Potential NHL Trade Proposals: Atlantic Division
With the holiday roster freeze nearly upon us and many teams having an idea of where they stand this season, now is a great time to start looking at some trades that would make a lot of sense. It has been a trend in the NHL to start making trades earlier and earlier and the unique way this season has played out so far and with a potential major prize to be had in the draft, with another potential superstar available some teams who have fallen well behind, might be best served to help get themselves the best odds at Jack Hughes. What is maybe the most interesting so far this season is there are multiple teams who are loaded with young talent and playing better than expected and multiple teams who have talented veterans that are well out of the playoff race already.
In this article series, I have chosen five teams from each division who I believe could look to make a trade to solidify their roster for this season and maybe beyond. I will start with the Atlantic division and work my way through the league. None of these trades have been pulled from thin air. I have looked at where the teams are weakest in their “advanced metrics.” I then filtered players by specified criteria and looked at whether they would make sense for a given team. I will attempt to put a price on some targets but may not be entirely accurate. I will also add this disclaimer: I am much more familiar with some teams’ farm systems than others so please forgive me if I am vaguer with some teams than others. Also, all stats were collected as of December 11th.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Potential Need: Backup Goaltender
Andrei Vasilevskly has just returned from injury and the Lightning have to hope that he will start to stabilize the team in net. Prior to his return, the Lightning were giving up an astounding 15 more goals than expected during 5v5 play, which is third worst in the league. The team has continued to win in spite of this. For a team who is loaded everywhere else, they have to plan for the worst-case scenario and cannot consider going into the playoffs with Louis Domingue as the backup in case Vasilevskly goes down in the playoffs.
The Lightning could look to add someone with a little term as they likely will roll with Vasilevskly as their long-term starter and finding a veteran backup to play behind him for a few seasons would not be a bad idea at all. They could also opt for a short-term answer and reassess again in the offseason. Regardless, they have to address the position. I think the goalie who makes the most sense for the Lightning is Anders Nilsson from the Vancouver Canucks.
Nilsson is currently saving two more goals than average, which is nearly nine goals more than Domingue. He is also used to playing the backup role, which I think is something that needs to be considered. He carries a $2.5M cap hit, a number the Lightning could fit now or likely at any point in future as long as they don’t make any other major moves. He is also an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at season’s end so Tampa would not be locked in to him beyond this season. I can’t him costing more than a mid-round draft pick. I also think Vancouver might like to move him and clear a spot in their net for top goalie prospect, Thatcher Demko to get a taste of the NHL at the end of the season.
A few other options for the Lightning to consider are Thomas Greiss, Jimmy Howard, and Brian Elliott. However, there are consistency and injury concerns with Greiss and Elliott, and Howard comes with a higher cap hit and might be a hotter commodity at the deadline, which might require a higher payment on the Lightning’s part, which I don’t see necessary for a backup goalie. Howard would only make sense if there is any consideration of not riding Vasilevsky in the playoffs (which I don’t think there should be).
Predicted Trade: Lightning acquire Andreas Nilsson in exchange for a 4thround pick and the trade occurs sometime after January 15th.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Potential Need: Shot Suppressing Defender
BREAKING NEWS: The Toronto Maple Leafs’ biggest weakness is their blue line. Oh, wait that isn’t breaking news? I’m fairly confident there have been plenty of pieces written and discussions about where the Maple Leafs’ weaknesses are. Just in case you have been living under a rock and have chosen to read my piece before any others, I will give you some numbers to consider as to why the teams’ blueline is the problem. Toronto is hovering right around 50% in their shot share. However, they are giving up close to 62 shots per game, which is third worst in the league behind only Ottawa and Anaheim. They are loaded with talent at forward but lacking when it comes to defense. One of the issues I have seen while watching Leaf games is their defenders struggle to move the puck out of their zone, which I think is part of the reason they give up so many shots per game. Please note that I am drawing my own conclusions from watching only a few Leaf games. The Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup window is opening and they should take every opportunity to maximize it. I think the biggest barrier for them is potentially Tampa Bay and there is no chance of getting by them if they are getting hemmed in their own zone for extended periods.
This offseason is going to be tough for Toronto so they may consider looking for someone on an expiring contract. I don’t think that is a bad idea but they will likely run into the same problem again next season unless they acquire someone with term. Considering a long-term solution on the blue line will likely require the team to move one of their young dynamic forwards, they could look for a short-term solution to make a run this year and then look to address the long-term issue in the offseason where it might be easier to stomach moving one of their young forwards. As far as on-ice performance goes, I looked for a defender who was better than average in terms of shots against. I also looked for players whose team was expected to outscore the other team while they were on the ice. Ironically, there are three players currently in Toronto’s organization that appear on this list, Travis Dermott, Igor Ozhiganov, and Martin Marincin. Just because these players passed my initial filter, I also recognize it is impractical for Toronto to heavily rely on them this season. Maybe they are long-term answers but Toronto should be in win-now mode and they aren’t going to get it done.
My filter produced a list of plenty of names and many of the league’s top defensemen appear (Brett Burns, Kris Letang, Ryan McDonagh, Victor Hedman, Jacob Slavin, Erik Karlsson, Mark Giordano, Brett Pesce, Dougie Hamilton, etc.). There are also some names that might not be expected. Adam Larsson appears so maybe the Leafs could trade Mitch Marner for him and make the trade one for one. Oh, wait Kyle Dubas is probably smart enough to not make that trade. So getting serious there are some names that have appeared that should be very interesting for Leaf fans. Outside of the Hurricane players that I have already listed, the remainder of their blue line appears in the list. There has been plenty of talk surrounding a Leafs-Hurricanes trade because of each team’s strengths and weaknesses. That makes plenty of sense. As Bob McKenzie discussed on a recent insider trading, a trade of Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson for one of the Hurricane defensemen would work. Justin Faulk would probably be the most likely to be moved.
However, there are a few other names that are very interesting and could be available. Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin from the Wild appear. I don’t know the Wild’s appetite for trading either of those players but they could probably move one of the two in exchange for a more cost controlled forward. I don’t think this is overly likely but Spurgeon in exchange for Marincin or Ozhiganov and Johnsson could be an interesting move.
The two names I would be most intrigued with for the Maple Leafs are the Los Angeles Kings’ Jake Muzzin and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Radko Gudas. The Kings are likely going to tear things down and the Flyers could be looking to shake things up. Muzzin likely will cost a high pick and a prospect. Maybe Kapanen or Johnsson would work in a one for one swap for Muzzin but both teams might be interested in sending future assets to Los Angeles. Muzzin comes with a very reasonable $4M cap hit for this season and the next. Gudas comes with only a $3.35M cap hit over the same time period as Muzzin. Gudas, of course, comes with plenty of baggage but has been surprisingly effective when not taking cheap shots on his opponents. I think Gudas could be acquired without losing a current key roster player. Connor Brown could be someone Philadelphia might be interested in and I think the Leafs would be ok to move him.
If I were running the Maple Leafs, I would make a strong run for one of Muzzin or Gudas as my goal would be to find someone who could be acquired while keeping as many current roster players as possible. I also like the idea of acquiring someone who is signed next season to a very reasonable cap hit as this offseason is going to be a cap squeeze for Toronto.
Predicted Trade: Toronto acquires Jake Muzzin with the Kings retaining 50% of the salary in exchange for a 2019 1stround pick, 2020 second round pick, and a mid-level prospect
Potential Need: A second or third line player that will help drive offense
The Sabres are one of the most surprising teams this season. They are loaded with young players and were expected to improve but not quite at the rate they have. Barring a major collapse, the Sabres should be back in the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Not only are the currently one of the top teams NHL teams, their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans are also at the top of the standings and boast some impressive young talent as well. Expanding things further, the Sabres have one of the highest regarded farm systems in the league. They also own four first-round draft picks in the next two drafts, including one from the St. Louis Blues that is protected this year but would become unprotected next year. In short, the Sabres have the assets to make moves if they desire. I wouldn’t expect Jason Botterill to push all his chips into the center of the table but he might be willing to move some.
With the Sabres being well positioned to be a consistent contender for years to come, I’m not sure they will be looking for short-term additions. However, I think they should and will strongly consider adding someone who can play a second/third-line role but has some term on their contract. The Sabres will have some serious money coming off their books each of the next few offseasons. However, they will hope to be shelling out big money for Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, Lawrence Pilut, Alex Nylander, and Brenden Guhle. I say the Sabres hope they will have to shell out big money for those players because that will mean all of them will have reached near star potential. Obviously, that is unlikely to happen but it certainly has to be a consideration. Regardless, the Sabres need to be mindful that in two to three seasons, they could have multiple $9M – $11M cap hits on their books. The salary cap is rising but adding players with significant term might handicap the team down the road. Instead, they should be looking at players with two to three years remaining. In terms of on-ice performance, I looked for players who improved their teams’ offensive performance when they are on the ice. The numbers I looked at were relative shots % and relative expected goals for %. They are ninth worst generating 52 shots per game and fifth worst with an expected goals for of 51, respectively.
The list of players who fit these criteria is extensive but many are players who will never be traded. Additionally, there is likely going to be plenty of competition for the players who could be traded from this list and that could drive the price up. The Sabres might decide that the price is ultimately too high and stand pat. If they do decide to make a move, I have a couple of targets that could make a lot of sense. I have heard the name, Brayden Schenn thrown around plenty of times as a potential target for the Sabres. He would certainly be near the top of my list if I were in charge and I would look to give St. Louis their 1stround pick back. I think it could also take another higher pick or a mid to high-level prospect, like Brenden Guhle. Jaden Schwartz is another Blue player that fits the bill. Both players have cap hits just over $5M with Schenn having this season and next remaining while Schwartz has an additional season.
I don’t think a trade with the Blues happens without St. Louis getting their first-round pick back. If the Sabres decide that is an asset that they would rather hold on to because of the possibility of it becoming a high pick, there are four other players that I like a lot as a fit for the Sabres. They are the Los Angeles Kings’ Tyler Toffoli ($4.6M, 2 years), New Jersey Devils’ Kyle Palmieri ($4.65M, 3 years), and Minnesota Wild’s Nino Niederreiter ($5.25M cap hit, 4 years) and Mikael Granlund ($5.75M, 2 years). I have heard another Wild player, Charlie Coyle connected to the Sabres. He did not meet my criteria. Out of those four names, Toffoli makes the most sense, in my opinion. I like Niederreiter a lot as a player and he would bea solid addition to the Sabres’ middle six as a possession driving player. The term and cap hit would be a concern and I don’t see Minnesota overly interested in retaining salary unless the Sabres make it worth it. I think the Kings would be very interested in Brenden Guhle as he would add some much-needed speed to their blue line. It would probably take him in addition to a first-round pick to start conversations. Tage Thompson could also be of interest to them, but I’m not sure Buffalo would be willing to trade him just yet. I think a trade with the Wild would have to start with Alex Nylander and the Devils would be interested in him as well. Victor Olofsson could also be of interest to any of these teams as he could develop into a lethal power play weapon. The Wild would also want someone who could come in and help them immediately as well. Maybe a player like Evan Rodrigues fits that bill.
Predicted Trade: Buffalo acquires Brayden Schenn and retains 10% of cap hit in exchange for St. Louis’s 2019 first round pick, Brenden Guhle, CJ Smith, and Matt Moulson and retains 10% of cap hit.
Potential Need: Special Team Help
The Bruins’ biggest need is probably a magic wand to keep all their players healthy. Since that’s not possible, we will look at the power play and penalty kill. Boston has an expected goal for on the power play of 16, which ranks 22ndout of 31 in the NHL. They also have been expected to allow 22 goals against on the penalty kill which only trails Anaheim and Detroit. A healthy Patrice Bergeron will certainly help but a player who can add some depth and contribute on special teams would be a smart add for the Bruins who, when healthy, should be able to contend with the best in the NHL.
Although this player has not killed penalties yet this season, he has been successful in past times in his career. Additionally, he is a player that is has been on the ice for more expected power play goals than the Bruins have generated. He also is a veteran player with no years remaining on his contract and has been a quality depth player for much of his career. That player in Brian Boyle. The Bruins could certainly use some help at bottom six center and Boyle would also improve their special teams. The only concern is whether he will have the physical ability to play all penalty kill, power play, and 5v5 play.
Finding someone to help their power play, based on my criteria, will be difficult as many of the players aren’t likely to be traded. However, I think there a few interesting options that could improve their penalty kill and their bottom six depth. Ironically, former Bruin, Tim Schaller, and current Canuck, is one of those players. Additionally, the Sabres’ Zemgus Girgensons and Vladimir Sobotka, the Canucks’ Markus Granlund, Ben Hutton, Tyler Motte, the Devils’ Blake Coleman, and the Rangers’ Jesper Fast all appear. I don’t think the Sabres would help the Bruins but that still leaves plenty of options. I like Fast best of those options.
Predicted Trade: Bruins acquire Brian Boyle in exchange for a third-round pick
Potential Need: Better goaltending
The Canadiens have been having a quietly solid season, especially when you look at some of their “beyond the box score numbers.” Their biggest problem is they are giving up 10 more goals than expected. That can’t happen when they are paying a goalie $10.5M. They really need Carey Price to play at a higher level. However, like Tampa, their bigger problem is their backup, Antti Niemi, who is giving up six more goals than expected. Although it would not be ideal to commit more salary cap space to goalies, the team is in fairly decent shape when it comes to their salary cap so they could look to add someone who would be a more reliable backup for a couple years.
Here, I will direct you to reread the targets for the Lightning as I think many of the same should be on the Canadiens’ radar. Since I have the Lightning acquiring Nilsson, I will predict the Canadiens hone in on Brian Elliott. However, I think it could also be smart for the Canadiens to stand pat and roll with their current roster. They probably aren’t quite talented enough across the board to make a serious run this year and being patient and letting their young players develop might be the smart play.
PredictedTrade: Canadiens acquire Brian Elliott in exchange for a third-round pick and Antti Niemi
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Next Up: A look at the Metro division
Statistics courtesy of Corsica.hockey and contract data courtesy of capfriendly.com.
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.