Buyers or Sellers? 8 NHL Teams That Should Make Deals at the Trade Deadline

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2021

Buyers or Sellers? 8 NHL Teams That Should Make Deals at the Trade Deadline

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    Peter Power/Associated Press

    The NHL's trade deadline is quickly approaching, leaving a shrinking window of opportunity for teams to make deals this season. The Montreal Canadiens made the first significant move on March 26 by acquiring Eric Staal from the Buffalo Sabres.

    Other playoff contenders will be in the market to bolster their rosters; the Toronto Maple Leafs are a prime example. On March 16, TSN's Pierre LeBrun and Frank Seravalli reported Leafs management intends to be busy before the deadline in an effort to immediately improve the club.

    Meanwhile, teams outside the postseason picture could attempt to ship out some veteran assets for younger talent. The Anaheim Ducks could be among the sellers, with The Athletic's Eric Stephens reporting on March 8 that GM Bob Murray was considering his options leading up to the deadline.

    Here's a look at which NHL teams should be buyers or sellers before the 3 p.m. ET deadline on April 12.

Seller: Anaheim Ducks

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    Joe Puetz/Associated Press

    Once a West Coast powerhouse, the Anaheim Ducks are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third straight year. With the NHL's third-lowest goals-per-game average (2.22), they are mired at the bottom of the Honda West Division.

    General manager Bob Murray has little choice but to start rebuilding this roster with younger talent. He told The Athletic's Eric Stephens he's been "openly talking and listening about lots of things." The only player he's not willing to discuss is team captain Ryan Getzlaf unless he approaches Murray for a trade.

    Murray doesn't have many other pending unrestricted free agents who could garner interest in the trade market. Winger Rickard Rakell, however, could be a more attractive trade candidate. On March 10, TSN's Frank Seravalli reported two sources said Murray had set a high asking price for the 27-year-old winger. He's a year away from UFA eligibility and carries an affordable $3.8 million cap hit.

    Other trade options could include defenseman Josh Manson and center Troy Terry. The Athletic included Manson on their NHL Trade Deadline Big Board despite his being sidelined most of the season by injuries. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Terry could seek a change of scenery, but Stephens cited a source indicating that's not the case. Nevertheless, Murray could listen to a reasonable offer.

Buyer: Boston Bruins

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Winner of the Presidents' Trophy in 2019-20, the Boston Bruins are clinging to the fourth and final playoff berth in the MassMutual East Division. They held three games in hand over the fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers entering Tuesday's match against the New Jersey Devils. However, general manager Don Sweeney must provide his club with a much-needed boost if it is to secure a berth in the postseason.

    Improving the secondary scoring is the Bruins' top priority. Their production drops beyond their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, with a goals-per-game average that ranks them 22nd overall (2.61). They have also struggled to fill the gaps on the left side of their blue line since Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara departed via free agency in the offseason.

    Sweeney doesn't have as many attractive tradable assets compared to other buyers on this list, but potential trade bait could include forwards Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk. Both have struggled to play up to expectations and could benefit from fresh starts elsewhere.

    The Bruins need a reliable scoring winger to play alongside second-line center David Krejci. Trade targets could include the Anaheim Ducks' Rickard Rakell, Arizona Coyotes' Conor Garland or the New Jersey Devils' Kyle Palmieri.

Seller: Buffalo Sabres

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Sabres are poised to miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season. They're mired in an 18-game winless skid and wallowing at the bottom of the MassMutual East Division with just six wins and 17 points in 34 games.

    This is a club that must get started on rebuilding its roster as soon as possible. First-year general manager Kevyn Adams already made one move before the trade deadline, shipping Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks. He could continue to wheel and deal by shipping out other veterans for draft picks, prospects or young NHL players.

    The likely trade candidates are pending unrestricted free agents such as Taylor Hall and Brandon Montour. Adams could also consider trade offers for restricted free-agent winger Sam Reinhart and players with a year remaining on their contracts, such as blueliners Rasmus Ristolainen and Colin Miller.

    Hall could draw the most interest if Adams is willing to absorb part of his $8 million salary-cap hit. The 29-year-old winger carries a no-movement clause, but Hall himself said he's willing to listen if Adams approaches him about trade options.

Buyer: New York Islanders

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Jockeying with the Washington Capitals for first place in the MassMutual East Division, the New York Islanders have the look of a serious Stanley Cup contender. However, they were dealt a significant blow when captain Anders Lee suffered a season-ending knee injury. General manager Lou Lamoriello placed Lee on long-term injured reserve, providing $7 million in cap relief to seek a replacement.

    Losing Lee not only robs the Islanders of leadership but also of a reliable scoring left winger on his first line. Pierre LeBrun reported for The Athletic that Lamoriello remains comfortable with the Isles' roster depth. Nevertheless, he didn't rule out making a move that could benefit his club before the trade deadline.

    Lamoriello didn't tip his hand, but he could seek a scoring winger with some grit and leadership ability. LeBrun believes the Islanders GM could pursue someone like the Columbus Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno or the New Jersey Devils' Kyle Palmieri if they become available before the deadline.

    The asking price for either of those two could be draft picks plus a top prospect or a promising young player. Lamoriello probably won't give up his first-round pick but could perhaps part with the 2021 second-rounder he received from the Colorado Avalanche in last year's Devon Toews trade. He could also offer up a youngster such as Kieffer Bellows.

Seller: New Jersey Devils

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The New Jersey Devils are building their roster around young players such as goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, defenseman Ty Smith and forwards Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. They've shown some improvement this season but appear another year away from serious playoff contention.

    Veteran forwards Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri and defensemen Sami Vatanen and Dmitry Kulikov are eligible for unrestricted free-agent status this summer, so GM Tom Fitzgerald could gauge their value on the trade market leading up to the deadline.

    Palmieri will be the most attractive trade chip. He's a five-time 20-plus-goal scorer who could be enticing for contenders seeking scoring punch like the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders. On March 25, Pierre LeBrun reported Devils management and Palmieri's representatives are struggling to reach an agreement on a new contract.

    P.K. Subban has also surfaced in recent trade speculation. Subban has a year left on his contract with an annual average value of $9 million. The New York Post's Larry Brooks recently singled out the 31-year-old blueliner for his improved defensive play, and Brooks thinks he could draw interest in the trade market if the Devils picked up half of his salary-cap hit.

Buyer: Florida Panthers

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    The Florida Panthers are enjoying their best season in years, jockeying for first place in the Discover Central Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes. However, their defense corps took a serious blow when Aaron Ekblad underwent surgery to repair his fractured left leg, an injury suffered during Monday's 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars.

    Ekblad is the Panthers' best defenseman. He's also their leader in time on ice per game (25:05) and sits fifth in team scoring with 11 goals and 22 points. His absence leaves a big void on the Panthers' blue line at a time when they are establishing themselves among this season's top playoff contenders.

    General manager Bill Zito acknowledged Ekblad is "an irreplaceable loss to our hockey club" but remains confident in his club's "resiliency and motivation." However, he cannot ignore that his defense corps needs help. With $14.7 million in trade deadline cap space, Zito has room to bring in one or two rental right-shot blueliners to bolster the defensive depth.'s Dan Rosen suggested Zito could target pending free agents such as the Buffalo Sabres' Brandon Montour, Columbus Blue Jackets' David Savard or the New Jersey Devils' Sami Vatanen. Other rental options could include Arizona's Alex Goligoski, Nashville's Mattias Ekholm or Ottawa's Mike Reilly, though they are left-hand shots.

Seller: Nashville Predators

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Three years after winning the Presidents' Trophy, the Nashville Predators are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14. They have won five straight to keep their postseason hopes alive, but they should become sellers if they fail to gain ground in the Discover Central standings by deadline day.

    Three Predators veterans have become hot topics in the NHL rumor mill in recent weeks. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forward Mikael Granlund sit among the top 10 on TSN's Trade Bait List and The Athletic's Trade Deadline Big Board. On March 23, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman also speculated the Predators could part with blueliner Ryan Ellis instead of Ekholm.

    Ekholm or Ellis would attract plenty of interest, but moving either guy at the trade deadline could be complicated by the term remaining on their contracts. Teams acquiring one or the other must protect them in this summer's expansion draft or risk losing them for nothing to the Seattle Kraken.

    It might be tempting for Predators general manager David Poile to hang on to those players if they're making a run for a playoff spot. However, this club has steadily declined since its high-water mark three years ago, and Poile must look to the future. That means moving a couple of veterans if they will fetch strong returns of draft picks and top prospects.

Buyer: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Peter Power/Associated Press

    Jockeying with the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Scotia North Division, the Toronto Maple Leafs intend to be active in the trade market before the deadline. On March 16, TSN's Kristen Shilton reported Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said he's willing to part with a top prospect for a return that improves his club.

    Shilton also noted Dubas said most of his discussions had focused on forwards. He's been in the market for one for some time. On Feb. 12, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the Leafs GM was seeking a top-six forward to play alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner or John Tavares and William Nylander.

    At that time, veteran wingers Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds were sidelined. Both have since returned to the lineup, but Dubas could seek additional depth in case injuries strike again. TSN's Frank Seravalli reported the Leafs' primary target was Nashville Predators forward Mikael Granlund.

    The Leafs are keen to end their 54-year Stanley Cup drought, but finding sufficient salary-cap space to accomplish this could be tricky. As of March 30, the Leafs had just $848,803 in trade deadline cap space. Dubas might have to ship out a player to make the dollars fit. One option could be center Alex Kerfoot, who's in the second year of a four-year contract with an annual average value of $3.5 million.


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