Ahead of the 2019 NHL trade deadline, we examine where each Western Conference team stands and what strategies they should employ heading into Feb. 25.
The Blackhawks are in a precarious position.
A month ago, selling seemed like the obvious path. Now, with the Western Conference jammed up and the Hawks back in the playoff picture on the strength of nine wins in their last 11 games, the plan is far from concrete.
GM Stan Bowman recently stated the decision to buy or to sell hadn't yet been made. The smart strategy might be to hold tight; the Blackhawks shouldn't expect to compete with the West's giants in the postseason - if they make it - but they also don't want to wave the white flag.
A fringe player in, a late round draft pick out. That's the type of deal that aligns with Chicago's place in the current landscape.
There's likely little long-term benefit to the Avalanche acquiring anything of substance as the season winds down. They're desperate for depth at both forward and defense. A few deadline deals won't change that reality.
Plus, according to GM Joe Sakic, the club's biggest trade chips - two 2019 first-round picks, both of which could end up being top-10 selections - are being kept under lock and key.
From a selling perspective, who, aside from Colorado's untouchables, might be of interest to other general managers? Perhaps a contender takes a flyer on a pending unrestricted free agent, like Gabriel Bourque, Patrik Nemeth, or Colin Wilson (currently injured). That's about it, though.
Don't expect fireworks out of Denver.
In a contentious, name-calling state at the end of 2018, the Stars organization has recently focused on winning hockey games, and it's worked wonders.
It's mid-February and the dysfunctional Stars are in a position to add, not subtract, as they move to snag a divisional playoff spot. There are some phone calls to be made by general manager Jim Nill; he says he wants a scorer, but the club will likely be taking a vigilant approach to acquiring anything that can help a playoff run.
Paul Fenton, the Wild's rookie GM, has reportedly been given the "green light" from ownership to "do whatever he sees fit to improve this team either now or for the future heading into the trade deadline."
If Fenton resets for the future, Eric Staal (soon-to-be UFA making $3.5 million) and Charlie Coyle ($3.2M this season and next) may be out the door, with contenders usually looking to add a forward with size at this time of year. Then again, Staal has some say in his fate with a modified no-trade clause.
The definition of an average NHL team, Minnesota could be ripe for a teardown sooner than later. Sometime prior to the deadline wouldn't be a terrible starting point, seeing as the Wild's 23-man roster includes five pending unrestricted free agents.
As per tradition, the Predators are set on the back end and in goal, but not up front. Despite ranking 13th in offense, Nashville's forward group feels incomplete, and recent additions - Brian Boyle from New Jersey and Cody McLeod from the Rangers - don't do enough to solve the lack of finishers.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are a complete mystery at the moment.
Undisputed winners of the offseason, they fell on their faces out of the gate, winning just nine of their first 25 games and firing their coach in the process. Fast forward and St. Louis is a league-best 16-4-1 in 2019. The team is finally on the right side of the playoff line and currently riding a 10-game winning streak.
So, the Blues are buyers, right? Or, at the very least, they'll hold, no? Not so fast.
GM Doug Armstrong traded away Paul Stastny around last year's deadline because he didn't think his squad, which had been sniffing a playoff spot, was a contender. Will the same scenario play out again?
Right now, it appears it's all up in the air.
Do you hear that? It's Mark Stone's music.
Stone heading to the Jets is far from a guarantee, but based on recent rumblings, there's a believable scenario in which the Senators ship the Winnipeg native home if a contract extension in Ottawa can't be reached.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff isn't tipping his hand but it's only a matter of time before he pulls the trigger on a sizeable deal. The 2018-19 edition of his club is stacked, especially on offense, but could use an infusion from the outside.
The haul may be Stone or his teammate - and potential Jets No. 2 center - Matt Duchene. Or, perhaps, another forward with name value.
The Ducks are 2-1-0 with GM Bob Murray as head coach, but he likely inserted himself behind the bench to get a closer look at his team moving forward. Anaheim is just five points out of a playoff spot but the underlying numbers suggest this team is lucky to be within striking distance.
A decision will need to be made on the team's lone key pending unrestricted free agent in Jakob Silfverberg. The Ducks would like to re-sign the two-way forward, but without a deal in place, he'll need to be traded. There will be no shortage of suitors for Silfverberg and Anaheim has some up-and-coming forwards who could replace him in the lineup.
Veteran netminder Ryan Miller is also a pending UFA and could generate some interest as insurance for a contender, but he'd have to waive his no-trade clause.
The Coyotes have dealt with so many injuries they're tough to properly evaluate. Like most teams in the logjam that is the Western Conference, Arizona is still in the playoff hunt, but mortgaging the future for the top rental doesn't seem smart.
With Jordan Weal and Richard Panik as the team's top pending free agents, the Coyotes aren't primed to be deadline sellers either. A deal to help the team's offense beyond this season without giving up a first-rounder would be ideal, though unlikely. A depth forward such as Thomas Vanek, for example, could be added for a late-round pick. Otherwise, don't expect Arizona to make much noise.
How confident are the Flames going into the playoffs with David Rittich between the pipes? He saved Calgary's season in the early going but has authored an .889 save percentage over his last 13 games. Could general manager Brad Treliving be in the market for someone like Jimmy Howard?
Regardless of whether the Flames decide to trust their goaltending, finding a top-six winger to play alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk should be a priority. Mark Stone, Wayne Simmonds, Mats Zuccarello, and Gustav Nyquist would all be nice fits.
How the Oilers handle Jesse Puljujarvi could be interesting. The organization has a history of giving up on players too early, but it's clear the young forward needs a change of scenery. If the right deal presents itself, then pulling the trigger isn't a bad idea, but Gretzky should by no means simply take the best offer he gets for the young Finn.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings already dealt one of their best trade chips, sending Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a first-rounder and two prospects. Carl Hagelin is L.A.'s top pending UFA, but any veteran not named Drew Doughty or Anze Kopitar should be made available ahead of the deadline. That includes Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Alec Martinez.
With most veterans signed beyond this year, the Kings don't need to ship off their best trade chips before Feb. 25, as they could get better offers in the summer. Still, there could be deadline movement in Los Angeles.
San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson did most of his heavy lifting in the offseason, acquiring perennial Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson. Even though Wilson is one of the league's savviest GMs and the Sharks are in win-now mode, it could be a rather quiet deadline in the Bay Area.
San Jose's biggest weakness this season has been in goal, but Martin Jones' impressive playoff resume (.927 save percentage, 2.07 goals-against average in 42 games) provides optimism he can come up big when it matters most.
Even with limited cap space, Wilson should still be able to add one more top-nine forward and perhaps a depth defenseman, but don't expect the Sharks to be players for any of the high-profile names.
Many predicted the Canucks would be a lottery team, but the emergence of Elias Pettersson has them right in the playoff hunt. Pettersson's rookie year, however, isn't the time to be dealing future assets for rentals.
In fact, Vancouver should be looking in the opposite direction. If defenseman Alexander Edler is willing to waive his no-trade clause, there'd be no shortage of suitors lined up for his services. He's expressed a desire to stay in Vancouver, but he could conceivably join a contender for the stretch run before re-signing with the Canucks on July 1. It'd be a win-win.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights sit comfortably in a playoff spot but will likely face a daunting first-round playoff matchup against either the Sharks or Flames without home-ice advantage. They shouldn't be looking to deal from their thin, top-heavy prospect pool in exchange for short-term gain.
Vegas does, however, hold a combined seven picks in rounds three through five of the 2019 draft, and could use that capital to add depth to the lineup. A third-line right winger would give the Golden Knights three formidable lines.
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