1. Vegas Golden Knights– 33-12-4 (70 points, 49 GP)
There isn’t really that much the Vegas Golden Knights need to do to improve down the stretch. Should they trade James Neal or Marc-Andre Fleury as some fans and media members alike wondered since the expansion draft last June? No. They shouldn’t.
These are the Golden Knights. They’re trying to win the Stanley Cup in their first season of existence. And they just might.
They’ve dismantled some of the league’s best teams on a night-to-night basis, while amassing a plus-38 goal differential through 49 games played– and oh yeah, they’re smashing inaugural season records by an expansion franchise. All of that has put them in position for making a stake as a leading horse in the Presidents’ Trophy race.
That said, if Vegas general manager, George McPhee, is presented with an offer he can’t refuse that would make his team better, by all means, he should pursue it. Addition without subtraction or whatever– they have roughly $8.100 million in salary cap space, they can afford it.
2. San Jose Sharks– 26-16-8 (60 points, 50 GP)
The San Jose Sharks sit in an uncomfortable position. Yes, they’re currently 2nd in the Pacific Division, but it’s a four-horse race for anywhere between two and four playoff spots in the Pacific Division.
No that’s not counting out the Edmonton Oilers (spoiler alert– they’ll be sellers), but let’s assume the Golden Knights lay claim to the regular season division title. Then it becomes a Battle of California and Calgary for two divisional spots and either one, two or no wild card positions in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Taking a look at the Central Division… yeah, odds aren’t great that they’ll be five teams from either the Pacific or Central clinching a playoff berth, considering the Dallas Stars (60 points), Sharks (60 points), Minnesota Wild (59 points), Kings (59 points), Ducks (59 points), Colorado Avalanche (58 points) and Flames (58 points) are all separated by a measly two-points.
There’s no room for error.
With only about $5.200 million in cap space currently and pending RFA forwards Tomas Hertl, 24, and Chris Tierney, 23, to re-sign along with pending RFA defenseman, Dylan DeMelo, 24, San Jose would be smart to lock up the future of their core while accepting that they’ll likely lose some guys via trade or free agency this offseason.
Could this be a last hurrah?
Again, it all depends on how the Sharks approach everything moving forward– oh, by the way, backup goaltender, Aaron Dell, is a pending-UFA at season’s end too, but Troy Grosenick looks ready enough to settle into the backup role once Dell is either traded or probably makes a lot of money for the chance to be a starting goaltender elsewhere this July.
3. Los Angeles Kings– 27-18-5 (59 points, 50 GP)
The Los Angeles Kings are set. They don’t really need to add as long as elite-starting goaltender, Jonathan Quick, is healthy. General manager, Rob Blake, should take a page out of Vegas’s book and sit on his hands come February 26th, that way he won’t be tempted to make any phone calls he might regret later.
It’s not like the Kings should really consider dumping what’s left of 35-year-old forward, Marian Gaborik, but they very well could– just to get $4.875 million in salary cap off of their hands. Gaborik’s 7-7–14 totals in 27 games played are pretty telling (albeit due to injury and being scratched other nights).
F Nick Shore, D Kevin Gravel and G Darcy Kuemper stand out as the only “big” names Los Angeles will have to re-sign this offseason with veteran forward, Torrey Mitchell, either working out as a long-term, year-to-year, rental or a short-term, Cup focused, investment.
Similar to San Jose, however, the Kings don’t have a lot of cap space as things stand. Los Angeles has about $3.600 million in wiggle room and really doesn’t have any holes that need to be filled.
Los Angeles should sit this trade deadline out and instead work on a plan for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in June where they’ll have to make some moves (unless the cap rises, which it’s expected to). Then again, Drew Doughty ($7.000 million cap hit) will need a new contract in 2019…
Potential assets to trade: F Marian Gaborik
Potential assets to acquire: draft picks, maybe a prospect or two
4. Anaheim Ducks– 25-17-9 (59 points, 51 GP)
Every now and then there are teams that seemingly destroy their opponents in more ways than one while quietly existing and carrying their own weight. Injuries amounted early, but these days the Anaheim Ducks are the ones handing out the bruises– and winning… significantly.
The Ducks are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, which won’t mean anything by February 26th (unless they go on a significant winning/losing streak).
Anaheim might creep up in the standings, but what will set them apart from the rest of the Western Conference?
This is where the Ducks can shine at the trade deadline if they just add one more piece to the puzzle. It doesn’t have to be a permanent piece, but one that’ll hold them over in the event of injuries.
Let’s face it, regardless of the physical brand of hockey Anaheim plays, there will be an injury or two down the stretch that could impact their chances of postseason success.
A return of Patrick Maroon to The Pond or a rental like Thomas Vanek or Michael Grabner just might put Anaheim on the fast track to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Filling out their bottom-six depth and scoring prowess, while continuing to center their game around size and skill is exactly what they could add at the end of the month.
With only about $3.100 million in cap space available, the right move might be hard to make.
Potential assets to trade: G Reto Berra, D Steve Oleksy, draft picks, prospects
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)
5. Calgary Flames– 25-17-8 (58 points, 50 GP)
When the Calgary Flames are hot, they’re red hot. When the Flames are cold they’re cooler than being cool (shouts OutKast).
Of all the teams in the Pacific Division, Calgary is the most Jekyll and Hyde of the two Alberta teams. Goaltender, Mike Smith, has saved the season (literally) multiple times on nights where Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames’s offense hasn’t gotten going.
Conversely, Gaudreau has propelled his team on nights when Smith has struggled. Some nights the Flames are on their “A” game. Some nights their porous defense shows. A lot.
Calgary is too young to give up on. Guys like Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Kris Versteeg provide a veteran presence both on the ice and in the locker room, but are harder to move given their modified no-trade clauses. Not that anyone’s in a rush to move them. Just being mindful of July 1st and the plethora of youth that could steal some roster spots next year, provided the Flames don’t do anything crazy in free agency.
The Flames have to get better if they want to play longer. Whether or not they decide to take action now or let things develop on their own, well, hasn’t it been long enough?
If they want to make a deep playoff run they have to manage their cap situation a lot better (and fix their defense with, say, six new defensemen?). With a little more than $2.200 million to play with in cap space come deadline day, Calgary isn’t doing this whole “let’s be buyers on February 26th” thing right.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT)
6. Edmonton Oilers– 22-24-3 (47 points, 49 GP)
It’s a trick question, because no matter how many Art Ross Trophies those two players combined win in their careers, you still need to fill out the rest of the roster so you can be salary cap compliant and thus able to compete in the first place.
Fortunately for the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Chiarelli is at the reins.
Check that. It’s pretty dire.
The Oilers aren’t the worst team anymore, so at least they have that going for them, but once again we’re approaching yet another trade deadline where Edmonton has a lot of cargo to jettison into the void that is the rest of the league.
While McDavid and Draisaitl will eat up $21 million in salary starting next season, the Oilers have plenty of pending free agents to sort out– which also means they have a lot of rentals to sell at the deadline.
With the right moves, Chiarelli can redeem himself in Edmonton. All it requires is a swift retool. Too bad there’s a couple of no movement clauses on the blue line, because they’re eating $9.500 million in salary that the team will probably need to re-sign Rasmus Dahlin in a few years after they win the draft lottery.
Potential assets to acquire: F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), F Luke Glendening (DET), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Andrew Shaw (MTL), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL)
7. Vancouver Canucks– 20-24-6 (46 points, 50 GP)
Similar to the Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks had high hopes for this season. Okay, not that high, but still.
Vancouver has about $1.000 million in cap space currently. For a team that’s massively under-performing with a minus-31 goal differential through 50 games played, that’s horrendous.
Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are both pending-UFAs earning $7.000 million through the end of this season. Their playing days are safe in a Canucks uniform, given their no movement clauses and the fact that the traditional “honorary” $1.000 million (with a bunch of bonuses tied to performance) year-to-year contract extensions forthcoming– if they choose to play another year in the NHL.
There’s a lot of youth in Vancouver, so that’s promising.
Guys like Thomas Vanek and Erik Gudbranson have been the subject of those expected to be on the move from the Canucks organization and surely at least one of them will be out the door come February 26th.
As much as Sam Gagner has turned around his game, he may fall victim to the tight cap situation with pending RFAs Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi on the cusp of seeing pay raises. Then again, maybe Gagner’s future with the Canucks will be saved by whatever the Sedin’s decide to do (take less money).
Short of some adjustments on the blue line and letting their young forwards gain experience, Vancouver really doesn’t need that much. Full health and finding the right starting goaltender should be the main focus going into the deadline and beyond.
Potential assets to acquire: F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL)
8. Arizona Coyotes– 12-29-9 (33 points, 50 GP)
Just exactly how long will we go before recognizing that the Arizona Coyotes are in a state of denial?
The perpetual rebuild has hit its lowest point so far and general manager, John Chayka, has nothing to show for some of his seemingly brilliant acquisitions in the offseason (namely, Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers, as well as Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks).
Look, neither of the trades the Coyotes made around the 2017 NHL Entry Draft were going to make them contenders for the Cup, but they should’ve at least made them move out of the basement and onto the first floor of the league.
Arizona will be selling once again and unless your last name is Hjalmarsson, Raanta or Stepan and you’re over the age of 24, there’s a good chance you could be packing a bag out of the desert (unless you get traded to Vegas, in which case, you’ll still be in the desert– only cooler because of all of the attractions around T-Mobile Arena, oh and the whole “Cup in one” mentality currently for the Golden Knights).
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), F David Perron (VGK)