The 2021 NHL trade deadline promises to be nothing like we’ve ever seen before given the realities of professional hockey in a global pandemic.
In-season deals have become much more challenging.
Any player coming to the U.S. from Canada, for example, must quarantine for seven days before joining his new team. And the flat salary cap — a by-product of playing in massive arenas with no fans — means cash-strapped clubs must trade a player and his salary out to bring someone else in, as opposed to dealing draft picks and minor-league prospects.
Here’s how it’s shaping up for the Canadian clubs:
The loss of feisty forward Brendan Gallagher (broken thumb) for six weeks is a short-term blow, but it opens up $3.75 million US in cap space for general manager Marc Bergevin to work with as he approaches the deadline.
The Montreal brass clearly believes in this club’s chances to contend given the acquisitions of power forward Josh Anderson, sniper Tyler Toffoli and, most recently, veteran centre Eric Staal. Could Nashville Predators defenceman Mattias Ekholm be the next high-end acquisition?
WATCH | Breaking down North Division trade deadline options:
Gone are the days when the Senators dominated the headlines at the trade deadline in a protracted dismantling of the core. The rebuilding Sens are creeping closer to contender status, and players on the trading block in Ottawa are depth pieces rather than superstars.
Forward Ryan Dzingel is a pending unrestricted free agent and his value is high after finding his game in Ottawa after disappointing stints in Carolina and Columbus. Veteran defenceman Erik Gudbranson could add size and a physical edge to a team looking for depth on the back end.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Could this be the season the Maple Leafs finally end their 54-year Stanley Cup drought? There’s reason to believe in the GTA, and general manager Kyle Dubas is expected to do everything in his power to upgrade the Leafs heading into the playoffs.
Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen is battling a lower-body injury and the resurgent Jack Campbell is dealing with a bad knee. Possible deadline additions include Linus Ullmark (Buffalo), Jonathan Bernier (Detroit) or David Rittich (Calgary).
But the top priority for Dubas is scoring depth up front. Columbus captain Nick Foligno and Philadelphia centre Scott Laughton would fit the bill. On defence, towering Dallas blueliner Jamie Oleksiak (brother of Canadian swimming star Penny Oleksiak) is a physical presence coming off a Stanley Cup appearance with the Stars.
The talent-laden Jets are buyers heading into the trade deadline and their need is an obvious one.
With arguably the most impressive forward depth in the league and Vezina trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck in net, Winnipeg’s blue line could use an upgrade.
Potential candidates include Nashville’s Ekholm, Columbus stay-at-home stalwart David Savard and Anaheim’s minute-muncher Josh Manson.
WATCH | 9 memorable deadline deals… in 90 seconds:
Edmonton hockey fans are understandably desperate to make the most of every year of the Leon Draisaitl-Connor McDavid era. With little cap room, general manager Ken Holland is expected to tweak his roster for what he hopes is a long playoff run.
Down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, Calgary centre Derek Ryan is a pending unrestricted free agent who could help solidify the bottom-six. The University of Albert product is strong on faceoffs, steady on the penalty kill and known for making the players around him better. Another possible target is Detroit faceoff ace Luke Glendening, who played for Holland with the Red Wings.
The 2021 NHL season is definitely one to forget in Calgary with the Flames failing to live up to their advance billing. As such, expect general manager Brad Treliving to aggressively pedal unrestricted free agents such as Ryan and Rittich.
The enigmatic Sam Bennett — exceptional in the playoffs, quiet in the regular season — went public in January with his desire to be traded. But he’s now saying he’s happy to stay at the Saddledome and play under new head coach Darryl Sutter.
The big deals in Calgary will likely come this summer as the Flames prepare for life without core players such as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
In some respects, it’s difficult to even talk about the trade deadline for the Canucks given the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak that ravaged their dressing room.
Still, the business of hockey will be tended to and general manager Jim Benning might look at dealing pending unrestricted free agents Brandon Sutter and Jordie Benn, depending on their health.