Metropolitan Division Trade Deadline Primer

The National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) annual trade deadline will conclude at 3 P.M. on Monday, February 29th.  Save for the disappointing Columbus Blue Jackets, who couldn’t climb out from a devastating 0-8-0 start, the rest of the Metropolitan division is still in the playoff hunt, although the Carolina Hurricanes recent struggles may predicate a change in their trade deadline plans.

Here’s a summary, in order of the current Metro (Metropolitan) division standings, as to how each squad will approach the trade deadline in order to position themselves for the Stanley Cup playoffs as well as the future of each organization:

Washington Capitals – with the NHL’s best record and seemingly poised to win the President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best regular season record/point total, the Capitals already stout lineup appears to need overall depth, particularly at forward. After bringing in veteran Mike Richards and recently acquiring defenseman Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres, they may consider Brad Boyes of the Toronto Maple Leafs or perhaps bring up free agent Scott Gomez who is currently playing for the Capitals American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Hershey.  Otherwise, the Caps are positioned to make a deep Stanley Cup playoff run and to eradicate the ghosts of playoffs past.

New York Rangers – the Rangers have been up and down, all season long; however, save for the Capitals, they also possess one of the NHL’s best overall records and are solidly positioned to be a solid playoff opponent. They also should be getting forward Rick Nash back, shortly after an injury which should help with their overall scoring to an already potent offense.  If there are any needs for the Blueshirts, it is for a physical forward and perhaps to shore up their defensive corps.  Keith Yandle has been rumored to be a defenseman that the Rangers are willing to part with and, if they can take on a portion of his salary, the Rangers may try to reunite Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal with his brother Marc who plays defense for the Rangers.

New York Islanders – the Isles have been playing steady all season, particularly recently and do possess a solid amount of salary cap space and a solid, young top six forward lines and defensive pairings; however, the Isles also do not have much in the way of Stanley Cup experience so they may wish to obtain a seasoned playoff veteran for a playoff run. It was believed, until recently, that defenseman Travis Hamonic who asked to be traded closer to his childhood home just outside Winnipeg; however, Isles General Manager (GM) Garth Snow quelled all of those rumors and stated that he will keep Hamonic with the Islanders for the remainder of the season.  Snow is generally the patient type, so, barring an injury which would precipitate a need for a trade, the Isles shouldn’t make any major moves at the trade deadline.

Pittsburgh Penguins – no matter how well the regular season goes, ever since their 2009 Stanley Cup title, the Pens have disappointed in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the trend – from the Eastern Conference finals in 2013, to being eliminated in the Eastern Conference 2nd round, to being eliminated in the Eastern Conference 1st round – is disturbing, especially when you consider the Pens possess arguably two of the five greatest players on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  The Penguins netminder, Marc Andre Fleury, whose playoff performances have morphed from stellar in 2008 and 2009, to horrific from 2010 through 2013, to mediocre for the last two Stanley Cup playoffs, is key to the Pens playoff fortunes.  However, their greatest needs are with their blueline, particularly with their top 4 defensemen.  Pens GM Jim Rutherford has been actively searching for such a defenseman and is actively pursuing Kris Russell of the Calgary Flames and just picked up Edmonton Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz.  Schultz is offensively gifted but has major holes in his defensive game whereas Russell is a steady, shot-blocking phenom who can provide immediate help when the playoffs come down to a defensive battle.  The Penguins also, surprisingly, struggle offensively and particularly so during the last two Stanley Cup playoffs so a depth forward wouldn’t hurt.

Philadelphia Flyers – for a team that has been saddled with issues on their blueline, the Flyers problems this season have primarily stemmed from their usually prolific offense, where the Flyers rank 22nd in goals scored per game.  The Flyers are also perennially strapped with their salary cap as they often obliterate their team payroll with frequent off-season free agent splashes that have often not paid off.  However, give Flyers GM Ron Hextall credit in the past few years for building their blueline as they now have a glut of veteran defenseman and have drafted and developed a solid, young wave of defenseman to step in, immediately.  Shayne Gostisbehere has been a godsend for the Flyers fortunes and more reinforcements are on the way with the likes of Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim so, in addition to shedding some payroll, defensemen Mark Streit and Evgeny Medvedev will be offered for a Stanley Cup contender.  Sam Gagner is also available if a team wants to take a chance on Gagne perhaps recapturing some of his scoring prowess.  Otherwise, the Flyers are one of those teams who are ‘on the bubble’ between playoff contender and a team in a rebuild mode so they might be willing to act as a seller if the return for their veteran defensemen is solid enough.

New Jersey Devils – the Devils have the luxury of having plenty of salary cap space; however, they, like the Flyers, are ‘on the bubble’ as to their playoff prospects but more so due to a popgun offense, and particularly from their blueline.  They also have a plethora of impending free agents: Patrick Elias, Tuomo Ruutu, Jiri Tlusty, David Schlemko, Lee Stempniak, Tyler Kennedy and Stephen Gionta.  Although a lot of credit goes to Devils GM Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes for keeping the Devils competitive after former GM Lou Lamoriello left the roster aged and the organization’s direction obsolete, this is a team in transition and in rebuild mode, particularly if Shero wants to change the philosophy to up-tempo, something an offensively-challenged and one of the older (by average) NHL squads would have difficulty doing.  Two key trading chips the Devils possess for their rebuild could be Stempniak and Schlemko, particularly the former who, in previous stops in his NHL career, has jelled quickly, particularly offensively, including with the goal-starved Devils.  But, so long as the Devils are on the periphery of playoff contention, Shero will keep his squad intact to give them a chance to grab a playoff spot.

Carolina Hurricanes – the Canes, like the Devils, have been a pleasant, ‘feel good story’ surprise.  Canes GM Ron Francis has preached patience since assuming the role, last season, opting for rebuilding the former 2006 Stanley Cup champions, who have continued the precipitous drop over the last several seasons.  What makes his job particularly difficult is having veteran players, those in the middle of being in contention for a Stanley Cup playoff berth, giving the indication that they may wish to stay, thus stifling the rebuild Francis desires.  The key trading chip that Francis possesses is team captain Eric Staal; however, trading Staal becomes further complicated as the Canes traded for (2012) and signed (long-term) his brother Jordan and it was being reunited with his brother Eric that convinced him to sign the long-term agreement.  However, if Francis can trade Eric Staal, perhaps reuniting him with his other brother Marc and take on a portion of Staal’s $8.25 million annual salary cap hit, the Canes can obtain a sizeable return, one that can be used for Francis’ rebuild.  Francis also has some other trading chips with impending free agents Cam Ward, John-Michael Liles, Kris Versteeg, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Terry and Brad Malone.  However, so long as the Canes are still in the hunt, Francis is stuck in a precarious position between his vision and the dwindling, yet still viable Stanley Cup playoff prospects.

Columbus Blue Jackets – although their playoff aspirations may have died with their horrendous 0-8-0 start, the Blue Jackets are going through their annual ritual of a second half surge, thus nullifying any shot at a franchise-changing lottery pick, currently with a 11-3-4 record in their last 18 games. However, for a shot at the last playoff spot, the Blue Jackets will likely have to post a 15-2-2 mark over their last 19 games.  Hopefully, the Blue Jackets brass has learned their lesson from the 15-1-1 finish that prevented them from drafting one of the coveted prospects in last season NHL Entry draft.  In order to continue Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson’s mantra of ‘brick by brick’, the Blue Jackets must pare some of their more pricey veteran talent, notably veterans like Scott Hartnell and Fedor Tyutin, to acquire higher-round draft picks and prospects and free up some salary cap space, as the usually middling budget Blue Jackets are right up against the NHL’s salary cap ceiling.  Davidson has insisted that he wants to keep his core players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Sergei Bobrovsky who has been hampered with injuries, this season and during the past two seasons, Brandon Saad, and emerging, young defensemen Seth Jones and Ryan Murray.  Other players who may be offered in a trade is Kerby Rychel who has had a terse relationship with Blue Jackets brass and Gregory Campbell, who may help a playoff-contending team’s bottom six forward lines.  Cam Atkinson has been long-rumored to be a trading target but he is a favorite of head coach John Tortorella so those possibilities might be less, currently, although Atkinson possesses a very salary cap-friendly contract (salary and term).  Current surge aside, the Blue Jackets must resist that temptation and continue to build and shape the organization into their long-term image.

There are some possible trade deadline possibilities for each Metropolitan division squad; however, if history is any indication, anything, either a wild and wooly trade deadline day will occur, or it will be a relatively quiet day, so expect the unexpected.