1. Tampa Bay Lightning– 40-17-3 (83 points, 60 GP)
Though the Tampa Bay Lightning have been on top of the Eastern Conference all season, the Boston Bruins are catching them and sure to give the Bolts a run for their money in the Eastern Conference Finals.
What do you mean that will never happen because of the current playoff format? Way to be a buzzkill, NHL.
Tampa general manager, Steve Yzerman, worked his magic on the ice for years in Detroit and his magic has gotten even better as a GM. The Lightning don’t need older guys like Dan Girardi or Chris Kunitz on the team and yet– here they are– sitting in 1st in the Atlantic Division with those guys on the roster.
The Lightning have about $2.000 million in cap space right now with some pretty important pending-RFAs to re-sign this offseason. Then again, when isn’t that the case for them?
2. Boston Bruins– 37-13-8 (82 points, 58 GP)
At the time of this writing, I had the Boston Bruins pinpointed on Nick Holden as an option in case they aren’t able to pull off a Ryan McDonagh trade with the New York Rangers. Holden’s cheaper, a year removed from his best season in his career and a clear top-six defenseman that’ll boost not only Boston’s depth, but solidify their blue line as contenders.
Look, it didn’t cost the Bruins much, considering Rob O’Gara was stuck in the midst of an overcrowded pool of defensive prospects and not every third round pick is making the NHL for more than half a season. Holden has the chance of becoming the next Tomas Kaberle for Boston (and let’s check where Joe Colborne is these days, oh right San Antonio).
Or Holden could stick around for a little longer if things work out just right.
If general manager, Don Sweeney, is confident in his roster, he’s set. If he’s looking to add without subtracting that “necessary” one or two more pieces to put the Bruins over the edge and into Stanley Cup favorites, then sure, he’ll find it.
Sweeney is all about holding onto his cards and being tactically smart. He’s improved in each of his three years as general manager around this time of year.
They really shouldn’t part with Jakub Zboril so early, considering he must be next in line behind Jeremy Lauzon. Yet if there’s an offer that’s too good to refuse and all indications point towards finding your next veteran defenseman for the post-
Tom Brady 2.0 (at least in terms of age and playing ability) Zdeno Chara days, then sure, go for it.
Potential assets to trade: F Frank Vatrano, D Jakub Zboril
Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Derek Ryan (CAR), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR)– acquired on Tuesday, D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), D Ben Hutton (VAN)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs– 37-20-5 (79 points, 62 GP)
Despite having immense youth and talent, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves at a crossroads. Do they go for it this season (without any cap room)?
With these questions in mind, it seems a guy like James van Riemsdyk‘s time might be running short. Alas, van Riemsdyk has a modified-no trade clause and carries a $4.250 million cap hit– all while being a pending-UFA this July– but that’s nothing that can’t be overcome.
There’s still 21 teams he can be traded to and up to 50 percent of his salary can be retained if that’s a concern for anyone.
Joffrey Lupul‘s contract expires at the end of this season, so the Maple Leafs won’t have to go back and put him on the long-term injured reserve every September. It might be a smart idea to move Nathan Horton‘s contract elsewhere *ahem, Arizona* to try to get something out of it and not have to go through the LTIR motions. Neither of those situations is pressing, just food for thought.
This isn’t the year to cash in if you’re Toronto.
That might be painful for a guy like Patrick Marleau to hear, then again, he did sign a three-year contract last summer. He’s in it for the long haul and so is the Maple Leafs front office as they navigate what Matthews, Marner and Nylander’s second contracts will be.
Nylander, by the way, is a pending-RFA this summer.
4. Florida Panthers– 26-25-6 (58 points, 57 GP)
The Florida Panthers have about $7.100 million in cap space currently and the opportunity to be the best of the worst teams in the Atlantic Division.
They can’t buy in bulk, but they can buy the right pieces to make themselves playoff contenders again since they blew whatever plans they had in the dismissal of Gerard Gallant as head coach and losses of Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights last June.
Another top-four defenseman and one or two of the right top-nine forwards should really make an impact on the Panthers. This is where Florida has a decent chance at being a sleeper pick for Evander Kane.
They’ve got the cap space and the right amount of talent waiting for a complementary player.
Or Florida could become sellers and move on from everything they had built to bring themselves to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, well, nothing since.
Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Evander Kane (BUF), G Jon Gillies (CGY), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ)
5. Detroit Red Wings– 24-26-9 (57 points, 59 GP)
The Detroit Red Wings have a plethora of no-movement-clauses, expensive cap hits and everything else to sort through as they enter full-on rebuild mode.
As an Atlantic Division team outside of the playoff picture, they’re not going anywhere.
It’d make sense to go for a dive in the standings, but at what cost, since the draft lottery exists? A defenseman from Sweden leading the Red Wings to glory? Stop me if you’ve heard that one before, Nicklas Lidstrom.
Yes, it might sense to embrace the tank and give yourself a shot at Rasmus Dahlin, Detroit. This is your year– until the Edmonton Oilers win another lottery and then have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Dahlin on a team that’s still scraping out of the basement next season.
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects, F Max Domi (ARI), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Derek Ryan (CAR), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)
6. Montreal Canadiens– 22-29-8 (52 points, 59 GP)
The Montreal Canadiens aren’t good.
Claude Julien‘s behind the bench, their scoring is down, Carey Price is fatigued (at times), Max Pacioretty’s probably going to be traded and Andrew Shaw might become the new poster boy in bleu, blanc et rouge as a result.
Nothing makes sense anymore. The Canadiens are rebuilding, about to rebuild or should rebuild.
There’s nothing else to it really. This is more than just a bad year for them, save for Buffalo and Ottawa sitting beneath them in the division. Wait, the Senators are how close?
With almost $7.200 million in cap space, the Habs can make something happen and retool on-the-fly. Though if they’re smart, they’ll try to maximize their return on any trades without jeopardizing their pending-RFAs from re-signing.
Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), G Jon Gillies (CGY), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Michael Grabner (NYR), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), F Nic Petan (WPG)
7. Ottawa Senators– 21-28-10 (52 ponts, 59 GP)
If you thought things were bad in Québec, just wait until you see how the Ottawa Senators have been this year.
After nearly reaching last year’s Stanley Cup Final, the Sens thought they had a chance of making “boring” hockey exciting again. There’s just one problem– none of their players are any good, save for Erik Karlsson (who’s slumping this season), Mike Hoffman (who’s definitely going to be traded, even though GM Pierre Dorion keeps indicating he will/won’t), Mark Stone and that’s about it.
Karlsson’s a free agent after the 2018-19 season and surely won’t stick around if Ottawa doesn’t turn things around. Or worse, the Senators just might go ahead and trade their franchise defenseman.
If you thought Montreal was a dumpster fire, you’re right, but Ottawa is a thousand dumpster fires.
With about $1.315 million in cap space approaching the deadline the Senators shouldn’t have to worry. If they’re smart, that is. They’re sellers and they have to admit that they keep messing up.
In a league that’s getting younger and faster, the Sens are doing just the opposite.
Potential assets to trade: G Craig Anderson, F Derick Brassard, G Mike Condon, F Mike Hoffman, D Erik Karlsson (I don’t understand how I should even have to put him here, but I do, because it’s Ottawa we’re talking about), D Johnny Oduya, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Bobby Ryan, F Zack Smith
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F Nic Petan (WPG)
8. Buffalo Sabres– 17-32-11 (45 points, 60 GP)
Figure it out, Buffalo. One of these years.
The Buffalo Sabres have about $5.600 million in cap space approaching Monday’s trade deadline. They’ll likely have more room to work with heading into the offseason, given Evander Kane and his $5.250 million cap hit is all but assured of being on its way out of upstate New York.
The pending-UFA is the biggest prize the Sabres have to offer to a playoff contender or any team with enough cap room looking to reignite their offense.
Other than that, the goalie market looks slim at the deadline– especially after the Philadelphia Flyers already went out and got Petr Mrazek from Detroit– so Robin Lehner probably isn’t going anywhere. Yet.
Lehner is a 26-year-old pending-RFA this July and could certainly prove worthy to a team looking to overhaul its goaltending. If Sabres general manager, Jason Botterill, can’t find the right trading partner now, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so at the NHL Entry Draft in June.
Don’t count the Sabres out (of the trade market, that is). They just might go all in on landing a big name or two looking for a reset.
Potential assets to acquire: F Antoine Vermette (ANA), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Tomas Tatar (DET), G James Reimer (FLA), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), D Erik Karlsson (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ)