We are now entering one of the busiest times of year for NHL front offices as the 32 general managers (and their staffs) try to figure out what their team needs in advance of the NHL trade deadline.
Some teams need to add short-term help to put them over the top for a potential Stanley Cup run. Others need to sell off veterans or pending free agents to build something for the future. And there are some teams that are so set with their current rosters that they might not need to really do anything.
It can be a franchise-changing few weeks.
Fortunately for all 32 teams, we have some advice for them and what they should do.
Boston Bruins: Just a minor tweak
The Bruins are a borderline unstoppable machine right now with an incredible 34-5-4 record through their first 43 games. They still have the great 1-2 punch at center with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy gives them a bona fide top-pairing defenseman, and they have a Vezina front-runner in goal in Linus Ullmark. They do not need to shake things up much, which is good because they are pressed to the salary cap ceiling and do not have a deep farm system to deal from. If they can pick up some depth scoring or a depth defenseman for a cheap price, go for it. If not, there’s no need to force anything. They are good enough as constructed.
Buffalo Sabres: Stand pat and see what happens
This is the most enjoyable Sabres season in more than a decade. They have an incredible offense, an energetic style of play and finally look to have a young core to build around. It might not be enough to make the playoffs right now, but that is OK. Another non-playoff year won’t be fun, but there is no point in giving up young assets to make what might be a futile push at the postseason when the Sabres are finally moving in the right direction. See what this group can do, identify your needs for the offseason and fix them then.
Detroit Red Wings: Sell your pending free agents
This should have been a year that saw the Red Wings take a big step forward, but it has not happened. And that has to be a stomach punch for Red Wings fans hoping to see the Yzerplan start to come together. The playoffs seem like a long shot and they have 10 pending unrestricted free agents after this season, including Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. Ideally a contract extension for Larkin would be in the cards, but there could be a tough decision coming if nothing can be agreed.
Florida Panthers. Strategically sell
This season has been a nightmare for the Panthers as the playoffs might be starting to slip out of reach. This is not a team that needs a total overhaul, but it has quite the salary cap crunch and needs to accumulate a little more draft capital. They should not deal a core player like Aleksander Barkov or Matthew Tkachuk, but they should at least shop some other players around to see if they can clear some cap space and bring in some young assets.
Montreal Canadiens: Aggressively sell
There is an obvious core to build around here led by Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Juraj Slafkovsky. Those players are obviously off the table, but everybody else? Put up the “For Sale” sign. Sean Monahan and Evgeni Dadonov seem like obvious candidates, but any veteran like David Savard, Joel Edmundson and Jake Allen should also be shopped.
Ottawa Senators: Trade Cam Talbot
The Senators were aggressive all offseason but still have a lot of very real flaws on defense and in their bottom-six forwards. They do not have a lot of pending UFAs, but goalie Cam Talbot might be the most valuable of their obvious trade chips, and some contenders could use him.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Go for it
Every year the Lightning are pressed to the cap. And every year they find a way to add somebody major at the trade deadline. There is always a way to make it happen if you are creative enough, and nobody is more creative than the Lightning’s front office. At this point, we might be taking their success for granted. After three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances, they remain an elite team but are flying under the radar a bit. They could get there again. Go for it while you can.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Upgrade the defense
In the preseason, it would have been easy to guess that goaltending would be the position the Leafs would need to address at the trade deadline. But Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov have exceeded all expectations. Instead, defense might be the target. Whether that is a blockbuster like Jakob Chychrun (Arizona) or a rental like Vladislav Gavrikov (Columbus), Toronto could use some depth there. The pressure is on to win this season, and a defensive upgrade might help.