The Glass Eye: NHL Trade Deadline
***Note: This column was written Friday and early Saturday, some moves may have been made by the time this posts***
Monday at 3PM is the NHL’s trade deadline, and every contending team has at least one major need. We’ll look at each Eastern Conference contender, determine their needs, and forecast a possible remedy for each. We’ll start with the fringe contenders and work our way up the standings (as of Friday – the points are so tight that the standings might change by the time this is online).
10.) Washington Capitals (63 points): Talk about a fall from grace, the once-mighty Caps are in a real dogfight to even make the playoffs, and frankly they’d already be left for dead if they played in any division except the thoroughly mediocre Southeast. Amazingly, the Caps’ biggest problem is offense – of the teams in front of them in the East, only Florida has scored fewer goals. The loss of Nick Backstrom to a concussion has really slowed the team, but more puzzling is the continued inconsistency from Alex Ovechkin. The ‘Great Eight’ is on pace to barely clear 30 goals once again, and his effort seems to vary greatly from game to game. Alex Semin has also been inconsistent and is probably playing his way out of town in the offseason.
This team may well get a complete makeover in the offseason, but if I were running the Caps I’d look for a savvy, tough veteran leader to come in and try to light a fire under the team, to see if they can find the spark for a playoff run. I remind everyone that the Pens were in a very similar situation at this point in 2009 before getting REALLY hot and winning the Cup – there’s plenty of talent on hand to go on a playoff run. The ideal solution might be Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, a proven winner, goal-scorer and leader who could provide the spark this team has been looking for since 2010. Barring that, I look for a minor move to ‘shake things up’…but I really think this team is dead in the water as currently constructed. Playoff odds: 45%, only because the rest of the division is a mess.
9.) Toronto Maple Leafs (65 points): The Leafs’ problems are easy to identify: Goaltender. Toronto is 30th in the league in goals against, and their netminders stop barely 90% of the shots they face (league average is 91-92% – a big difference in a league where almost every game is a 1-goal affair). Toronto has plenty of firepower, but allowing soft goals is a KILLER to a playoff team – just ask Philly last year (or this year – more on them in a minute).
Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of goaltending on the market, but the obvious answer for Toronto is the Islanders’ Evgeni Nabokov, who has a sparkling 2.25 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage on a pretty mediocre Islanders team. Nabokov would not come cheap, but if GM Brian Burke thinks the Leafs are truly ready for a playoff run, he simply HAS to fix the goaltending problem. Playoff chances: 65% – Burke will make a move to improve the team one way or another, and the Leafs are fundamentally better than the Panthers/Jets division runner-up.
8.) Florida Panthers (66 points): The Panthers simply don’t score enough goals – at 146 goals scored, they are 15 behind the goal-starved Rangers and Jets. They are an average defensive club and their goaltending has been surprisingly stout, but they cannot make any noise in the playoffs unless they find more offense. The real question is, will Florida go ‘all-in’ on this season just to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, or will they conserve their assets and wait until they have a real chance to go deep in the postseason?
Assuming they decide to make a move, Teemu Selanne would meet a lot of their needs. He is a pure scorer, he’s a veteran, he won’t cost a fortune to acquire, and he’s a short-term commitment so he won’t block any young players coming up. I expect the Panthers to make a much smaller mover if they make any, however…I think their management realizes that the Panthers are not quite ready for prime time. Playoff chances: 30%, they’ve lost four in a row and I think they will slide out of the playoff picture over the next two weeks.
7.) Ottawa Senators (72 points): In many ways the Sens are the most surprising team in the league – left for dead by many (including me) in the preseason, Ottawa keeps winning just enough games to stay in the playoff hunt, and they’ve done it by becoming one of the top offenses in the league – they rank 6th in goals per game. The problem is that they are 26th in goals allowed, and they are unlikely to replace their steady goaltender Craig Anderson. Given that, their biggest need is clearly a shutdown defenseman, and those are in extremely short supply this year.
Ottawa should be looking at a player like Montreal’s Josh Georges – not a lot of offense, but he’s a solid defender and has been the best defenseman for a bad Canadiens team. Even if Georges isn’t the end result, expect Ottawa to make a move on defense. Playoff chances: 75%, they still could hit the skids but I think they have enough of a cushion to hold on the #7 slot.
6.) Pittsburgh Penguins (73 points): Pittsburgh may be only sixth in the conference, but they have one of the top offenses in the conference, they are top-5 in power play and penalty kill %, and they have the fifth best goal differential in the entire league. Unlike past years, I expect Pittsburgh to stand pat – the biggest issues are backup goaltender and the struggles of Paul Martin, and neither of those can be addressed adequately at this point of the season. If Crosby returns, this is the best team in the East…without him, they still have an excellent chance to make the Finals. Playoff chances: 98%, this team is too talented to slide out of the playoffs, and it would be a huge story if they did.
5.) Philadelphia Flyers(73 points): New year, same story: the Flyers have goalie problems. They threw tons of cash at Ilya Bryzgalov to theoretically solve this problem long-term, but his play has been inconsistent at best. Making matters worse is the season-ending concussion to captain Chris Pronger, which has significantly weakened the defense. Philly can score with anyone in the league, but they need to be able to win 2-1 games in April and May.
The goalie problem is not going to be fixed externally – Bryzgalov will have to sink or swim. However, like Ottawa, I look for the Flyers to address their defense. Georges would be a good fit here if available, as would Anaheim’s Lubomir Visnofsky. Playoff chances: 90%, they will almost certainly make it, but their goaltending is so shoddy right now that I cannot call them a lock.
4.) New Jersey Devils (74 points): This isn’t the same Devils style we’re used to over the past 20 years – these Devils actually try to score some. They won’t be confused with the ’93 Pens for scoring power, but the likes of Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Patrick Elias can light the lamp more than Jersey fans are used to seeing. The real issue here is, surprisingly, defense – the Devils have allowed more goals than Pittsburgh and have only outscored their opponents by five goals. New Jersey already made their big move, acquiring two-way defenseman Marek Zidlicky from Minnesota early this weekend. I look for them to try to make another minor move, their window is now with Brodeur aging and Parise a free agent this summer. Playoff chances: 80%, frankly this team isn’t that great – they have no depth and Brodeur is a couple of notches below his peak form. I think their strong start will carry them into the postseason, but they won’t advance far.
3.) Winnipeg Jets (68 points): Despite leading the division, the Jets have terrible fundamentals – they have been outscored by 18 goals, only Florida has scored less goals among the contenders, and only the Senators and the Flyers have allowed more. This is a young team in a town that adores them, so the future is bright – but this team is a work in progress, and management should treat it as such. Mortgaging ANY major assets for a playoff run would be extremely short-sighted, and I expect the Jets to more or less stand pat. If they can get a deal on a veteran forward with a bit of scoring tough, I think they’d go for it, but beyond that this team needs time and experience. Playoff chances: 25%, among the Southeast Division contenders I see Winnipeg as having the worst chance to make the postseason.
2.) Boston Bruins(77 points): The defending Cup champs have had a rather exasperating season…at times they have absolutely dominated, as evidenced by their league-leading +63 goal differential…on the other hand, they have managed to lose 20 games in regulation and have been very inconsistent over the last few months. I see this as a bit of Cup ‘hangover’ and lack of focus on the regular season…after all, they are a lock to make the playoffs, and we know that seeding means next to nothing once you’re there.
The only real need I see for the Bruins is a defenseman with a bit more offensive skill – aside from Zdeno Chara, the rest of the Boston blueline have been excellent defensively but have not chipped in many goals. However, this is a great team and the defending champs – I seriously doubt that management will make any move that disrupts the chemistry of the team. I look for them to stand pat this time around, especially considering that their attempt to add blueline offense last year (Tomas Kaberle) was a complete disaster. As it stands now, this is your Eastern Conference favorite.
1.)New York Rangers (84 points): The Rangers have amazed me all season – playing in arguably the toughest division in hockey, and with an offense that is mediocre at best, they have nevertheless blown away the Eastern Conference for most of the season by winning game after game 2-1 or 3-2. However, I think this team needs more offense to win the Cup – and they know it too, as they have been rumored to be in hot pursuit of Rick Nash. The Rangers are a good mix of veterans and youth, and it’s rare to have a goalie as locked-in as Henrik Lundqvist has been all season… so even though they will have to give up major assets I think that New York has to push hard for an offensive upgrade. Chances like this don’t come along often and as they say flags fly forever. If Nash is out of reach, Martin St. Louis would fit well here as well, or even the aforementioned Selanne. Whoever is available that can light the lamp, the Rangers should pursue – as currently constructed, I do not think New York can survive the gauntlet that is the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It should be very interesting to see how this all plays out Monday, and down the stretch!
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.