Kaplan: Answering the big questions ahead of the NHL trade deadline

The NHL trade deadline is three days away, and the action is picking up. Most teams are waiting until the last minute to make moves — hey, every dollar matters in this salary-cap world — but a pair of Wednesday trades should spur some action. You probably have questions about what the next three days have in store. I did, too. So I worked the phones, and here’s what I found out.

What is the biggest question still remaining ahead of the deadline?

Where do Claude Giroux and Marc-Andre Fleury end up? They have been the two biggest names this trade deadline cycle.

Let’s start with Giroux, the Flyers captain who has spent his entire 15-year career in Philadelphia. Talking to people around Giroux, you understand how challenging the last few weeks have been for him. I get the sense Giroux doesn’t want to leave. He has fallen in love with the city of Philadelphia, which he calls his second home, and takes pride in being a Flyer. But he’s 34 years old, he knows his chances to win a Stanley Cup are dwindling, and chasing the Cup with a contender this spring is too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Giroux put his focus on playing his 1,000th game in Philadelphia on Thursday night. Now that the emotional night is over, Giroux will shift focus to selecting his next destination. I have been told that the Florida Panthers are the front-runner, though there may have been some sort of snafu in talks this week — around the same time the Panthers were trading for Ben Chiarot. The Panthers, who are looking to make a splash, believe they can also make it work for Giroux, who would likely start as Aleksander Barkov‘s top line wing. Florida kept Owen Tippett out of its AHL lineup on Thursday, a good sign he could be included in a deal. The Colorado Avalanche are also in on Giroux, and there could be at least one other team lurking in the wing.

As for Fleury? The Blackhawks gave the goaltender a handshake agreement this summer that he’d only get traded if he signs off on it. They plan to honor it. That, plus a 10-team no trade clause, gives Fleury full control here. While it hasn’t been an ideal season in Chicago, I’m told Fleury likes the city and feels he’s been treated very well by everyone in the organization. He doesn’t want to uproot his family for a few months — the kids are engaged in school, and activities like soccer teams — so he’ll only go to a team that he feels has a legitimate chance to win a Cup.

The only problem? Not sure if that team exists for him. There was some preliminary talk about Edmonton, but I don’t think Fleury was crazy about going there, and it seems like the Oilers have ultimately decided goaltending prices are too rich for their liking and they’ll stick it out with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. The Golden Knights could use a goalie with Robin Lehner‘s injury uncertainty, but a reunion between Vegas and its Day 1 goalie — however storybook it would be — doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards. Perhaps Colorado makes sense, but it feels like the Avs are looking to go “all-in” in other areas.

The most likely destination at this point feels like Toronto, who would need to sell itself hard to Fleury. It all depends on Toronto’s desperation level.

All of that said, I think there’s a good chance Fleury remains in Chicago for the rest of the season. He hasn’t had a long offseason in a while. He plans to play next season. Using the long summer to re-set might be what the 37-year-old actually craves.

What’s the most competitive market?

Defensemen. Among the teams hoping to add to their blueline: Boston, Carolina, Los Angeles, New York Rangers, St. Louis and Toronto. Florida was on that list, too, but satisfied its need by picking up Ben Chiarot for a massive price. Panthers GM Bill Zito had been looking for a veteran defenseman all season. Some might call it an overpay for Chiarot, but I think it was smart to get the guy who helped shut down Auston Matthews in last years’ playoffs, no matter the price.

Chiarot’s move to Florida shifted the other team’s focus elsewhere.

We know Seattle captain Mark Giordano, who just celebrated his 1,000th game as a healthy scratch for trade protection, is going to go. I don’t think the Kraken anticipated getting a first-rounder for the 37-year-old, even if they retain salary. However, given the price of Chariot they should at least pull a second-rounder, plus something else.

Jakob Chychrun‘s injury is not as serious as believed, so he’s still in play for Boston and Los Angeles, the two teams I think have been most engaged with Arizona. I know Boston has had serious talks with Arizona; Fabian Lysell is a prospect in Boston’s system that the Coyotes really covet, but it doesn’t seem like the Bruins want to part with their 2021 first-round pick. I think Carolina at least kicked the tires on Chychrun, too. However Arizona doesn’t feel urgency to trade Chychrun if their price isn’t met; the Yotes know there could be a bigger market this summer.

The Ducks have tried to work out an extension for Hampus Lindholm but there doesn’t seem to be much progress as of Thursday. They’re asking for a massive package, and a lot of teams are interested — including Boston and Toronto — though those suitors may be waiting to see if the price drops.

Going down a tier, Justin Braun, Calvin de Haan, Robert Hagg, Nick Leddy and Colin Miller are all solid veteran options that should have new homes by March 22. Miller got back into the lineup just in time to make himself available for the deadline after missing 23 games following an undisclosed surgery. A team is going to be really happy to pick up Miller.

Biggest names still left that you expect to be traded?

Besides the guys I’ve already mentioned, I see Anaheim trading Rickard Rakell, who is also a pending UFA. I haven’t heard about much progress with contract talks for Rakell, and as new GM Pat Verbeek told me earlier this month: “We can’t let anyone walk out the door for nothing.”

Phil Kessel may only have six goals on the season, but he’s still Phil Kessel, a gifted scorer with 96 games of playoff experience (and 34 playoff goals) who could add an extra dimension to any team’s third line. He’s been available pretty much all season, but no team has met Arizona’s asking price, which I believe was a third-round pick. The Rangers are among the teams that I’ve heard have done some research on Kessel.

Any players that have been in the “rumor mill” that you don’t expect to be traded by Monday?

Plenty, actually! Let’s begin with JT Miller in Vancouver; seems like his name has been trending on Twitter for months. Miller performed so well lately, he’s basically played himself out of a trade. The asking price for Miller at this point would be so exorbitant, that I can’t imagine any teams actually doing it. There’s also been a lot of smoke around Brock Boeser‘s name. There was a potential trade that sent Boeser to the New Jersey Devils, and it involved Pavel Zacha. However I was told those talks broke down because neither side could make it work. Boeser is still in play, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Vancouver decides to punt a decision until this summer.

Filip Forsberg and Patrik Laine‘s names were out there briefly, but both players are safe bets to remain with their teams (Nashville and Columbus, respectively).

There was a time that Artturi Lehkonen was one of the buzziest names out there, with talks of the versatile forward generating a first-round pick. Now I think he stays in Montreal.

Alexandar Georgiev never formally asked the Rangers for a trade, though he let it be known he wanted the opportunity to be the No. 1 goaltender — something he’ll be blocked from on Broadway, as he’s the same age as Igor Shesterkin. Georgiev is an RFA this summer, and I don’t see a situation where he remains in New York past this season. Georgiev switched agents last week, and is now represented by Gerry Johannson. That could help facilitate a trade, but it seems like the Rangers would like to have Georgiev play backup the rest of the season (as they’d need to acquire a veteran goaltender to replace him) and let the trade play out over the summer instead.

How bout a few “under-the-radar” names that could be moved and make a big impact?

On the goaltender front, keep an eye on Anton Forsberg, who has played well lately in Ottawa. The Senators wanted to re-sign him, but I’m not sure how far they got, and I think there are a few teams who believe the 29-year-old would be a sneaky good pickup. Comical since everyone had a chance to get him for free when he was claimed off waivers three different times last season.

I’ve been pumping the tires of Hagg as a gamer and perfect stay-at-home 6th or 7th defenseman for a contender. He’s competitive as hell. I know he’s on a lot of team’s lists.

Centers are always a commodity, and the fact Ottawa doesn’t appear to be re-signing Nick Paul (who carries an attractive $1.35 million cap hit) means he’ll be a hot name come Monday.

Teams that will be more active than you think?

Everyone knows the Panthers and Avs are going for it. The Rangers have more than $30 million in cap space.

But this question is about the unexpected, so I present to you the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings. In St. Louis, GM Doug Armstrong has been saying he has no cap space and can’t get anything done. But from the amount of work I hear that organization has been doing behind the scenes, it seems like they’re plotting something — specifically on the blueline. That’s a GM that’s not afraid to go bold.

And Detroit? A few people have told me to keep an eye on them, and there’s a belief that anyone on the roster is in play outside Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond (though I have a hard time seeing them part with captain Dylan Larkin, either). This text I received from an NHL executive should put the rest of the league on notice: “Steve Y is up to something.” Dangerous words.

Teams that will be less active than you think?

Carolina. Yes, the Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the league and have been in conversations with some of the best names available. I just get the sense the Canes are content with their roster. They’d like to add a depth defenseman, for sure — and don’t have to worry about sides, as their eight NHL-caliber defenseman split up as four righties, four lefties. However I don’t think the Canes are willing to part with a first-round pick, having already given up one earlier this year in the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet.

Which teams will best take advantage of their cap space?

The Arizona Coyotes have been using their space all season long as they work a rebuild through draft and development. Don’t be shocked to see the Yotes pick up a dormant veteran contract (like Shea Weber in Montreal, for example) just to hit the cap floor.

Buffalo Sabres GM Kevyn Adams made it clear to the rest of the league he’s open for business and willing to help broker deals. The Sabres are sellers, but also looking to add players with term — including a future partner for 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, who should join the team after his season in Michigan is over.

Keep an eye on the Blue Jackets and Red Wings in this space as well.

What do we expect out of Ron Francis in the Kraken’s first deadline?

Francis has kept a tight circle. I’ve heard from a few agents and other league executives that they have a hard time deciphering what the Kraken are up to. They got a good deal for Calle Jarnkrok, one of the expansion draft picks they absolutely hit on, and plan to deal Giordano, too. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if Colin Blackwell (UFA this summer), Carson Soucy (UFA in 2023) or Haydn Fleury (RFA in 2022) are on the move. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t.

What’s a trend we’ll see this trade deadline?

Look for teams to seek out 2023 draft picks instead of 2022 picks. It’s a stronger class. A lot of teams have lottery protection, so this won’t really be relevant around the trade deadline, but let it be known while the consensus No. 1 pick this year Shane Wright is good, he’s not viewed as elite as 2023’s Connor Bedard or Matvei Michkov.

Who ends up making the playoffs in the West?

The Wild, Wild West it is! While the East playoff picture has been set for weeks now — the eight teams are just jockeying for seeding — the West is anyone’s guess. Vegas’ free fall seemingly opened the field for a few pesky teams hanging around, like the Stars, Canucks and Jets (I’m discounting the Ducks after their post-All Star slide). I think Vegas ultimately overcomes the adversity, and gets in as a wild card along with resurgent Dallas. Then it will be Colorado, St Louis and Minnesota from the Central and Calgary, Los Angeles and Edmonton from the Pacific.

Which teams are feeling least comfortable with their goaltending?

The Oilers and Wild both explored goaltending options, but I believe both got scared off by prices and are sticking with the tandems they have. That means we can cross them off the list.

Toronto has to be up there. Petr Mrazek has had a season to forget, while Jack Campbell lost his way, and is now sidelined by a rib injury. The Maple Leafs’ confidence about their goaltending predicates on what they know about the severity of Campbell’s injury. The bigger issue in Toronto is their defensive play, and adding to the blueline feels like more of a priority.

The answer here, though, is Vegas. Their play lately is alarming, and injuries are piling up. The latest buzz around the league is that Robin Lehner (who now has a lower body injury on top of the upper body injury that ailed him this year) could potentially miss the rest of the regular season. That’s reason enough to panic for Vegas, which has made the playoffs easily each of its first four seasons, rarely playing meaningful games down the stretch. Peter DeBoer expressed his exasperation with the makeshift tandem of Laurent Brossoit and Logan Thompson: “Just didn’t get in front of enough pucks. It’s pretty simple. I am not a goaltending expert but you have to get in front of a couple.”

You did this just over a month ago, any changes to who you think will be in the Cup finals?

I had Avs versus the Lightning in the Final, and I’m sticking to it. We’ll see if I do another one of these, then I can go for the three-peat too!