Yes. We know.
The 2023-24 NHL season is barely a week old. Which, for those not familiar with how calendars work, means we’re just a shade less than five months from the trade deadline.
But we’re hockey nuts here at B/R, so the team is already analyzing early results and looking ahead to the feeding frenzy that always arrives in the final days before the deadline, which happens to fall this time around on March 8, 2024.
It’s a speculative task. But we came up with a list of teams likely to be the most active when the deadline day comes, with four apiece on the buying and selling sides.
Take a look at what we came up with and drop a thought of your own in the comments.
The Oilers are off to a dismal start.
The mood in Edmonton is sour at best and panic-stricken at worst.
But even with their 1-3 record and preposterous save percentage after four games, most folks who know what they’re looking at are still expecting the team to contend.
The “Cup or bust” mantra spouted by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the offseason is reason alone for general manager Ken Holland to be in the trade mix come March, with a particular aim to add to his blue line. And who knows? If the goaltending doesn’t stabilize, maybe the rumors about Boston’s Linus Ullmark will recirculate as well.
So unless the early-season meltdown becomes the rule rather than the exception, Holland is going to want to get unlimited minutes on his phone plan.
Edmonton’s southernmost Alberta neighbor is in a unique spot.
No Flames fan worth his or her Flaming C is giving up on a season just one removed from a Pacific Division title, but the reality is that there are players on the roster who, at least thus far, have not declared to make Calgary their long-term professional home.
So rather than having them leave for nothing like Johnny Gaudreau, GM Craig Conroy has to get something done along the lines of the trade of Matthew Tkachuk, who exited to Florida but yielded Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in return before free agency arrived.
Center Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin are in the final year of their deals and each would be valuable to teams looking to add finishing pieces for a title run. The Flames may have a run of their own to make, which is why Conroy will have to be on his game.
The Kings are a Stanley Cup contender.
There…we said it.
They’ve been bumped by the Oilers in each of the last two postseasons but they’re skilled, deep, and hungry this time around, buffeted by the acquisition of Pierre-Luc Dubois.
But there’s a position that’s got to leave Los Angeles fans feeling uneasy.
Cam Talbot is a respected pro and Pheonix Copley was a nice story last season but the 3.50 goals-against average they’ve teamed up to provide through four games isn’t spectacular.
Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck would have made a lot of sense if the Jets hadn’t recently locked him down for the long term, but GM Rob Blake can’t give up there. Perhaps renewing last spring’s inquiries about Nashville’s Juuse Saros would be a prudent choice.
This one will depend a lot on the next five months.
Thirty-year-old John Gibson has been respectable, pedestrian, and downright OK through a pair of starts this season, stopping 55 of 61 shots on the way to a pair of losses.
But he’s also got a pretty strong resume that includes a Jennings Trophy and three All-Star Game appearances. So if you dismiss his recently meh numbers as the product of playing behind one of the league’s worst teams, his needle moves closer to intriguing.
He’s signed for three more seasons at $6.4 million apiece and the Ducks seem content with going forward with 23-year-old Lukas Dostal, so don’t be too surprised if title-hungry GMs are ringing Pat Verbeek’s phone with an inquiry or two with the idea Gibson will thrive with an elite team in front of him.
This one might depend a bit on the standings as well.
The Seattle Kraken were one of the NHL’s feel-good stories in 2022-23, going from an expansion year doormat to a 100-point playoff team that eliminated the defending Cup champions in the tournament’s opening round.
But it’s been a challenging start to year three, with three losses in four games and statistics that place the Kraken near both bottom in goals scored (29th) and the middle in goals allowed (16th). If that doesn’t change, it won’t matter what happens in March.
If there is some improvement, though, and a respectable playoff push is within reach, the Kraken could be in the mix for a top-end goaltender and/or additional top-six scoring depth.
Consider aforementioned names like Lindholm and Gibson on the short lists.
This just in: The San Jose Sharks won’t win the Cup this season.
In fact, it’d probably be considered a mild upset if they finished anywhere other than last overall among 32 teams, or, if you’re particularly optimistic, maybe 31st.
Which means the predatory birds will come calling in late winter to pick whatever valuable meat might be left on the carcass, errr…roster.
As it happens, the Sharks have four forwards entering the last years of their contracts, and at least a few of them—Kevin Labanc, Anthony Duclair and Mike Hoffman, perhaps—might have some value to a contender looking to fill out a Cup-contending locker room.
Labanc has been a double-digit goal scorer five times in the NHL and won better than 62 percent of his faceoffs last season. Duclair had 11 points in Florida’s run to the finals last spring and scored 31 goals the previous season. And while Hoffman is a bit removed from a six-year run of 20 goals or more, he’s still a veteran capable of producing in a limited role.
GM Mike Grier has six of his own picks and pair of conditionals in the first two rounds over the next three seasons and he wouldn’t be averse to adding more future-focused capital with another deal or two.
Lest anyone forget, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2022. And at this time last season, they were considered an awfully strong bet to make it two in a row.
Then injuries arrived and derailed the repeat train.
It’s back on track (OK, not for a repeat…but you get the idea) so far this season as Colorado has broken out with four straight wins while scoring 15 goals and allowing only four.
And though it seems like the roster is fine to contend just as it is, there’s always tinkering to do at the deadline and Chris MacFarland is certain to be in the middle of the action.
With just $2 million in current cap space available, it may be necessary for the Avalanche to unload a smaller piece to make room for a bigger one. Six players heading into unrestricted free agency $1.5 million or less this season and could fit that give some to get some bill.
The Arizona Coyotes aren’t quite the league laughingstock anymore.
They more than likely won’t finish last overall and they’ve added some talent over the last few seasons that’s begun to make a night-in, night-out impact.
But they’re not winning or even making the playoffs this season either, so when deadline time comes it’ll again be more about adding future pieces than immediate ones.
That’s why when the phone rings on GM Bill Armstrong’s desk with teams inquiring about guys like defenseman Matt Dumba or forward Jason Zucker, it’ll be incumbent upon Armstrong to keep his eyes on the down-the-road prize.
Dumba signed a one-year, $3.9 million deal in August that was greeted with a widespread “he’ll be gone by mid-March” reaction. He’s big, physical, chews up ice time, and has had years where he’s been a reliable offensive threat. Zucker signed his one-year, $5.3 million deal a month earlier, and, at age 31 and coming off a 27-goal season, he may wind up leaving metro Phoenix on the same flight.
Salary-cap info via CapFriendly.