Every point is monumental in the Metropolitan Division. At the time of this writing, the Washington Capitals sit first in the division with 63 points, but only five points separate second place Columbus (57) and last place Carolina (52). When you have such a tight division, identifying buyers and sellers is tough, especially with almost a full month to go until the deadline. Therefore, for the purpose of this piece, we will consider all Metro teams as buyers with the one exception being the Rangers who are apparently ready to sell. Let’s go ahead and see what each potential buyer in this division will covet on or before the NHL Trade Deadline.
Washington Capitals (29-15-5) 1st
Biggest Need: Bottom 4 Defenseman
The truth is Washington would likely be fairly content to enter the postseason with the roster as is. Up front, they are strong down the middle and most of their wingers can be moved up and down the lineup. You could make a case for Washington to add a first/second/third line winger who can score and move Tom Wilson or Andre Burakovsky down a line or two, but I think Washington would like to shore up their defense first and foremost. They are the NHL’s third best home defense, but 26th-ranked road defense, checking in at 14th overall. With John Carlson having a career year on the top pair and Matt Niskanen and Dmitri Orlov forming a real solid second pair, a bottom pair or bottom four defenseman makes sense for the Metro’s top team.
Potential Targets: Mike Green, Erik Gudbranson, Ian Cole, Nick Holden, Jason Demers, Jordie Benn
When you are talking about a bottom four or bottom pair defenseman, the list of names is quite long. A player on an expiring contract like Gudbranson, Cole or even a reunion with Mike Green likely makes the most sense for Washington. Although they don’t play together, youngsters Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey currently are the fifth and sixth defenseman on the Capitals’ depth chart, both of whom are rookies without postseason experience. You don’t want to take ice time away from the kids in the regular season next year, but bumping one of the two out for a veteran, stable defender who is a pending UFA could be beneficial come playoff time. Grabbing either Gudbranson or Cole isn’t going to break the bank so a cheap addition to Washington’s blueline is a good idea in my view.
Columbus Blue Jackets (29-19-3) 2nd
Biggest Need: Top-Six Scoring Forward
The emergence of sophomore center Pierre-Luc Dubois has been huge for a club that has seen former top center Alexander Wennberg regress after a breakout season last year. Cam Atkinson has also had a poor season that’s been filled with productivity and injury issues. Boone Jenner and Oliver Bjorkstrand have played all over the lineup, filling various roles when they were required. What the Blue Jackets need is a top six winger who can be relied upon to provide some scoring for the NHL’s 29-ranked offense and last-place power play.
Potential Targets: Evander Kane, Max Pacioretty, Mike Hoffman, Patrick Maroon, Alex Galchenyuk, Rick Nash
There is a lot of ways the Blue Jackets can go here. My feeling is they should go big. Given how bad their offensive numbers have been and the fact they have just under $5M of cap space available at the moment, they can go after a player signed after this season who carries a notable, but modest cap hit. Therefore I’m looking at Pacioretty and Hoffman as the top targets for GM Jarmo Kekalainen. Pacioretty is signed through next season at a $4.5M cap hit and Hoffman through ’19/’20 at just north of $5M. Both can score, both are weapons on the power play and both are first line capable players to be sure. Both also give the Blue Jackets more offensive punch for at least another season, so let’s look for Kekalainen to hit a home run here.
Pittsburgh Penguins (27-21-3) 3rd
Biggest Need: 3rd/4th Line Center
Pittsburgh has obviously long been a club that is lethal up front. While the star power remains with players like Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Letang in the fold, their lack of depth scoring is hurting them. Pittsburgh currently sits 14th in offense after finishing last season first. That’s a notable drop and one that can be addressed at the deadline. Crosby and Malkin are clearly one and two down the middle, but with Riley Sheahan and Jean-Sebastien Dea as the third and fourth line centers at the moment, I see an area of need.
Potential Targets: Mark Letestu, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Frans Nielsen, Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Sutter
The first two names on this list are more likely to move than the latter three, but anything is possible. I could see GM Jim Rutherford checking in on a reunion with Sutter, and Galchenyuk is a possibility too if the Pens’ brass views him as a center. There is also a reunion possibility with Letestu who is having a down season with the Oilers after scoring 16 goals (11 on the power play) last year. The availability of Nielsen is unclear, but the Red Wings are going to sell. That said, my pick here is Pageau. After a dynamite postseason last year, Pageau inked a fresh three-year contract in the summer that carries a $3.1M cap hit through the ’19/’20 campaign. He can check, he can score, he can kill penalties and he’s 52.9% on faceoffs this season. Rutherford would also feel comfortable knowing he can perform in the postseason after watching Pageau and the Sens give his Penguins a big-time scare in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
New Jersey Devils (24-16-8) 4th
Biggest Need: Scoring Winger
Truth be told, I don’t consider the Devils a full-on buyer at this point in time. After a red-hot start to the season, Ray Shero’s club has dropped ten of their last 12 and have fallen into a Wild Card spot after sitting in the Metro’s top three from the onset of the season. They filled a need on their back end with the Adam Henrique for Sami Vatanen deal, so if anything I think Shero will bolster his forward group with an offensive addition. Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson are injured at the moment, and Johansson could be out a while with another concussion, so Jersey would be best to get some help up front and push a player like Blake Coleman back into a bottom-six role. That said, a big splash isn’t likely for a young team that has surprised to the upside this season.
Potential Targets: Patrick Maroon, Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner, Sam Reinhart
I don’t expect Shero to deal significant future assets to acquire a player in the Kane/Pacioretty/Hoffman range, but an offensive player on an expiring contract makes sense. Maroon fits that mold, but how dangerous is he really without Connor McDavid next to him? Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner have had nice offensive seasons with much less around them than Maroon. That said, I feel Reinhart makes sense for this group. He appears to have fallen out of favor in Buffalo. He is a restricted free agent after the season and still just 22 years old. I wonder if a change of scenery is best for both the Reinhart and the Sabres. The only way I see New Jersey parting with notable future assets is in a trade for a young player with upside, and although he is having a down season this year, he is a player who scored 23 goals in his rookie season and had 47 points in 79 games as a sophomore. Put him on a line with Hall and Hischier and see what he can do moving forward.
Philadelphia Flyers (24-17-8) 5th
Biggest Need: Bottom-Six Forward
Considering the Flyers traded Brayden Schenn to the Blues for future assets in the summer, it’s safe to say GM Ron Hextall has his eye on the future, and rightfully so. That said, the Flyers up-and-down season has been mostly up lately, and they find themselves right in the thick of the playoff picture as a result. He’s not going to start dealing first and second round picks or any of his young roster players for a push this season, but I’m sure he’s willing to make an addition if it makes sense and he views his club as a playoff team. A bottom-pair defenseman could work too, but given the current make-up of the Flyers’ bottom six I believe an upgrade is to be had there.
Potential Targets: Mark Letestu, Zack Smith, Michael Grabner, Andrew Shaw, Blake Comeau
Like a bottom-pair defenseman, the list of candidates to come in as a bottom-six forward can be quite long. Speaking to the names above, Letestu, Grabner, and Comeau make the most sense considering their pending UFA status. Smith and Shaw both carry cap hits over $3M for multiple years after this season, so it’s unlikely Hextall will give up assets and take on those hits even with about $2.5M of current space to work with. If the right deal comes and Ottawa and Montreal are willing to eat some money, then sure. I believe Grabner makes a lot of sense here. He’s having a real nice season with 21 goals after 27 last season, so maybe the price is a bit high, but with plenty of wingers on the market his price could come down. He kills penalties, he can score and he can play anywhere up and down the lineup in various roles for head coach Dave Hakstol.
New York Islanders (25-20-5) 7th
Biggest Need: Top-Four Defenseman & Goaltender
Islanders’ head coach Doug Weight must be nauseous with all the back-and-forth games the Islanders have had this season. They are the NHL’s second ranked offense along with Vegas, but the NHL’s worst defense with 3.58 goals against per game. Their offense is set and the clear-cut need is on the back end. A number one goaltender is ideal, but that market is very thin. The top-four defenseman market is also thin at the moment as teams contemplate their deadline plans, but with the Isles falling in the standings, GM Garth Snow has to address one of these two issues before it’s too late.
Potential Targets: Mike Green, Ryan McDonagh, Ian Cole, Jack Johnson, Jimmy Howard, Robin Lehner
Whether you think Howard or Lehner is a true upgrade worthy of assets in return over Jaroslav Halak or Thomas Greiss is debatable. We will go with the theory that any goaltender improves if the defense in front of him improves, so given the thin margin for improvement in goal we believe the Islanders are best served by adding a top-four blueliner. Green and McDonagh aren’t going to be cheap, especially McDonagh. It would also be shocking to see the Rangers trade their captain to their cross-town rivals. Therefore, Jack Johnson and Ian Cole make the most sense here. We’ve discussed both of these players in the Atlantic Division Buyers piece, but both are middle-pair defenseman who make sense for a lot of clubs, especially the Islanders. Both are also UFAs at the end of the season. With Johnny Boychuk due back from injury any day now, the addition of Johnson or Cole would be like getting a brand new pairing on the back end and would ease the loss of Calvin de Haan to what could be season-ending shoulder surgery. Nonetheless, Snow needs to make an upgrade on the back end with his team fighting for their playoff lives.
Carolina Hurricanes (22-19-8) 8th
Biggest Need: Scoring Forward
The Hurricanes may be eighth in the division, but they’re just four points shy of a playoff spot in the east. However, don’t go thinking Ron Francis is going to sacrifice future assets or young NHL roster players to make a postseason push this year. He’s built a quality stable of young defenseman which should look real nice after another year or two of development. Therefore, if he’s going to make an upgrade, Francis is going to do it up front. The Hurricanes have had offensive issues all season and rank 23rd in team offense. He’s certainly not under any pressure or desperation to make a move, so don’t expect Francis to reach for the stars as we believe Carolina is more likely to turn into a seller or stay put and let his team develop at the bottom of a very crowded division.
Potential Targets: Thomas Vanek, Sam Reinhart, Nic Petan, Alex Galchenyuk
The potential deals for Francis out there are similar, in my opinion, to the type of deals Ray Shero could make in New Jersey. In other words, I believe he could make a move for a young player like Reinhart, Petan or Galchenyuk who has possibly fallen out of favor with their current clubs. He would have to give up something of value to acquire these types of players, but I can see Francis checking in to gauge price and availability on these guys. All three have offensive upside that is quite possibly untapped at the moment. On the flip side, if Carolina goes on a run and finds itself in a playoff spot prior to the deadline, a rental like Vanek makes sense. He could play a top-six role and provide offense on a power play that currently ranks 19th. I expect Carolina to be quiet, and none of their young blueliners are going anywhere unless a young player like the three mentioned above are coming back in return.
*All salary cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.