Predicting the Most Active Teams at 2022 NHL Trade Deadline
Believe it or not, we're 20 percent finished.
And now that all NHL teams have completed one-fifth of the 2021-22 regular season, it's starting to become clearer which ones are legitimate contenders and which are just passing time until rebuilding.
With that recognition come front-office decisions regarding how to proceed as the league's trade deadline—set for March 21, 2022—begins drifting into view.
Given our fondness for playing the roles of team executives, members of the B/R hockey writing team took a look at the early-season situations for all 32 teams and came up with a list of those most likely to be making plans as springtime approaches.
Read on to see what we came up with, and let us know your thoughts with a comment or two as well.
These are heady times for Edmonton hockey fans.
The Oilers are nearly 10 games over .500 as they approach the 20-game mark, forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are producing points at video-game rates and the rest of the Western Conference isn't exactly flush with early-season juggernauts to worry about come playoff time.
But it's not all banner-making and parade-planning in northern Alberta.
Goaltender Mike Smith hasn't played since mid-October because of a lower-body injury, an already suspect defensive unit is down three players and many players not wearing Nos. 97 and 29 on their backs aren't exactly lightning things up when it comes to five-on-five play.
So if the Oilers are to prolong their October/November success through the winter, it's time for general manager Ken Holland to think about plugging some holes and backing up his "the time is now" speech from the offseason.
Specifically, insiders have suggested Edmonton will kick the tires on a deal to get Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury out of Chicago (h/t Tyler Yaremchuk of Oilersnation), while defenseman Ben Chiarot could be a steadying force if Holland can find a way to pry him out of Montreal.
New York Rangers
Another strong start yields another team looking to get things done.
The New York Rangers earned at least a point in 16 of their first 19 games, placing them squarely in the mix in the Metropolitan Division as a roster already flush with established talent and prospects jells.
Nevertheless, there are issues.
Center Ryan Strome is in the final year of a deal paying him $4.5 million annually, but he's scored just twice in 15 games, and the team hasn't shown particular interest in talking about a long-term extension.
Depth winger Sammy Blais is out for the season after tearing an ACL earlier in November.
And backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev has performed poorly (4.08 goals-against average, .858 save percentage) in six appearances this season, prompting concerns about whether he's the man to share a tandem with starter Igor Shesterkin.
Put it all together, and GM Chris Drury is getting busy.
"The Rangers have been in the market for a forward for quite some time. And I think it’s been amplified by the fact they lost Sammy Blais for the remainder of the season," insider Darren Dreger said. "... Thanksgiving normally nudges the trade market a little, so there’s nothing on the front burner but definitely Rangers are on the hunt."
Vegas Golden Knights
Chalk this one up under embarrassment of riches.
The Golden Knights were the talk of the league when they swung their blockbuster to acquire Jack Eichel, who's just 25, was picked second behind McDavid at the 2015 NHL draft and has been a point-per-game player in his past two full seasons.
Still, his acquisition does create some roster-altering issues.
Eichel's placement on long-term injured reserve allows the Golden Knights to write off his $10 million annual salary until he returns to active status. When that occurs, the team will be well over the league's $81.5 million salary cap and be forced to make several cost-cutting moves.
Among them could be trading players who are either on expiring contracts or simply expendable once the ex-Buffalo captain is in the mix. Veteran winger Reilly Smith fits the former description and will finish a five-year, $25 million deal at the end of this season. On the latter side, it could be Evgenii Dadonov, who arrived to Vegas in an offseason trade but has scored in just two of his past 13 games.
Dadonov is signed through next season at $5 million annually.
And then there's the flip side.
While the previous teams on the list are eyeing moves that will gird rosters for a playoff push, the Vancouver Canucks are looking at things from a different perspective.
The Canucks were 27th in the league in points heading into Friday's busy schedule, just a point out of last place in the Pacific Division and already 14 and 15 points behind the front-running Oilers and Calgary Flames, respectively.
So in the interest of job security beyond 2021-22, it's time for GM Jim Benning to get to work.
The Province reported center J.T Miller is the subject of at least cursory trade discussion with the Minnesota Wild, who reached Friday in first place in the Central Division. Miller had 19 points in his first 20 games this season and scored a career-high 27 goals with the Canucks in his first season with them in 2019-20.
Miller is signed through next season at $5.25 million annually, while teammate Brock Boeser is another potential trade target thanks to a three-year contract that ends this season. The first-round pick from 2015 had eight points in his first 17 games this season and scored 23 goals last season.
Boeser's agent Ben Hankinson isn't necessarily expecting a deal but didn't deny the possibility to The Athletic's Rick Dhaliwal.
"[Boeser] knows it could happen," Hankinson said. "It is a part of the business."
If anyone can empathize with Vancouver's Jim Benning, it's Marc Bergevin.
The Montreal GM is in the final year of his own contract, and following the glee of a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final last summer, his team has plummeted into mediocrity.
The Canadiens were tied for 29th overall heading into Friday's games and already well off the pace of both the first-place Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division and the wild-card contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Predictably, Bergevin read from the hot-seat songbook and told Sportsnet's Eric Engels he has no intention of making moves just to shake things up:
"Unless everyone else picks it up, it's not going to make a difference. It's well known that just making trades to make trades—especially with our situation with the cap—it just makes no sense to make a lateral move just to make a lateral move.
"If you'd like to make a move, it's to make a move to make your team better. Just making a move to make a move, I'm never going to do that just to say I made a trade and here we go."
Nevertheless, there are options to consider.
The Canadiens are pushed to the salary-cap limit and could be candidates to make moves to shed salary. That could included the aforementioned Chiarot, a 30-year-old blueliner who will finish a three-year, $10.5 million deal at the end of this season.
Also available for potential playoff help may be 33-year-old winger Mathieu Perreault, who signed a one-year deal with Montreal in the offseason after seven years with the Winnipeg Jets. Artturi Lehkonen, another winger on a one-year deal that pays him $2.3 million this season, could be available as well.
Perreault has played 51 postseason games with three teams across eight seasons, while Lehkonen played 17 games and scored three goals with the Canadiens in the 2021 playoff run.