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Dream fits for Cup contenders who haven't made their move

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The trade deadline is almost upon us, meaning it's time we take stock of this year's Stanley Cup hopefuls.

All these squads are fearsome as is, but there's always room for improvement. In this exercise, we took a dive into the needs of each contender and identified one dream player who would boost their chances of winning it all - within reason.

First, a caveat. We left off the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets, who are Cup contenders, but they've already made major moves by acquiring Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan, respectively. Of course, that doesn't mean that either squad is done adding, but we've opted to focus on the teams that have been quiet so far.

Too quiet.

Boston Bruins 🤝 Noah Hanifin

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58 11 33 23:45

Projected deadline cap space: $57.5K

You might be looking at the Bruins' limited cap space, relatively bare prospect cupboard, and lack of draft picks (they don't pick until the fourth round of this summer's draft) and assume this is a pipe dream. Bear with us.

First, the fit. A pending UFA, Hanifin is a Boston native who grew up a Bruins fan. If GM Don Sweeney acquires him now, the Bruins will have a better chance of inking him to an extension than if they wait for the summer. Hanifin is also a left-handed shot, which Boston needs; both Matt Grzelcyk and Derek Forbort can become free agents in a few months. Also, an injury to Hampus Lindholm has made a blue-line upgrade a more pressing need.

The problem here is cost. Hanifin carries a $4.95-million cap hit, which is too rich for Boston's blood as it currently stands. It doesn't sound like Lindholm's ailment will require a shift to long-term injured reserve, meaning the Bruins don't suddenly have an extra $6.5 million to work with. Boston has its first-round selection in the next three drafts after this one, but the Bruins haven't picked in the opening round since 2021. With limited resources at their disposal, the Bruins would have to move on from a roster player to get this done. Would Jake Debrusk - a streaky top-six winger who's struggled at times - move the needle? Trading DeBrusk would also clear $4 million off the books, but Boston is already thin on the wings as is.

Acquiring Hanifin would handcuff the Bruins' ability to improve in other areas, but the idea of him enhancing a corps that already includes Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and a hopefully healthy Lindholm may be too good to pass up. If it doesn't work out, depth options like Ilya Lyubushkin or Nick Seeler could serve Boston just fine.

Carolina Hurricanes 🤝 Pavel Buchnevich

Ben Ludeman / National Hockey League / Getty
55 22 46 19:50

Projected deadline cap space: $6.679M

OK, the Hurricanes' situation in net is a bit of a mess, but listen: Four different goalies have made at least one start for them this season. Would trading for another guy with a middling save percentage provide any relief? Based on the realistic options available, probably not. So, what else could Carolina use?

Well, the Hurricanes have scored around 15 fewer goals than expected at five-on-five this season, a trend that would be aided by someone like Buchnevich. In addition, every game of last spring's Eastern Conference Final was decided by just one goal, and Carolina was on the losing side of all four of them. That still has to sting.

This one's a pretty big swing, but there's still some wiggle room in the Eastern Conference. Carolina may go all-in, given the number of pending UFAs on its books, four of which are forwards, with Teuvo Teravainen headlining that group. The good news for the Canes is that Buchnevich has one more year remaining on his contract after this one, which would lessen the blow if they can't keep Teravainen.

Unlike most other contending teams in need of an impact forward, Carolina currently has the cap space to accommodate Buchnevich's $5.8-million price tag. There are two issues here, though. Firstly, the St. Louis Blues are in the playoff race and may be hard-pressed to part with Buchnevich, and secondly, it'd take a lot to get him, which isn't typically GM Don Waddell's midseason style. Carolina hasn't parted ways with a first-rounder at the deadline since 2020 when it scooped up Brady Skjei, who had four years remaining on his deal at the time. In the likely scenario this doesn't pan out, the Hurricanes could turn their attention to some less flashy options like Anthony Duclair, a center like Alex Wennberg, or a depth defenseman.

Colorado Avalanche 🤝 Marc-Andre Fleury

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28 (12-10-3) .899 2.92 1

Projected deadline cap space: $1.242M

The Avalanche are overreliant on Alexandar Georgiev, and GM Chris MacFarland knows it. He leads the league in games played (48) while ranking second in shots faced (1,342). What's more, Georgiev has started 11 of the Avs' last 14 games since MacFarland said he wanted his No. 1 to play less. Whoops.

Colorado clearly doesn't trust youngsters Ivan Prosvetov or Justus Annunen enough to give them any significant amount of playing time, so MacFarland's only way to improve the situation is to explore the trade market for a capable netminder. Luckily for him, the perfect match might just be out there.

Enter Fleury. Wild GM Bill Guerin previously made it clear that he wasn't eager to gauge the trade market for the beloved goalie, and to Fleury's credit, he said he doesn't want to abandon Minnesota in the throes of a playoff race. However, we're a little over a week out from the trade deadline, and the Wild are looking at a 24.6% chance to make the postseason, meaning Fleury's 17-year playoff streak is in jeopardy.

Fleury has control over the situation thanks to his no-move clause, and he said in May that he has no interest in moving again, but this might be his last NHL season, so why not go Cup-chasing one more time? Georgiev would still be the Avalanche's starter, but there'd be a decent role for Fleury in Colorado. If the affable veteran is fully dedicated to staying in the fight with the Wild, there are other options available for the Avalanche, like Jake Allen (although salary retention would likely be required), James Reimer, or Kaapo Kahkonen.

Dallas Stars 🤝 Sean Walker

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59 5 21 19:29

Projected deadline cap space: $1.52M

Only three of the nine defensemen to play a game for the Stars this campaign are right-handed shots: Jani Hakanpaa, Nils Lundkvist, and Alexander Petrovic. Two of those options (Hakanpaa and Lundkvist) are currently injured, while the other (Petrovic) made his season debut in mid-February. Dallas' best option on the right is Miro Heiskanen, and it isn't even his strong side. When Peter DeBoer puts his best two rearguards together in Thomas Harley and Heiskanen, the blue line thins out even more.

It's not ideal, especially for a team that has stiff competition to be the last squad standing in the Western Conference. Acquiring Walker - a right-handed shot - would provide immediate aid.

Firstly, his presence in the top four would cut into the 31-year-old Hakanpaa's average ice time (18:59). Hakanpaa has spent the bulk of the season with Esa Lindell on his left, but the Stars fail to convincingly dictate play with the duo on the ice. Despite Hakanpaa and Lindell's struggles together, they comprise Dallas' most-utilized pair this season. In addition, even when Lundkvist was healthy, the Stars occasionally scratched him.

Walker would also come cheaper than someone like Chris Tanev, thanks to his $2.65-million cap hit. However, the Flyers are still very much in the playoff picture and may not want to part ways with the pending UFA, who's been a difference-maker in Philadelphia. Another option could be Lyubushkin of the Anaheim Ducks, whose cap hit is a teensy bit higher than Walker's, but it wouldn't cost as much to acquire him.

Edmonton Oilers 🤝 Chris Tanev

Terence Leung / National Hockey League / Getty
55 1 12 19:49

Projected deadline cap space: $2.373M

What is it people say, defense wins championships?

Virtually every contender (and inexplicably the Ottawa Senators?) is interested in acquiring Tanev, and for good reason. The veteran is a capable shutdown blue-liner who has a near-sadistic love for blocking shots. He's also responsible with the puck and has a knack for making breakout passes.

The Oilers sure could use someone like that to fortify their second pair behind Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard. A right-handed shot, Tanev would be a slam-dunk upgrade over Cody Ceci next to Darnell Nurse. If we were Ken Holland, we'd pull the trigger, but it's never that easy.

Firstly, the Calgary Flames may not want to send Tanev to their provincial rivals (he also has a 10-team no-trade list), but GM Craig Conroy has already made two trades with the Vancouver Canucks this season, so maybe he isn't picky about his dance partner as long as he gets the best deal. Next, Conroy is reportedly seeking a second-rounder and a prospect for the pending UFA, which Edmonton could swing, but the Oilers are going to have to ship out money to accommodate Tanev's $4.5-million cap hit. If Edmonton wants to dump Ceci's contract ($3.25 million for one more season) in the process or get the Flames to retain salary, then Holland would have to sweeten the deal.

The market for Tanev is going to be competitive, so Holland could pivot to Walker or Alexandre Carrier. Their smaller price tags could give the Oilers more room to set their sights on a middle-six forward (Jordan Eberle, anyone?) or a backup goalie.

Florida Panthers 🤝 Anthony Duclair

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51 11 19 15:55

Projected deadline cap space: $5.72M

The Panthers could really use a winger to add some scoring touch to their third line, so why not stage a reunion?

Yes, this one may be a bit far-fetched, seeing as GM Bill Zito is a mere eight months removed from trading Duclair to the San Jose Sharks to clear up cap space, but he's the exact type of player the Panthers are missing. Florida could use an upgrade on the trio of Eetu Luostarinen, Anton Lundell, and Nick Cousins, who've combined for 21 goals and 47 points. Now, to be fair, Duclair hasn't been tearing up the scoresheet, either, but he's only had the abysmal Sharks to work with.

Duclair enjoyed his best offensive season in 2021-22 with the Panthers, putting up 31 goals and 58 points. He was mostly out of action last campaign thanks to an Achilles injury, but he chipped in with 11 points in 20 games during Florida's surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final. His $3-million cap hit is manageable under the Panthers' current projections, and his acquisition cost will be modest, but there may be an even cheaper option out there.

Meet Arthur Kaliyev, a 22-year-old pending RFA with a cap hit of just under $900,000. He's sat as a fairly regular healthy scratch with the Los Angeles Kings this season, but there's potential there. The 2019 second-round pick scored 14 goals in 2021-22 and 13 last season. With his value tanking while he observes games from the press box, Kaliyev could be a low-risk, high-reward acquisition for the Panthers.

New York Rangers 🤝 Adam Henrique

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57 16 38 17:35

Projected deadline cap space: $4.383M

Those lucky Ducks. With Lindholm and Monahan off the board, Henrique has suddenly become the best center available at the deadline.

The Rangers could also use a top-six right winger to replace Blake Wheeler (and they needed an upgrade even before he got hurt), but a center is arguably a more pressing need because of the loss of Filip Chytil. Henrique checks a lot of boxes. A solid two-way player, he's on pace for a career year offensively while winning 53.1% of his faceoffs, which is what New York would want in its third-line center behind Vincent Trocheck and Mika Zibanejad.

Henrique is already 34 years old and wouldn't add much in the way of speed, but he might be the best option out there for the Rangers. He'd provide more pop than, say, Tyler Johnson, Nic Dowd, or Scott Laughton, and New York could get a deal done without having to sacrifice top prospects like Brennan Othmann and Gabriel Perreault or current lineup regular Will Cuylle. Lindholm and Monahan each fetched a first-round pick in their respective deals, and Henrique likely would as well, especially since the Rangers would need the Ducks to retain some of his $5.825-million salary. A first-rounder might be a bit steep for a pending UFA on the wrong side of 30, but it's an avenue GM Chris Drury should be serious about. Henrique does have some control over the situation thanks to his 10-team no-trade list.

If the Rangers are fine with riding the recently extended Jonny Brodzinski as their third-line center, they could always go the right-winger route. Maybe they reunite with an old friend, like Frank Vatrano or Vladimir Tarasenko.

Vegas Golden Knights 🤝 Jason Zucker or...

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47 8 23 14:06

Projected deadline cap space: $6.864M

What the Golden Knights need most of all is to get healthy and stay that way: Jack Eichel and Mark Stone are both out, Shea Theodore is finally back after missing 35 games, and Adin Hill was on and off the shelf earlier this season. Despite that, they're still one of the top squads in the Pacific. If we were to nitpick (assuming they'll be at 100% come playoff time, as no one has been ruled out for the spring), the reigning Stanley Cup champions could really use a middle-six winger. How about one that grew up in Las Vegas?

Zucker proved he's still got plenty of good hockey left in the tank last season when he put up 27 goals - all but two of which came at even strength - and 48 points in 78 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was rewarded with a one-year, $5.3-million deal with the Arizona Coyotes in the summer. With the Coyotes falling out of the playoff race, GM Bill Armstrong could flip Zucker at the deadline for a decent return. Arizona would absolutely have to retain some of his cap hit, which was an overpay when Zucker originally signed it, but even then, the Golden Knights wouldn't have to pay an arm and a leg to acquire him. The 32-year-old can play both wings, to boot.

One thing to keep an eye on is if Stone and his $9.5-million cap hit get moved to LTIR, which would give GM Kelly McCrimmon more wiggle room to do something dramatic. In that case, a splashier name like Jake Guentzel could be a realistic option. Eichel is already on LTIR, but McCrimmon recently said he's "not far off" from returning, and the Knights would undoubtedly want him back in their ranks as they push for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

A pending UFA with a $6-million cap hit, Guentzel has hit the 20-goal mark in each of the last seven seasons and is primed to be a point-per-game player for the fourth time in the last five campaigns. Sounds like someone Vegas could use.

(Analytics sources: Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick)

(Salary figures: CapFriendly)

(Playoff odds: MoneyPuck)

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