The Biggest Need for Every Playoff Bubble Team Ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline
With only a couple of weeks before teams must ultimately decide if they will be buyers, sellers or observers for the 2016-17 NHL trade deadline on March 1, even minor movement in the standings will have a significant effect.
At the moment, there are plenty of bubble teams doing their research in case they are able to remain in the playoff hunt.
What you consider a bubble team depends on how you view the races in the Eastern and Western Conferences, so we've enlisted the use of Sports Club Stats to define these teams—looking at franchises hovering around the wild-card spots with predicted percentages between 80 per cent and 15 per cent (minus one addition in what looks a three-way battle for two spots in the west).
There's a reason these clubs are on the playoff bubble and not contending for the division title. Each has a hole or two to fill to boost their chances. The new bye weeks have added a wrinkle with games in hand coming into play as well for these projections.
Read on to see what the biggest need is for each of our bubble teams ahead of the deadline.
Los Angeles Kings
Status: 55 games played, 28-23-4 record, 60 points, ninth in Western Conference standings. Sports Club Stats says the team has a 85.7 per cent chance of playing this spring.
Need: A sniper to play in the top six.
Analysis: The line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson have accounted for almost 40 per cent of the Los Angeles Kings' scoring this season, with 54 of the team's 137 goals so far. Captain Anze Kopitar hasn't clicked often with flankers Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown and the team could use another triggerman to help spark its top center if they're going to lock up a spot and make some noise in the playoffs.
Veteran Jarome Iginla, who played for Kings coach Darryl Sutter during their time with the Calgary Flames, is someone ESPN's Pierre LeBrun says is intriguing. The impending UFA has a no-trade clause that will help him pick his spot, though. Patrick Sharp and Patrick Eaves could be available if the Dallas Stars finally admit they're sellers. Thomas Vanek may also be attractive. The Kings really miss Milan Lucic.
Status: 54 games played, 29-19-6 record, 64 points, second in Atlantic Division, sixth in Eastern Conference. Sports Club Stats gives them a 77.5 per cent chance at qualifying for the post-season.
Need: A top-six scoring forward.
Analysis: The Ottawa Senators are doing as well as they are because of some stellar goaltending from Craig Anderson and backup Mike Condon, who filled in admirably during long stints without Anderson while the latter was looking after his ailing wife. Meanwhile, the Sens are struggling offensively—ranked 18th with a 2.61 goals per game and a miserable 24th with a 16.4 per cent power play success rate.
With Anderson up there in age at 35, the team may want to go big at the deadline and make a real play for the Eastern Conference Final by landing a big name like Matt Duchene (as Ottawa Citizen writer Ken Warren suggests) or Gabriel Landeskog. And owner Eugene Melnyk told the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch he's willing to "open his wallet" for the right player.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Status: 56 games played, 26-19-11 record, 63 points, fourth in Atlantic Division, eighth in Eastern Conference. Sports Club Stats gives them a 70.8 per cent chance of making the playoffs.
Need: A top-four defenseman.
Analysis: Led by rookie center Auston Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs have plenty of talented young forwards unexpectedly driving them toward the playoffs. There's a big gap on the back end that hasn't been filled since dealing away Dion Phaneuf to shed his hefty salary last season.
In terms of ice time, they've had to rely on journeymen Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak for more than 17:30 per game while pairing Connor Carrick with Jake Gardiner on what's considered the second pairing at five-on-five.
They could look to land an unrestricted free agent like Kevin Shattenkirk or Johnny Oduya but given their rebuilding status likely would prefer to made a deal for someone with at least another year on their deal who can help them now and in the future, like the Dallas Stars' Dan Hamhuis.
Status: 58 games played, 29-23-6 record, 64 points, third in Atlantic Division, seventh in Eastern Conference. Sports Club Stats gives them a 57.2 per cent chance of making it into the postseason.
Need: Another top-six scorer.
Analysis: Coming into the year, it was thought that the defense would be what holds the Boston Bruins back from the playoffs for a third straight season. However, they are second best in the league at keeping the shots on goal against them down with a 26.5 average. The Bruins are lacking in the scoring department, though, with the loss of Loui Eriksson contributing to their drop from fifth in goals per game last year to 17th so far this season.
A lengthy chat in the press box at a recent Colorado Avalanche game between Bruins GM Don Sweeney and Avs counterpart Joe Sakic has the rumors flying about the possibility of either Gabriel Landeskog or Matt Duchene—two of the top names on the market—making their way to Boston, per the Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa. The only problem with a deal like that is the Bruins might have to give up one of their top defensemen on the roster to get it done.
Status: 58 games played, 29-26-3 record, 61 points, fourth in Pacific Division, eighth in Western Conference. Sports Club Stats gives them a 35.1 per cent chance of qualifying for the postseason.
Need: A top-four defenseman.
Analysis: The Calgary Flames could use some more offense, but that could come from stronger play from Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett down the stretch. It may also benefit from the addition of another defenseman legitimately worthy of the top two pairings.
Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie haven't been as productive as they were the previous couple of seasons, likely because the latter has been saddled with the cumbersome Dennis Wideman as a partner. The team is 19th in goals-against per game and although some of that is due to sub-par goaltending (again), Brodie's atrocious plus-minus rating is telling in comparison to the rest of the Flame roster.
GM Brad Treliving will not move young assets or a first-round pick to grab a rental unless they are confident they can sign him in the offseason, or the cost is low. Former Calgary Hitmen defenseman Michael Stone might be a fit.
New York Islanders
Status: 55 games played, 25-20-10 record, 60 points, 10th in the Eastern Conference. Sports Club Stats gives them a 32.6 per cent chance of extending their season.
Need: Another scoring winger.
Analysis: The loss of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen left the New York Islanders with a lot of holes up front this season and they have relied mostly on internal sources to step up. While the team hasn't suffered too much offensively, the defensive play as a group has been sketchy. They could use some more veteran leadership and scoring to bolster the bottom six by spreading the depth down the lineup.
The Isles will only be truly competitive as long as John Tavares is on board and he may bolt as a free agent another year from now, so adding a player or two like Thomas Vanek, Martin Hanzal or Jarome Iginla might be enough to make that final push for the playoffs.
Status: 55 games played, 25-20-10 record, 60 points, 11th in Eastern Conference. Sports Club Stats gives them a 19.3 per cent chance of making the playoffs.
Need: To stay healthy, and maybe add some defensive depth.
Analysis: With the Florida Panthers getting back top forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad in recent weeks, they may have all the elements they need for a late charge. GM Tome Rowe told the Joe Rose Show on 560 WQAM recently that this is what his vision was for the team coming into the year. The defense, however, seems to be missing veteran Brian Campbell, who left as a free agent.
They could look to add impending UFAs like Johnny Oduya or Dmitri Kulikov in order to bolster the blue line. They do have the cap space, if not the budget, to make a splash for a big-ticket addition like Kevin Shattenkirk as well. The price, though, might be too high considering the odds they're facing.
Status: 53 games played, 24-22-7 record, 55 points, 15th in Eastern Conference. Sports Club Stats suggests a 16 per cent chance for the team to make the playoffs thanks to some games in hand.
Need: Scoring forwards.
Analysis: The Carolina Hurricanes are in the bottom half in NHL scoring average and lean heavily on a few talented younger players like Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and rookie Sebastian Aho. The good news for the 'Canes is they have the kind of stellar defensive prospects other teams will covet and they can be very picky about any deals they make.
A perfect fit may be with the Colorado Avalanche, who are in need of up-and-coming defensemen and are dangling dynamic forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, as mentioned previously. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman mentioned recently that the Hurricanes may be interested in Duchene on Calgary's Fan 960 morning show.
Status: 56 games played, 27-21-8 record, 62 points, fourth in Central Division, seventh in Western Conference. Sports Club Stats gives them a 78.5 per cent chance at qualifying for the postseason.
Need: A second-line winger.
Analysis: The Nashville Predators picked up some depth players already in center Vernon Fiddler and the gritty Cody McLeod but waived and demoted the more skilled Mike Ribeiro to the AHL, which has resulted in some struggles on the second line. Adding a proven scorer there will help create more mismatches and increase the scoring from the bottom six, as well. They're leaning heavily on Filip Forsberg and the top trio.
There has been a lot of talk about GM David Poile being interested in landing Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche, including from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, and Poile showed with his big Shea Weber deal that he's willing to make a splash.