The NHL trade deadline is a time when teams jockeying for playoff position pursue additional roster depth. That usually involves acquiring pending free agents from non-contending clubs as postseason rentals.
Thanks to the salary cap, blockbuster moves on deadline day tend to be rare. Nevertheless, five clubs could be in a position to make a big splash this year.
The Avalanche are in a close race for first place in the Central Divison. With over $28 million in projected trade deadline cap room, general manager Joe Sakic is well-positioned to pull off a major trade. He’s also got some promising young assets within his system if he’s willing to move one or two of them for a quality player.
Recent rumors linked the Avs to Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor, but that seems more like wishful thinking. Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has been scouting the Avs, with Montreal pundits suggesting Habs forwards Tomas Tatar or Max Domi could be in play.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The low-scoring Jackets need offensive depth to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Those efforts are further hampered by injuries to scoring winger Cam Atkinson and puck-moving defenseman Seth Jones.
Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen made a big move at last year’s deadline by acquiring center Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators. With over $26 million in trade-deadline cap room this year, Kekalinen has the flexibility to make a significant addition to his scoring lines.
Having traded away his second-and third-round picks, Kekalainen is probably reluctant to part with his first-rounder. Josh Anderson could be his best trade chip, as there’s reportedly considerable interest in the sidelined power forward.
GM Dale Tallon hasn’t been shy about his club’s need for a reliable partner for defenseman Aaron Ekblad. That need has intensified as the Panthers desperately try to remain in playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.
Unlike the Avalanche and Blue Jackets, Tallon has almost no salary-cap space to work with at the trade deadline. It could force him to get creative to address his blueline needs.
Tallon does possess depth among his scoring line to draw upon as trade bait for a top-four defenseman. Winger Mike Hoffman and center Vincent Trocheck have surfaced in recent media trade chatter. Perhaps the Panthers will address that need with a rare deadline-day player-for-player swap.
New York Islanders
Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello already made a move this week, acquiring defenseman Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils. That might not be the only deal he has in store leading up to deadline day.
Like the Jackets, the Isles are among this season’s lowest-scoring teams. Having recently slid to sixth in the Metropolitan Division, they’re in danger of falling out of the playoff race unless they can add firepower down the stretch.
The Islanders also possess over $19 million in projected cap room at the deadline. Lamoriello could target non-contenders shopping pending UFAs. Perhaps he’ll also see if any of them want to shed salary in anticipation of rebuilding in the offseason.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Projected as a possible Stanley Cup contender this season, the Leafs are struggling to stay in post-season contention in the Eastern Conference. That’s generated increasing pressure on GM Kyle Dubas to do something to stop the bleeding.
Season-ending knee surgery to winger Andreas Johnsson provides the cap-strapped Leafs with some relief. Dubas also indicated any deadline moves on his part will depend upon how long sidelined defensemen Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci remain on long-term injury reserve.
Dubas displayed considerable creativity last summer by shedding salary to free up the dollars to re-sign Mitch Marner. That ability to think outside the box could come in handy again as the deadline draws nearer.