Potential NHL Trade Proposals: Central Division
With the holiday roster freeze ended 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. You can find the Atlantic Division here and the Metro Division here.
Potential Need: Upgrade in depth
The Predators are one of the most complete teams in the NHL, especially on their backend. Their biggest issue so far is they have been decimated by injuries. Despite this, the Predators have still managed to stay toward the top of the league. The Predators are in win now mode and way never have a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup than they have right now. They need to do everything they can to capitalize on this opportunity. If I were running the team, I would be looking to upgrade where ever possible. Armed with draft picks in every round of the next three drafts and nearly $30M of deadline cap space, the Predators could be one of the most active teams around the deadline.
The only problem the Predators face is they do not have tons of future salary cap space. They are currently projected to have around $10M in space. This will be added to whatever raise in salary cap takes place (probably around $3M). Now this doesn’t mean they can’t add anyone with term but they will probably be limited to just one player with term. I would imagine a player that would provide enough of an upgrade to justify acquiring would come in between $5M and $8M. They will also need to give Ryan Hartman and Kevin Fiala, along with other role players, new contracts as well. Although I wouldn’t take this stance as a GM, I do not anticipate another GM in their division helping them out. As such, I will not consider a trade within the division.
Let’s start with identifying potential rental players that could help the Predators. Mark Stone, Jordan Eberle, Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Kevin Hayes, Gustav Nyquist, Jori Lehtera, Marcus Johansson, Mats Zuccarello, Brock Nelson, Carl Hagelin, Wayne Simmonds, Jakob Silfverberg, Anders Lee, and Eric Staal are all players who I think COULD be traded. I think the chances of Eberle, Panarin, Skinner, Nelson, and Lee being moved are small. If you continue reading, you will see I will predict Mark Stone being moved to another team in the central. Of these players, I really like the potential fits of Duchene, Hayes, Nyquist, or Zuccarello in Nashville. The first three could also be players that Nashville could look to commit term to as well. Of these players, Hayes and Nyquist have improved their teams’ shot metrics while on the ice and have a better than average expected goals for percentage. For those unfamiliar with expected goals for percentage, it basically tells us their team is expected to outscore their opponent while they are on the ice.
As far as players with term go, I don’t like the options as much but I could see Chris Kreider, Tyler Toffoli, and, depending on what shakes out in Calgary and Florida, Michael Frolik, Nick Bjugstad, Mike Hoffman, and Evgeni Dadonov, being fits for Nashville. If I were in charge in Calgary, I wouldn’t cater to Frolik and his agent but if they do, I think he would be a tremendous fit in Nashville. Florida has had a disappointing season thus far and a playoff appearance isn’t overly likely this season. This doesn’t mean they should be in any rush to deal players under contract beyond this season but back to back seasons where they have failed to meet expectations, could trigger them to shake up their core. Of the players I have floated from Florida, Bjugstad is the most likely to be moved. Kreider, Toffoli, Frolik, and Hoffman all fall into the same group as Hayes and Nyquist from above.
Predicted Trade:I’m going to predict two trades here because I truly think Nashville will be incredibly active as the deadline rolls around.
- Nashville acquires Gustav Nyquist in exchange for 2020 top 10 protected first-round pick.
- Nashville acquires Chris Kreider in exchange for Colton Sissons, 2019 first-round pick, 2021 third-round pick
Potential Need: Offensive Play-maker
If you have been reading along, I previously predicted that Winnipeg would trade Nikolaj Ehlers to Carolina in exchange for Brett Pesce and Warren Foegele. You may wonder why I predicted that trade while also saying Winnipeg needs an offensive play-maker. Here’s why: I feel like going this route would be most beneficial both in the short and long-term for the Jets. Winnipeg has a plethora of young forwards who should continue to improve. They do not have the same depth on their blueline. Pesce would be a tremendous add, especially with the extended loss of Dustin Byfuglien and the long-term uncertainty of both Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Pesce and Foegle would also come with a lower combined cap hit than Ehlers, which might be important for Winnipeg as soon as this offseason.
Ehlers is a tremendous player and moving him would certainly hurt the Jets up front. This in addition to the fact they ranked 23rdin the NHL with 53 expected goals for, with only 58 actually scored at the time of data collection make an offensive play-maker needed. With a savvy rental player pickup or two, I think the Jets could replace Ehlers’ production in the short-term and hope another one of their tremendous young players can slot into Ehlers’ spot long-term. Would this be a risky play for a team who is a cup favorite this season? Absolutely. However, I also think it would be a risk worth taking to potentially keep open the team’s Cup window longer.
Again, if you have been reading along, you will find these criteria familiar, meaning I see the competition stiff for players who are possible targets here. 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 %. One difference for Winnipeg is I think they must look for players who are pure rentals. They are projected to have $26M in deadline salary cap space, which is plenty to do damage with. They are currently projected to have $23M plus any additional cap space from the cap rising this offseason. However, the team has multiple restricted and unrestricted free agents that they are going to have to pay or replace. Those include Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Jacob Trouba, who could eat up most of that cap space themselves. In addition to those three players, they may have to give new contracts to as many as eight additional players. Unless they can find other players like Pesce, I don’t think adding term is a smart decision.
Please see my above discussion for the Nashville Predators for players who would also be a good fit for Winnipeg. Detroit might be the biggest benefactor of the arms race that might take place in the Central at the trade deadline as I think Gustav Nyquist might be one of the most attractive rental options available. He is probably third, behind Stone and Duchene. However, I think he is the most likely to be moved as Ottawa really needs to try to retain their top remaining players while Detroit should be ready to move on from Nyquist, especially if a bidding war ensues. Since I have previously predicted Nyquist to Nashville, I am assuming he will not be available for Winnipeg to acquire. You might think this is where I have Mark Stone going but you will have to keep reading for that. Instead, I will turn my attention to Kevin Hayes.
The more I think about it, the more I like the fit of Hayes in Winnipeg. He provides a little diversity to what the Jets already have. He is more of a power forward, similar to Blake Wheeler, who can provide some middle-six depth and kill penalties. As the other teams around them gear up, Winnipeg will have to follow suit without mortgaging their future salary cap. It will certainly be tough, but Hayes fits the bill.
Predicted Trade: Winnipeg acquires Kevin Hayes in exchange for one of Jack Roslovic, Nic Petan, Brendan Lemieux, or 2019 first-round pick and 2021 third round pick.
Potential Need: Someone to generate offense
MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog are not the Avalanche’s problem this year. The rest of their forwards are. Colorado and the Buffalo Sabres are like mirror images of each other. Both got off to tremendous starts largely propelled by ridiculous play from their top lines. Both teams are now coming back to realistic levels and their top lines aren’t scoring at the same rate they were. When data was collected, Colorado was fourth last in expected goals, with 51. They were also ninth worst in shot generation with Dallas, Anaheim, New York Islanders, and Buffalo behind them. Basically, the recipe for success is not there.
Colorado is in a very interesting spot. They are the sixth youngest team in the league and holding their own in possibly the toughest division in the NHL. They also have the most valuable trade asset in their possession, the Ottawa Senators’ 2019 first-round pick, which likely will have the best chance at being first overall. One of the problems Colorado has is their younger players outside of MacKinnon and Rantanen haven’t yet taken as big of a step forward as the team has probably hoped. Do they sit idly for another season, hope they land another potential superstar center in Jack Hughes and hope their other young players take that step forward next season or do they give themselves more of a shot this year?
I wouldn’t have included Colorado here if I didn’t expect them to make a move. I’m not saying that is the wisest decision but I think they are a team that wants to take advantage of making consecutive playoff appearances. With the tremendous top-end talent and two goalies, who have shown the ability to get hot and steal games, anything is possible if they make it into the playoffs.
For potential targets for Colorado, I used the same criteria as I did for Winnipeg. 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 %. I’m going to save the energy of going through a bunch of names and say this is where I have Mark Stone going. I’ve maintained since Ottawa made their first-round pick in Dallas, that they would wrangle their pick back from Colorado. Dangling Mark Stone is going to be Ottawa’s best chance at possibly prying that pick free. I don’t think Stone as a rental is going to be enough to get that pick back. Colorado could use some help with their depth or on their blue line as well.
Predicted Trade: Colorado acquires Mark Stone, one of Maxime Lajole or Christian Jaros, and Ryan Dzingel in exchange for Ottawa’s First-Round Pick. Conditions: If both Stone and Dzingel remain in Colorado or Colorado wins this year’s Stanley Cup, Ottawa will receive a 2020 first-round pick. If Stone does not remain in Colorado, Ottawa will also send a 2020 second round pick to Colorado.
Potential Need: Offensive Depth
If I’m confident in one thing in all of this writing, its Dallas will make some move to acquire some scoring help. Usually when your upper leadership calls out your team’s two highest paid players, it means some changes are coming. Oh wait, that isn’t usual! Either way a trade is coming. Dallas needs help both on offense and defense. If the team is looking to make a move, I would imagine they would look at a move for a forward. The Stars have plenty of defensemen in their system, they just are injured. Could the team use another top defenseman? Who couldn’t? However, that would likely require them trading another defenseman and I don’t see that as a real possibility. I also think the team could use an upgrade more at forward than on their blueline. The Stars have to be one of the top-heaviest teams in the league and even though they have some nice depth players, I think they are lacking a true second-line. If you have been reading along in this series, I think they compare very well to the Buffalo Sabres.
The Stars are in a tough spot. They are currently projected to have just under $4M in deadline cap space. If they can get healthy, that would provide them a little more wiggle room as they currently have four players injured that are eating up nearly $13M in cap space. Maybe they could utilize Long-term Injured Reserve for some cap relief, but they would probably prefer to get those healthy instead as they definitely could bolster the line-up. If the team were fully healthy, they would have plenty of deadline cap space to add a nice second-line player. The Stars would probably like to find someone with term as they have Jason Spezza’s contract coming off the book, which also means they could be losing one of their better depth players.
For potential targets for Dallas, I used the same criteria as I did for Winnipeg and Colorado. 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 %. When data was collected, Dallas was fourth worst in the NHL in shot percentage. The only team in a playoff position behind them at the time was Anaheim. Dallas could desperately use some help in driving offense. Despite the comments about Benn and Seguin, I do not see the team moving either player during the season.
If you have read this division’s write-up, you are likely already familiar with many of the names who would be good fits for the Stars. Ironically, one player who appears on the list when I set the criteria detailed above is Justin Dowling, a player in the Stars’ system. Maybe they should give him more of a look? Otherwise, there are plenty of other names. Two players who I have not previously discussed are Blake Coleman and Miles Wood from the New Jersey Devils. With the Devils continuing to muddle as an average team, it is fair to wonder if the team would be open to moving either of those players. If I’m running the Devils, I wouldn’t actively be looking to move them. I think both players are too similar to what Dallas already has in terms of depth, quality third-line players. However, I would never completely dismiss acquiring players who are under team friendly contracts with term.
Another player that I don’t think would be available but could be worth mentioning is Bryan Rust. I think Rust is a tremendous complimentary piece but like the Devils, I’m not sure Pittsburgh is really willing to trade him. However, if Rutherford’s past history holds true, I would never dismiss him moving some players to tweak his roster. Rust would be a tremendous second-line depth player for the Stars.
Ultimately, there has been one player who I have continuously discussed but have not yet predicted a trade centering around them. That player is Tyler Toffoli. I actually like the fit of Toffoli in Dallas a lot. He would be a perfect second-line player for them, has term on his contract, and fits the criteria I set forth. The Kings are clearly a team that is going to look to make some major moves and Toffoli is likely one of their most valuable assets. The Stars will be looking to shake things up and an acquisition of Toffoli would do that. It also would give them some lineup versatility as they could consider playing one of Radulov, Seguin, or Benn with Toffoli to have two more balanced lines. I think the biggest hurdle would be the Stars relatively weak prospect pool.
Stars acquire Tyler Toffoli in exchange for a protected 2020 first-round pick, mid-level prospect, and a depth NHL player.
Potential Need: Goaltending
Devan Dubnyk has come back to earth and has continued to fall. Minnesota’s goaltending is a major issue. I had to double check the numbers so as of this writing, Dubnyk had given up 11.5 more goals than average, second worst to only Martin Jones. The good news is Dubnyk’s cap hit is only $4.3M. The bad news is he’s starting to get to the age where you wonder whether he will bounce back. Older goalies bouncing back is certainly possible but Minnesota might want to make sure they have another more reliable option and Alex Stalock doesn’t look like it.
Minnesota is a team who is in tight against the cap and probably shouldn’t be looking to add much more salary for their goaltenders. I think they could easily entertain making a move for a goalie whose contract is expiring as well as someone with term. I also focused on goalies who saved shots at least at average level. Some players that I think would be good fits for Minnesota are Thomas Greiss, Robin Lehner, Jimmy Howard, MacKenzie Blackwood, Casey Desmith, Curtis McElhinney, Jacob Markstrom, Pheonix Copley, Brian Elliot, Anton Khudobin, Petr Mrazek, Keith Kinkaid, Anders Nilsson, and Matt Murray. I have previously traded Elliot to Montreal, Howard to Pittsburgh, and Nilsson to Tampa (prior to his trade to Ottawa).
So, let’s try to whittle the list down. I’m not sure what Pittsburgh would do but one of Desmith or Murray would be a very intriguing option for Minnesota. The same goes for the Islanders. I don’t think Vancouver would move Markstrom quite yet as they will likely want to ease Thatcher Demko into the NHL. Washington shouldn’t move Copley as they need insurance for Holtby and I doubt Dallas would trade Khudobin to a direct playoff competitor. By my process of elimination, I think Keith Kinkaid, one of the Pittsburgh goalies, or one of the Carolina Hurricane goalies. If I’m Minnesota, I’m concerned with the consistency of the Carolina goalies.
Predicted Trade: Minnesota acquires Keith Kinkaid in exchange for 2020 third-round pick. Note if Minnesota acquires a 2019 fourth round pick, that would likely be the price.
Next up: Pacific Division. You can follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics to see when our final installment is posted. You can also let me know your thoughts there.
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