The NHL trade deadline is five weeks from Monday, Jan. 21, and as time moves closer, a clearer image of the buyers and sellers of the league has emerged.
Aside from the ridiculous wildcard race out in the Western Conference, a clear divide between the playoff teams and non-playoff teams has started to show. In the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh and Montreal are creating distance between themselves and Buffalo in the wildcard race. After Buffalo, the dip grows even larger, as Carolina is six points out of a playoff spot, and every team behind them is either at a .500 record or below.
The picture is considerably more blurry out West, although it is easy to see which teams are on the outside looking in.
With that comes a boatload of players with their futures in doubt. The free agent class in 2019 is much weaker than in years past, but there are still a solid crop of players that will hit the open market in July, and, potentially, the trade market in February.
The Detroit Red Wings are one team that appear ready to move on from its aging core. General manager Ken Holland traded Tomas Tatar to Vegas last year, but he appears willing to move more players that were once considered major pieces to Detroit’s playoff efforts.
Gustav Nyquist, a versatile winger who is set to leave Detroit in the offseason, is one of those pieces. After two subpar campaigns, Nyquist has lit up the scoresheet this season with 43 points in 51 games as of Jan. 23. As such, the price for the Halmstad, Sweden native is high at a first round pick plus more. The market will fluctuate depending on the first few moves made across the league, but Holland should be able to fetch a good return for the 29-year-old.
Jimmy Howard, the long-time Red Wings goalie, is also seemingly on his way out. Drafted in the second round in 2003, Howard has spent his entire career with the organization. After a few down years from 2013 to 2016, Howard has done a fine job in getting himself back on track to remain as a viable 1B goaltending option in the league. He likely will not garner the first round pick plus what Holland is looking for, but a variety of teams, such as Edmonton or Arizona, will be interested.
Nick Jensen is another piece that Holland could look to move. The defender is having a quiet season and a quiet career, but he is a reliable bottom-pairing guy.
The major motif for Detroit these next few months will be reliability. Holland needs to set up a core in order to get the team back in the playoffs after a few years out. Even so, he is in an interesting situation with Steve Yzerman lurking as a free agent general manager. Only time will tell, but this might be the last time Holland executes trades for the franchise before moving into an advisory role (or to Seattle).
The Red Wings, overall, are in limbo, and this trade deadline will tell a lot of the direction they are headed. Holland and his staff cannot afford to mess this round up, or else the next few years will require even more rebuilding than what already needs to be done.
Another franchise that will have its course set for the next few years in the upcoming weeks is the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have had a tumultuous and divided season, which has resulted in them being near the bottom of the league standings.
Aside from the team’s two injured goaltenders, Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth, the only big unrestricted free agent coming out of Philadelphia is Wayne Simmonds.
Defensively, Simmonds is having the worst season of his career. On the offensive side of the puck, however, Simmonds is playing decently. In 48 games, he has 15 goals and 23 points. It is not up to the standards that he has had in the past, but it is on pace with his totals from last season.
Simmonds has already reportedly amassed interest from multiple teams. The Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning are two. Both Nashville and Tampa Bay are already contenders, so adding Simmonds would add a whole new level to their respective offenses.
Michael Raffl is another name that new general manager Chuck Fletcher could look to move out. On the back end, changes clearly need to be made. Samuel Morin is a name that could definitely be out there, as he has not lived up to his 11th overall draft pedigree in the slightest.
The Flyers need goaltending help in the interim while Carter Hart adjusts to the NHL as well. Cam Talbot is an option, but that seems more like an offseason move.
Fletcher and Philadelphia could be quiet at the deadline or could make a huge bang. Either way, change is inevitably coming for them, as the mediocrity with this core group has lasted far too long.
Much like the Flyers, the New Jersey Devils have had a large regress season after a solid 2018-19 campaign. The Devils’ fall could have easily been predicted; the previous season’s playoff berth was clearly an anomaly. Taylor Hall did the brunt of the lifting.
However, this season, between injuries to Hall and a lack of production elsewhere, the Devils have fallen. Thus, Ray Shero is now in the position to sell at the 2019 deadline.
The biggest piece he has is Marcus Johansson. The Swedish forward, after a successful first season in New Jersey, has spent the last two years primarily on the injured reserved. In 2017-18, he was limited to 29 games. He has missed a good chunk of this season as well, playing in only 36 games.
Shero also has Brian Boyle to deal with. Boyle was dealt to Toronto from Tampa Bay in 2017, and he is now in a similar position. The New York Islanders are a team that could have interest for depth, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, too, if they deal Derrick Brassard. A number of teams out West would have interest in his services also, as his playing style is perfect for out there.
As for other unrestricted free agents, Drew Stafford could fetch a mid-round pick. So could Ben Lovejoy. Keith Kinkaid is a viable backup option, but the belief is that the organization wants him to stick around.
Patience with Sami Vatanen could be wearing thin, too. He likely will not be moved by February, but if he is committed to not re-signing, Shero may be forced to move him in the offseason.
With all of the trade hype leading up, this could be a very interesting trade deadline. There is a clear divide between the best and the rest, so it could get wild. However, it all depends if the market swings towards a buyer’s market or a seller’s market.
At this point, it appears to be leaning towards a buyer’s market, but that could change in an instant.