Unlike the NBA, the NHL trade deadline is often a bit on the boring side. This year is gearing up to be one of the least likely to make a “splash” in recent memory. However, that doesn’t prevent a fan like myself from dreaming. What if each player who is likely available went to the best possible scenario?
The NHL trade deadline is right around the corner (February 24), and while the Flyers may make a move or two, I thought it would be fun to unpack some ideal situations for players and where might be the “perfect” fit for each. For this article, I am using TSN’s trade bait board which can be found here: https://www.tsn.ca/tsn-hockey-s-trade-bait-1.203546. Without further ado, here is where I think each trade bait candidate would find their ideal fit.
Chris Kreider – Boston Bruins
The Bruins are a top-heavy team, in that they have an amazing first line (Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak), and have some center depth, but overall they are lacking offense from the wings. Kreider, a current Rangers’ winger, would be a perfect fit. He plays a Bruins style of play. He’s fast and plays a physical game with an edge. Kreider would be the perfect fit for the Bruins and provide secondary scoring.
Alec Martinez – Florida Panthers
Martinez is on the back end of a decent career as a mostly second-pairing defender. He can still play on the power-play and moves the puck okay for a 32-year-old. Martinez would likely thrive in a situation where he isn’t relied on for first pairing minutes but simultaneously can contribute. Florida seems like a great fit for Martinez.
The Panthers have an older blue-line, but with Michael Matheson being a disappointment and with Anton Stralman being more defensive minded, Martinez could thrive. He wouldn’t be relied on to do too much but would be given an opportunity on the second power-play unit. Martinez could help the Panthers solidify a playoff birth and much-needed revenue.
Ilya Kovalchuk – Calgary Flames
The Montreal Canadiens picked Kovalchuk off the scrap heap and have since turned him into a second-line winger. Kovalchuk has thrived in an environment in Montreal that was lacking goal scorers. Team-wise, the Canadiens were averaging one of the lowest league shooting percentages overall. With the Canadiens likely on the outside looking in, and with a cap hit of only $700,000, he is likely to be a hot commodity come February 24th.
Another team in a similar predicament to the Montreal Canadiens is the Calgary Flames. The Flames have a similar low team shooting percentage, yet boast a fairly deep forward core. However, with depth pieces like Zac Rinaldo (yes, that Zac Rinaldo) playing more minutes than they should, Kovalchuk could fit in nicely to provide some second or third line scoring depth.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Edmonton Oilers
Pageau has benefited from extra minutes in Ottawa and is currently on pace for over 20 goals. When healthy, Pageau has proven to be a solid third-line center type with some offensive upside. The Oilers have two of the league’s top point-getters and goal scorers, but outside of McDavid and Draisaitl, there isn’t much depth-wise. Pageau could slot nicely in the third-line center role and play second unit power-play minutes. He would be a strong addition to turn the Oilers from bubble to playoff contender.
Sami Vatanen – Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have been making ends meet on the back-end this season, defending by committee. This has led them into a bubble wild-card position. With the Dustin Byfuglien conundrum likely coming to an end in the next week, the Jets will have some much-needed cap space. While the Jets could potentially benefit from a non-playoff year in a deep 2020 draft, it seems as though management and ownership want to make another go of it with this core group.
The Jets desperately need someone who can play top-four minutes and provide some offensive depth. Vatanen fits the bill here. Vatanen has had a tough season, but so has the entire Devils’ organization. He is likely a player in decline, but on an expiring contract, he’s worth the chance for a bubble wild card team looking to make a splash.
Brendan Dillon – Vegas Golden Knights
It’s rare that heated division rivals make deals, but this is one that might make some sense. The Sharks are in midst of a horrendous season, and with Tomas Hertl out for the season, they are unlikely to make any sort of St. Louis Blues’ type run to end their year. Dillon is a 4/5 defender at this point in his career, and the Golden Knights could use some depth at this position. Dillon’s game is limited in offense, and he is also a player likely in decline. He’s on an expiring contract, however, and plays okay in the defensive zone. He could help the Golden Knights secure a playoff berth and potentially make a run.
Tyler Toffoli – Edmonton Oilers
Yes, the Oilers are on this list twice, but both players make a lot of sense for the franchise. Toffoli, like Ilya Kovalchuk, is a goal-scorer but is very much a victim of playing on a bad team. Toffoli would thrive in an environment where others are dishing him the puck and where he is not counted on to create offensively. If he can just be set up to get off a quick scoring chance or shot in the home-run area of the offensive zone, he will be much more effective.
The Oilers’ top line as of this week consists of Josh Archibald, Connor McDavid, and Zack Kassian. Kassian is a third-line player at best (though he just signed an extension as though he is more of a second-line player), and Archibald has been a career bubble NHL player, at best a fourth-line player. McDavid still finds a way to produce offensively, but imagine how much better the Oilers would be with a player that has Toffoli’s instincts finishing McDavid set-ups. He would likely be a first power-play guy playing top-six minutes. He is on an expiring contract and could cash in big time on a UFA deal if he produces in the last month and a half of the season. It’s a win-win for both sides.
Shayne Gostisbehere – Toronto Maple Leafs
In many ways, Gostisbehere has been miscast in his role on the Flyers’ blue-line. At this point, we know the type of player Gostisbehere is. He’s a highly skilled offensive-minded player but lacks defensive awareness. Overall, his skill-set is extremely unique. However, in a defense-heavy Alain Vigneault system in Philadelphia, Gostisbehere has struggled to play a game he is most comfortable with. He has been a healthy scratch at times and has even been limited in special teams.
A perfect fit system-wise for Gostisbehere is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Under new coach Sheldon Keefe, the Leafs’ system encourages defenders to almost act offensively as forwards. Defenders like Tyson Barrie are frequently in front of the net, or crashing the net at five-on-five, and also encouraged to carry the puck into the offensive zone and even behind the opposing team’s goal. Gostisbehere’s offensive game and unique skill-set would fit perfectly in that system, and he would easily thrive playing second-pairing minutes on an offensive juggernaut.
Andreas Athanasiou – New York Islanders
Athanasiou may not be a perfect system fit for Barry Trotz, but imagine a fast break that involves both Matt Barzal and Andreas Athanasiou? Athanasiou is one of the fastest and most electrifying skaters in the NHL. He has struggled offensively this season, but on the league-worst Detroit Red Wings, he still likely has some value and offensive potential. A Barzal-Athanasiou combo would bring fans out of their seats and lead to some fun for fans and players alike.
Matt Dumba – Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are 8 points out of a playoff spot and are unlikely to make the show come mid-April. However, with defenseman Jeff Petry coming close to an expiring contract, the Canadiens desperately need a young blue-liner in the fold sooner rather than later. Dumba is offensive-minded and could take some pressure off of Shea Weber. Dumba would be a more long-term option, but his age and skill set would match with a younger core Montreal is rebuilding internally. He is also a physical player and would form a formidable back-end with the veteran Weber.
Ondrej Kase – Carolina Hurricanes
Kase is a player who has great underlying numbers but doesn’t necessarily put up great counting stats. The Hurricanes have a number of players who are thriving that at one point in time were in similar positions to Kase (see Nino Niederreiter). Kase could easily become a 20-goal, 50-point guy in the Hurricanes’ system. Plus, the Hurricanes are loaded with picks and prospects. It wouldn’t hurt them short-term or long-term to add Kase to the mix.
Dylan DeMelo – Winnipeg Jets
See my section on Sami Vatanen. DeMelo is a third-pairing guy who does okay playing second-pairing minutes occasionally.
Mikael Granlund – Columbus Blue Jackets
Grandlund has struggled mightily in his Nashville tenure. The once consistent top-six forward could thrive in a change of scenery. The Blue Jackets are surprisingly in the playoff mix but could desperately use a top-six forward. Grandlund can play center or wing. While he may not be the best fit for a John Tortorella system, he would fit nicely in the Jackets’ top six and has some upside to his game.
Josh Manson – Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have made a bit of a run lately, but are still unlikely to make the playoffs. Their biggest hole over the past few years has been on defense. They have never seemed to recover from the Nik Hjalmarsson trade and are in desperate need of someone who can play a top-four role. Mason is a modern defensive defenseman who has great underlying numbers. He is exactly what the Hawks are missing, and they may sneak into a bubble slot.