BS Meter on Latest NHL Trade Rumors
The NHL trade rumor mill is starting to churn a little faster as the March 3 trade deadline approaches, and a new name has surfaced with Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm showing up in some reports.
Given his contract, age and ability, that would be a pretty significant name to be thrown into the pot, and it would also signal a pretty clear direction for the Predators in both the short term and long term.
Along with Ekholm, there is also the situation with the New York Rangers and young forward Alexis Lafreniere and what exactly the Chicago Blackhawks can expect to get back for their many pending free agents.
The important thing to keep in mind: Not every rumored deal gets made, and the ones that do oftentimes look very different from what we think they should look like. We try to make sense of some of the latest rumors in our B.S. Meter.
Nashville Predators Could Trade Mattias Ekholm
Frank Seravalli at Daily Faceoff introduced Mattias Ekholm's name in his first trade big board of 2023 this past week, putting him at No. 7 on the list with the note that general manager David Poile has some big decisions to make regarding the direction of his team.
The situation for the Predators is not ideal at the moment.
They were a playoff team a year ago, barely sneaking in thanks in large part to a great goaltending performance from Juuse Saros and big bounce-back years from some of their big-money veterans. Every single variable that they needed to break in their favor ended up going their way. And it still only got them a wild-card spot in the Western Conference and a quick exit in the first round.
Things are not looking better this season.
Even with excellent goaltending, the Predators are on the outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Their ceiling, as presently constructed, seems to be nothing more than fringe playoff team that does not go anywhere if it does make the playoffs. They also have six players making at least $6.25 million per year with contracts that run for at least 2024-25. All of those players, with the exception of Filip Forsberg (who is 28), are over the age of 30.
When you are a mediocre team with a lot of big-money players who are starting to get beyond their prime years, you have to start making big decisions on your future. That potentially means big trades, and Ekholm could be an attractive option for contenders.
B.S. Meter: Not B.S.
This is not to say that the Predators will trade Ekholm, but there is a pretty convincing argument for why it could happen. And perhaps even should happen.
For starters, Poile is not afraid to make blockbuster trades, having dealt some big names over the years, especially off his blue line (Seth Jones, Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis).
Ekholm is also an asset that could bring a pretty substantial return. He is under contract for three more years (which always increases trade value) and does not carry an overwhelming salary-cap hit ($6.25 million per year). Even more importantly, Ekholm is still a really good player that a contending team would love to have on its blue line. He also does not have any trade restrictions in his contract, meaning a deal would be extremely easy for the Predators.
It is pretty clear that Nashville is not going to be a Stanley Cup contender anytime soon, so why not see if you can cash in a big chip at close to peak value and get a big return that can better help in the future?
The Rangers Have No Interest in Trading Alexis Lafreniere
When the Rangers made Alexis Lafreniere a healthy scratch last week, it was a pretty eye-opening move.
It also called into question whether the Rangers still believe in him as a franchise player and what his future with the team might be.
Interested teams were told, per TSN's Pierre LeBrun, that Lafreniere is not available and the Rangers are not even going to consider moving him.
B.S. Meter: Not B.S.
You can't blame the Canucks—or any team—that called the Rangers asking about Lafreniere after he was healthy-scratched.
You do not typically see a No. 1 overall pick get that sort of treatment in year three unless something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with their development. And there are some concerns with where Lafreniere is.
Entering play on Thursday, he had just five goals in 38 games—on pace for about half the number of goals he had last season (19)—and he has not yet shown that he will be the type of superstar, franchise player you hope a No. 1 overall pick to be. He also does not seem to have the full trust of the coaching staff.
But even with all of that, the Rangers would not be smart to trade Lafreniere at this point, and unless they were getting a proven star player back, it would be downright idiotic.
For starters, even though he is not yet a superstar, it is important to remember that young players do not always develop at the same pace. Even the top prospects. It can sometimes take a few years to get there, especially when they are playing for good teams that are trying to contend right now. The leash gets a little shorter when they struggle, minutes might get cut, and the coaching staff might make decisions that are more short-term-based (winning) as opposed to big-picture (developing players).
Players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews that became immediate superstars are the exception, not the rule. Just because Lafreniere is not there yet does not mean he can't get there in the not-too-distant future. He has played well at times when skating alongside the team's best players, and he is also being crushed by a 7.5 percent shooting percentage that is 10 points below his career average from his first two years. If that reverses, his numbers will start to look a lot better.
The other important thing to keep in mind here: His trade value might be at its lowest to date. It would just be organizational malpractice to trade a top pick at this stage of their career. Especially when you expect that player to be a key part of a Stanley Cup-contending team.
Blackhawks Getting First-Round Picks for Their Rentals
No team figures to be busier at the trade deadline than the Chicago Blackhawks.
For the most part, the 2022-23 season is going as planned. They are losing, and losing a lot. They have the worst record in the league, there is no short-term hope for things to get better, and the organization is all in on a complete rebuild that is probably going to take years to complete.
The best hope for the organization is that some lottery balls go its way in April and put it in a position to draft Connor Bedard with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft.
Before we can get there, though, the Blackhawks still have more veterans to trade, and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Max Domi will be playing for new teams after the NHL trade deadline.
The catch with the first two is that they have no-trade clauses and could be picky about their destination given how much of their identity as NHLers is tied to the Blackhawks. This is the only franchise they have ever known, and they brought three Stanley Cups to the city of Chicago. Those are never easy trades to make.
But the Blackhawks are not doing their jobs if they do not try to move them, while Kane and Toews both have to accept that they probably will not be re-signed as free agents after this season. And given where this rebuild is, the Blackhawks should not even entertain that possibility.
This week, The Athletic's Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers put together a Blackhawks trade board and said the Blackhawks would probably want first-round picks for Kane, Toews and Domi.
BS Meter: Not B.S. on Kane; B.S. on Toews and Domi
There is no doubt the Blackhawks are starting their asking prices on all three players at first-round draft picks, and in the case of Kane, a first-round pick PLUS a prospect.
And while it is true that contenders are typically willing to trade a first-round pick for a rental, there seem to be a lot of potential roadblocks here.
Kane is still the most productive of the three players, and while his production has taken somewhat of a hit this season, there is still a belief that he can produce big numbers on a good team with better players around him. He had 92 points just one year ago and was averaging a 95-point pace per 82 games the previous four years.
The Blackhawks should be able to get a first-round pick and another player for him, especially if they retain some of Kane's remaining salary ($10.5 million salary-cap hit). A potential problem is Kane has full control over where he'll go due to the no-trade restrictions in his contract, which could hurt some of the Blackhawks' leverage. A good parallel here should be the Claude Giroux trade from a year ago when the Flyers were dealing a core player that had trade restrictions and had to take a future first-round pick and Owen Tippett.
Expecting a first-rounder for Toews or Domi seems like a stretch.
Toews still has value as a defensive forward, and he is still good on faceoffs, but he is not an impact player offensively anymore, and he has the same trade restrictions and salary-cap number as Kane. There has to be a market for Toews to demand that sort of price, and then Toews has to agree to the trade. A trade seems likely, but a first-round return seems unlikely.
Domi is having a fine year and has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal team. He can bring some offense and playmaking to the table, but he is a poor defensive player and has a hard time staying out of the penalty box. Those are two things contenders are not looking for this time of year. There is no doubt going to be a market for him, but probably not a first-round-pick market. When he was dealt at the deadline a year ago, it was a three-team trade involving Carolina, Columbus and Florida and a bunch of second- and third-tier prospects. His value did not go up that much in a year.