Ahead of the 2019 NHL trade deadline, we examine where each Eastern Conference team stands and what strategies they should employ heading into Feb. 25.
A first-round matchup against the Maple Leafs seems inevitable for the Bruins, and though they've had Toronto's number before, the Leafs are much deeper than in years past. Boston's top line scares every opponent but its bottom nine pales in comparison to Toronto's.
The Bruins need to be aggressive in pursuing one of the top available wingers such as Artemi Panarin or potentially Mark Stone. If general manager Don Sweeney strikes out on the big fish, he should acquire a cheaper rental such as Gustav Nyquist, Wayne Simmonds, or Mats Zuccarello. The Bruins need to add a top-six forward, especially with David Pastrnak sidelined.
November notwithstanding, the Sabres have failed to make the necessary strides to enter this season's playoff conversation and therefore shouldn't be looking to improve through rentals.
But Buffalo also shouldn't be looking to sell. Jeff Skinner is the team's only key pending unrestricted free agent and general manager Jason Botterill should do everything he can to sign the sniper to a long-term extension. Recent reports suggest the front office is trying. Unless there's a player available who can help Buffalo beyond this season, the club should wait until the offseason to address its many needs.
The Red Wings already hold eight picks in the first five rounds of the 2019 draft and could add more before the trade deadline. Gustav Nyquist and goaltender Jimmy Howard are Detroit's two biggest pending unrestricted free agents and both could garner a nice return, especially if a market develops for Howard. Thomas Vanek, Niklas Kronwall, and Nick Jensen don't have the same appeal, but they could also generate some interest as soon-to-be free agents.
Detroit is clearly rebuilding and needs to acquire the best future assets possible in exchange for expiring contracts.
Many expected the Panthers to be a playoff team this season, but they're well out of the postseason mix leading up to the deadline. Florida's core should stay intact through Feb. 25, but the roster features several pending unrestricted free agents including Jamie McGinn, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan. Brassard and Sheahan only recently joined the Panthers following a trade from the Penguins. All three should be moved to acquire cap space and trade assets the team can use to improve this summer.
The Canadiens are one of the NHL's most surprising teams this year. Preseason prognosticators pegged them as a potential lottery team; instead, they're primed for a playoff appearance.
Still, Montreal shouldn't be looking to deal from its revamped farm system in exchange for rentals. If there's a player with term available, it's worth exploring a trade. But going all-in during a season that should already be considered a success doesn't seem worth it, especially considering the Canadiens could meet Tampa Bay in the first round.
The Senators' plan to trade Matt Duchene while they attempt to sign Mark Stone is the right move. Stone is captain material and only 26 years old. Given that he's never relied on speed for success, he should age better than most on a potential eight-year deal.
If Stone and the Sens can't reach an agreement soon, however, the team needs to trade him as well. The same goes for the pending unrestricted free agent flying under the radar in Ottawa: Ryan Dzingel.
Trading Duchene, Stone, and Dzingel would mean even more short-term pain in the nation's capital, but the club can't afford to lose them for nothing come July 1.
Is it even possible for the Lightning to make their team better? One wouldn't think so, given their 44-11-4 record. But the Bolts are in a prime position to acquire one of the top available rentals.
With Brayden Point poised to command a hefty cap hit this summer, the Lightning are going to be in cap trouble. Tampa Bay could alleviate this by including one of its long-term contracts, such as J.T. Miller's, in a trade for a game-breaking talent like Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, or Mark Stone.
This is clearly Tampa Bay's year, and acquiring an elite rental player while shedding a long-term contract in the process would kill two birds with one stone.
Toronto could still stand to improve its blue line, specifically on the right side. But that would likely mean moving out Nikita Zaitsev's contract, which may be tough to do midseason. Adding a depth forward who can provide a physical presence may be the Leafs' most realistic way of improving before the deadline.
The Hurricanes a complete wild card. One day they're reportedly selling, the next they're reportedly buying, and the third they're reportedly OK with the status quo.
The most common players in the rumor mill are Micheal Ferland (pending UFA), Dougie Hamilton (seemingly always available, no matter who he plays for), and Brett Pesce (of great interest to the Maple Leafs, potentially).
Even if Carolina doesn't sell big, Ferland appears the most likely trade candidate. The 26-year-old winger has 16 goals and 33 points in 50 games and seems destined to test the open market this coming summer, though nothing is set in stone.
It seems there are more questions than answers for Carolina in the lead-up to deadline day.
Like the Senators in the Atlantic, the Blue Jackets are ground zero for trade activity in the Metro.
With the futures of star forward Artemi Panarin and franchise goalie Sergei Bobrovsky dominating headlines all season, one might label Columbus a seller and call it a day. But the club could turn around and land another impact forward like Matt Duchene or a second-tier player like Marcus Johansson to soften the potential blow of losing one or both of its stars.
Reports suggest GM Jarmo Kekalainen is motivated to both sell and buy. Panarin and Bobrovsky are forcing his hand, but the Blue Jackets are a good hockey team and their fan base needs postseason success.
Verdict: Seller and Buyer
General manager Ray Shero got the party started earlier this month, flipping Brian Boyle and his expiring contract to Nashville for a 2019 second-round pick.
Next up might be Marcus Johansson, the playmaking forward who's run into injury after injury since being acquired from the Washington Capitals in the summer of 2017. Blue-liner Ben Lovejoy and winger Drew Stafford are also worthy of consideration - albeit from a depth perspective. Both are rentals.
Don't be surprised if the Devils' eight draft selections in 2019 balloon to 10 or more by next week.
With nearly $10 million in cap space and the division lead, GM Lou Lamoriello has wiggle room galore as he looks to capitalize on the club's tremendous first season under head coach Barry Trotz.
New York could use an upgrade on its center depth behind Mathew Barzal. Perhaps Matt Duchene fits the bill? Or, if the Islanders truly believe in themselves, why not take a run at Artemi Panarin, who's counting the days to free agency and is reportedly drawn to metropolitan cities?
The Isles have their first-round pick for this year and beyond at their disposal. All eyes on Lou.
It's been more than a year since the Rangers promised their fans a rebuild. Although there's been some movement - last deadline's Ryan McDonagh trade with Tampa is looking like a win-win for both clubs - assets like Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, and Vladislav Namestnikov remain on the roster.
Zuccarello and Hayes are both pending UFAs and should fetch decent returns, while Kreider and Namestnikov have less predictable futures given the extra year on each of their contracts. Three or four of these players could soon be packing their bags. Blue-liner Adam McQuaid is also on an expiring contract.
Barring the unforeseen, these are the final days of Wayne Simmonds' tenure with the Flyers. Several contenders - including the Jets, Lightning, Bruins, and Predators - are believed to be interested in the winger's services, according to TSN's Frank Seravalli.
The smart money's on Philly waiting until the offseason to assess the team's core, but you never know. The Flyers are volatile.
Pittsburgh is playing with fire, alternating between losing skids and winning streaks in 2019, but it's hard to envision GM Jim Rutherford sitting on his hands here. He just doesn't seem to be wired that way, especially since Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren't getting any younger.
In terms of player-specific scuttlebutt, Larry Brooks of the New York Post expects Pittsburgh to show interest in Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello.
The Capitals definitely aren't selling, unless you include their rumored desire to move on from Andre Burakovsky. They lack the cap space to chase a marquee name, but that doesn't mean general manager Brian MacLellan won't attempt to improve around the edges. He's supposedly ready and willing to upgrade his middle-six forward group.
If Washington happens to hold and not make a trade before the deadline, it wouldn't be a huge surprise. Consider them bargain-bin buyers.