8 Bold Predictions 1 Month from the NHL Trade Deadline

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2021

8 Bold Predictions 1 Month from the NHL Trade Deadline

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The NHL's annual trade deadline is set for 3 p.m. ET on April 12. Trade rumors will start heating up as that date approaches.

    The weeks leading up to deadline day usually see an increase in trade activity among NHL clubs. Contenders attempt to bolster their rosters for the playoffs. Those outside the postseason picture tend to trade away pending free agents they don't intend to re-sign for draft picks and prospects.

    This shortened season, however, could have an adverse effect upon the trade market.

    On March 1, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun suggested this year's deadline could be quieter than normal. The high number of teams with limited salary-cap space, team owners feeling the financial pinch from reduced revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mandatory 14-day quarantine for players on American teams acquired by Canadian franchises could result in fewer trades.

    Nevertheless, there could still be some significant, surprising moves made by deadline day. TSN's latest trade bait list included notable names such as Anaheim Ducks right-winger Rickard Rakell and Buffalo Sabres left-winger Taylor Hall among its potential candidates.

    Many of the players considered trade bait could finish the season with their current clubs. As LeBrun suggested, however, it only takes one contender to make a move to get the dominoes dropping.

    Here are some bold predictions for this year's NHL trade deadline.

8. Jonathan Bernier to the Colorado Avalanche

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Colorado Avalanche's goaltending depth suffered a serious blow when backup Pavel Francouz was placed on long-term injury reserve with a lower-body injury. They've made do with third-stringer Hunter Miska as starter Philipp Grubauer's understudy.

    On Feb. 23, the Denver Post's Mike Chambers called on the Avs to acquire a reliable backup to ease the overworked Grubauer's workload. Otherwise, they will be in trouble if Grubauer gets hurt or burns out in the playoffs. He suggested acquiring the New Jersey Devils' Aaron Dell, but a better option would be Jonathan Bernier of the Detroit Red Wings.

    Bernier, 32, is no stranger to the Avs, as he was their backup in 2017-18. He's put up respectable numbers on the rebuilding Wings, winning six of 13 games this season with a 2.94 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

    An unrestricted free agent this summer, Bernier would be well-suited as Grubauer's understudy for the remainder of this season. He has $1.5 million remaining in salary this season, while the Avalanche have a projected trade-deadline cap space of $1.3 million. They could request the Wings pick up part of Bernier's remaining cap hit in exchange for a draft pick or prospect.

7. David Savard to the Winnipeg Jets

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Trade speculation is brewing over the Columbus Blue Jackets as they struggle to remain in the Discover Central Division playoff race. On March 1, TSN's Frank Seravalli speculated there could be interest in David Savard, and the Winnipeg Jets could come calling should the Jackets put him on the trade block.

    Savard, 30, is due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. On March 6, The Athletic's Murat Ates suggested the 6'2", 229-pounder's abilities as a shutdown defender and his right-hand shot would be ideal on the right side of the Jets blue line.

    Ates pointed out Winnipeg's trade budget would be $4.4 million through the combination of their long-term injury reserve pool and trading or waiving a lower-salaried player such as Sami Niku. They could afford to take on Savard's $4.25 million cap hit, though they could also ask the Blue Jackets to pick up part of his remaining salary to facilitate a deal.

    The Jets and Blue Jackets already swung a deal in January, with the former sending Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Jackets could seek a draft pick or a decent prospect if they move Savard before the trade deadline.

6. Sam Bennett to the Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    On March 2, TSN's Darren Dreger reported the Toronto Maple Leafs would like to bolster their forward lines. He indicated there's been some speculation linking them to Nashville Predators forward Mikael Granlund. However, a better option would be Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames.

    Bennett has been a fixture in the NHL rumor mill since a Jan. 30 report by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman indicating the 24-year-old center's agent believes his client could benefit from a change of scenery. His versatility and playoff record make him invaluable to the Flames' postseason hopes, but that could change if they don't improve under new head coach Darryl Sutter before the trade deadline.

    A first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2014, Bennett hasn't played up to lofty expectations in Calgary. However, he could regain his once-promising form on a deeper team in Toronto. He has solid two-way skills and can play center or on the wing. He's also put up better numbers over the past two postseasons (13 points in 15 games) than Granlund (three points in 10 games).

    The cap-strapped Leafs could more easily afford Bennett's $2.55 million salary for this season than Granlund's $3.75 million, especially if they can convince the Flames to pick up part of his remaining salary. Bennett is a restricted free agent this summer, whereas Granlund could depart after this season as an unrestricted free agent.

    The Leafs have enough promising prospects to make a competitive bid. Perhaps the inclusion of a forward such as Nicholas Robertson or Mikhail Abramov or a defenseman like Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren packaged with a draft pick might tempt the Flames.

5. Bobby Ryan to the Calgary Flames

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    On March 4, TSN's Frank Seravalli reported Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving was in the market for a right-winger with a right-handed shot. If he's seeking a rental player by the trade deadline, he should look no further than Bobby Ryan of the Detroit Red Wings.

    Seravalli said the Flames would like to move current first-line right wing Elias Lindholm to center their second line. That would open up a hole on the right side that they have been unable to fill from within.

    Ryan, who turns 34 on March 17, isn't the perennial 30-goal scorer of his youth. Nevertheless, he's tallied 13 points in 26 games with the rebuilding Red Wings. Those stats could improve seeing top-six minutes alongside better-skilled forwards in Calgary. He's capable of playing either wing, giving the Flames some flexibility if needed.

    An unrestricted free agent this summer, Ryan carries an affordable $1 million salary for this season. His contract would fit within the Flames' $4.4 million projected deadline cap space. The asking price from the Red Wings would likely be a draft pick, making Ryan an experienced, cost-effective rental addition to the Flames roster as they push to secure a playoff berth.

4. Mattias Ekholm to the Montreal Canadiens

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    After a strong start to the season, the Montreal Canadiens are clinging to the final playoff spot in the Scotia North Division. They tried shaking things up by replacing their head coach and goaltending coach. A trade to improve their defense could be next on general manager Marc Bergevin's agenda, with Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm a perfect target.

    Ekholm, 30, sits atop TSN's trade bait list. The 6'4", 215-pounder is a top-four, left-side defender who plays a solid all-around game. He's got a year remaining on his contract but could be traded this season should the struggling Predators decide to rebuild.

    The Canadiens lack a rearguard with Ekholm's skills and experience on the left side of their blue line. He could be a good fit alongside Habs captain Shea Weber on the top defense pairing. There would be some familiarity between the two, as they were teammates in Nashville until Weber was traded to Montreal in 2016.

    Ekholm has a $3.75 million annual salary-cap hit with $1.9 million remaining this season. With $1.7 million in projected trade-deadline cap space, the Canadiens could ask the Predators to pick up part of his remaining salary. They could draw upon their pick depth in this year's draft or offer up little-used defenseman Victor Mete.

3. Rickard Rakell to the Boston Bruins

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    TSN's Frank Seravalli listed Rickard Rakell in the No. 3 spot on his March 10 NHL trade bait list. He reported teams have contacted the Anaheim Ducks about the 27-year-old right-winger.

    One of them could be the Boston Bruins. The two clubs have a recent trade history. The Bruins shipped David Backes to the Ducks before last year's trade deadline for winger Ondrej Kase, followed by swapping Danton Heinen and Nick Ritchie. 

    The Bruins are trying to hang on to a playoff berth in the MassMutual East Division. They need a left-side defenseman and a boost to their secondary scoring. They could have interest in Nashville Predators blueliner Mattias Ekholm, but the year remaining on his contract could adversely affect the number of defensemen the Bruins can protect in this summer's expansion draft.

    Rakell also has a year remaining on his contract with an annual average value of $3.79 million, of which $1.9 million remains to be paid out this season. With $12.9 million in projected trade-deadline cap space, the Bruins could afford him. A two-time 30-plus goal scorer, he could develop good offensive chemistry alongside second-line center David Krejci.

    Seravalli said the Ducks' asking price was high but didn't elaborate. He also added Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk to the list after the struggling winger was a healthy scratch against the New York Islanders recently. Like Rakell, he has a year left on his contract with a $3.675 million cap hit.

    Perhaps a package of the still-promising DeBrusk with a second-round draft pick would tempt the Ducks.

2. Taylor Hall to the Florida Panthers

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Mired at the bottom of the NHL's overall standings, the Buffalo Sabres are expected to become sellers at the trade deadline. On Saturday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman (stick tap to Kukla's Kornerreported the Sabres are "wide-open" for business and considering all options. One of those could be trading Taylor Hall to a playoff contender.

    Hall surprised the hockey world last fall by signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sabres. On March 4, NHL.com cited the 29-year-old left-winger telling the Buffalo News he's willing to sign another contract with the club despite the disappointing season. But given his poor production (16 points in 24 games), management could try to move him if he'll waive his no-movement clause.

    The Florida Panthers, meanwhile, are exceeding expectations this season by jockeying with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the Discover Central Division. However, they could use a little more experienced offensive depth at left wing beyond Jonathan Huberdeau. Joining a deeper club like the Panthers could also help Hall regain his once-potent offensive touch, as well as provide him with a chance to play in the postseason.

    Having a former Hart Memorial Trophy winner and slick playmaker such as Hall in the lineup would give the Panthers offense a big boost. He could help them win their first playoff series since 1996.

    With $14.3 million in projected trade-deadline cap space, they could afford to acquire the remainder of his salary. They might be able to get him for a couple of draft picks given his low output with the Sabres.

1. Jack Eichel to the Los Angeles Kings

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Sabres are poised to miss the playoffs for the 10th straight year. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings could use a young superstar to accelerate their rebuild.

    Sabres captain Jack Eichel would be a perfect fit. Though currently sidelined with an upper-body injury, he would speed up the Kings' rebuilding process, providing them with a marketable long-term franchise player.

    Eichel's future with the floundering Sabres has been the subject of recent speculation. Last Friday, WGR 550's Paul Hamilton reported general manager Kevyn Adams said the 24-year-old center hasn't asked for a trade. However, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman subsequently reported the Sabres are open for business and considering all options.

    Last week, The Athletic ranked Eichel No. 2 on its trade-deadline big board, citing one league executive who predicted the Sabres star would get traded to the New York Rangers. Another pointed out the Kings have the pieces at center to make a deal happen. That source also doubted the Sabres would trade Eichel to an Eastern Conference club.

    Players of Eichel's caliber who carry hefty contracts usually get traded in the offseason when teams have more cap space. However, the Kings have the trade chips and salary-cap space to make this happen. An offer of 2020 second overall pick Quinton Byfield, four draft picks, including a first-rounder, prospect Tyler Madden and a young NHL roster player should get it done.


    Stats and standings (as of March 11, 2021) via NHL.com. Salary and team payroll info via CapFriendly.