The NHL trade deadline is on March 21. But the moves we will see then are rooted in discussions that begin now.
In fact, now that we’ve passed American Thanksgiving — the threshold many front offices use to assess whether their team will be a playoff team — trade chatter around the league is beginning to pick up.
Here’s what I’m hearing after working the phones the past two weeks:
The goalie market is poised to be a busy one
Everyone I’ve talked to expects the Blue Jackets to part with Joonas Korpisalo. The 27-year-old was once viewed as the heir apparent to Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus. But Elvis Merzlikins is firmly in the No. 1 spot, and about to begin a five-year, $27 million extension next season. And thanks to Columbus’ deep goaltending prospect pool, headlined by 22-year-old Daniil Tarasov, pending unrestricted free agent Korpisalo is prime for a fresh start.
The Dallas Stars, who have four NHL-caliber goaltenders on their roster, are another team on which folks in the leagues have their eye. The expectation is that the Stars will move one of their goalies once Ben Bishop is healthy. Considering they view Jake Oettinger as their goaltender of the future, and Braden Holtby has played well (at a low cap hit), Anton Khudobin could be the goalie on the move.
So what teams need goalies? The Sabres were in the market, but after they traded for Malcolm Subban, it’s unclear if they’re still looking to add. Toronto likely will look for insurance given Petr Mrazek‘s poor injury luck to begin the season. Edmonton also would like to add at the position, and Arizona is a team that could be in play — especially because it has the ability to take on cap money, if it means future assets coming its way (specifically draft picks).
Latest on Fleury
Perhaps the most intriguing goaltender this season is Chicago’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who is on the last year of his contract.
It’s a complicated situation. Blackhawks interim GM Kyle Davidson is still in “evaluation mode,” and he and the front office haven’t decided what their plan is for the team — or Fleury. After talking to some people, I get the sense they’re open to any trade proposals that come their way.
However, this situation involves a lot of nuance. Fleury had to be convinced to come to Chicago, after being traded from Vegas, and there are family considerations for him and the Blackhawks. Fleury has a 10-team no-trade list, so he has some agency here.
Plus, Chicago doesn’t even know the market for Fleury. When the Blackhawks traded Robin Lehner two years ago, they were able to get only a second-round pick, not a first, because the market was more limited than they thought.
In general, I’d expect the Blackhawks to be active around the deadline, more likely trading players away than adding to the NHL roster, with eyes on continuing the rebuild and restocking for the future.
Even though Davidson is an interim GM and technically up for audition, I don’t get the sense he feels pressure to make the playoffs this season. The pressure for him is to do right for the organization, and that means taking a long-term approach.
Why teams are tentative on Strome, DeBrusk
Let’s get to Strome first. The 24-year-old has been available for a while, but Chicago hasn’t had much luck in moving him. The Blackhawks don’t want to give up Strome for nothing; he’s three years removed from scoring 51 points in 58 games. But teams are wary of his $3 million salary, and the fact he’s a pending arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. Strome was a healthy scratch to begin the season as he didn’t fit into the Blackhawks’ current plans. He’s drawing into the lineup now but hasn’t been able to find much groove, posting only four points in 15 games.
It’s a similar situation for 25-year-old DeBrusk, with his eligibility for arbitration a serious holdup for teams. There seems to be plenty of interest in the winger; teams I’ve heard connected to him this year (and in the past) are the Blues, Flames and Rangers. The Bruins, like the Blackhawks, want to make sure they don’t lose a promising young player in an underwhelming trade.
Cap gymnastics coming soon?
Let’s talk about the two most recent Stanley Cup champions: the Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues. If you listen to both teams’ general managers speak publicly, they’ll say something along the lines of: “I don’t have any cap space, I can’t do anything.”
I don’t want to call either Julien BriseBois or Doug Armstrong a liar, but we’ve seen both of these GMs exercise creativity before, and neither is afraid to do something bold.
Nikita Kucherov is still on track for an early January return, for the record, with Brayden Point hopefully returning just before that. So salary-cap gymnastics would have to be involved if Tampa Bay gets something done.
The Tarasenko situation
One way St. Louis can clear cap space is by moving one of its top offensive players. Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5 million cap hit through 2022-23) is still on the market. The winger requested a trade this summer, and though he hasn’t spoken publicly on it, he hasn’t reversed course.
Summer wasn’t the best time to move Tarasenko, as many general managers expressed trepidation about his health. The veteran winger has remained professional; he was one of the first players to show up in St. Louis in the preseason, and has quelled injury concerns by scoring 19 points in 24 games. While the relationship between the Blues and Tarasenko remains imperfect, nobody in the league is sure if Armstrong will be able to pull off a trade.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tarasenko finish the season in St. Louis.
Trade or buyout for Kane?
Perhaps the other best offensive talent available at the deadline this season is Evander Kane, who is currently with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda after serving his 21-game suspension for producing a fake vaccination card.
I’m told there’s already a decent amount of interest in Kane, and right now, the interested teams are looking for a third-party team to act as “broker” to help retain some of his salary ($7 million). San Jose is willing to retain some salary, but if it gets even lower — imagine Kane, who has averaged 28 goals per season over his 12-year career, at a $1.75 million cap hit — the list of interested teams grows even longer. However, it’s going to take a team that believes it has a strong locker room culture to bring Kane in.
Kane, I’m told, is interested in playing for a contender and has a ton of agency given he has a three-team trade list. The best-case scenario for Kane is getting bought out by the Sharks and being able to choose his next destination, but I don’t think the Sharks have broached buyout talks with him yet. Those discussions would likely happen this summer.
Look West for forward help
We all know the Coyotes’ focus is stockpiling for the future, and 34-year-old Phil Kessel will not figure into their plans after this season. The pending UFA is of interest to contenders, however, thanks to his playoff experience, and he’s not that expensive in real dollars thanks to his contract structure. Arizona is interested in gathering as many draft picks as possible this season, and it should be able to recoup at least one early- to middle-round pick for Kessel.
Another forward out West who could be on the move is J.T. Miller of the Canucks. Plenty of teams have expressed interest in the 28-year-old winger. Vancouver’s results, post coaching change, could dictate what happens here. It’s hard to tell where this one will go, considering the Canucks now have interim GMs running the show.
Canes, Oilers could get bold
Two teams that believe they have legitimate chances to win it all this year: the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers. I’ve been told that both teams are looking to add to their blue line. I’ve also had two people — on a purely speculative basis — suggest a Fleury-Oilers partnership would make a lot of sense. Again, Fleury would have to be on board, but the idea of him trying to chase a Stanley Cup in Canada with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is exciting.
The Canes, meanwhile, surprised many people by hanging around in the Jack Eichel trade talks, even if the price remained too rich for them. With that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see GM Don Waddell pull off something bold.
Next moves for the Rangers
The better-than-expected Rangers seem like they’re looking to add as well, especially in their forward group. Middle-six forward seems to be the biggest need. Center depth is also a concern in the organization — though finding a valuable center via trade is easier said than done.
New York also might look to engage in the goalie market as Alexandar Georgiev, a pending RFA, might no longer be a long-term fit. But his value has taken a hit as he has struggled this season, so it’s possible the Rangers stand pat.