not need much help, and a few need a fresh start entirely. NoVa Caps looks at where each team stands as they try to figure out their plans ahead of March 3.
“All-In”: teams that would most likely benefit from high-profile or numerous moves
* Seattle Kraken – Seattle has had an incredible bounce back season as they are just two points back of the Pacific Division title race with a game in hand. However, their offense has overperformed with many unproven players (left-wing Eeli Tolvanen, right-wing Daniel Sprong, center Jarred McCann among them) having career years. In addition, they will likely be exposed with rookie Matty Beniers as their top-line center, no clear No. 1 defenseman, and a goalie tandem ranked with the fifth-worst overall save percentage (.8886) this season. Their penalty-killing percentage of 70.1% this season is better than just the Vancouver Canucks (66.9%) Seattle should look to address all these holes. Players such as Vancouver center Bo Horvat, Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jacob Chychrun, and New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov are all names that come to mind who would take this team to the next level. Seattle has three second-round picks this summer and two third-round picks next, so they have the assets to pull off such a move.
* Edmonton Oilers – Edmonton has had a bit of an inconsistent season but have a five-point cushion for a wild-card spot, which means they should be expected to make the postseason. However, they need more scoring depth (centers Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in addition to left-wing Zach Hyman have combined for 110 of their league-high 174 – 63.22% – goals this season), help on the backend as their average of 3.26 goals-against per game ranks 20th, and in goal as the addition of Jack Campbell (.887 save percentage, 3.35 goals-against average in 24 games), who has lost the starting job, over the offseason has backfired.
* Winnipeg Jets – Winnipeg has a deep blueline (sixth with a 2.65 goals-against per game, second with an 84.4% penalty-killing rate) but a weak bottom-six forward group with 69 of their 149 goals this season (46.31%) coming from center Mark Schiefele, left-wing Kyle Connor, and center Pierre-Luc Dubois. That number grows to 53.69% when you include right-wing Blake Wheeler. No other forward on Winnipeg has more than eight goals. To compete with the top contenders in the West like Seattle, the Dallas Stars, and Los Angeles Kings, they will need some more fire power.
* Minnesota Wild – Minnesota has strong goaltending, defense, and a few lethal forwards. However, they will continue to fall below the top tier of team without a top-line center. Minnesota should absolutely be in on Horvat, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues to take the next step. Their offense is just below the league average with 3.11 goals-per-game and the addition of a center should help in that area. Their penalty kill is also around average, though slightly above (79.5%), and average may not be good enough against a team like Dallas or the Colorado Avalanche in a seven-game series.
* Vegas Golden Knights – Vegas is just a point behind first place in the Western Conference and have a very strong blueline, which may have had a disappointing season (2.87 goals-against per game, 12th; 78.5% penalty-killing rate, league-average). They lack finishers as their average of 3.17 goals-per-game ranks 16th and their leading goal-scorer (right-wing Reilly Smith) has 18 goals, which is tied for 37th overall. Right-wing Mark Stone is also out week-to-week with an upper-body injury, further reinforcement for a need of more scoring. Vegas’ goalie tandem of rookie Logan Thompson and back-up Adin Hill have combined for a save percentage (.9155) below league-average (17th) and the two entered the season with only 92 games of NHL experience. Perhaps, adding more reliable goaltending would be a smart decision. O’Reilly, Chicago right-wing Patrick Kane, St. Louis center Ivan Barbashev could all make sense for Vegas. Varlamov, Cam Talbot of the Ottawa Senators, or Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes could be possible fits to provide some veteran insurance in net.
* Los Angeles Kings – Los Angeles has gone 10-4-1 (.700 points percentage – tied for second) since a 1-2-1 Northeastern road trip (which included an overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and getting outscored 11-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres) to get within two points of Vegas for the division lead. While their offense (3.19 goals-per-game, 14th; 24.4% power-play efficiency, 11th) has improved and their defense (87.56 expected goals-against, seventh) are solid, Los Angeles’ .9039 five-on-five save percentage is the worst by a team currently in postseason position and fourth-worst overall. Pheonix Copley has gained the No. 1 job, but he has just an .898 save percentage in 15 games. Like Vegas, Los Angeles should be in line for Varlamov, Talbot, and Andersen.
* Dallas Stars – Left-wing Jason Robertson has at least 12 more goals and 18 more points than anyone else on the team and there is a big drop off on the scoring leaderboard as center Tyler Seguin (34) has a 12-point cushion for sixth on the team leaderboard. Kane, Horvat, and Kuzmenko could all make sense for Dallas.
Conservative Buyers: buyers who are already in strong shape but could benefit from adding
* New Jersey Devils – New Jersey has a deep forward group that is averaging 3.51 goals-per-game (sixth) and one of the deepest, stingiest defensive units (2.64 goals-against per game, fifth). They need to determine whether they are satisfied with goaltender Vitek Vanecek, who gave up the starting job with the Washington Capitals three times last season but has had a solid season with a .914 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against average in 29 games. Though, the 27-year-old has just 108 games of NHL experience and not finished two of his three career postseason starts. Previous candidates mentioned earlier could work for New Jersey, though they would have a hard time acquiring Andersen as they are just one point behind Carolina for the Metropolitan Division lead.
* New York Rangers – New York could add to its forward group as right-wing Kaapo Kakko, center Filip Chytil, and left-wing Alexis Lafreniere have all put up respectable stats but short of what the team, who averages a 3.11 goals-per-game (tied for 17th), wants, and needs from them. Horvat, Kane, St. Louis left-wing Vladimir Tarasenko, and Vancouver left-wing Andrei Kuzmenko could be among possible fits. They are among the stingiest teams defensively backed by one of the best goaltenders in Igor Shesterkin.
* Tampa Bay Lightning – The three-time defending Eastern Conference champions, who rank fifth with a 3.61 goals-per-game average, are looking deep offensively. However, Tampa Bay has disappointed defensively a little bit with a 2.91 goals-against per game average (13th) and could use another right-handed blueliner. John Klingberg of the Anaheim Ducks (if they can make the money work), Luke Schenn of Vancouver, Radko Gudas of the Florida Panthers, and Scott Mayfield of the New York Islanders could be good fits for Tampa.
* Calgary Flames – Calgary’s average of 3.04 goals-per-game (23rd) is a bit underwhelming after the team added left-wing Jonathan Huberdeau and center Nazem Kadri over the offseason. The team has a hole at left-wing. Candidates for them include Kuzmenko, James Van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Gustav Nyquist of Columbus.
* Colorado Avalanche – Colorado, who is currently three points out of a postseason spot with three games in hand, has been rattled with injuries this season. The defending Stanley Cup Champions could use a second-line center after Kadri left and Horvat, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, Toews and Max Domi of Chicago could be among potential fits.
* Washington Capitals – With John Carlson out until at least late in the regular season, the team, who occupies the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference by four points (but teams behind them have games in hand), could use another right-handed blueliner. Montreal’s David Savard, Arizona’s Shayne Gostisbehere, and Detroit’s Jake Walman could be among possibilities for the team. In addition, Washington’s forward group has been overflowing since center Nicklas Backstrom and right-wing Tom Wilson made their season debuts as one regular has sat out each game and center Aliaksei Protas was assigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Center Lars Eller and left-wing Anthony Mantha are among the most likely to go, which would also clear salary cap space to add a defenseman or use it another way that Washington would prefer.
* Pittsburgh Penguins – Pittsburgh, who is 4-7-3 (.393) since December 17, 12th with an average of 3.23 goals-per-game, and 18th with a 20.9 power-play efficiency, is tied for the final wild-card spot with three games in hand on the two closest teams to them. They could use another top-six forward, especially left-wing, as just four players have more than 15 goals. Kuzmenko, Nyquist, and Evgenii Dadonov of Montreal could be possible fits.
* Carolina Hurricanes – Carolina is 18-3-4 since Thanksgiving but would improve with a more natural goal scorer up front, especially at center, as their 3.18 goals-per-gave average is just 15th but their 59.67% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage leads the league. They are also tied for 25th with a 18.8% power-play efficiency. The word is that they are not willing to meet Vancouver’s demands for Horvat, but could Larkin, Toews, or O’Reilly be on the table?
Somewhat Cautious Buyers: teams that could add but for minimal cost
* Nashville Predators – Nashville, who is three points behind the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with a game in hand and ranks 27th with an average of 2.71 goals-per-game and 30th with a 15.9% power-play efficiency, could use some more firepower offensively. Kuzmenko and Van Riemsdyk could be among their possible options if they decide to add as both should not cost the moon to acquire.
* New York Islanders – New York ranks 24th with an average of 2.96 goals-per-game and 27th with a 16.9% power-play conversion rate. Like Nashville, New York could benefit from adding Kuzmenko or Van Riemsdyk as well as Barbashev or Domi.
Likely Don’t Need Much, If Anything: teams that have everything they need already
* Boston Bruins – Boston leads the Eastern Conference by 12 points and have the best offense, defense, and penalty-kill in addition to fourth-best power play. They also have the league-leader in wins, save percentage, and goals-against average. So, yeah, they’re pretty much set.
* Toronto Maple Leafs – Toronto is once again among the class of the East but doing it with an emphasis on defense as they are tied for third with an average of 2.63 goals-against per game. They rank eighth with an average of 3.39 goals-per-game, though almost 64% of their offense have come from their big four and left-wing Michael Bunting. Barbashev, Nyquist, and Detroit right-wing Oskar Sundqvist could make sense if they decide that more offensive depth is needed. They also need to determine if they are content with a goalie tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray in the postseason, though the two are holding up just fine.
Conservative Sellers: teams who could trade off a few expiring contracts but not a ton
* St. Louis Blues – They have climbed to two points behind the final wild-card spot but Colorado, who is tied with St. Louis, has three games in hand. Tarasenko, Barbashev, and O’Reilly are among their pending unrestricted free agents.
* Florida Panthers – Florida has risen to just two points behind a postseason spot but five teams ahead of them in the wild-card race have a better points percentage and most of them have as many as three games in hand on them. However, they do not have many trade chips with right-wing Patric Hornqvist and Gudas as their top ones if they want to only put expiring contracts this summer up for grabs.
* Buffalo Sabres – Even though Buffalo has gone an impressive 15-8-3 since November 21, they are still four points back of Pittsburgh and nine of Washington for wild-card spots. Though they have three games in hand on Washington, they don’t have any on Pittsburgh. Buffalo could be ready to make another big step next season and the goal should be the postseason so they will likely avoid trading players with term left unless they get a tempting offer. Right-wing Kyle Okposo and goaltender Craig Anderson are on expiring deals, though neither will likely fetch much of a return. They could even look to add should the opportunity to build for 2023-24 comes in the right opportunity/ies.
* Detroit Red Wings – Detroit has gone 6-10-3 (.395, 26th) since December 8 to fall out of the Eastern Conference postseason picture. Like Buffalo, Detroit is an up-and-coming team likely with the mindset of competing as soon as next season and will not sacrifice that unless it makes them better. Larkin, Sundqvist, left-wing Tyler Bertuzzi, and center Pius Suter in addition to defensemen Walman, Maatta, and Jordan Oesterle can all become unrestricted free agents in July.
* Ottawa Senators – The story in Buffalo and Detroit applies in Ottawa as well as they are another team building but are still eight points out of a postseason spot. They have been looking for a defenseman throughout the season and could trade for one who has term remaining on his contract as soon as by March 3. Talbot, right-wing Austin Watson, center Derick Brassard, left-wing Tyler Motte, and defensemen Travis Hamonic and Nick Holden are all without work beyond this season.
Somewhat Cautious Sellers: teams that should be sellers but do not have much to offer
* Philadelphia Flyers – Philadelphia is six points behind the line in the East and Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Buffalo all have two games in hand on them. Besides Van Riemsdyk, the only players on expiring contract who could provide value is defenseman Justin Braun. Though, could defenseman Anthony DeAngelo (who can become an unrestricted free agent after next season) be in play?
* Anaheim Ducks – Anaheim has had a dreadful campaign but have a very young core full of players who are years away from unrestricted free agency. Defensemen Shattenkirk, Klingberg, Dmitry Kulikov, and Nathan Beaulieu will likely all be wearing new jerseys in March, but Anaheim will not likely get any significant pieces by trading any of them.
“For Sale” Sign Here: teams that should pursue fresh starts
* Vancouver Canucks – Horvat, Kuzmenko, and Schenn are among Vancouver’s players on expiring contracts, but most bet they would listen on almost anybody (besides center Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes) with the way their season has unfolded.
* Montreal Canadiens – Dadonov, center Sean Monahan, and center Jonathan Drouin are among their pending unrestricted free agents.
* Columbus Blue Jackets – Nyquist, Gavrikov, and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo are pending unrestricted free agents.
* Arizona Coyotes – Left-wing Nick Ritchie, center Nick Bjugstad, and defensemen Troy Stecher and Gostisbehere can all become unrestricted free agents in July. Then there’s what Arizona will do with Chychrun…
* San Jose Sharks – Center Nick Bonino and goaltender James Reimer are up for new contracts this summer and right-wing Kevin Labanc will be next summer.
* Chicago Blackhawks – Toews and Kane are the big fish on the market and then there’s Domi.
By Harrison Brown