The NHL’s trade market is already buzzing with activity as playoff hopefuls such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators have swung deals.
The Leafs added defenseman Jake Muzzin on Jan. 28, the Penguins brought in forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann on Feb. 1, and the Predators traded for center Brian Boyle on Wednesday.
Each move came well before the Feb. 25 trade deadline, but NBC Sports Network analyst Keith Jones still thinks plenty of more deals will be made.
“I get a real sense that it’s going to be active,” said Jones, who played 491 NHL games. “There’s a lot of top-heavy teams that need to add scoring depth, and there’s a lot of expiring contracts out there for second- and third-line players that would be able to jump over and help some of those teams down the stretch.”
Jones said he thinks there are six to eight teams, including the Golden Knights, that could be buyers at the deadline. The sellers are harder to pinpoint, as all but six teams were within five points of a playoff spot entering Saturday’s games.
One potential seller still in the hunt is the Philadelphia Flyers. Productive winger Wayne Simmonds is on an expiring contract, and general manager Chuck Fletcher could decide to move on for future assets.
“Simmonds will be a player that is highly sought after just based upon the number of different ways he can help a team, including his toughness,” said Jones, also a TV color commentator for the Flyers.
Another team in limbo is the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were third in the Metropolitan Division entering Saturday’s games. But leading scorer Artemi Panarin and top goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky will be free agents this offseason, and there’s no guarantee either will stay with the team.
“If it was me, I’d trade them both,” Jones said. “I’d be worried about the future of my team and making sure I got some assets back for two players that I don’t believe will be back with Columbus when next year starts.”
Other prospective free agents that could provide the scoring depth Jones said teams will be looking for include Ottawa Senators forwards Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, Carolina Hurricanes forward Michael Ferland, New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello and Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.
“There’s no question that really in all of sports this is the best trade deadline,” Jones said. “It’s usually the most active, at least for the six weeks prior leading up to the day, and there’s some big names that get moved around this time.”
Will the Knights be active?
Knights general manager George McPhee said Jan. 22 that “I couldn’t tell you right now what we’d be planning on doing” at the trade deadline.
Jones said he knows what he would do if he were in McPhee’s shoes.
“I wouldn’t be overly active if I was George,” Jones said. “I still believe this team has enough there within (that locker room). You want the players that played as well as they did last year to kind of regain their form, and William Karlsson would be the one guy that really jumps out to me.”
If the Knights make a move, owner Bill Foley said it probably wouldn’t involve their 2019 first-round pick.
”We’re going to be very careful about giving up draft picks this year,” Foley said Jan. 22 on the Knights’ official podcast. “We gave up a No. 1 last year, and George is really committed to keeping that No. 1 this year. It’s a pretty good draft class.”
Three trade deadline storylines
1. Who will add?
The Winnipeg Jets (No. 2 center) and Boston Bruins (forward depth) must upgrade their rosters to make a deep postseason run. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks are playoff hopefuls that will be limited at the deadline because of cap space of less than $2 million each.
2. Who will sell?
Winger Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers), winger Artemi Panarin (Columbus Blue Jackets) and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky have experienced a lot of NHL success. Will they be traded with their teams mathematically still in the playoff hunt?
3. Pressure on in Calgary?
The Calgary Flames have been an unexpected success and are first in the Pacific Division. NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones doesn’t think they have a clear need but will make a move because of the pressure of being in a Canadian market.