The Pittsburgh Penguins took one of the big names off of the 2020 NHL trade deadline board this week with their acquisition of Jason Zucker, but a number of interesting players remain on the menu of available options.
As the Feb. 24 deadline approaches, there are also playoff races to monitor, including a surprising run for the Columbus Blue Jackets. So we gathered our panel to hit a series of hot topics in buy/sell fashion:
There will be a shocking big-name trade on deadline day.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Buy. Big moves happen when we least expect it, and I have little expectations in a season where there are so many teams still hovering around the playoff race. Best guesses? The Carolina Hurricanes get a top-four defenseman with term, or the Colorado Avalanche swing for the fences with a top-six scorer. Would it qualify as a shocker if Ilya Kovalchuk is reunited with now-Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello?
Chris Peters, hockey prospects analyst: Sell. The summer seems to be the norm for the big blockbuster trades, when emotions are cooler, the cap situations are clearer and GMs still feel the burn of a season of missed opportunities.
Ben Arledge, NHL editor: Buy. There’s bound to be one, though the answer to this question depends on what you consider a big name. It’s the NHL trade deadline — something will take us off guard, especially considering multiple division races are currently tightening up. But who will make the splash?
Sachin Chandan, fantasy hockey editor: Sell. The biggest question would be if the Arizona Coyotes would consider trading away Taylor Hall two months after trading for him, but the organization seems to want to make a run with him and then aim for an extension in the offseason. The Hurricanes seem like a strong fit if the Wild deal Matt Dumba, but indications are that the Wild have a high asking price that the Hurricanes may not be interested in matching. I do expect that Chris Kreider and Alec Martinez will move, but those wouldn’t count as shocking.
The Blackhawks will deal either Corey Crawford or Robin Lehner before the trade deadline.
Kaplan: Sell. There just isn’t a thirsty enough goalie market out there, and if Chicago is still in the race, the Blackhawks are keeping both guys. I think they’ll ultimately extend Lehner this summer. They’re also loyal to Crawford; if they part ways, it will be amicably over the summer.
Peters: Sell. Chicago has to figure out its long-term plans in net and making a trade under the pressure of the deadline does not seem to be the best way to sort that out. I agree with Emily that Lehner could be the answer in the immediate future and that the return on any deal would not be substantial enough to force the Blackhawks into such a hasty decision in net.
Arledge: Buy. No, the goalie market is not all that expansive, but the Blackhawks are currently in last place in the Central Division (though also just six points out of a wild-card berth somehow). Both goalies are on expiring contracts, but I expect Chicago to hang on to Lehner and bring him back next season. He’s only 28 and has done plenty this season to prove last season’s breakout wasn’t a fluke. While Crawford is a fan favorite in the Windy City, he’s also one of the better goalies available and Chicago likely ends up on the outside looking in come playoff time. Keep an eye on Carolina and Vegas — if it can find the cap space — as both are potentially looking for a 1B option.
Chandan: Buy. Crawford has a partial no-trade clause that the Blackhawks would have to work with, but he would be an instant veteran presence on a team looking to make a playoff run. If either of the two Chicago goalies were to move, I’d expect it to be the 35-year-old Crawford.
The Blue Jackets will finish as a top-three team in the Metropolitan Division.
Kaplan: Sell. I really want to buy this, but top defenseman Seth Jones getting ankle surgery this week worries me; he’s out eight to 10 weeks, which aspirationally would yield a return during the first week of the playoffs. I still think goaltending can propel the Blue Jackets into the playoffs as a wild card.
Peters: Sell. Elvis Merzlikins is magic, but I don’t know if he’s a miracle worker. The Jones injury is devastating. Cam Atkinson is out for a few weeks. Columbus is going to stay in the mix, but I don’t know that the Blue Jackets have the depth to stay with the top Metro teams and I don’t think they should be too aggressive at the deadline to try to keep pace.
Arledge: Buy. As Dimitri Filipovic outlined this week, the Blue Jackets have navigated all sorts of injury woes and free-agency losses this season. Yes, Jones is a big one. And Atkinson going down for two to three weeks hurts, too. But between Merzlikins’ incredible play and the Blue Jackets’ style of play, I think they can steal the No. 3 seed and push either the Islanders or maybe the Penguins to a wild card, especially if Columbus buys at the deadline. I’m not ready to bet against this group just yet.
Chandan: Sell. The Blue Jackets have continued to play well despite injuries, but they play in such a tough division. We can reasonably pencil in Washington and Pittsburgh as the top two Metro teams, then you get into the mix of the Islanders, Flyers and Hurricanes that the Blue Jackets need to fend off. The Islanders have a tough schedule coming up, but should they weather that, I expect them to be the Metro’s third seed.
The Bruins should bring back Joe Thornton.
Kaplan: Buy. How wonderful of a storybook ending would that be for Jumbo Joe, to finally hoist a Cup with the team that drafted him first overall in 1997? There are a few caveats here, the biggest being that Thornton actually has to want it. He’d need to waive his no-movement clause.
Peters: Sell. How awesome would that be? What a fun storyline … but I’m selling. For one, I don’t think Thornton is going anywhere. Second, I’m not sure he helps the Bruins a ton more than what they already have, in what would be a very limited role. It would be an incredible story, but unfortunately a little too far-fetched for me.
Arledge: Buy, but it obviously can’t be the only move. I also love the storyline, and while Jumbo Joe isn’t piling on the numbers this season, he’d provide some depth. Maybe he’ll even have a little revival surrounded by Boston’s talent. But the big thing here is Boston needs to go get a Chris Kreider-type of player, too. Tampa Bay is back to juggernaut status, and Boston would like to add more than just a 40-year-old to push it over the top before the stretch run.
Chandan: Buy. For no other reason than it would be nice to see Jumbo Joe make one last Stanley Cup run in the place where his career began. I do agree with Emily and Ben that he wouldn’t be the difference-maker for the Bruins, and that they still need to make another move for a winger. The Bruins should inquire, but I’d be surprised if Thornton waived his no-trade clause.
The biggest Pacific Division deadline winner will be a seller, not a buyer.
Kaplan: Buy. The Pacific Division is such a muck right now. The Kings are the only team I’m confident will be extremely busy, and they are looking to unload veteran contracts. And if they get a few picks and young players to add to their already loaded prospect system, they’ll be one of the teams we look at as “winning” the deadline this season.
Peters: Sell. I don’t think the pieces that are left for noncontending teams are going to net them a significant enough haul to put them over playoff contending teams that can beef up their rosters for a playoff run. My eyes are on the Golden Knights to get aggressive and keep pushing for that Cup that narrowly slipped through their fingers in Year 1.
Arledge: Sell. Edmonton has each of its picks for Rounds 1-5 for the next three drafts, and Vancouver is missing just a conditional first. And Vegas is set up even better than them, with an incredible seven Round 1-2 picks in 2020 and 2021. First to fifth in the Pacific is separated by three points. One of these teams is going to make a splash to distinguish from the cluster — and really, it could be any of the three, considering the neck-and-neck status and abundance of draft capital on the table.
Chandan: Sell. You have to go for the division while you have a chance, and while the standings may be a bit bunched up at the moment, the crown is there for the taking. With each top Pacific team dealing with injuries, it is critical for one of the buyers to add some depth. Vancouver is unexpectedly contending and should add a veteran forward or two.