The NHL trade deadline is often vastly overhyped, but because the standings have become so clustered behind the league-leading Nashville Predators, the demand this year is noticeably higher.
As any Economics 101 course will teach you, this has created a strong seller’s market, with sky-high prices for the likes of Andrej Sekera and Daniel Winnik setting the tone.
The volume of activity will likely come down to whether or not the big players pull the trigger on high-stakes moves. Perennial contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are staggering and in need of reinforcements. These teams could set the market for one of the top names and release the bottleneck that has stunted activity at past deadlines.
With Monday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline less than 48 hours away, check out the latest buzz on some of the biggest potential moves that could go down.
Bozak to Broadway?
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In the midst of a second consecutive disappointing campaign, the Toronto Maple Leafs are among the league’s biggest sellers. With the aforementioned Winnik and David Clarkson recently sent packing, sixth-year forward Tyler Bozak has drawn the most speculation as the next name to go. Though no team has emerged as the clear-cut favorite for his services, insiders like TSN’s Bob McKenzie now consider the New York Rangers a major player for Bozak:
NY Rangers have interest in Tyler Bozak, per @TSNBobMcKenzie . He said it won’t be an easy deal to work out.
— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) February 26, 2015
The Rangers are in the market for center depth and were in on the Mike Santorelli sweepstakes before Toronto dealt him to Nashville. New York has been especially plagued by a dearth of viable faceoff men beyond Dominic Moore. According to SB Nation’s Mike Murphy, every center aside from Moore sits at under 50 percent in faceoff win percentage.
However, it’s unclear how much of a difference-maker Bozak can be, given his dearth of production as a first-line center in Toronto. Mostly playing alongside Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, Bozak has seen dips in his per-game point production. His 14.4 percent shooting percentage is his lowest mark since his second year, per Hockey-Reference.com.
As CBS Sports’ Adam Gretz illustrates, Bozak has essentially produced at a fourth-line level without Kessel on the ice:
With Kessel he is able to produce at a pretty respectable rate (though, it’s not a duo that is particularly productive for Toronto given what they give up defensively). Without him, he produces at a third or fourth line rate.
For a player that turns 29 in a few weeks and is signed long-term at more than $4.2 million per season, is that really the type of production you’re looking for? Especially when you are going to have to give up assets in return?
The last part might be the most relevant for New York, as Bozak’s $4.2 million cap hit is a hefty number for a bottom-six forward. New York has no breathing space—sitting just over $600,000 under the cap, per Spotrac—which makes it difficult enough to fit in an AHL call-up.
Still, Derek Stepan’s early-season absence exposed how ugly things can get for the Rangers offense when the team loses a key piece. The Blueshirts don’t have much margin for error at the moment, and while Bozak himself might be an unlikely acquisition, it would behoove New York to buttress its third line ahead of the postseason.
B’s Honing In on Stewart
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The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners have disappointed as much as any team this season due to a perfect storm of injuries, underperformance and cap woes. With the Bruins clinging to the eighth seed, TSN’s Bob McKenzie suggested in an interview that Boston could be working on the parameters of a Chris Stewart deal with the Buffalo Sabres, via NicholsonHockey.com:
There’s no question the Boston Bruins are talking to the Buffalo Sabres about Chris Stewart and maybe some other elements there to try to make something happen. Very precarious situation in Boston with all of the pressure on general manager Pete Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien.
McKenzie’s news hardly comes as a surprise for a Bruins squad that already needed a first-line right winger before David Krejci’s knee injury. Boston has shuffled around the likes of David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith next to Krejci and Milan Lucic, but the team has yet to find a viable top three.
The 6’2”, 230-pound Stewart certainly has the potential to fit in on the power forward line, but the enigmatic forward has continued his struggles from last season. Metrics such as points per game and adjusted goals created show that Stewart has essentially duplicated his 2013-14 production, which is a far cry from his heyday—when he was averaging over 0.80 points per game.
As such, reporters believe that the asking price surrounding Stewart has dipped:
Asking price for Chris Stewart in one negotiation was a B+ prospect. No picks. Not as high as some of the speculation I’ve heard on him.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) February 24, 2015
That could be good news for a Bruins squad that wants to hold onto top prospects like Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev as well as its first-round pick (which Boston has dealt away in two of the past four years). Moreover, general manager Peter Chiarelli has freed up roughly $6 million in cap space by placing Krejci and defenseman Kevan Miller on long-term injured reserve, providing the cap-strapped Bruins with much-needed breathing room.
Boston has been in on nearly every big name to hit the rumor mill but has thus far failed to pull the trigger. With depth issues throughout the roster and a rapidly shrinking window of contention, look for the Bruins to invest heavily to give this core another serious Cup run.
Chicago Shopping Around
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Though the Blackhawks are a virtual certainty to reach the postseason, sitting nine points clear of the second wild-card spot, Chicago is in must-buy mode after Patrick Kane’s debilitating fractured clavicle. The 12-week recovery timetable could keep Kane out until the third round of the postseason, essentially forcing the Hawks to replace the NHL’s leading scorer.
The one silver lining is that Kane’s placement on long-term injured reserve frees up approximately $5 million in cap space, crucial for a Chicago squad that was about $2 million below the cap before the injury. As such, reports insinuate that the Hawks are shopping at the top of the forward trade market, with a first-round pick possibly in play:
Source says #Blackhawks have significant interest in Cam Atkinson, as well as Antoine Vermette. 1st-rounder likely the asking price, though.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 26, 2015
Antoine Vermette is the more intriguing name there, as the Arizona Coyotes center has emerged as arguably the hottest name surrounding the deadline. The 32-year-old provides excellent value as a two-way forward and balanced production in the offensive zone with 13 goals, 22 assists and 750 faceoff wins this year, third most in the league. Moreover, Vermette’s expiring contract would allow Chicago (or any other contender) to absorb his $3.75 million cap hit without any long-term salary implications.
Of course, Chicago’s well-publicized shopping isn’t exactly the best source of leverage. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun has already mentioned that the Hawks’ interest has driven Vermette’s market up, noting that the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets are among the teams in the bidding.
The Bruins are also reportedly in discussions with Arizona, as both 2013 Cup finalists have put out feelers on most forwards.
Cam Atkinson, also mentioned in Custance’s tweet, isn’t nearly as compelling a fit, since the Hawks likely won’t have the budget to match his price tag in restricted free agency next year or unrestricted free agency the summer after. But if Chicago can pounce on Vermette soon, Atkinson, Erik Cole and the other top forwards on the market could subsequently move in rapid fashion and infuse much-needed drama into trading season.