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2018 NHL Trade Deadline Preview: Islanders, Bruins, and Rangers

As we’ve learned in the past couple of years, the actual trade deadline is actually more of a tweak deadline. Most of the big moves, if any, come in the days and weeks prior to February 26th. So we’ll get ahead of the curve here and provide a preview of each of our three teams, all in very different positions.

Bruins

Needs: 2nd line right wing, depth defenseman, A Stanley Cup

Surpluses: Futures, Center prospects, Left Defense Prospects

Trade Assets: Draft Picks, Jakub Zboril, Jesse Gabrielle, Jack Studnicka

Possible Targets: Michael Grabner, Mike Hoffman, Cody Franson, Eric Gryba

The Bruins have come out of nowhere and been one of, if not the best, team in the NHL. There isn’t a glaring hole in their lineup, both on paper, and on the stat sheet, and look to be primed for a deep playoff run. Matt Grzelcyk has filled a hole on defense and been nothing short of great, near the top of the league in every possession stat. Danton Heinen top 5 in rookie scoring, doing more than filling a depth scoring role, and Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Spooner have been nice compliments on David Krejci’s wings. Bruce Cassidy has stated that he doesn’t have full trust in the Krejci line defensively, with DeBrusk still a rookie and Ryan Spooner an offense-first natural centerman, so a defensive minded winger could be on Don Sweeney’s wish list.

The problem with acquiring a rental is A) you’re going to overpay and B) it bumps somebody out of your lineup. Grabner would be nice fit on Krejci’s right side, but that bumps out Ryan Spooner, 9-14-23 in 33 games, to either a 3rd line spot which shouldn’t be broken up itself, or the 4th line where he doesn’t belong. Acquiring a rental like Grabner also isn’t a necessity. The Bruins have been the best defensive team in the NHL this season, and it’s probably not worth giving up an asset just to sure up one spot.

The Bruins could go the rental route, or they could try and acquire someone who could fill that 2nd line right wing in the long term, like Mike Hoffman. Ultimately, the Bruins are going to have too many players at some point, with just too many bodies competing for just a few spots, eventually they will need to trade some prospects for a bona fide NHL scorer. That time probably isn’t now. Ryan Donato is NHL ready and could potentially be in the Bruins lineup this April, and Zach Senyshyn is waiting for his turn in Providence. The 2nd line right wing “hole” is something they might be able to fill internally.

Really the only other need for the Bruins is a depth defenseman, which as we learned last playoffs, you can never have enough of. Grzelcyk has bumped Adam McQuaid to a 7th defenseman, and Paul Postma hasn’t played since December 14th. That said, the Bruins are a blocked shot and a hit from behind away from being down to their last NHL defenseman, and having less than ideal candidates Rob O’Gara or Tommy Cross as the next man up. Though it would be a minor deal, acquiring a waiver exempt, NHL depth defenseman like Franson or Gryba would be beneficial to the Bruins.

It’s probably not worth it for the Bruins to trade a 2nd round pick or more to the Rangers more Michael Grabner, or a larger package to Ottawa for Hoffman to fill a trivial need on a team that is absolutely rolling with just one (!!!) regulation loss in their last 22 games. It might be a quiet deadline for the Bruins, and that’s quite ok.

 

Islanders

Needs: Top 4 defensemen, Starting Goalie

Surpluses: Scoring forwards

Trade Assets: Draft Picks, Josh Ho Sang, Michael Dal Colle

Possible Targets: Robin Lehner, Petr Mrazek, Aaron Dell, Erik Gusbranson, Jack Johnson

The Islanders are in a very unenviable position. The face of their franchise John Tavares is a UFA after the season, and losing him could lead to the Islanders falling into a deep deep hole of badness. Josh Bailey, who has just two fewer points than Tavares, is also UFA, as are impactful defensmen Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey. Typically, these would be players that a non-playoff team would sell off for futures and use those assets to build around the core that is already there.

However, the Islanders can’t afford to do that. They need to do everything in their power to keep John Tavares a New York Islander.

Garth Snow has adamantly stated that he’s not trading Tavares, nor does he want to deal futures for rentals. So which way is it? As it stands, the Isles hold the last wild card spot after back to back shutouts against division rivals (ironic because goaltending and defense is what’s held them back this season), but the teams below them have games in hand. They are extremely offense reliant with Tavares, Bailey, and Anders Lee all near the top of the league in scoring.

Defense and goaltending. That’s what the Islanders need to acquire if they’re going to get into the playoffs and convince Tavares to stick around. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet suggested Sabres goalie Robin Lehner could be a target. One of Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrasek will likely be dealt out of Detroit (update: Mrazek is gone but he is with Philly). Any of those three would be an upgrade over the Jaroslav Halak/Thomas Greiss duo. As far as defense goes, Nick Leddy is as close to a top pairing defenseman as they have, though ideally he’s a second pair guy. Johnny Boychuk’s return from injury will help, and continued developement from Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Sebastian Aho will help as well, but this Isles team won’t go anywhere with their current D-core. Dennis Seidenberg’s hay day as clearly passed, as he’s been one of the worst defenseman in the NHL this year, with a CF% of 41.6%, ouch. They may be willing to pay the price for Columbus’ Jack Johnson or Erik Gudbranson which would certainly help the cause, but both are pending UFAs.

The picks acquired for Travis Hamonic could be used to acquire some help as they now have an extra first and second this year, and an extra second in 2019. Michael Dal Colle, their 5th overall pick in 2015, has struggled to stick in the NHL and could benefit from a fresh start would be an asset. Josh Ho Sang would also certainly interest teams. He’s highly skilled as has 22 points in 43 NHL games, but has had multiple off ice issues in his short time as a pro that might drive some teams away. A valuable asset nonetheless.

The Islanders are in a unique situation. They not winning the cup, but they can’t afford to sell and miss the playoffs. They may miss the playoffs anyway, but sending a positive message for the future to keep Tavares around is the goal.

 

Rangers

Needs: Sell

Surpluses: Forwards

Trade Assets: Balance of rentals + long-term acquisitions

Possible Targets: Sell

Well, it’s finally happened. Something that has taken three years to develop has actually happened. The Rangers are selling. The Rangers are rebuilding.

And it’s a very good thing.

Let’s just cut right to the chase here: the Rangers aren’t very good. God forbid I actually have to give credit to Jonny for something, but he nailed his article on why the Rangers would come crashing down to earth. A bad possession team that relies on their goaltender to stand on his head to win every game is not really a recipe for success. Their bad play caught up to them pretty quickly, and fortunately Jeff Gorton came to his senses and saw the flaws with the current team.

The good news is that there’s still a lot to like with the organization. Hank is as good as ever, so you’ll have a chance to win every night on his back alone, although that’ll only last for so long. There are also many young pieces to keep around for the long run, players like Buchnevich, Skjei, Miller, Hayes, and Zibanejad. This core of five, coupled with Andersson, Chytil, Shekyorskin, and more, should give the Rangers something nice to go forward with for a while. That’s also not counting Shattenkirk and Kreider, who are still big pieces to the team on good contracts. Keep these guys together and you will compete every year.

Having said all of that, there’s a lot that needs to change here. This core can’t win. It sucks to say that but it’s just true — there have been ample opportunities to win it all, but unfortunately, nothing but heartbreak has been provided. With the current age of guys like McDonagh, Zuccarello, and Nash, it’s better for the long-term future of the organization to get picks and prospects back for them instead of losing them for nothing. I hate saying that. McDonagh is your captain, Zuccarello is your heart-and-soul, Nash is arguably your best forward. It’s just the smarter thing to do here long term.

Now, in terms of return haul, a guy like Grabner should at worst fetch you a second rounder, and at best a late-ish first. The asking price on Nash is high, and a bit too high in the minds of many, but Gorton’s logic behind this is based off of a simple glance at some advanced metrics. Nash has the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances in the league. With that mark, he should be scoring at a high clip, but he just hasn’t gotten that puck luck. Nash will get at least two of what has been asked (first-rounder, prospect, third piece).

McDonagh and Zuccarello are where things get interesting. Both guys are on good contracts, do not need to be moved this year. Both of these players should be able to get what Nash is being shopped for. If the Rangers can pull these moves off to the full extent that Gorton wants, this team is gonna be DEADLY in a few years.

It’s gonna be rough now, and it’s gonna be rough for at least a year. If the Rangers stick with this plan and execute it well though…

Sell, sell, sell.

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