With less than two months until the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline March 8, we’re delivering at least one deadline-focused story every day at Daily Faceoff.
Today, we check in on every team’s posture entering the final four-week stretch before the deadline. Which teams will go for broke, which will sell, and which might stand pat?
2024 NHL Trade Deadline Countdown: 27 days
The salary-cap era has created a circle of life for most NHL teams. It starts with a good, old-fashioned tank job, followed by several seasons of amassing young assets. As the team becomes more competitive, it enters a “house money” period in which it doesn’t have to get overly aggressive immediately while its best young players mature. Eventually it reaches a peak contention period in which it blends its prime-year stars with veteran acquisitions. It remains in a win-now window, chasing more championships and sacrificing futures. As the window starts to close, a degree of denial sets in as the GM tries to keep giving the aging core more chances at glory. Eventually: acceptance, a commitment to selling and, once enough bad contracts are off the books, a true tank can begin. The cycle restarts.
Of course, that’s the idealized version. There are exceptions to the rule. The Vegas Golden Knights somehow manage to be all-in every season. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators never seem to escape seller team purgatory. But the team life cycle is a unofficial reference point when plotting where every team sits approaching the 2024 Trade Deadline.
Which teams are hellbent on winning right now? Which are early in their contention windows? Which teams are transitioning to sellers?
Welcome to Daily Faceoff’s second annual Trade Deadline Pressure Gauge. Here’s an (educated) estimate on where each franchise sits, with the caveat that things can change in the coming weeks.
Tier 1: ALL-IN
These powerhouses have legitimate hopes of going all the way and are willing to load up.
1A — Already made moves
Adding Nikita Zadorov for defensive depth hasn’t worked out as the Canucks hoped, but making their big splash for Elias Lindholm paid immediate dividends. Landing the top rental piece on the market, who can play in all situations on top of solidifying the No. 2 center job, was a coup for Vancouver.
The Jets joined the Canadian team arms race by landing the second-best center available in Sean Monahan. He’ll deepen their middle six and help on the power play. But the Jets haven’t exactly been hot of late. They snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday.
1B — Soon to make moves
New York Rangers
Vegas Golden Knights
The teams in this group represent potential division winners and teams that could play into June. Arguably, anything but a Stanley Cup Final berth would constitute a disappointment for them. The needs here vary. The Bruins, Stars and Panthers, perhaps even the Oilers, need to upgrade their depth on the right side of their defense and thus could be competing for some of the same names. The Hurricanes have to consider paying up for help in net – and could also use another scoring threat up front. The Oilers are in the market for a top-six forward, too. The Rangers have a hole up the middle with Filip Chytil gone for the year. Monahan would’ve been an ideal fit. Would they settle for Adam Henrique?
As for the defending champion Golden Knights…they’re simply always in the mix for deadline upgrades. Reilly Smith reunion, anyone?
Tier 2: BUYER MODE
These clubs fashion themselves contenders and have the talent to make a run, but the ride has been bumpy enough that 2023-24 isn’t necessarily their year. They may add but won’t necessarily chase the biggest fish.
Detroit Red Wings
Los Angeles Kings
New Jersey Devils
Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s not too late for any of these clubs to get hot between now and March 8 and elevate to all-in status. But they’re also each a cold streak away from sliding out of the hunt. The Devils already do sit outside a playoff spot. Top to bottom, they still have one of the NHL’s most talented rosters, and they’re slowly getting healthier with Jack Hughes back, so they’re capable of gaining momentum and rejoining the race. But, goodness, do they ever need help in net. Is it worth ponying up and trying to make a surprise run as a low-seed, a-la Florida Panthers last season?
The Leafs always land in the win-now tier these days, and it’s no secret they want a defenseman…but would someone like Chris Tanev be enough to put them over the top? Or are they better off accepting that they aren’t an elite team this year and taking their chances with what they have? The Red Wings are relevant in February for the first time in ages and have a real chance to make their first post-season since 2015-16. General manager Steve Yzerman has been aggressive in signing veterans to help the push; does that mean he’ll behave similarly as a buyer? Detroit could use another scoring forward and perhaps a sturdy defensive defenseman. The Kings’ mid-season firing of coach Todd McLellan confirms that missing the playoffs are not an option. Should they shore up their goaltending with a depth add to take pressure off 36-year-old Cam Talbot, who has tired after a great first couple months?
Tier 3: LAST GASP
These aging clubs aren’t even locks to make the playoffs but refuse to accept the idea of becoming sellers…for now.
New York Islanders
Tampa Bay Lightning
We’re used to this behavior from the Isles and Penguins now: refuse to give up, add at the deadline, scratch and claw, all in the name of…quickly bowing out in Round 1 or narrowly missing the playoffs. Yawn. The Pens, of course, are teetering on the edge of switching postures. They’re still very much in the Eastern Conference playoff race given their games in hand on Detroit and Tampa Bay, but the offers for Jake Guentzel would be mouth-wateringly great, I suspect.
How weird is it to see Tampa in this tier? Hey, it’s that life cycle. You can only punt picks and shed salary so many years in a row before it becomes tough to compete. The Bolts needed a defenseman before Mikhail Sergachev’s horrific injury. Now they need two.
Tier 4: SWING TEAMS
They aren’t out of the playoff hunt, but if they commit to selling, they have some intriguing assets to offer.
St. Louis Blues
Here’s where it gets complicated. The Blues actually occupy a playoff spot in the West, the Preds are tied with them, and the Kraken sit four points back. At least one if not two of these clubs could make the playoffs.
But is it worth doing so? None of them has the horses to win a championship as currently constructed. The Blues might be better off cashing out on Pavel Buchnevich. The Kraken’s playoff berth last season was a bonus, but they could use some more years of accruing young assets, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing for them to explore the market for, say, pending UFA Jordan Eberle. There’s a strong chance Nashville moves defenseman Alexandre Carrier, but imagine what they could get if they sold star goalie Juuse Saros and opened the door for mega-prospect Yaroslav Askarov to start.
Tier 5: SELLERS
They’re looking to next season, but they’re hungry to start competing, which means they’d like young NHL players coming their way.
Columbus Blue Jackets
It hurts to put Buffalo and Ottawa in this category. They entered the season with lofty expectations. Neither club is in position to hold a massive fire sale, but they could move a few pieces to recoup some future assets. The Sabres could trade Jordan Greenway, for instance, while the Senators wouldn’t have trouble finding a taker for Vladimir Tarasenko. The Coyotes have made notable progress this season but probably not enough to make the playoffs barring a major stretch-run hot streak, so they’ll have to field offers for expiring veterans like Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. The Blue Jackets…ugh. What a mess. They made huge splashes for defensemen Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson last offseason and have no progress to show for it. Worse yet, many of their supposed tradable pieces, from Elvis Merzlikins to Jack Roslovic, aren’t playing well enough to warrant interest. They’re unlikely to move heart-and-soul captain Boone Jenner, but the return for a player like that would be astronomical, eh? Just sayin’.
The Flames established their template with the Lindholm trade: land an asset to help now in Andrei Kuzmenko plus a high-end futures package with Hunter Brzustewicz and a first-round pick. They’re still in the playoff hunt but land in the seller tier given they’ve already sold.
The Flyers feel ahead of schedule, shockingly competitive with head coach John Tortorella spurring them, but every indication suggests GM Danny Briere isn’t deluded by his group of overachievers and will indeed explore deals for the likes of Sean Walker, Scott Laughton and so on.
The Wild feel like a team that was simply snakebitten in the injury luck department this season and should be far more competitive next year. They don’t have to blow it up. But if Marc-Andre Fleury wants to waive his no-movement clause and join a contender in what might be his final season, you obviously grant that wish and net a pick or prospect if you’re GM Bill Guerin.
The Capitals might be the most interesting “seller” team on his list. Sure, they can get a nice return for checking center Nic Dowd, possibly a first-round pick according to Daily Faceoff’s own Frank Seravalli. But with Nicklas Backstrom’s (LTIR) and, now, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s (player assistance program) cap hit off the books, the Caps could net some future assets via retained salary transactions, whether they’re taking on a veteran or acting as a third-party broker.
Tier 6: TANKERS
No shame here. They’re stripping it down to the studs.
San Jose Sharks
We understand these teams’ objectives clearly. Anaheim will almost certainly deal Henrique. The Sharks have multiple pieces to sell, from Anthony Duclair to Mikael Granlund. Montreal has a three-goalie logjam, so it makes sense to move well-respected veteran Jake Allen.
The Hawks are a funny case because they’re so devoid of talent that they arguably have little to offer, especially after signing Nick Foligno and Petr Mrazek to extensions. Two-time Cup champ Tyler Johnson is probably their best hope.
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