The Answerman returns to ponder the NHL's trading deadline, less than three weeks away …
Q: For the past couple of years, I know you playfully like to direct us to your fictional website, nhlfaketrades.com, and every year, some of those made-up trades seem to materialize, in real life. So what you have got for us this year?
A: It's an interesting year because so many teams are going to be sellers. Four – the Buffalo Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Edmonton Oilers and the Arizona Coyotes – plunged to the bottom of the NHL standings right away; and they've been joined by five other Eastern Conference also-rans, who've remarkably played themselves out of contention, with fully a third of the season to go. That's hard to do in an age of parity, when the stupidest current NHL practice – awarding two points for some games and three for others – is theoretically designed to keep alive the playoff hopes of as many teams as possible. What bunglers!
Q: But it does mean the legitimate contenders could potentially mine some important reinforcements for the stretch drive and into the playoffs. It's hard to imagine the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup last season without the 14 goals in 26 games scored for them by Marian Gaborik, who was a cheap trading-deadline addition a year ago.
A: Correct and the Kings, desperate to make the playoffs again after a so-so season to date, really need help on their blue line, which makes Cody Franson (not Dion Phaneuf) such an attractive fit. The only thing worse than the Kings' consistency this season is their cap woes. Franson or the Hurricanes' Andrej Sekera, both on expiring contracts, are more valuable to them than Phaneuf and all that money that's tied up in him going forward. The Kings know they can't dump Mike Richards' contract and are likely to bury it in the minors for this season and next, but Franson – as a short-term fix – might get them into the playoffs and then they'll have all summer to sort out their payroll issues. Prospect Nick Shore might get it done.
Q: Evander Kane, now out for the season following shoulder surgery, is an interesting case. Can the Winnipeg Jets get something tangible to help this year from a team, on the outside looking in, that only cares about next season anyway?
A: Anything's possible and talks are underway, but it is a challenge to give and get full value in this unique situation. A team acquiring Kane now is going to want to get him at a discount, because they cannot know for sure how well he'll recover from his recent shoulder operation. The Jets are ultra-conservative when it comes to the trade market, because they know they need to bring in players fully committed to playing in Winnipeg – and not everyone is. But … the Jets are legitimately in the midst of a playoff race and could really use reinforcements up front. Buffalo has reinforcements to offer – the likes of Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart, for starters, though signed players are far more attractive to Winnipeg than they would be. But if the Sabres were to offer up one of their extra first-round draft choices – they have three – or put Tyler Myers in the deal, that'd be something the Jets would need to consider, even if it means Dustin Byfuglien probably stays up front for the rest of the season.
Finding the right dressing-room fit for Kane is also challenging. You'd think the Boston Bruins could use someone like him to play a top-six role, but the buttoned-down Bruins didn't handle Tyler Seguin's outgoing personality all that well; there's no reason to think Kane would be a better fit. Is Buffalo that team? Is Philadelphia?
Q: Apart from Franson, there appear to be a number of defencemen available for varying degrees of compensation; high-end guys like Myers and the Coyotes' Keith Yandle; to more value busy, such as the Coyotes' Zbynek Michalek, the Hurricanes' Andrej Sekera; the Oilers' Jeff Petry, or the Ottawa Senators' Marc Methot. How's that going to play out?
A: If he doesn't get traded to Winnipeg, Myers would seem to be a good fit on either Detroit or the Anaheim Ducks, a team needing the next Chris Pronger to stabilize a good, but not great defence; and they have the prospects and picks to get a deal done. Petry may the right-handed defenceman the Red Wings covet and a player whose acquisition cost would be less than what Buffalo would want for Myers; and Michalek is a similar alternative choice for Anaheim if they don't want to step up for Myers. Yandle is a wild card, a player that's fifth in the NHL in scoring among defencemen and near the bottom of the plus-minus ranking. He is quality power-play quarterback; the stumbling block may be that the Coyotes value him at one level of compensation and possible trading partners see him at a different lower level.
Q: Up front, there isn't the same depth of scorers that there was a year ago when Gaborik, Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson were traded and a couple of others were dangled, but didn't move.
A: True. Kane's surgery changed the market there demonstrably because he's help for the year. At forward, if it's the year of the Antoine Vermette sweepstakes, you suspect there probably won't be an impact scorer changing hands. Vermette is a great pro, good on face-offs, can kill penalties, is playing on the Coyotes' No. 1 power-play unit and is generally having a very good season on a very bad team. He'll help someone; but he isn't going to put anyone over the top. Assuming the New York Rangers get Henrik Lundqvist back before the end of the playoffs, Vermette would look pretty good there, supplementing Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard.