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Buy, sell, or sit? Choosing deadline directions for fringe playoff teams

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Several NHL general managers have decisions to make regarding the direction they want to take their respective clubs with the trade deadline on the horizon. There are obvious buyers at the top of the standings and clear sellers near the bottom, but what about the cluster of teams in between? Below, we dive into how seven fringe playoff teams in particular should approach the deadline.

Playoff chances and standings as of Feb. 20. Teams were ordered alphabetically.

Detroit Red Wings

Eliot J. Schechter / National Hockey League / Getty

Playoffs chances: 55%
Standings: 5th in Atlantic (2nd wild-card spot)

Will the Red Wings finally do it? Their seven-year postseason drought is the second-longest active skid in the league. They're close enough to the playoffs that it would be extremely disappointing to see them sell, especially in a wide-open Eastern Conference where anything could happen with a postseason ticket.

Their farm system is strong enough to negate the need for selling off pending unrestricted free agents David Perron, Patrick Kane, Daniel Sprong, and Shayne Gostisbehere for mid-round draft picks.

GM Steve Yzerman shouldn't necessarily push all of his chips into the middle, but shopping for players with term, or those who could be realistically extended and part of the long-term future, would make the most sense; think of players like Noah Hanifin, Jake Guentzel, and Pavel Buchnevich. Detroit has both the prospect capital to pull off such deals and the long-term cap space to keep them around. The Red Wings have enough depth - they need game-changers atop the lineup.

Verdict: Buy (with term)

Nashville Predators

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Playoffs chances: 22.3%
Standings: 5th in Central (2 points out of playoffs)

The Predators are beginning a new era. It's the first season under GM Barry Trotz and head coach Andrew Brunette. There's also a combined $8.25 million in dead money on the books between retained salaries and buyouts. All of this signals that it's not the time to go for it.

The club also has a handful of pending UFAs who could generate notable interest on the trade market, including Yakov Trenin, Thomas Novak, Tyson Barrie, and Alexandre Carrier. Nashville should also be willing to sell high on Gustav Nyquist, who's in the midst of a resurgent year but signed through next season. Listening to offers for star goaltender Juuse Saros, who's also signed through 2024-25, would be a wise move, too.

This new regime in Nashville clearly has a long-term vision, so it's best to sell off expiring assets now, especially considering that even if the Predators did make the playoffs, their first-round matchup would be a daunting one.

Verdict: Sell

New Jersey Devils

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Playoffs chances: 46.7%
Standings: 4th in Metropolitan (4 points out of playoffs)

The Devils have been plagued by injuries and poor goaltending this season, but they've been getting healthy, playing better as of late, and could be a dangerous team if they get into the playoffs. As a young team on the rise that just snapped a four-year playoff drought last season, selling should be out of the question. The club is too close to the postseason.

Trading unprotected first-round picks for rentals would be unwise, though. Getting players who can stick around for the long haul would be ideal - especially in net. Saros and Jacob Markstrom should be GM Tom Fitzgerald's top targets.

The Devils could also use a hard-nosed, veteran defenseman and a bottom-six center. Both could probably be obtained without sacrificing a first-round pick.

Verdict: Buy

New York Islanders

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Playoffs chances: 10.2%
Standings: 5th in Metropolitan (6 points out of playoffs)

The Islanders are in no man's land, and much of the blame can be placed on GM Lou Lamoriello. Buying in the rental market isn't very sensible considering their place in the standings. But buying for players with term doesn't really work, either, because the team's future cap space is severely limited after Lamoriello handed out some egregious extensions in the summer.

On the other hand, there isn't much to sell. Pending UFAs Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Mike Reilly, and Sebastian Aho won't fetch a whole lot on the trade market. And some of the team's expendable players with higher cap hits like Anders Lee, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Kyle Palmieri all have negative trade value (meaning the Islanders would likely have to attach a sweetener just to move the contract).

In other words, the Islanders should ride out the rest of the season with the current group, hope they make the playoffs, and then try to free up some cap space in the offseason.

Verdict: Sit

Philadelphia Flyers

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Playoffs chances: 73%
Standings: 3rd in Metropolitan

The Flyers are enjoying an impressive campaign. They weren't supposed to contend this year, but they're the best team on this list. The surprising success has put first-time GM Daniel Briere in quite a predicament.

On one hand, Philadelphia's season hasn't been a fluke. The underlying numbers are pretty strong, specifically on the defensive side - a staple of John Tortorella-coached teams. The Flyers are on track for the playoffs and have some veteran players, like newly minted captain Sean Couturier, healthy and thriving.

On the other hand, Briere's plan all along has been to stockpile draft picks and prospects with the goal of building a long-term, sustained winner. Will he deviate from that? He has decisions to make regarding two key pending UFA defensemen in Sean Walker and Nick Seeler, who are playing the best hockey of their careers. Walker, in particular, is thriving and in a weak defense market could reportedly net the Flyers a first-round pick.

Selling probably wouldn't sit well with the veterans. But if Briere keeps the team together and the Flyers either miss the playoffs or get ousted in Round 1, he'll be kicking himself for not cashing in on his rentals at the deadline. That's why we lean toward sticking to the process and selling - as tough as it may be. In an ideal world, Briere can acquire some controllable, young players who can help now and in the future in exchange for his rentals.

Verdict: Sell

Pittsburgh Penguins

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Playoffs chances: 32.5%
Standings: 7th in Metropolitan (9 points out of playoffs)

The Penguins are in jeopardy of missing the postseason for a second straight year, which would be a real shame considering Sidney Crosby is still playing at an extremely high level. The other members of Pittsburgh's veteran core - Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson, and Kris Letang - are still highly effective, too.

An abysmal power play has been Pittsburgh's undoing this season. If it were league average, the Pens would probably be in a playoff spot. They're great at five-on-five, ranking eighth in goals share and expected goals share, per Natural Stat Trick.

GM Kyle Dubas, who was just hired this past offseason, has a big decision to make about pending UFA Jake Guentzel: Trade him and start looking toward the future without Crosby and Co., or keep him and give it one last shot? We lean toward the latter.

Considering Dubas went all-in for Karlsson in the offseason, it wouldn't make much sense to backtrack now. It's worth trying to sign Guentzel to an extension, even if it means more pain down the road. The organization owes it to Crosby to take one last crack at it.

Pittsburgh is already without its first-round pick this year as part of the Karlsson trade, so there's nothing to tank for. Dubas shouldn't be willing to trade any future firsts in case things go sideways, but dealing from the rest of his draft picks and prospects should be on the table.

It's been a trying season, but the Penguins aren't far off, and with this grizzled group, anything could happen if it can get into the playoffs.

Verdict: Extend Guentzel and buy

St. Louis Blues

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Playoffs chances: 19%
Standings: 4th in Central (2nd wild-card spot)

The Blues are in a tricky spot. They have a leg up on the competition for the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference. However, their path to third in the Central, or to the first wild-card spot, is a bit of a long shot. So even if they make the playoffs, a first-round matchup against the conference's top seed seems likely. That's why buying doesn't make a lot of sense.

But St. Louis' only notable pending UFAs - Kasperi Kapanen, Sammy Blais, and Marco Scandella - wouldn't garner much of a return. Buchnevich could fetch a ton, but he still has an additional year left on his contract, and an extension in the summer would make sense. There's no rush to deal him. The same goes for the team's core defensemen, but retaining money on long-term contracts isn't ideal - and that's what it might take for a team to give up a haul for someone like Colton Parayko.

So as boring as it may sound, riding it out with the current group for the rest of the season and hoping for the best come playoff time is the most sensible path.

Verdict: Sit

(Playoff chances source: MoneyPuck)

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