Breaking Down the Buyers and Sellers as the NHL Trade Deadline Approaches
By virtue of a shortage of likely sellers, the number of satisfied shoppers after the 2013 NHL trading deadline will surely be dwarfed by the number of determined buyers.
Such is the result of a compressed season where everybody is at or barely beyond the halfway mark of a 48-game schedule with the April 3 deadline coming a mere three weeks from Wednesday.
At the start of Sunday’s NHL action, the occupants of the last playoff spots in each conference were only seven and six points apart from the cellar dwellers of the East and West, respectively. Nonetheless, the way some teams are trending, whether the mess is a result of overwhelming injuries or plain underachievement, there are some whose only realistic deadline activity is exporting.
Even if they are in the playoff picture, other teams boast one or more assets that other teams, namely the clear-cut buyers, will be and/or have been targeting. Not all of the well-to-do clubs will necessarily be keen on a marquee move, but enough of them should be to make this a competitive culmination to the trading season.
Assuming the landscape does not drastically shift in the coming weeks, here is an assessment of the likeliest playoff no-shows (sellers) and the Stanley Cup contenders with the greatest needs and/or cravings for an added piece (buyers). And there is still time for more parties to join either projected category at a later date.
Buyer: Boston Bruins
Somebody needs to plug a hole on the third line for the 2013 homestretch and postseason. As evidenced by his recent reassignment to Providence, AHL journeyman Chris Bourque is not Boston’s guy in that regard.
As the roster reads now, it is between declining veteran Jay Pandolfo and uncertain 22-year-old Jordan Caron, who has battled injuries and slumps in the minors before seeing his first NHL action in over 10 months this past weekend.
It seems the only way the Bruins would consciously abstain from chasing an external acquisition before the deadline is if Caron catches fire. Not very likely, hence the various mentions of Daniel Alfredsson, Ryane Clowe, Jarome Iginla and Corey Perry, among other potential targets.
Buyer: Chicago Blackhawks
In a single column posted on ESPN.com last Tuesday, analyst Pierre LeBrun quoted four general managers as to their thoughts on the 2013 deadline. They were Chicago's Stan Bowman, Detroit's Ken Holland, Minnesota's Chuck Fletcher and Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren.
Based on the states of those four teams, it is hardly surprising that Bowman was the only one whose language points to pursuit of another piece. LeBrun himself summed up the contrast impeccably by writing:
Of course, when you’re the GM of a Blackhawks team that can do no wrong and is at the top of the NHL standings, it’s a lot easier to say you’re a buyer because you know that’s not going to change.
For a lot of the teams right now, it’s not clear what camp they’ll be in a month from now. The standings are so jammed up, it’s making it difficult to separate the buyers from the sellers.
Come what may, the league-leading Blackhawks have breathing room and may by all means use it in an effort to perfect their roster for the playoffs. As Bowman told LeBrun, "I’m probably more looking up front, depth maybe at center...Not high-end but more a role-playing type center."
In light of an injury to Patrick Sharp that occurred after LeBrun's report and will keep him out for about a month, the odds of Chicago going after an extra forward for both depth and insurance purposes seem higher.
Seller: Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers were last in the Western Conference when they ventured into Chicago on Sunday to face the regal Blackhawks. The team that has taken each of the past three No. 1 overall draft picks is falling into a disappointingly, if not infuriatingly old pattern with the 2012-13 campaign already half over.
Retooling is a must if Edmonton is to cultivate any substantive progress with the help of its youth movement. Those younger players need help first, even if it will now take until 2013-14 to start taking effect.
Recent tweets from Oilers’ radio color commentator Bob Stauffer hold that the team will not be seeking a solution to the struggles of the present via trade. However, that does not mean it will be wholly inactive leading up to the deadline.
Displaced defenseman Ryan Whitney, whether there will be eager buyers or not, continues to come up in trade chatter. In addition, barring a sharp pivot in the right direction within the next two or three weeks, it would also not be irrational to envision Edmonton selling its first-round pick for 2013.
Whether there would be any takers in either of those events, let alone a useful return package, is another issue.
Seller: Florida Panthers
Like the Oilers with the Blackhawks, the Florida Panthers waged a worst-versus-first battle with the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday. Both before that faceoff and after the final horn, they were at the bottom of a vastly impoverished Southeast Division and easily hold the league’s worst scoring differential at minus-34.
All the while, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun has reported that general manager Dale Tallon is prepared to turn the page for a peek at next season. Garrioch wrote in a Sunday notes spread, “With the exception of centre Jonathan Huberdeau, defenceman Erik Gudbranson, goalie Jakob Markstrom and centre Drew Shore, pretty much every player on the Florida roster is up for grabs as the Panthers try to shed some cash.”
By that, he presumably means some of the $43,882,875 the Panthers project to have on their payroll next season, not counting any acquisitions they may want to make or the handfuls of pending free agents they may want to re-sign.
Buyer: Montreal Canadiens
As good and deep as the Habs have looked so far in 2013, one has to wonder if they will be comfortable committing to the regular use of two rookie forwards, namely Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, at the same time throughout their playoff run.
Montreal has not generated the same level of rumblings and rumors as other projected buyers and both of the rookies may turn out to be perfectly suited for postseason duty without delay.
But in case one of them does need to sit down, no one should be shocked if the Canadiens go for one more seasoned veteran to give them that alternative option.
Just look at their divisional rivals from Boston, who had a freshman and sophomore both new to the playoffs in Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel in 2008. During their seven-game series against none other than the Habs, they scratched Kessel for three games while Lucic played for the full ride.
Buyer: Pittsburgh Penguins
Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review cited the aforementioned Iginla and Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson as two prized Penguins targets. The aforementioned Garrioch from Ottawa (tweet relayed by Adam Gretz of CBS Sports) holds that the Pens may also seek the services of the Senators’ captain Alfredsson.
Some sort of upgrade―whether it is veteran presence up front like what Alfredsson or Iginla could provide, reliable defense or both―is certainly advisable for this team.
Pittsburgh has not been past the halfway mark of the playoffs since winning the Cup in 2009 and is going on three years without a journey to the second round. The Penguins spilled a 3-1 series lead to Tampa Bay in 2011 and sputtered in a six-game goal-fest against Philadelphia last spring.
Maybe their core will have grown and learned from that. But for better measure, they ought to seek to knead in a new face with experience, hunger and aptitude.
Buyer: St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jeff Gordon recently underscored the defensive disappointments of Ian Cole and Wade Redden.
Meanwhile, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com concluded a notes spread by reporting that the Blues are keen on landing “a left-handed, top-four type blueliner, a guy who can play with either Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk on either of the top two pairings.”
On the heels of a surge to the Central Division crown under first-year head coach Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis will not likely be accepting any steps back, however momentary they may be, any time soon.
While the Blues are currently jumbled with Detroit and Nashville as apparent divisional middleweights, it is safe to bet that they will seek one or more moves to nudge them closer to Chicago if they have to.
Buyer: Vancouver Canucks
Center Ryan Kesler is out for likely a lengthy stretch with an injury. With or without him, in full form or not, the two-time President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks can still stand to shore up their strike force for their next playoff run.
Vancouver entered Sunday’s tilt with the Minnesota Wild, the game that would bring the team to the halfway mark of its schedule, with two point-per-gamers in the Sedins and four other forwards with either five or six goals. The Canucks have reaped gratifying production from their defensemen, but everybody else up front had only one or two goals through 23 games played.
Ideally, a move should be made in an effort to ensure a dependable top nine.