The Best Options for a Sabres Trade of Rasmus Ristolainen
After looking at the options the Buffalo Sabres have to fix their roster logjam, we have taken the process a step further to identify possible outcomes for our most common prediction: trading Rasmus Ristolainen. It’s arguable that the Sabres have surpluses at both forward and defense but it is undeniable that the team has to do something with their defense. We previously discussed how the team has eleven defensemen and six spots to play them. We concluded that Rasmus Ristolainen was likely the odd man out. We did play out a scenario where he is still on the roster come opening night, but it seems unlikely. Teams around the league have to have come to the same conclusion as we have and are likely checking in with Buffalo to see if they can get their hands on Ristolainen. In this article, we will touch on nine teams that we think could have already checked in on Ristolainen or will if they haven’t already. We have ordered the teams based on the likeliness of a trade between Buffalo and them happening.
Before we discuss the teams that could be in play, we need to discuss our views on Ristolainen. When looking at Ristolainen’s underlying metrics, he performs at the level of a bottom-pair defenseman and that might be generous. However, those metrics likely do not reflect what the Sabres and possibly many other teams place his value at. It is very possible that teams view Ristolainen as a top four defenseman. Throughout our analysis, we consider that the perceived value of Ristolainen may very well be higher than we think it should be. Ultimately, a player’s value is what someone is willing to pay and reports are the Sabres are going to demand that price to be high. We have taken the approach that the price settles somewhere in the middle. Based on our previous article, we concluded that the Sabres would likely be looking for a top-six forward, a left-handed defenseman, or a high-end forward prospect, in that order. With that in mind, we will move into the teams and some players that a trade would likely center around. We should add two caveats. First, we don’t know how teams value certain players. We could be much higher or lower on a given player, especially prospects. Second, we have discussed what we think would be the main parameters of a trade but there is a good chance that other pieces get included from each side for a multitude of reasons.
9. Colorado Avalanche
Once Colorado moved Tyson Barrie, the right side of their defense doesn’t look nearly as strong. Currently, they have Erik Johnson and Cale Makar. If having a balance of right and left shots is important to them, they could look to make another move to achieve that balance. Ristolainen might not be the best fit for them as he and Johnson would become a 2a and 2b. They would then have ~$11M committed to their bottom two right shot defenders. However, the team does have the salary cap space to fit Ristolainen and might consider the move if they feel they can bring Ristolainen in without giving up too valuable of assets. When looking at Colorado’s roster and prospects and considering what the Sabres would likely desire, we think the best Colorado would be willing to offer is one of JT Compher or Tyson Jost, and Ian Cole. If the Sabres can’t find a better offer, they might be better off holding on to Ristolainen. A trade like this creates a bigger logjam of middle-six forwards and doesn’t significantly improve the team anywhere.
8. Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago is another team with an unbalanced left-right blue line. However, it is a problem they recently created with the acquisitions of Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta. On paper and in a vacuum, the Sabres trading Ristolainen to Chicago for one of de Haan or Maatta would make a lot of sense, maybe the most out of any scenario. Either player would be an ideal second-pair left defender for Buffalo and Ristolainen might instantly become Chicago’s best right-handed defender (a scary thought but likely true). The issue here is things don’t happen in a vacuum. Chicago recently acquired both players and if they were going to flip either, they likely would have done so shortly after acquiring them. Chicago and Buffalo also just recently swapped a defender (Henri Jokiharju) for a forward (Alex Nylander) so the optics of them acquiring a right-shot defender from the same team is terrible. We would never say never here but the probability of this trade happening is low. If it did, a straight swap of either de Haan or Maatta makes sense.
7. Vegas Golden Knights
Again, we are touching on a team that just sent a right-handed defender to Buffalo so a trade to get a different one back seems unlikely. However, Vegas has a glaring hole on their right side and with their salary cap situation clearer, Vegas could circle back to Buffalo. In a deal with Vegas, the Sabres would need to salary match or take back more than they send. In this situation, the conversation would likely have to revolve around one of Reilly Smith, Johnathan Marchessault, or Alex Tuch. The Sabres should salivate at the idea of acquiring Tuch but Vegas isn’t likely to do a one for one swap. If a trade fit were there, Smith would likely be the player that makes the most sense. Again, we want to emphasize the unlikeliness of these teams working out another trade that involves a right-shot defenseman. The optics of trading a cheaper, right-handed defensemen to a team and then circling back to the same team and acquiring a more expensive right-handed defensemen, who is arguably a worse player, would make absolutely no sense. If we were strictly looking at roster fits, Vegas might be the most likely scenario but when considering the optics of another trade, they get bumped far down the list.
6. Detroit Red Wings
On paper, the Detroit Red Wings could really use a right shot defenseman. They are a young, rebuilding team, so a 24 year old Rasmus Ristolainen would fit well when considering the path of the team. The only problem that we see with these teams matching up for a deal is that there are not many assets that Detroit would be willing to move that would interest Buffalo in a trade for Ristolainen. The one name that sticks out is forward Andreas Athanasiou. Starting a few seasons ago, there were trade rumors around Athanasiou. However, they seem to have cooled over the past year or so. That makes sense considering he is a 24-year-old forward who just put up a 30-goal season this past year. He has become the type of player that Detroit should be holding on to. Pair that with the fact that Detroit now has a new decision-making group in the front office and it seems unlikely that they’d be looking to move Athanasiou. However, that also could be a wild card as new GM in Steve Yzerman could be looking to put his own stamp on the roster. Overall, we believe that it would be tough for these teams to find a deal, especially as division rivals. There could be a fit though, so never say never.
5. Anahiem Ducks
While looking at the Anaheim Ducks, the recent trade factor (similar to our Vegas analysis) appears. During the past season, the Sabres acquired Brandon Montour from Anaheim. While this is similar to the Vegas situation, there are two key differences. First, the amount of time that has gone by may make it more likely a deal could happen. Second, the Ducks got a good return for Montour (Guhle and a 1st round pick). Vegas did not get a great return for Miller. The Ducks getting an adequate return might make them more comfortable with making another trade. Anaheim is in need of a top four right handed defenseman, as Josh Manson is the only option on their current roster. There are two current NHL players that could interest Buffalo in Rickard Rakell and Ondrej Kase. Both players have shown they can be capable top six options. Rakell is a 26 year old forward capable of playing both center and the wing. He also has two 30 goal seasons and is on a cheap contract. Kase, a 23-year-old winger, was injured this past season, but produced 11 goals and 20 points in 30 games. Rakell would be the first ask, but the Sabres would do well to acquire either player. While those two are great for a rebuilding team like Anaheim, they may be willing to trade from their forward depth in order to strengthen their defense with a long-term option like Ristolainen.
Another way to possibly acquire Ristolainen would be to use prospects. While we think Anaheim is unlikely to do this because of their status as a rebuilding club, it is important to highlight the prospects Buffalo would be interested in. This group includes center Isac Lundestrom, center Sam Steel, winger Maxime Comtois, and winger Max Jones. While some of these prospects may be more available than others in a trade for Ristolainen, these four would be of interest to the Sabres.
4. Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers have been looking for top four, right shot defenseman for a few years now. There have been rumors in the past linking them to Rasmus Ristolainen. On paper, there are multiple options that the Oilers could look at to acquire Ristolainen. Buffalo could use a left handed defenseman, so a possible trade including Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse may interest the Sabres. On the forward side, the Oilers have both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi to offer. Trading RNH would be pretty detrimental to an already mediocre offense, so the prospect of Puljujarvi may be the more realistic option. The Sabres would be looking at either a left-handed defenseman for their second pair or a possible question mark of a prospect who could end up being a bust or pay off greatly.
Another avenue the team could look is to use prospects. While we don’t think this is likely, there are a couple prospects that would interest the Sabres: wingers Kailer Yamamotto and Tyler Benson. Regardless of the likeliness of these options, there are possibilities here that could bring about a deal between Edmonton and Buffalo.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
The first time that Tampa Bay was connected to Ristolainen was during the 2018-2019 season. While there hasn’t been much linking them lately, the fact that there was interest in Ristolainen means that there still could be interest. Tampa could certainly use a top four right shot defenseman, as they are currently deploying Hedman, McDonagh, and Sergachev, who are all left shots. While there are not left shot defensive options to swap for Ristolainen, there are plenty of forwards who could find their way to Buffalo. Buffalo would have interest in NHL forwards like Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn (in that order). Cirelli would be the ideal target as he is a young center who seems ready for a top six role, but it may be hard to pry him away from Tampa. It is important to acknowledge that Johnson, Gourde, Palat, and Killorn all have full no-trade clauses that would allow them to block any trade. Tampa has an abundance of forwards and are missing a top four right shot defenseman. Eric Cernak may soon be ready for that role but adding another established defenseman may help the teams’ defense in both the short term and long term.
While Buffalo may have their favorite targets on Tampa’s roster, the main problem is many of them have the ability to block a possible trade. Regardless, if Tampa was really interested in Ristolainen, they have enough NHL assets to find a deal that would work for both teams. If they wanted to deal from their prospect pool, it would need to include one of Taylor Raddysh or Alex Barre-Boulet. For a deal with prospects to work, the Lightning would need to shed salary in the form of Ryan Callahan’s contract and possibly add another roster player. A deal like Johnson, Callahan’s contract, and Raddysh for Ristolainen and Sheary (50% retained) could be close to where a deal like this would need to end up.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus is a team that could certainly have interest in a top four right shot defenseman. They have Seth Jones and David Savard at the position. Any other defensive player would be playing on their off side if deployed on the right side of a pairing. Four players stand out that would make sense for Buffalo: Ryan Murray, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, and Markus Nutivaara. Chances are, Ryan Murray wouldn’t be an option as it would create another hole on the left side of the top four defense. If the Sabres could grab Bjorkstrand in a deal, they should absolutely do it. At this point, they might be a season or two too late as he has become a 40 point player who can score goals at age 24. That would leave Alexander Wennberg and Markus Nutivaara.
Wennberg has been rumored to be on his way out of Columbus for quite some time, as he took a step back after the 2016-2017 season and hasn’t returned to be the same player. He is only 24, so there is still potential for him to regain top six form. Nutuivaara is a decent option for a bottom pair. If the Sabres could acquire these two in a deal, they’d be looking at a possible top six option and a bottom pair defenseman that would allow the team to not have Marco Scandella in their lineup. Buffalo would be improving two parts of their roster, while Columbus would be getting the top four defenseman that they need.
If Columbus was looking to trade out of their prospect pool instead of using NHL roster players, the conversation with Buffalo would begin and stop with center Alexander Texier. After him, Columbus’ prospect pool doesn’t have a talent that would interest Buffalo in this type of trade.
1. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets currently have some cap space, but they will be very close to the cap once they get top players like Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor signed. After doing that, they will still have a glaring need on defense. After Joshua Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien, there are question marks on defense. Newly acquired Neal Pionk could play a top four role, but ideally he would be best fit on the bottom pair. Prospect Sami Niku projects as a top four defenseman, but putting him there at the start of this season may be asking a bit much of him at this point in his development.
If those two were on the second pair, that would mean deploying a bottom pair that consists of two of Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman, and Dmitry Kulikov. Kulikov should not see NHL minutes, and the other two are bottom pair at best guys who could easily be scratched. There is a clear need for another top four defenseman and, in a perfect world, two more top four defenseman. The Jets match up fairly well with the Sabres. They have forward depth and need to balance out their roster.
The odd man out in their forward group seems to be Nikolaj Ehlers, as he has been in trade rumors for the past year. In order to acquire him the Sabres may need to send Ristolainen and a player like Conor Sheary (retained salary) to Winnipeg. Buffalo would be acquiring a top six forward, while Winnipeg would be getting a top four defenseman and a depth scorer. If Ehlers is not an option, two other forwards stand out: Jack Roslovic or Mason Appleton.
While these two would be great gets for Buffalo, it wouldn’t clear salary for Winnipeg, so they most likely would need to have a possible deal include a bigger contract to make the financials work. Buffalo would most likely be interested in a Roslovic and Lowry/Copp package. While that would further jam up their forward situation, the Sabres would then be able to deal Sheary or even flip Lowry/Copp. If Winnipeg wanted Buffalo to take a player like Mathieu Perreault, the rest of the trade package would need to be greater than Roslovic. It seems that Ehlers would truly make the most sense, but a deal could be found around a different package of players.
We ultimately think a trade of Ristolainen and Conor Sheary (some salary retained on Sheary) for Nikolaj Ehlers makes the most sense for both parties. If we were handicapping where Ristolainen starts the season, we would give Winnipeg around a 35%, Columbus 20%, Tampa Bay 15%, Buffalo 10%, Edmonton 10%, Anaheim 5%, and the field as 5%. We also need to emphasize, the Sabres’ biggest need in a trade might be a left-handed defenseman. There are two questions the team needs to answer. First, can they sign Jake Gardiner, who would be a dynamite addition? Second, can they count on Lawrence Pilut? Although his underlying metrics were strong in a limited sample with Buffalo, there is an injury question as well as a question if his limited sample in Buffalo is sustainable. We aren’t as ready to anoint him as many others and think the Sabres would be wise to look for a more known option. Additionally, the team would still be an injury away from Marco Scandella or Matt Hunwick playing. That cannot happen.
Our current lineup prediction has Jimmy Vesey playing on the first-line. That is definitely not ideal. However, Jack Eichel may be able to drive offense enough to overcome that deficiency. It also has Marcus Johansson as the second-line center. If the team can acquire a better option at center, they should explore it. While the package of Ristolainen and Sheary (or Evan Rodrigues) would work for a top line winger, it likely doesn’t net more than a short-term solution at the center position. If they are looking to acquire a younger, long-term solution at the center position, Casey Mittelstadt probably has to be packaged with Ristolainen. This would make sense from an asset management standpoint as Mittelstadt’s future role would suddenly be filled. However, this seems unlikely to happen. The team gets one shot at moving Ristolainen and they need to ensure they choose the correct return. We have thoroughly been through all the scenarios in our previous article, as well as this one. We now sit and wait to see when the dominoes start to fall.
Image courtesy of Bill Wippert / Getty Images
James Finch is an analyst at AFP Analytics. James graduated from St. John Fisher College in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Sport Management with a minor in Economics. His background with sports and economics have brought about an interest in gaining experience and finding his niche within the sport analytics field.
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.
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.
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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