It is one of the most highly anticipated days on the NHL calendar.
Decisions made on this day can affect the courses of seasons, the job statuses of executives and the short-and-long term futures of franchises.
It is NHL trade deadline day.
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The annual exercise of going for it versus punting and playing for the future is set for March 1 at 3 p.m. Unlike past years, the 2017 deadline could be among the most active. Already, Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall has told the reporters who cover his team that his team is “not buying,” according to CSNPhilly.com. “We’re not buying. … I have ideas and we’ll execute them depending. We’ll be making calls and getting calls and we’ll see what’s out there and see where we’re at as a team in the standings and make the appropriate moves.”
Entering Saturday night’s Stadium Series game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins at Heinz Field, the Flyers were five points out of the second Eastern Conference wild-card berth. While five points is not an insurmountable gap to overcome, Philadelphia only has $164,490 in available cap space according to industry website CapFriendly.com and has moveable assets in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto, both who could be attractive to teams looking to add puck movers to the back end.
Instead of listing the best available players on the market — honestly, other outlets have published variations of that listicle — Metro will break down the needs of area teams and the rest of the Eastern Conference.
For the purposes of this story, we’re using points in order to list the teams from top to bottom, instead of divisional standings.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: General manager Brian MacLellan told reporters in Washington that he’s considering improving upon “the fringes,” according to the Washington Post. With good reason. The Capitals have the most points in the league, have the NHL’s best goal differential and appear primed to repeat as Presidents’ Trophy winners. Perhaps the only thing standing in the way of the first Cup Final appearance in the Alex Ovechkin-era is the NHL’s patently absurd playoff format.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: The Penguins made their move by moving minor league Danny Kristo and a second round pick to Carolina for defenseman Ron Hainsey. Hainsey, 35, has never played in the playoffs but that streak will come to an end by the second full week of April. Other than that, the Penguins need to get healthy. Top defenseman Kris Letang did not play in the outdoor game against the Flyers due what DKPittsburghSports.com reported as an “upper body injury.” The biggest question for GM Jim Rutherford is whether he will trade goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury now or before the draft.
NEW YORK RANGERS: Want an idea how insanely good the Metropolitan Division has been this season? The Rangers’ 82 points would lead both the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions by wide margins. So there’s no need to upgrade, right? Wrong. The right side of the Rangers defense has been a talking point, so much so that the Blueshirts have been linked to Detroit’s Brendan Smith and St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk. The question as it pertains to Shattenkirk: What will St. Louis demand in return? The defenseman is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and it seems likely that the Blues will lose him. As the clock ticks towards 3 p.m. on March 1, St. Louis may feel the need to get the best deal possible. But the Rangers have to be cognizant of a future built around Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: It’s not a matter of whether the Blue Jackets will be a playoff team. Following a 7-0 win over the Islanders Saturday afternoon at Nationwide Arena, Columbus has 81 points in 59 games. And yet, there is a sense that the Blue Jackets, for all that they have done well this year, are a group whose better days are ahead of them. Standing pat might be the way to go.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: Was firing Michel Therrien as head coach and replacing him with Claude Julien the only move GM Marc Bergevin will make? Seems unlikely. The Canadiens have quality pieces starting with goaltender Carey Price, winger Max Pacioretty and center Alex Galchenyuk. But is there enough depth for a long spring run?
OTTAWA SENATORS: Speculation has linked the Senators to Colorado’s Matt Duchene. He’d added speed and skill to the Senators, but it appears as if Avalanche GM Joe Sakic's asking price is high. Duchene is under contract for the next two seasons, but the Senators are not Cup contenders.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Let’s get this out of the way: If the Leafs make the playoffs this year, the likelihood is that Mike Babcock will win the Jack Adams and Lou Lamoriello will take home Executive of the Year. Why? The Leafs kiddie corps has played better than expected and as a result Toronto is third in the Atlantic. So go all-in right? Wrong. Team President Brendan Shanahan has routinely talked about building a franchise that can compete at the highest echelon for years. Deviation from the plan won’t happen.
BOSTON BRUINS: No pressure, Team President Cam Neeley and general manager Don Sweeney. All you did is fire the winningest coach in franchise history and have an owner who has publicly stated that a playoff berth is the mandate. Did we mention that Sweeney rightly does not want to move organizational prospects, but the Bruins — as of this writing — are in the midst of a three team dogfight with the Islanders and Panthers for the last wild-card slot?
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: No matter what happens, the 2016-17 New York Islanders are the subject of one hell of a book. An organization engaged in a very public passive-aggressive battle with the people who run their home arena, while firing its coach before going on a winning streak that bolted the team from last place in the Eastern Conference into playoff contention despite one of the NHL’s worst road records. Oh, and John Tavares is an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season. Does GM Garth Snow stand pat or does he make a play for Duchene, who could slot in nicely behind Tavares as the No. 2 center?
FLORIDA PANTHERS: Metro's pick to eventually grab the second Eastern Conference wild-card slot, the Panthers are finally healthy for the first time this season. Let’s see if the Panthers can live up to the offseason hype.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: As noted above, it appears that Hextall will be selling pieces instead of buying. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.
BUFFALO SABRES: The Sabres rebuild is beginning to show some promise. Still, buying doesn’t seem prudent for a team whose better days are upcoming.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Arguably the NHL’s most disappointing team, there is speculation the Lightning may trade goaltender Ben Bishop and bottom six center Brian Boyle.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: There was a line of thinking that the Devils could be an outside contender for a playoff berth prior to the season. That hasn’t happened. Even with the addition of Taylor Hall, the Devils have struggled to score goals. New Jersey has an Eastern Conference worst goal differential of -34. Adding young, cost-controlled assets and draft picks is the play here.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: Trading Hainsey is a signal that the Hurricanes are open for business and looking to the future. Carolina needs additional speed, skill and scoring. Duchene could fit the bill, and Carolina’s prospects and draft picks and young NHLers could intrigue Sakic.
DETROIT RED WINGS: For the first time since 1989-90, the Red Wings will not participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. GM Ken Holland should move tradable veterans for draft picks and prospects.