The clock is ticking on the NHL trade deadline. Right now, teams continue to survey opposing GM’s regarding availability and prices on assets. While the first bomb has yet to drop, all it takes is one significant deal to kickstart trade season in the NHL. With that in mind, we will continue our NHL Trade Deadline coverage here at the Puck Show with a peak inside the Pacific Division and what the contenders will look to accomplish over the next two weeks and change.
Vegas Golden Knights (36-14-4) – 1st
Biggest Need: Bottom-Six Winger
As they continue to go about their business while shocking the hockey world, the Golden Knights deadline plans are the complete opposite of what everyone assumed they would be prior to the season. Fully expected to be auctioning off pending UFAs like James Neal and David Perron, there is a very good chance George McPhee is looking to add this deadline season as Vegas is certainly a Stanley Cup contender. The Golden Knights’ offense ranks second in the league behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning, so it appears their top six and scoring depth is in good hands. While all teams look to bolster their blueline, my biggest need for Vegas is an experienced bottom-six forward who can play a 200-foot game and perhaps push an inexperienced player like Brendan Leipsic out of the top 12 entering the postseason.
Potential Targets: Michael Grabner, Zack Smith, Blake Comeau, Andrew Shaw
As we’ve mentioned in previous pieces, the list of bottom-six forwards is long and will continue to grow as teams declare themselves sellers over the next 17 days or so. That said, the above quartet are known to be available and fit the bill of what I believe Vegas needs most. Of this group, Grabner and Comeau are UFAs after this season while Smith and Shaw have term attached to their contracts. With that in mind, my pick of the litter here is Grabner. I mentioned Vegas already has scoring depth, adding a versatile player like Grabner is a good addition for this club. Of course, he’s having his second straight fantastic offensive season with 21 goals after scoring 27 last season, but his contributions don’t stop there. Grabner is an excellent and dangerous penalty killer with 14 short-handed goals under his belt for his career. Furthermore, he’s reliable defensively as he’s a +8 player on a team that sports a -11 goal differential this season. In fact, that +8 rating leads all Rangers players this season while his +22 rating last season also led his team. He has no problem producing in a bottom-six role while his penalty killing and defensive reliability makes him a nice target for McPhee prior to the deadline.
Calgary Flames (28-18-8) – 2nd
Biggest Need: Top-Six Scoring Winger
The Flames disappointed earlier in the season, but after a six-game win streak and a couple of road wins over their last two games Calgary sits second in the Pacific with 28 games to go. Their offseason trade to acquire Travis Hamonic from the Islanders set their defense in stone for at least this season. Their move to bring in Jaromir Jagr showed that Brad Treliving is in search of a scoring forward. Now that the Jagr experiment is over, there is no doubt Treliving is surveying the market for a top-six winger that can put the puck into the net. Calgary’s offense ranks 21st in the league while they are far too reliant on their top line of Johnny Gaudreau/Sean Monahan/Michael Ferland who produces a good chunk of the Flames’ offense.
Potential Targets: Mike Hoffman, Max Pacioretty, Evander Kane, Rick Nash, Alex Galchenyuk, Jeff Skinner
Right off the bat I would almost rule out a pending UFA for the Flames. Treliving dealt his first and second round picks in the upcoming draft to acquire Hamonic and I would think he would be extremely hesitant to pony up more significant future assets for a rental player. That would essentially rule out Kane and Nash who are almost surely to be traded to a team that is willing to include a first round pick in a package for their rental services. I think Hoffman is a real nice fit here. The Flames could use some help on their power play and Hoffman could be the trigger man on a power play unit that currently includes Troy Brouwer who has all of three goals this season. The Flames’ power play ranks 24th right now and Hoffman scored 13 goals on the power play last season and leads the Senators with five this season. He could either slide onto the right wing of Monahan on the top line or move Michael Frolik down to a bottom-six role and skate with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk on the second line. The Flames would also get Hoffman for two more seasons after this one at a reasonable cap hit just north of $5M. Hoffman would be a nice addition for a Flames team in need of secondary offensive production.
San Jose Sharks (28-18-8) – 3rd
Biggest Need: Top-Six Scorer
The Sharks and Flames are neck-and-neck for second spot on the Pacific, and just like the Flames the Sharks could use some scoring punch prior to the postseason. Joe Thornton’s knee injury forced Joe Pavelski to move over to center on the Sharks’ second line, however I bet GM Doug Wilson and head coach Peter DeBoer would like to see Pavelski on the wing where he is not tasked with strenuous defensive zone responsibilities. While Thornton should be back for a playoff push, I believe the Sharks could be looking at both the center and wing spots for scoring help prior to the deadline and I believe they could be after any of the top names available. Keep in mind the Sharks currently have over $5M of cap space available and have over $13M coming off the books after the season when Thornton, Joel Ward and Jannik Hansen hit the free agent market.
Potential Targets: Evander Kane, Rick Nash, Mike Hoffman, Max Pacioretty, Patrick Maroon, Jeff Skinner
As mentioned, the Sharks’ cap situation is flexible and aside from this year’s second and third round picks they have all their draft picks for the next three years as trade chips. They could also use a left winger to slot up to play with either Thornton when he returns or to play with Logan Couture. At the end of the day I could see Rick Nash ending up in a San Jose uniform. With Thornton a pending UFA and quite possibly on his last go around with the Sharks, my theory for San Jose is that they can go all in this year with their aging core and if it doesn’t work out at least you have an extraordinary amount of cap space with no large or long-term contracts to worry about. Nash is a veteran player who would fit well in the Western Conference as big power forward who can score goals in various ways. He has plenty of playoff experience and even though the Rangers are said to be willing to eat a good portion of his cap hit to move him, the Sharks have plenty of cap space to take on more of his contract to lighten the compensation going back the other way. Regardless, Nash is a big bodied left winger with skill which is exactly what the Sharks should be after this trading season.
Los Angeles Kings (29-19-5) – 4th
Biggest Need: Middle Pair Defenseman
You could argue the Kings need some scoring punch as well, and I wouldn’t disagree with you one bit. However, the Kings are going to get some scoring punch back when Jeff Carter returns from a leg laceration sometime in March. Therefore, I’m identifying a middle pair defenseman that would ensure the Kings own the NHL’s best defensive group. Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez are the Kings’ top three, however their fourth defenseman is anyone from Christian Folin to Paul LaDue to Derek Forbort to Kevin Gravel. The Kings could certainly benefit from adding a fourth defenseman and ensuring they have an extremely strong six-man group heading into the playoff race.
Potential Targets: Jack Johnson, Ian Cole, Erik Gudbranson, Ryan McDonagh, Dion Phaneuf
The Kings largest cap hits aren’t off the books until at least after next season, so I find it hard to see them acquiring McDonagh who will cost them over $4M next season and it would be real tough to add Phaneuf who carries a $7M cap hit through the ’20/’21 campaign unless a significant contract (Marion Gaborik) goes the other way. That leaves Johnson, Cole and Gudbranson and my pick here is Johnson. Familiarity is key and Johnson has that with the Kings as they drafted him with the third overall pick in 2005. He would play five full seasons in L.A. and although the organization has changed a lot since then, Johnson does have that familiarity. He’s a solid two-way defender with postseason experience and a guy who can play significant minutes should he get called upon to do so. He’s also a pending UFA and one that could be had at a reasonable cost. Johnson fits the mold for a lot of clubs, but the Kings could have the inside track on their former defenseman.
Anaheim Ducks (26-19-10) – 5th
Biggest Need: N/A
Yup, that’s right, there is no clear need on this team. It’s amazing that the Ducks are within just one point of the Kings after all the injuries they’ve dealt with this season. With the team finally fully healthy (knock on wood), I don’t see an obvious need on this club. They’re top 12 seems to be mostly set while no one is going to push any of their top six defenseman out of a spot. Anaheim has a quality mix of scoring forwards, defensive forwards and penalty killing forwards as well. They are basically a middle of the pack team both offensively and defensively and they have a great young goaltender in John Gibson. I suppose if they wanted to improve their scoring they could add a scoring top nine winger at a cheap cost. However, the Ducks are right in the thick of the playoff race after missing their best players for a very big chunk of the season. My bet is GM Bob Murray, at least for the time being, is content to let his team continue to get points now that they’re healthy and perhaps see if he needs anything at the last minute. But for now, this team is content to go as is and seeing as they have played very well with their lineup in tact I can’t see them making a big splash, if any, come trade deadline time.