Happy Trade Deadline Weekend! That’s right, in just a few short days the last chance for NHL general managers to justify their salaries for this season will be over. Will it be a super busy couple of days as teams jockey for playoff position and also prepare for the looming expansion draft this summer? Or will a flat cap, COVID quarantine protocols, and GM’s natural state of cautious inaction over bold moves produce a lackluster result? Who knows? That’s the beauty of the trade deadline.
The Devils and Islanders kicked things off yesterday as New Jersey shipped Travis Zajac and Kyle Pamieri to the Islanders for... stuff. If that’s the indication of what the deadline is going to be, it will be a buyer’s market.
One of the quirks of this season’s scheduling is that with everyone playing within the division, it is theoretically much easier to make up ground if a team goes on a hot streak. While in a normal season, a team that is six or eight points out of a playoff spot at the deadline might be looking forward to the future, this season they might have a chance to go on a run and squeak into the fourth spot in their division (looking at you San Jose).
At the same time, a team that loses three or four in a row over the next week could toss the rest of the season and start thinking about selling off some assets (how you doin’, Blue Jackets). The trade market could be pretty volatile over the next week. Which is just another way to say I have no idea what is going to happen.
As for our favorite National Hockey League team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, they are in a position to do nothing. For reasons both talent and fiscally related, the Bolts will most likely have a quiet trade deadline. Even with some cap finagling there just isn’t much left for them to add salary and taking on any players that have multiple years left on a contract would really add to Julien BriseBois impending roster headache this offseason.
There is also the fact that, despite recent evidence to the contrary, this roster is pretty deep as it is. The additions Mr. BriseBois made at the last deadline carried over to this year as well. Hopefully their biggest need, right-side defense can be solved from within when Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta return.
Also, one of the league’s deepest rosters will get even deeper when Nikita Kucherov returns from sipping drinks poolside hip injury and joins the top line. It will be interesting to see how much he plays upon his return, after all, it’s not like he’s going to come back in a meaningless Tuesday regular season game. He will be thrust right into the playoffs and playing 20 minutes a night, every other night, will be a big test for his surgically repaired hip.
It’s likely that Mr. BriseBois isn’t losing too much sleep over making deals right now. Chances are that he’s exploring some slight defensive upgrades and making a call or two, but there just isn’t much out there that would be a tremendous upgrade over the team he’s put together already.
Are they Buyers or Sellers?
At the risk of sounding like an uptalking youth I’ll go with buyerrrrrrs? Although they may also be stealth sellers.
What might interest the Lightning
Anyone have a cheap right-side defenseman with a deal that’s expiring at the end of the season? Also, they need to be an upgrade over Luke Schenn and a couple of rookies. Oh, and the price tag, both salary and trade request, can’t be too high. Oh, and you’ll be doing a solid for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Maybe throw in an experienced bottom-six forward who can win some face-offs as well. Nobody else is looking for that stuff, right?
What might interest other teams
2021 - 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, three (!) 7th
2022 - 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
Forwards: Alex Barré-Boulet, Jack Finley, Gage Concalves, Sammy Walker, Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, Gabriel Fortier, Declan McConnell, Max Cajkovic
Defense: Well, yeah, see this is a bit of a problem area for the team. I guess a team may be interested in some long-term projects like Quinn Schmiemann, Eamon Powell, or Nick Perbix
Goaltenders: Hugo Alnefelt, Amir Miftakhov, Magnus Chrona, Vasili Kosechkin (just kidding, I love that he’s still considered a prospect in the organization).
Some more thoughts
What’s this talk about the possibility of them being sellers? Well, the salary cap never rests and Mr. BrisBois has to take into consideration the chance that he might be able to start working on next season’s problems this season. We all know who we’re referring to — Tyler Johnson.
While there will always be a certain part of this fanbase that can’t separate the player from the salary it’s important to note that he’s not having a bad season. There are probably a couple of teams that are kicking themselves for not taking the chance of picking him up either off of waivers or working out a deal where the Lightning would have retained some salary in a trade.
He is once again on the positive side of all of the possession numbers (54.57 CF%, 52.98 xG%, 57.58 GF% according to Natural Stat Trick) and has shown signs of his former self when centering the third line. Like many of his teammates, a recent offensive slump has depressed those numbers a little, but it’s still a decent season for a second-tier forward.
For the last two months the Lightning and David Savard’s name have been circling each other. The 30-year-old right-handed defenseman isn’t going to light up the offensive numbers, but he’s considered a steady, physical player that isn’t going to make a lot of mistakes.
The problem is that, even with Columbus retaining some of the contract, Savard is a lot of money for someone who isn’t necessarily an upgrade at the position. Bringing him in would most likely cost the Lightning Johnson or Alex Killorn either in a return to Columbus or as part of a three-team trade. Assuming Erik Cernak is going to be back for the playoffs and maybe Jan Rutta, the Lightning would be looking for someone who is more productive than Luke Schenn or Cal Foote. Here is how Savard lines up against Foote:
And now Schenn:
Savard is a bit of a black hole when it comes to offense, and allows a few more shot attempts than Schenn or Foote. He is pretty good at suppressing expected goals which would indicate he keeps the front of his net pretty clean. For the price the Lightning would pay is he worth it? That’s something that can only be answered after the playoffs.
What about a cheaper option? Anaheim has already made one trade with the Lightning, taking Alex Volkov off their hands for Antoine Morand and a conditional pick. Could Mr. BriseBois build on that deal to make another?
Jani Hakanpaa is a 29-year-old, 6’5”, 218 lbs Finnish defenseman who is making $750,000 on an expiring contract. After being drafted by St. Louis back in 2010 he spent most of his professional career in Finland before coming over last season. This year he’s appeared in 40 games for the Ducks while recording just one point, an assist.
So, like Savard, he isn’t going to be racking up the points, but he has been pretty good at preventing offense. Here’s his numbers compared to Foote:
And now Schenn:
Again, not much of an upgrade, but at such a low price tag he fits in a little bit better. Again, if the Lightning bring in another defenseman they aren’t going to be logging 20 minutes a night (hopefully). Cernak will be carrying the bulk of the load with the other two or three skaters on the right side (depending if they go 12/6 or 11/7) splitting up the other 40 minutes evenly.
Chances are the Lightning stand pat this weekend. Despite their recent struggles they are still considered one of the front-runners for the Stanley Cup. Mr. BriseBois won’t overreact to a temporary lull in their offense and try to overcorrect things with a splashy trade. It’s best that they just stay the course, get healthy, and prepare for the playoffs. Let the teams chasing them at the top of the mountain scramble around for whatever scraps can be picked up on the trading block.