5 NHL Teams That Need to Blow It Up at the Trade Deadline

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2021

5 NHL Teams That Need to Blow It Up at the Trade Deadline

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The annual NHL trade deadline is usually when teams out of playoff contention become sellers. They attempt to peddle pending free agents they can't afford to retain, as well as players signed beyond the season who no longer fit into their plans.

    This season's trade deadline is slated for March 21, 2022, at 3 p.m. ET. While it's still months away, several clubs that are struggling in the standings could make major changes by then.

    We've excluded the Arizona Coyotes and Ottawa Senators from this list. The Coyotes blew up their roster during the offseason, while the Senators are rebuilding. We're talking about veteran-laden clubs that are overdue for changes, such as the Chicago Blackhawks. That means shopping players who have value in the trade market for draft picks and promising young talent.

    Here's our take on five NHL teams that must stop postponing the inevitable and commence much-needed roster overhauls. Feel free to express your views on this subject in the comments section below.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Amid lawsuits and an independent investigation off the ice, the Chicago Blackhawks lurched from the gate by winning five of their first 17 games of this season. While the front office's mishandling of sexual assault allegations from more than a decade ago brought about a change in management, the team's poor performance on the ice could lead to the start of a roster rebuild by the trade deadline.

    The Blackhawks showed improvement after replacing Jeremy Colliton as head coach Nov. 7 with Derek King on an interim basis. Perhaps they'll find a way to climb into playoff contention under King's guidance. However, that shouldn't prevent ownership from making a clear-eyed assessment of this team and the need for significant roster changes.

    The Blackhawks need to rebuild. They last hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2015. The Hawks missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and only made the cut in 2020 because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to employ a one-time-only expanded format that involved a play-in round.

    Ownership could prefer to wait until the offseason when a permanent general manager is hired before making big changes. Nevertheless, interim GM Kyle Davidson should be given the green light to start assessing which players no longer fit into the Blackhawks' long-term future and what value they have in this season's trade market.

    The most likely to move are pending unrestricted free agents such as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson, and forward Ryan Carpenter. Of these, the soon-to-be 37-year-old Fleury will have the most value. While he's had his difficulties this season, he's the reigning Vezina Trophy holder and will draw interest from contenders that seek an experienced playoff starter.

    Dylan Strome could also hit the trade block. The 24-year-old center is seeing more playing time under King than he did under Colliton but is logging checking-line duty. He's a restricted free agent, which could help the Blackhawks net a decent return from teams that want a player they can retain beyond this season.

    It could be worthwhile to meet with longtime stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to determine whether they wish to be part of a rebuild. Both are signed through 2022-23 with full no-movement clauses and annual cap hits of $10.5 million. They'd be difficult to move at the trade deadline, but it wouldn't hurt to explore the possibility. The same goes for defenseman Seth Jones before his eight-year contract kicks in this summer.

Dallas Stars

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    The Dallas Stars' run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final wasn't a harbinger of a rise into perennial contender status. They missed the playoffs following a disappointing 2020-21 performance and sit in sixth place in the Central Division this year.

    An offense that sputters at even strength again threatens to scuttle their postseason hopes. In 2020-21, they finished 18th with a 2.79 goals-per-game average despite the fifth-best power-play percentage (23.6) as they ranked 24th in even-strength goals (101). This season, they're again 24th in goals per game (2.63), tied for last in even-strength goals (21) while ranking fifth with a power-play percentage of 26.7.

    Last season's offensive difficulties could be chalked up to a shortened schedule and injuries to veteran scorers Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. That's not the case this season with a normal schedule and a healthier lineup.

    The Stars have only one forward (Joe Pavelski) in double digits in scoring after 16 games. Seguin, Radulov and captain Jamie Benn are once-great players whose production isn't what it used to be.

    Benn, 32, has seen a decline since his 79-point effort in 2017-18. Injuries and age have hampered the 35-year-old Radulov. Pavelski netted 51 points in 56 games last season, but time will soon catch up with the 37-year-old winger. Seguin, 29, could still be feeling the effects of the hip surgery that sidelined him for all but three games last season.

    If the Stars offense doesn't improve, they'll fall further behind in the playoff chase by the trade deadline. They will need to shed some of those veterans and focus on building around young talent such as defenseman Miro Heiskanen, forwards like Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson, and goaltender Jake Oettinger.

    That means shopping pending unrestricted free agents like Pavelski, Radulov and defenseman John Klingberg to get the best returns possible. Seguin and Benn both carry hefty contracts and full no-movement clauses, but it wouldn't hurt to see if they'd be willing to play elsewhere if other clubs are interested.

    The Stars' attempt to build a Cup contender around this core has failed. Ownership and management must accept that reality and start over.

Montreal Canadiens

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    After staging an underdog run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves near the bottom of the Atlantic Division with five wins in 20 games. Injuries have depleted their lineup, especially the season-long absence of captain Shea Weber. Superstar goaltender Carey Price is working his way back to the lineup following offseason knee surgery and a month in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.

    That run to the Final, however, can't hide the fact the Canadiens have been a bad team for a while even with a healthy Price and Weber in the lineup. They missed the playoffs in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and narrowly qualified for the 2020 postseason thanks to the expanded format.

    General manager Marc Bergevin made several moves during the 2020 offseason to bolster the roster, bringing in Jake Allen, Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson and Tyler Toffoli. The plan was to build around Price and Weber to become a Cup contender. While the Canadiens reached the Final, they struggled through the regular season and barely qualified for the playoffs.

    Without Price and Weber, the Canadiens are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. With Weber sidelined by potentially career-ending injuries and the 34-year-old Price approaching the end of his career, this club must avoid short-term fixes and look at building their roster for the long term.

    Bergevin might not be the one to carry out that plan. He's in the final season of his contract, and the Canadiens' struggles could make ownership consider a new general manager. If he does stick around, it should be with clear orders that his deadline moves are to engage in a roster teardown in preparation for rebuilding.

    The Canadiens have promising young players in center Nick Suzuki, defensemen Alexander Romanov and Mattias Norlinder, and winger Cole Caufield. They should devote this season to giving their kids more playing time to develop while allowing them to learn from their mistakes.

    Following the February Olympic break, Bergevin (or his replacement) should look at getting the best returns possible for pending unrestricted free agents such as Ben Chiarot, Mathieu Perreault and Cedric Paquette. Restricted-free-agent winger Artturi Lehkonen could be another valuable trade chip.

    The Canadiens must shed cap space if they're to rebuild in earnest. It could be worthwhile to investigate the trade value of veterans such as Toffoli, Mike Hoffman, David Savard and Brendan Gallagher. Their contracts could prove difficult to move during the season, but it wouldn't hurt to try.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Penguins enjoyed an enviable period of success from 2006-07 to 2016-17. Led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they never missed the playoffs, reaching the Stanley Cup Final four times and taking home hockey's greatest prize in 2009, 2016 and 2017.

    Since 2018, however, the Penguins haven't won a playoff round. Crosby and Malkin are in their mid-30s and have missed time recovering from offseason surgeries, with Malkin not due to return until December. They're near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division with seven wins in 17 games.

    Penguins fans might call for patience once Crosby has returned to game shape and Malkin gets back into the lineup. Perhaps they will bounce back and play themselves into postseason contention, but this roster isn't certain to succeed. Qualifying for the playoffs means little if they can't get past the opening round.

    The Penguins were written off during a sputtering start in 2015-16 before roaring back to win consecutive Stanley Cups. Crosby and Malkin were still in their prime and were augmented by young players like Matt Murray, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel. They also had talented veterans like Phil Kessel, Matt Cullen and Patric Hornqvist who brought talent, leadership and grit.

    There's no indication of such a bounce-back this year. Rather than hope for another resurgence around Crosby, Malkin and longtime defenseman Kris Letang, it might be best if management took the long view. It would be better to start a rebuild than watch this club deteriorate into also-ran status by trying to retool around an aging core whose best seasons are behind them.

    That means approaching Malkin and Letang about submitting a list of destinations at the trade deadline. Both players are slated to become unrestricted free agents next summer. While both could be re-signed to more affordable, short-term contracts, the Penguins' long-term interests could be better served by exploring their value in this year's trade market.

    It could also be worthwhile to explore the value of fellow UFAs Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter. Inconsistent forwards Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen might benefit from a change of scenery.

    Rebuilding could raise questions about Crosby's future with the Penguins. He's signed through 2024-25 with a full no-movement clause. Perhaps he'd be upset over the departure of Malkin and Letang and request a trade. Maybe he'd be on board with it and agree to finish his career as a Penguin even if it's with a rebuilding roster. That's a question to be addressed in the offseason.

    The fact is that the Penguins are no longer a Cup contender. Even with Crosby and Malkin, they might only be a marginal playoff club. If they fail to gain ground in the standings, that should provide more incentive for management to make sweeping changes.

Vancouver Canucks

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    It seemed Jim Benning's efforts as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks paid off in 2020 when the club reached the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. A COVID-19 outbreak late last season waylaid their postseason hopes, but a bounce-back performance in 2021-22 seemed possible with young talents such as Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser.

    However, Benning faces an uncertain future as his club slides out of playoff contention in the Pacific Division. Per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, he met with Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini on Nov. 16 to discuss the club's poor performance after two wins in 10 contests. TSN's Darren Dreger reported Aquilini intended to remain patient with his club.

    The Canucks face a difficult task to work their way out of their situation. Their defensive game is terrible, especially the league-worst penalty kill, leaving their goaltenders hung out to dry on too many nights. Their offense is near the bottom of the league in part because their talented center Pettersson has just 10 points in 18 games.

    After two playoff appearances in eight seasons under Benning's management, it could be time for a shake-up in the Canucks front office. That could happen behind the bench too as the players seem to have tuned out head coach Travis Green.

    Should those changes occur by midseason, it would give Benning's replacement an opportunity to evaluate the roster to consider roster changes. Those could commence by the March trade deadline.

    The Canucks have a good core of talent to build around in forwards like Pettersson, Boeser, J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat, defenseman Quinn Hughes and goaltender Thatcher Demko. However, Boeser's contract expires next summer, Miller and Horvat each have one season remaining on their deals, and Pettersson is only signed through 2023-24.

    Whoever replaces Benning must sell those forwards on their rebuilding plans if they hope to keep them in the fold. Otherwise, it might be worthwhile to explore the trade value of older veterans like Horvat and Miller, perhaps by dangling them in exchange for young defensemen with top-four potential.

    Shipping out overpriced blueliners like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers could prove difficult. The Canucks are carrying $7.85 million of Ekman-Larsson's $8.25 million annual cap hit through 2026-27, while Myers' average annual value is $6 million through 2023-24. Nevertheless, they should explore every option to free up cap space and room on the blue line.

                

    NHL stats and standings (as of Nov. 21, 2021) via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly. Additional info via Hockey Reference.

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