Which team(s) should be most desperate to be active ahead of the March 21 NHL trade deadline?
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: The Toronto Maple Leafs need to be at the top of this list. Not only because they have to do something significant in the playoffs (like winning at least a round) to not be labeled as total failures, but also because they have some major holes on their roster, especially right now in net. They are not a bad team by any means, but that goaltending has to be a question mark and a concern and no matter what they are going to be facing a really tough opponent in the First Round. This core can not go a sixth consecutive year without winning a round in the playoffs.
Along those same lines, Edmonton should be in that desperate category as well. They can not keep wasting the prime years of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and they are not even a lock to make the playoffs at this point. The only problem is I am not sure how desperate Ken Holland is to make the necessary moves to address their many issues at forward, on defense, and in goal.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Colorado. It may seem like this team has years of contention ahead of it, but examining their cap situation I wonder if the Avs will ever have a better chance than this season. Their pending UFAs have over 150 points and their starting goalie facing unrestricted free agency, and there’s no way they can keep all of those players for their current cumulative price. Factor in that Nathan MacKinnon is going to be eligible for a monster extension this summer, and there will be an inevitable squeeze, perhaps as soon as this offseason. The Josh Manson deal is a start, but it shouldn’t be the end for Joe Sakic. He should exhaust every resource to make sure his roster is the best it can be going into the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Sorry, Ducks and Sharks, but the trade deadline isn’t a great time to wallow in denial. Sell in a big way, or saddle your future with mistakes.
If there were better goalie options at the trade deadline, I’d lean toward the Oilers and Maple Leafs as desperate buyers. I just don’t know if there’s much supply to meet that demand.
With that in mind, an aging team like the Bruins really sticks out. How much longer will their window be open to compete? Maybe it’s futile to be buyers when your playoff opponents are so rich in weapons and talent, but the Bruins could be a Tomas Hertl away from being scary in their own right.
[MORE: 2021-22 NHL Trade Tracker]
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The Toronto Maple Leafs should be desperate despite their very good regular season record of 37-17-5 record. They are only two points up on the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division and while they do not have to worry about making the playoffs, that has not been the problem in the last few years.
The problem is that they are unable to win a playoff series. The fact that their goaltending has spiralled downhill faster than the skier on the opening of ‘Wide World of Sports’, and there is no guarantee that Jack Campbell will return to form once he recovers from his rib injury. The tighter checking in the playoffs do not play into Toronto’s hands although the off-season acquisitions of David Kampf and Ondrej Kase will help post-season, who last won a playoff round when Fred Flintstone was a kid..
The Leafs will likely do their best to try and acquire a goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury and failing that, they need an upgrade on the blueline, or definitely blueline depth. I think up front they are okay as long as they remain healthy but the need at the back end and in net should make GM Kyle Dubas desperate at this time.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: If you’re Kyle Dubas and you’ve watched the last two weeks of goaltending from your team, how can you be confident that — even when Jack Campbell returns — you’ll stand a chance against teams like the Lightning, Panthers, etc.? Can he truly spend the next week thinking that “Yes, this is the team I want to take into the playoffs.”?
Now, the goalie market, if you’re a team like Toronto that’s thinking Stanley Cup, is limited as far as upgrades go. Fleury is the obvious top choice, but he has to waive his no-move clause to facilitate any trade. Beyond that? Alexandar Georgiev, Joonas Korpisalo, and Ilya Samsonov are more likely to fit as part of a tandem. Semyon Varlamov, however, has the experience of being a leading No. 1, but has struggled this season. Is he worth a shot at a possibly cheaper cost than Fleury?
Which non-star player(s) rumored to be on the move could end up being impactful for a new team?
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Andrew Copp. Given the somewhat contentious history between Copp and the Jets, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up on the move so the Jets don’t lose Copp for nothing in free agency this offseason. Copp can play anywhere in the lineup, and has position versatility between wing and center. With nearly 500 regular season games of experience, and an additional 34 in the postseason, Copp would be the perfect addition for a contending team looking to push their forward group to the next level.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Judging by the asking price for Ben Chiarot, I think that you can really get burned by paying for overpriced mid-range players at the trade deadline. My advice to teams would be to either go for an obvious difference-maker, or a low-risk bargain.
And some prospects intrigue me as buy-low candidates. It wouldn’t shock me if Ryan Suzuki (Hurricanes) or Grigori Denisenko (Panthers) ended up figuring things out, especially if they get traded to teams who aren’t so loaded at forward. Basically, teams should try to spot the next Chandler Stephenson/William Karlsson/Filip Forsberg-type gem, possibly in lieu of a low first-rounder.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Justin Braun is picking up the most minutes he’s played since leaving San Jose, has a career high in goals (5) this season, in on an expiring contract, and would bring 100 games of playoff experience to his next team. Most playoff-bound teams look to bolster their defense, so why wouldn’t teams like the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Flames give Chuck Fletcher a call?
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Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Does Rickard Rakell count as not being a huge star? Because I think he could be a really good scoring winger in the right situation. His goal scoring has rebounded a bit this season and if he gets a playmaking center on a contender to play next to I think he could make a pretty significant impact. The same is true for Dominik Kubalik, who just seems like a player that is desperate for a change of scenery. He regressed a bit since his rookie season, but he can still shoot it and seems like he could be a Sam Bennett like acquisition for somebody.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I originally put Josh Manson but he was dealt on Monday to Colorado where I am sure he will make a big impact. Now, I think it is another Duck, Rickard Rakell. He is currently hurt but can score as he has had two 30-plus goal seasons. If he is in the right situation, Rakell, another pending UFA, can be an impactful player.
Give us one prediction regarding the deadline — could be a trade, re-signing, other decision by a team/player.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Marc-Andre Fleury, the bell of the ball, will stay put in Chicago. Teams will certainly be calling GM Kyle Davidson, but the veteran netminder will not look to chase another Cup this spring.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: John Klingberg and Jake DeBrusk have been rumored to be going elsewhere by the trade deadline but I think they will remain with their respective teams in Dallas and Boston.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: With how poorly the Golden Knights have played of late, it’s hard to imagine the deadline passing without them doing something to improve their declining playoff chances — I just have no idea what it will be. Missing the postseason would be an outright disaster for Vegas, so I’m expecting Kelly McCrimmon to be active in the next week.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Claude Giroux making a Ray Bourque-ian Stanley Cup run with the Avalanche is just too fun not to happen.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: The Vancouver Canucks not only do not trade any of the players they are rumored to be trading (J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, or Conor Garland) but instead add somebody to try and make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As of today, would Igor Shesterkin end up in your top three for the Hart Trophy?
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Igor Shesterkin is definitely a top-three candidate for the Hart Trophy and with less than seven weeks remaining, he is my pick for the Hart. If not for Shesterkin, the Rangers would be battling teams like Columbus and the Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot, rather than sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division and just two points behind the second place Penguins. Shesterkin has been out-of-this-world great with a 2.07 goals-against-average (even after giving up eight goals in his last four periods) and a league-leading .938 save percentage.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Yes. Goalies are too often excluded from the Hart Trophy discussion, and as of this writing, he would be my MVP choice. It has been more than two months since the Rangers won a game started by someone other than Shesterkin, and he has been statistically dominant. Jacques Plante has held the single-season record for save percentage for more than a half-century (.944 in 1970-71), but Shesterkin could very well eclipse that. I still believe Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the NHL, but if Shesterkin keeps this pace up for an entire season, he should be squarely in the conversation.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Not only would Igor Shesterkin be in my top-three, he is my clear runaway winner. Whatever criteria you want to use he fits. In terms of value, his performance is unmatched. The difference in the Rangers’ record and team performance when he plays versus when he does not play is staggering. When he is the goalie of record they are basically the Colorado Avalanche. When he does not play or is not the goalie of record they are basically the Chicago Blackhawks or Ottawa Senators. If you just want it to go to the best player, he is in that discussion this season as well as he is head and shoulders above every other goalie in the league and playing at an historically good level.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Yes, Igor Shesterkin would be in my top three for Hart Trophy voting, but Auston Matthews is performing at a near-historic level, so I’d lean toward Matthews. There’s room for movement, though.
As far as Shesterkin/goalies being Hart Trophy candidates: I agree that it’s difficult to compare the value of goalies vs. skaters. My rule of thumb is: if a goalie is clearly dragging a shaky/downright bad team kicking and screaming into relevance, then they deserve MVP consideration. Sort of a “know it when you see it” form of a special goaltending season. And I think that applies to Shesterkin and the Rangers.
Frankly, maybe the NHL should create the Wayne Gretzky Award for the skater-MVP, and allow goalies to get more Hart Trophy consideration year-to-year? Sometimes this feels like the equivalent to a scenario where the NFL wouldn’t allow quarterbacks to be MVP winners, or something.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Right now he would be my winner for the 2021-22 season. He currently sports a .939 5-on-5 save percentage, tops among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes; he’s second in goals saved above average (20.57); and is third in high-danger save percentage (.875). Shesterkin’s play this season is one of the biggest reasons why the Rangers have been a top team in the Metropolitan Division while being a bottom-12 team in scoring (2.98 goals per game).