Every year at trade deadline time in the NHL, we like to talk about buyers and sellers as if it’s that simple. It’s not quite that cut and dried, and sometimes teams move players out as the same time as they move others in, but to score a really sweet deal, you need someone to be selling off more than their pending UFAs.

Tanking teams sell. Rebuilding teams sell, and teams just out of the playoffs sell those expiring UFAs.

As for item number three, colour me not very thrilled at the idea of spending draft picks or AHL players on a few weeks of a player unlikely to sign long term. The Leafs are still at the point where they should not be spending assets, particularly picks for a player over 25. Signing old guys in the summer is fine, that just costs cap space. Buying old guys in February is usually a bad move.

Getting a younger player from a team that is selling off its middle class or even its working class level players so they can cut costs, tank or rebuild is where you score nice deals. This is not exactly the traditional deadline deal; however, deadline traditions are going to have to change.

The draft lottery is starting to make Gary Bettman’s parity dream come true, and few teams are tanking. At least not obviously like the old days.  A lot of teams aren’t sure if they’re in the playoffs or not, and even some of the bad teams might believe they are one good draft pick away from success. Just one more roll of the dice, one more pick — and you think I’m making fun of Edmonton right now, and yet, I’m not.

Let’s flip the standings upside down and look at the bottom ten teams in the NHL (as of Feb 2, 2018):

  1. Arizona
  2. Buffalo
  3. Ottawa
  4. Montréal
  5. Vancouver
  6. Edmonton
  7. Florida
  8. Detroit
  9. New York Islanders
  10. New York Rangers
  11. Chicago

Yes, I know that’s eleven. The New York teams are only one point out of a playoff spot, so we can put them in a special category for now and add in a western team that seems doomed to miss this year in Chicago.

The other eight are safe bets to be out. And you’ll note a few things about this list: There’s no one from the Central Division on it without cheating, and there are five Atlantic teams. This presents two problems: There are teams in the Central who will buy when they should sell, and there are teams in the Leafs’ division who will be selling, but might not want to sell to the Leafs.

The other issue causing headaches is Joe Sakic. Or whoever really orchestrated that Matt Duchene trade. He sat and sat and sat on that deal beyond the point of absurdity. He waited until he was actively harming his team and then he (or so the myth seems to go) pulled off this amazing deal and got a haul of picks and prospects. Now every GM thinks they need to match that deal or they look bad. Maybe they should find out who really cooked it up and get some advice. [glances at David Poile]

So the prices might rise, the Leafs might be the last team anyone wants to deal with, and to make it worse, well, what is Arizona doing? Is the worst team in the NHL selling, or are they the guys who think one more draft pick and they’re in like Vegas? Edmonton has to be thinking that, and it might be true for them.

If Arizona doesn’t want to move out anyone, even if they’re older and on deals driving up the salary cost of a perpetual floor team, then who is?

Buffalo Sabres

They’re reworking the roster, again, under new management, again, and everyone knows they want to get rid of Evander Kane, but they have some other players to consider.

Sam Reinhart is the only name that leaps out at me as worth looking at. The Sabres have been disillusioned with him at times, at least judging by reports, and while he’s a close friend of Jack Eichel, I’m not sure new management cares all that much about that sort of thing. Reinhart is a pending RFA, is capable of playing centre, and is only 22.

His NHL career high is 47 points, and he has 20 points in 50 games this year. When you tanked like you meant it to get a second overall pick, having the player turn out to be a third line forward is a tough thing to look at every day.

If this was Ottawa, I’d assume they’d move him out because they don’t like looking at their mistakes. But Buffalo is harder to judge, and they might give him another year. File this name away for the future.

Ottawa Senators

Everyone knows the Ottawa Senators do nothing but sell, and the rumours are rife. Despite people of all sorts trying to juice up this trade season with talk of Erik Karlsson changing addresses, I think the most likely to go are Derick Brassard and Mike Hoffman. Yes, they’re both good, no they aren’t overpaid, and yes, Ottawa will likely trade them.

The other thing Ottawa will do, if they can find someone to play along, is move the Dion Phaneuf contract, likely by retaining a full 50% and offering a sweetener of some kind. Look, they built this leaky boat they’re sailing in by overpaying Jared Cowen, Milan Michalek and Colin Greening. And thanks, Ottawa, Greening is a great AHL leader, but they have no one to blame for the fix they’re in but themselves. They could have waited out those deals like the Leafs have done.

But the Senators have one player I covet in Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and his name has surprisingly been mooted about in trade rumours. He is Mr. Gatineau, so it would be a big deal for the Sens to move him, and he’s only 25, a useful utility player, and he’s fun. He has two amazing tricks: He scores on Carey Price like it’s easy, and he gets shorty breakaways that make Micheal Grabner look like an amateur.

Pageau is on a low-cost deal, would have an effect on the Leafs lines well beyond his own production, and I want him. As soon as you get a 3C who is defensively capable, the whole structure of the team can tip more towards offence. If he’s available, and healthy — Leo Komarov smashed him onto IR a few weeks ago — then the Leafs should get him. If not now, try in the summer. Toronto isn’t that far from Gatineau. We can have French fans too.

Montréal Canadiens

The Habs have realized they’re in a mess, and they want to move out some players. If there is one GM out there who thinks he needs to out-Sakic the league on a deadline deal, however, it’s Marc Bergevin. He’ll want more for Max Pacioretty than he’s worth, right when his value is low. It will be interesting to see if he’s got the nerve to hold off and make this deal in the summer.

Tomas Plekanec might be available as a depth centre, but Montréal would actually be wise to keep him as they rebuild since they keep going to the store for a C and coming back with a winger.

The rest of their roster is depth the Leafs can better, old defenders who are overpaid, and Shea Weber, who would be lovely to have if the Habs buy him out first.

Vancouver Canucks

The Leafs, it is alleged, have shown interest in Chris Tanev, but Vancouver doesn’t want to trade him. They want to trade Erik Gudbranson. Hard pass, as far as I’m concerned. He’s the worst defender on a team that is admittedly really bad, and while I thought he had some promise on the Panthers, that was years ago and all he’s gotten is older.

The rest of what Vancouver has to offer is rentals of a sort the Leafs don’t need unless you really think Nic Dowd is a better 4C than Dominic Moore.

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers aren’t a bad team in the traditional sense. They’re a good-ish team that sputtered and flamed out. They likely aren’t selling off much beyond Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu.  I think I’d consider a rental of Maroon if the price was low enough. He’s more or less what the Leafs have been wishing Leo Komarov still was. If Maroon could play RW and knock Connor Brown down the lineup a notch, that would be ideal, but I’m not sure he’s genuinely on the market, and rumours that he is might just be contract negotiation.

Florida Panthers

Florida has not much left to sell. They will try to move Radim Vrbata, but the rest of their roster is either really young or locked to term.

The only player they have I want is Denis Malgin, and they might swap him for some depth wingers, simply because they have almost no players under contract — a league low 41 SPCs and only 61 on the reserve list per Cap Friendly.  They are using their AHL affiliate’s ability to add players on AHL deals to keep the system afloat, and it’s not working. The Thunderbirds are terrible.

Malgin is a “too small” centre-winger who played with Auston Matthews on ZSC and caught my eye at the WJC a couple of years ago. He’s at over a point per game in limited AHL action, and yet Florida never seems to keep him in the NHL roster for long. If he can play centre for real, he’d at minimum be an AHL asset with future depth potential.

Detroit Red Wings

Mike Green is their only salable asset, and he’s almost certainly going to Washington.

New York Teams

I think the Rangers want to deal off some old guys, and the Islanders want to add a defenceman, not sell off anything. That might change if they hit the deadline out of a playoff spot more firmly than they are now.

I’d take Brock Nelson from the Islanders, but he’s still an RFA, and despite their constant problem re-signing RFAs, I assume they won’t move him unless they get in a fight this summer over arbitration.

The Rangers want to trade Rick Nash for all the picks in the world, so the Leafs should leave him in the shop window. The Rangers also have Michael Grabner, who the Leafs don’t actually need, and Ryan McDonagh, who has another year on his contract, will be very expensive, and might be worth a look if he was a righty or five years younger.  But dig deeper and you see David Deharnais, a decent depth centre the Leafs should at least ask the price for.


It’s not clear yet if Chicago realize they’re almost certainly out of the playoffs. They could climb back in, but it would take some help from multiple teams falling. They’ve also given away every surplus player to Carolina along with their bad contracts and haven’t got much left. They would not part with any player the Leafs would want.

Anyone Else?

Derek Ryan, a depth centre on the Hurricanes, might be worth looking at, but I’m not sure he’s enough of an upgrade on Moore to be worth it. He’d be more of an insurance trade, to guard against injuries.

Toronto Maple Leafs

They’re selling! You bet they are. The Leafs have extra tweener-level wingers spilling out all over the place. They also have Eric Fehr dominating his AHL team out west, and just ripe for a trade to make that relocation permanent. They have Kasimir Kaskisuo visiting the Vegas AHL team for so long, they might think he should be theirs permanently. Lou Lamoriello also sent that team an AHL defender recently. He is such a good friend to George McPhee, it’s heartwarming.

Speaking of Vegas, the Leafs also have that goalie they got from the Golden Knights in Calvin Pickard, or Garret Sparks if you’d rather. Either of those players could move to a team looking to take a chance on a fresh face in net.

I don’t think the Leafs are selling their pending UFAs, but we’ll see.

With 50 SPCs, the Leafs need to clear out some excess, and not just wait for attrition to do that in the summer. At the least, some kind of AHL trade seems likely.


There is one other source of deadline player acquisition this year: Free agent signings after the Olympic hockey tournament is over. The timing is tight, a lot of the players are under contract, and they won’t be able to get out of them, and anyone signed has to clear waivers.

But don’t be surprised if someone adds Brian Gionta if he plays well over there, and there may be others with outclauses in their European deals.  Some KHL players are on teams who are out of the playoffs and essentially done for the season (Kunlun Red Star is done) and may be able to just ask for an early release.

Should the Leafs be sellers and move out their pending UFAs?

No, keep them all and go for it in the playoffs436
Trade only Komarov238
Trade only Bozak285
Two out of three ain’t bad536
Send them all packing!580