1. Montreal Canadiens– 30-16-8 (68 points- 54 GP)
The Montreal Canadiens are quietly dominating and that’s concerning for the rest of the league. Of course, dominating is a relative term, considering some of their counterparts in the Eastern Conference (namely the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins who are ahead of Montreal in the East standings by 10 points, three points and three points respectively). The Habs have been in first place in the Atlantic Division for quite some time now, despite only holding an eight point lead over the 2nd place Ottawa Senators.
For all intents and purposes, the Canadiens don’t have to do that much by March 1st. They shouldn’t sit back, especially if the right deal presents itself, but they don’t have to go out and do extremely necessary shopping at the deadline. Their forwards are in their prime and their defense got a little younger with the addition of Nikita Nesterov from a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And obviously goaltending is not something to worry about, because hello, Carey Price exists.
If anything, Montreal could move someone expendable, like Tomas Plekanec, in advance of the looming expansion draft in June and at least try to get something in return now as opposed to nothing later. Maybe they’ll add a rental for depth.
Potential assets to trade: F Tomas Plekanec, F David Desharnais
Potential targets to acquire: F Shane Doan (ARI), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), F Patrick Sharp (DAL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Patrik Berglund (STL)
2. Ottawa Senators– 27-17-6 (60 points, 50 GP)
In a similar sense, the Ottawa Senators are like the Montreal Canadiens in that nobody expected them to be where they are for this long into the season, given how normally injuries occur. Then again, no one really knows how long the Senators can pull off this divisional standing given 1) how tight standings are in the current divisional alignment and parity of the league and 2) they’re a young team.
If anything, the Sens need to add without subtracting. There’s just one problem. Look at their roster. Who would you trade to add something substantial? Putting chemistry aside, who would you choose? Ottawa seems set on their defense that’s built as though every defenseman is really just a rover in disguise (you know, the position that doesn’t exist anymore). By some miracle the Senators could bolster their goaltending, but the reality of any transactions resides in their forwards.
Potential assets to trade: F Curtis Lazar, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Zack Smith, G Andrew Hammond, G Mike Condon
Potential targets to acquire: F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Ben Bishop (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs– 24-17-10 (58 points, 51 GP)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a scary good team at times. Sure they’ve experienced growing pains here and there this season, but they’ve been biggest (and best) surprise of the season in terms of an organization that has really emerged as a solidified playoff contender. Head coach, Mike Babcock, provides a tremendous foundation of experience on the bench that he is somehow able to transfer into the playing styles of his players and their performances night after night.
Like every team on the cusp of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs need to add without subtracting. They could avoid making any moves and live with the results and still prosper from the experience gained in the long run, but the Leafs do have a few pieces to offer, should they look to float any trade ideas to other teams. Center, Nazem Kadri is 26, and has six years left on his current contract with a cap hit of $4.500 million.
Toronto has tried to move Kadri before, but remained committed to his on-the-edge playing style. Given the plethora of youths in Toronto, the Leafs could explore their package options including Kadri and more and/or just what it might take to land a solidified top-4 defenseman that won’t have to be exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights come June.
Potential assets to trade: F Nazem Kadri, D Matt Hunwick, D Martin Marincin, D Roman Polak, G Curtis McElhinney
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Mike Condon (OTT), G Andrew Hammond (OTT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
4. Boston Bruins– 26-23-6 (58 points, 55 GP) – one point behind Philadelphia in the Wild Card hunt
According to some website somewhere on the Internet the Boston Bruins do/don’t have a chance at making the playoffs this season. The answer to the question “will they be buyers or sellers at this year’s trade deadline?” seems obvious. The Bruins will more than likely be buyers, but at what cost and for how much? The organization would be wise to invest in something, but one question remains– how committed are the Bruins to making the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Boston could benefit from a playoff run to give their young players some playoff atmosphere experience, but bouncing out in the first round and obtaining a mid-first round draft pick might be unwise if there’s a chance the Bruins could really benefit from another season of ho-hum hockey and no playoffs. Boston could bolster holes in their roster now (at the deadline) or later (at the draft or through free agency) and still be better off for the 2017-2018 season. The ball, as they say, is in general manager, Don Sweeney’s court.
As for potential trade targets, well, depending on what direction Sweeney intends to bring the team, the Bruins have plenty of options for rental players and/or potential long time stands in Boston.
Potential assets to trade: F Ryan Spooner, F Jimmy Hayes, D Kevan Miller, D Joe Morrow, G Anton Khudobin, G Malcolm Subban, draft picks
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), D Michael Stone (ARI), F Jarome Iginla (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Matt Duchene (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Thomas Vanek (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI), F Curtis Lazar (OTT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL)
5. Florida Panthers– 23-19-10 (56 points, 52 GP)
Despite a dismal start to the season, the Florida Panthers are still technically in the hunt for the playoffs with a few games in hand on the team directly above them in the standings (the Boston Bruins, for those of you that might have skimmed over everything I just wrote a couple of paragraphs ago).
Aside from several key injuries, a coaching change and
a rogue GM some changes that were made in the offseason that have, well, yet to pan out, the Panthers don’t appear to be major sellers at the deadline on the grounds that they’re looking to add and further develop their youth. Could they move a defenseman? Certainly. Should they move a forward for anyone? Probably not. Could they acquire something with a draft pick or two? Absolutely.
It’s hit or miss for Florida at this point. They’ve got some resting up to do and if they’re smart this offseason, they’ll be right back in the hunt next year.
Potential assets to trade: D Jakub Kindl, G Reto Berra
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), F Martin Hanzal (ARI), F Matt Duchene (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Tomas Jurco (DET), F Ryan Strome (NYI)
6. Detroit Red Wings– 22-21-9 (53 points, 52 GP)
It doesn’t appear to be the year for the Detroit Red Wings, but still 25 consecutive years of making the playoffs is something to be proud of, Detroit fans. This is more than a transition year, for sure, for the Red Wings. Why? Take a look at the roster. Gone are the days of Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom and friends– actually those days have been gone for quite some time now. Henrik Zetterberg is leading Detroit’s forwards into the future, while the organization is left playing catch up on the blue line.
Their youngest defenseman is 23 while their oldest defenseman is 36. Additionally, three defensemen are 31 or older. While all of this plays out, there’s the looming question of who will be the Red Wings goaltender next season and beyond? Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek or Jared Coreau could be on the move or staying put, but then again the Vegas Golden Knights could have a say otherwise, regardless of the trade deadline on March 1st at the expansion draft in June.
If things are going to get worse before they get better, then maybe it’s time to think of some big moves too. Like dumping large contracts (in term or salary).
Potential assets to trade: F Darren Helm, F Steve Ott, F Tomas Jurco, F Thomas Vanek, D Mike Green, D Nick Jensen, D Brendan Smith, G Jimmy Howard (if he’s healthy in time), G Petr Mrazek
Potential targets to acquire: D Cam Fowler (ANA), D Michael Stone (ARI), D Kevan Miller (BOS), D Joe Morrow (BOS), F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), F Ryan Strome (NYI), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), F Patrik Berglund (STL), G Ben Bishop (TB), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
7. Buffalo Sabres– 21-21-10 (52 points, 52 GP)
While their current standing in the Atlantic Division might seem disappointing, the Buffalo Sabres have made tremendous strides with their core group of skaters and could legitimately compete for a playoff spot next season in the highly competitive– though not always high quality– Atlantic Division. If they truly are about a year behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in this whole “rebuild” thing, then there’s a good chance they should seriously consider selling their expendables and buying in on a tank for Nolan Patrick.
Though it’s pretty hard to beat the Colorado Avalanche at this point. Looks like the luck of the lottery may be all yours, Colorado (and/or the Vegas Golden Knights, if you’re into conspiracy theories *ahem Colby*).
Buy low, sell high on the expendables, then work your magic in the offseason, Tim Murray.
Potential assets to trade: F Hudson Fasching, F Brian Gionta, D Taylor Fedun, D Cody Franson, D Dmitry Kulikov, G Jason Kasdorf, G Linus Ullmark, G Anders Nilsson
Potential targets to acquire: F Matt Duchene (COL), F Gabriel Landeskog (COL), D Tyson Barrie (COL), G Jimmy Howard (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
8. Tampa Bay Lightning– 23-24-6 (52 points, 53 GP)
Despite their injuries and current standing in the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are actually in the best place they could be. One way or another, Tampa could lose a valuable young player to the Vegas Golden Knights in June. There is no better opportunity to sell some of the guys you fear you won’t be able to keep this offseason at a premium on March 1st. Are you listening, Steve Yzerman?
The Lightning did not expect to be where they are two years removed from a Stanley Cup Final run and one season after an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion, Pittsburgh Penguins. But here they are. Two key players are still out of their lineup (Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos) and they could not be in a better spot to have a chance at saving their own future. Seriously, if they falter any more, they’ll line themselves up with a decent draft pick and they’ll move interchangeable parts like it’s nothing.
But there’s a catch and that’s the tremendous pressure that will be felt on the young guys left on the roster to perform (or else) next season.
Potential assets to trade: F Brian Boyle, F Erik Condra, F Gabriel Dumont, F Valtteri Filppula, F Tyler Johnson, F Ondrej Palat, D Braydon Coburn, D Jason Garrison, G Ben Bishop
Potential targets to acquire: F Cam Fowler (ANA), F Radim Vrbata (ARI), G Anders Nilsson (BUF), G Kari Lehtonen (DAL), G Antti Niemi (DAL), F Thomas Vanek (DET), G Mike Condon (OTT), G Andrew Hammond (OTT), D Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG), G Ondrej Pavelec (WPG)