McGuinness: Five NHL trade deadline moves that make too much sense
Andrew McGuinness | Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Usually, in late February, hockey fans are gearing up for the trade deadline and all the pomp, circumstance and trades of fourth-line centers for fifth-round picks that come with it. That isn’t the case this year. The NHL pushed the deadline back to March 21 in response to their originally scheduled three-week break in February for the Olympics and a regular season that ends about three weeks later than normal.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not too early to start daydreaming about the few blockbuster deals we might see in just over a month. Perhaps it’s a good thing there’s extra time to prepare because this year’s deadline is looking like it could be a busy one. Never before in the eight years of the four division playoff structure (excluding the wonky 2021 realignment) has one conference’s playoff picture been so set in stone this early as the East currently is. The eighth-seeded Bruins are on pace for nearly 20 more points than any other team in their conference. The West is more wide open, but there are quite a few teams on the bubble with key players set to become unrestricted free agents in the summer. They can’t be kicked down the road much farther.
There are countless potential trade partners that could result in numerous players, prospects and draft picks being moved. But some deals are far more likely to happen than others. And then there are these five. Trades that seem so obvious that both general managers would have to be stupid not to make them. Granted, that’s never stopped NHL GMs before. But before the rumor mill really heats up, let’s take a look at five significant deals that fit into this category.
Sharks trade C Tomáš Hertl to Bruins
Why it makes sense: With David Krejci retiring after last season, it’s always been likely the Bruins would eventually make a trade for a replacement, if not an upgrade. Hertl is the top pure center on the market and is delivering another excellent season, leading San Jose with 22 goals. The Sharks are hanging on the West Wild Card bubble by a thread. They’re currently seven points behind Anaheim and second-to-last in a weak Pacific Division.
Who or why you might think twice: Krejci was a pure playmaker while Hertl is more of a goal-scorer, so maybe the stylistic fit isn’t perfect. The Sharks and Hertl have begun extension talks, which could take the 28-year-old off the market before it even heats up. “[I] don’t have any interest in doing anything outside of just working on the negotiation and signing him,” Sharks interim GM Joe Will told reporters. Take that with a grain of salt, of course, but it is still noteworthy.
The verdict: Assuming Hertl is traded — and I think it would be foolish for a middling Sharks team with several aging stars to extend him — Boston seems like a great fit.
Ducks trade D Josh Manson to Maple Leafs
Why it makes sense: The main criticism of Toronto for the last few years is that they aren’t good enough defensively or hard enough to play against. Josh Manson is a player who is both good defensively and hard to play against and plays at Toronto’s weakest position: right defense.
Who or why you might think twice: Anaheim is still (barely) in a playoff spot, so they might not want to sell at all. The Maple Leafs also have just over $1 million in cap space, not nearly enough to Manson’s reasonable $4.1 million cap hit. Retained salary and/or involving former Duck Nick Ritchie (making $2.5 million through next year and buried in the AHL) could make it work. But that would only raise the cost for a Maple Leafs team that’s traded their first-round pick in three straight years.
The verdict: Toronto knows they have to win at least a playoff series this year to stave off massive changes. Some of the criticisms about their physicality are overstated, but they certainly aren’t baseless. The Ducks should be looking to play the long game and prioritize maximizing the arriving prime years of Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale over moving up the typical first-round “learning experience” exit an extra year.
Coyotes trade RW Phil Kessel to Kings
Why it makes sense: L.A. general manager Rob Blake told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman they’re looking for “natural goal scoring.” All Phil Kessel has done over the course of his career is score. That might sound crazy for someone with just six goals to their name this season. But Kessel score 25-plus goals every year from 2008-09 to 2019-20. He scored at a 29-goal pace just last year. Blame his lack of goals on the total lack of talent surrounding him in Arizona. Or a historically career-low 6% shooting percentage (career average: 11%). Plus, the Kings are one of the few buying teams with room for Kessel’s $6.8 million cap hit.
Who or why you might think twice: Kessel is 34, so while he’s probably a better goal-scorer than he’s showing in Arizona, his prime days are likely behind him. And would a Kings team with so many young players be interested in a rental?
The verdict: This is probably the least likely trade of any of these five to happen. I think Kessel could work in L.A., but the numbers might be too concerning for Blake to pull the trigger if the Coyotes ask for anything significant. Tyler Toffoli going off the market in Monday’s trade to Calgary ups the odds, though.
Kraken trade D Mark Giordano to Panthers
Why it makes sense: A lot has been made about the Panthers making a home run trade for Boca Raton, Florida, native Jakob Chychrun. But for a Panthers team that is dynamite on offense and just pretty good defensively, dealing for a sound, two-way veteran leader in Mark Giordano might actually make more sense. That’s especially true if the Coyotes insist on getting Anton Lundell in a potential Chychrun trade. Florida GM Bill Zito should look to hold onto Lundell at all costs.
Who or why you might think twice: Really the only thing that could hold this deal up other than a Chychrun is if another team pays Seattle the sun and the moon for Giordano. It’s a pretty good fit.
The verdict: Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996. This is easily the most talented team in franchise history. They should do whatever it takes to give them the best shot at breaking that drought. Giordano may be the one player who helps them the most.
Blackhawks Trade G Marc-André Fleury To Capitals
Why it makes sense: It would be weird to see the long-time Penguin rocking the red, but otherwise it’s a pretty good fit. The Capitals are running out of time to win another Cup in the Alex Ovechkin era, and goaltending is the biggest thing holding this year’s team back. Chicago is well out of the playoff race, and Fleury is an unrestricted free agent at the season’s end.
Who or why you might think twice: The Edmonton Oilers are trying to get their generational talent, Connor McDavid, his first Cup. They could also use a goalie upgrade. But they’d probably prefer a non-rental (perhaps the Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov), assuming they don’t prioritize adding another defenseman instead.
The verdict: Looking forward to the Jeff Carter vs. Fleury playoff rematch 12 years in the waiting, only instead of Flyers vs. Penguins, it’s Pittsburgh vs. Washington. Go figure.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.