Trade Rumours: Likely Pending UFAs on the Move
It’s time for every hockey fan to become the General Manager of their favourite team. Do you buy? Do you sell? What is that extra piece that will lift your team up to becoming legitimate Stanley Cup contenders? Yes, the trade deadline is approaching.
Formerly known as “The Upper Limit”, the hard salary cap introduced prior to the 2005-06 season after a year-long lockout has presented teams with a financial barrier in making these trade rumours become a reality. These barriers have presented fans with a deadline that can’t seem to live up the expectations in recent memory and this disappointment is threatening to re-surface, especially considering when names like Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Stone are featuring this year’s trade rumour mill. With that said, pending free agents have now become the attraction for GMs around the league for deadline acquisitions. The lack of financial commitment provides teams with the ability to acquire players for the benefit of deepening their playoff runs without the fear of the team being bogged down by an unwanted long-term contract. In addition to the lack of financial commitment, these players also tend to be cheaper, with the GMs who currently hold these pending unrestricted free agents (“UFA”) fear of losing them to free agency next summer. With that said, we present to you three top-profile forwards who are pending UFAs and who will most likely change suit prior to February 25th.
New York Rangers [46 GP 13-25-38]
The New York Rangers are another original six team who likely will not see playoff hockey come April. Their respectable 15-9-6 at Madison Square Garden is offset by the hardships experienced on the road, sporting a 9-15-2 record. Their -27 goal differential also can hinder the optimism in critics regarding the Rangers hopes of a wildcard placement. Unfortunately, this all comes with the aging Henrik Lundqvist sporting his lowest goals against average and save percentage of his career, where they currently lie at 3.01 and 90.8% respectively.
So, how does this affect Kevin Hayes? The Rangers appear to be on the decline, including their beloved Lundqvist is experiencing tremendous set-backs between the pipes. Despite their large market, the Rangers should be considering a rebuild, in hopes of turning this team back to their winning ways. Kevin Hayes could be a hot topic as the deadline nears. The power forward’s large 6 foot 5 frame is attractive to many teams, especially considering the fact that this power forward can put up points, currently just shy of a point a game in his 2018-2019 campaign. Hayes also contributes heavily on special teams, earning ice on both the power play (a weak team I might add) as well as the penalty kill. Kevin Hayes isn’t the first guy you’d tap on the shoulder behind the bench to provide your team with offense but he definitely provides depth in a very important position, who logs ice time in multiple scenarios.
The Boston Bruins are in a heavyweight division, arguably the toughest division in the National Hockey League. With the new playoff format, it is vital that Boston matches up favourably to all potential divisional matchups. In the old playoff format, Boston could escape the Maple Leafs and Lightning in the early rounds, at least until the second round. Currently battling with the Leafs and Canadiens for the 2nd spot in the Atlantic division, it appears the Bruins will have a more difficult time avoiding their own division than making the playoffs entirely.
Regardless of whether the Bruins make any moves prior to the deadline, Boston is going to be a tough team to play against in a seven game series. Boston’s team plays their opponents tight and tough on the defensive end. This strong defensive play has helped the Bruins surrender the second least 148 goals against in the 2018-2019 season, 3rd best 5 on 5. Their issue is the inability to execute on the offensive end. The Bruins have the 2nd best powerplay, competing with the Lightning for the top spot, scoring on 26.8% of powerplays. Despite this, the Bruins struggle 5 on 5, ranking in the bottom half in goals at 167. With the lowest goal differential in comparison to potential playoff matchups with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, their 5 on 5 play needs to improve to avoid an early exit and this starts with forward depth. In order to compete with these teams for a seven game series, Boston needs to have the depth to counter the fire power offense their division rivals attain. With their questionable depth up front, where line juggling has seen Noel Acciari and Trent Frederic earn ice centering the third line, two-way center Kevin Hayes provides the need to fill an important void. Hayes provides the Bruins with a good option, solving their issue of finding a solidified third line center and the Bruins acquire a player who can contribute on the second penalty kill unit.
With their history in acquiring big builds like Rick Nash and David Backes, don’t be surprised if the Bruins make a strong effort to acquire the six foot five power forward.
My Pick: Boston Bruins
Detroit Red Wings [57 GP 14-33-47]
It’s no secret that the Detroit Red Wings’ season will end on April 6th. Despite this, Nyquist, who has been playing on the side of Dylan Larkin, has been having a very successful season, currently 2nd in points on the Red Wings with 47, while also leading his team in assists with 33. Not only is Nyquist a threat even strength, but Gustav has been a healthy option when a man ahead, where 11 of his points have come via the man advantage.
The Detroit Red Wings are in the early stages of rebuilding the original six franchise, and trading the Swede to a playoff bound team will provide the organization with key draft picks and young prospects to further this rebuild and make the Red Wings a contender in the near future. After a promising 48 points in 57 games played in the 2013-2014 season, Nyquist’s production has wavered in recent past, where his best season since his breakout showed 54 points in 82 games. With that said, Gustav has seemed to find his young self once again, where his production levels this year seem to be more aligned with the 2013-2014 campaign. Teams making a playoff push will be eager to add depth to their forward lines up front in effort to raise Lord Stanley to cap off their seasons. Nyquist is definitely a healthy option to fulfil this need.
The Nashville Predators are an intriguing team that will likely be bidding on the Swede. The Predators have stellar defense and a top five goaltender in the league through Pekka Rinne but their offense continues to hinder the Predators lock at another healthy Cup run. A healthy Viktor Arvidsson provides the team with a strong top line, however Nashville appears to have a void still in their top 6. Nyquist can fill this void by providing Nashville with consistent production on the top two lines as well with the man advantage (which is currently ranked 31th). Despite leading the league when 5-on-5, currently topping the league in goal differential at even strength, it’s evident that Nashville’s defensive and goaltending have offset this troubling offense, only surrendering 153 goals this year, 4th best in the league. Nashville needs help offensively and on special teams if they want to secure themselves a strong playoff run and defeating the likes of the Winnipeg Jets in a 7-game series. Nashville has a couple high-profile prospects in their system and, they do have a flurry of picks that might intrigue the Red Wings. The Red Wings also mitigate the risk of parting ways with Nyquist in vain by selling him to a division foe, leaving the Music City as the most probable destination. Despite reports of the Red Wings potentially holding on to key veterans this deadline, it would make more sense if management was referring to players in their mid to late 30s like Niklas Kronwall or Thomas Vanek. Gustav is having a strong year and is an attractive pending UFA who has no guarantee of resigning with the Red Wings in the offseason. At 29, Nyquist could generate a big return for Ken Holland’s Red Wings.
My Pick: Nashville Predators
Carolina Hurricanes [48 GP 15-16-31]
Michael Ferland came out of the Calgary Flames’ organization as a grinder, who played a high energy style of play and used his body effectively as part of a fourth line. Enter the first round of the 2015 playoffs and Micheal Ferland turned into a player who could change the momentum and outcome of a game with his body alone, being charged with 23 penalty minutes in just 9 games, who also contributed 5 points. Ferland proved to be an x-factor in an emotional first round series against their rivals, the Vancouver Canucks and he should be on team’s radars over the next 10 or so days.
After playing fourth line minutes, Ferland found a spot on a top line featuring Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, and ended off with his best season, scoring 21 goals and 41 points. Ferland has now found an amended role, where he plays in Carolina with offensive production added to the list of expectations. He seems to be responding well with 31 points and 15 goals through his first 48 games. On an expiring contract with a team on the bubble of playoff contention, Ferland may be on high demand.
The Atlantic division again? Well not exactly. I see about three top contenders for Ferland’s services, two of them in the Atlantic division. The teams most likely to become attracted to Ferland to most are the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and his former, Calgary Flames. All these teams have a similar make up. The Leafs, Habs and Flames on an offensive spectrum are built on playing an up-tempo hockey game, leaning on skill and speed to forecheck on the offensive zone and generate offense. However, in terms of forwards, all these teams seem to lack that physical presence on their rosters. The Flames potentially are hoping Garnet Hathaway can impact a playoff series with his body the same way Ferland did in 2005. Additionally, the Flames have expensed resources in the past, such as salary cap space, and draft picks to acquire their depth over the last couple of summers. With that said, the Leafs and Canadiens are the front-runners if Ferland gets put on the trading block. The Canadiens are in the process of addressing this need through the acquisition of Dale Weise however, Dale lacks the offensive production Ferland offers. Ferland not only can impact the game through hard checking but can also put the puck in the net, which he has shown last season and the better half of this campaign. Toronto and Montreal should be foreseeing very tough and emotional playoff series’ in their playoff run this year, especially when battling their way out of their divisional matchups. It’s almost a guarantee we are going to see an Original Six matchup between either the Bruins, Leafs or Canadiens in round 1 of the Atlantic division. The Canadiens and Leafs need to weather the storm, and acquiring a player who can help their team match up in a physical tilt definitely adds value. With Carolina on the fence of making the playoffs, the biggest question here is whether Ferland gets placed on the trade block before the deadline.
My Pick: Montreal Canadiens