Emily KaplanESPN7 minutes to read
The NHL trade deadline is March 3, and with just nine days left, conversations about the league are intensifying. Here’s what I’m hearing about some of the dynamics going on behind the scenes…
We should get clarification on Kane’s decision this week. None of this came easy for the veteran winger. Kane himself has always envisioned his retirement as a Blackhawk. It’s only been during the past several months – maybe even the last several weeks – that I’m forced to accept that the vision may not be realistic anymore. Based on the conversations I’ve had with sources around the league, the behind-the-scenes talks with the Rangers have been more advanced than has been reported. There was a way for Ken to go to New York, his preferred destination if he left Chicago, and all of a sudden it felt like he was removed – which is why you’ve seen him interact so highly with Vladimir Tarasenko’s trade.
Kane was upset about reporting that he had a groin injury, but this is a real concern expressed by the teams. Kane is one of the biggest players in the league. He is incredibly competitive and is diligent in the way he takes care of his body. Before reaching the age of 30, he switched to a training style based on bodyweight movement; Many players around the league followed, including Auston Matthews. There is a lot Kane does to prepare for the season. But he proved, especially with a hat-trick on his home ice against the Maple Leafs on Sunday, that he can still be effective despite whatever he’s up against and no matter what line-mates he plays with.
So now Ken is recalibrating again. I think he has been asked to explore if going to Rangers is still an option. It’s not impossible, but it does require serious maneuvering. Ken also has to consider what’s available, too. I know the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars are interested in him. I think Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers as well. There may be a mysterious team lurking. One of the reasons Ken loves to play in Chicago is because of the comfort and structure that works for him and his family. So Ken must decide if he can recreate the comfort and structure of one of those locations while giving himself a legitimate chance at winning. If he can tick those boxes, we’ll see him move on and into the next class. If not, the Blackhawks are set up for Kane to come up to them and say he doesn’t want to move at all.
More on the Blackhawks
There was interest in Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. I know the Colorado Avalanche has been watching him this season. The Seattle Kraken was also watching his play. But once Toews took time away this month to search for answers about why he wasn’t feeling well — prolonged COVID symptoms and chronic immune response syndrome, he said — the move became less likely. GM Kyle Davidson has confirmed to me that Toews will not be traded at the deadline.
This creates an interesting flexibility for Chicago’s rebuilding plans. Teams are only allowed to keep three players’ salary, and the Blackhawks were expecting to keep some of Toews’ cap of $10.5 million achieved in the trade. They’ll likely keep some of Kane’s $10.5 million in a potential deal. But how can they use the other two points now that Toews won’t be traded? Davidson made it clear to his colleagues that he was open to business. Contact any player on their list, make an honest offer, and they’re willing to listen. There’s a lot of interest league-wide in Jake McCabe, especially if his $4 million cap through 2024-25 is cut in half. I think ordering from Chicago is a first-round pick, plus more for McCabe. There’s also been a lot of buzz around Sam Lafferty, who has finally found his speed in the NHL role, has brought in a handsome $1.15 million and is under contract for next season as well. I think the Blackhawks are looking for a second round pick for Lafferty.
But even as Chicago tries to rebuild — collecting as many prospects and draft options as possible — Davidson isn’t trading players just to do it. He’s taken a lot of calls, but if the asking prices don’t materialize, he feels comfortable sticking with both veterans — who helped the team’s culture — and he’ll be attractive to teams next year, too.
What do the Bruins need?
The most complete and consistent team in the NHL this year was the Boston Bruins. But they know the Presidents Cup doesn’t guarantee playoff success, and they’re still looking forward to adding. They are planning something potentially big. Other teams have told me that the Bruins have called asking if they would take Craig Smith ($3.1 million in) which would help them free up space.
While Boston has had its eye on all the big names, including Timo Meyer, their biggest need is left defense. Ideally, they could find someone of size, and could play Charlie McAvoy – which could bump Matt Grzelski into the spin. They have been watching Jacob Cicero for a while now. I’ve heard from multiple sources that the Bruins have been in advanced talks for Vladislav Gavrikov from Columbus, but may be waiting to make another deal before they can complete this trade. And if Gavrikov doesn’t work out, I think they have contingency plans.
Expect to do lightning something
For the past three years, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien Brisbois has said the same thing at this time: He doesn’t have much room to make any moves. And over the past two years, he’s figured it out, impressing Blake Coleman in 2021 and then Brandon Hagel in 2022. This year he’s singing the same tune, and when I met him in Tampa last week, he insisted: “Really, this year I don’t have the space.” maximum resources or assets to do a Coleman or Hagel-type deal.”
The Lightning has not been selected in the first and second rounds in this year’s draft, and there is no first-round pick for 2024 either. However I find BriseBois hard to believe. He is one of the most skilled coaches in the league. He will figure out a way to do it something to help his team. BriseBois told me that defense is not an area where it is needed. They feel they have 10 blue linings ready for the NHL across their NHL roster and with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. I’ve heard from other teams that the Lightning is open to a move to Cal Foote, who has only played 25 games this year – in part due to the emergence of Nick Perbix.
Realistically, the Lightning are looking for six forwards who can fit their identity and culture (like Nick Paul, another pickup for them last season). I also think they would like to add an element of speed, which is why Sam Lafferty’s exit from Chicago and his confirmed cost for next season makes sense. But again, when it comes to BriseBois, you should expect the unexpected.
Any surprising teams before the deadline?
I asked the assistant general manager to tell me which surprise team could be the main character on trading deadline day. Seattle Kraken assistant general manager told me. “I think they’ve been sniffing out a lot of possibilities to add to their list. They still have the big picture in their mind to build the right track, but I think they see an opportunity this year and might go for it.”
There have been some rumors that Carson Sauce could be available. He got scratched Monday against the Sharks after taking a pinch in his foot. Susi, 28, is an unrestricted free agent this summer and there have been no talks of an extension yet. But it would be a big surprise if Susi was transferred. Taking a veteran defenseman out of a playoff team is audacious.
The latest on cane and wild
The Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild are both looking for assists in scoring, but both teams are looking creative. Wild has been reluctant to give up high rental picks or prospects because they’re still navigating the forced buy cap crisis — and I also don’t think they’re convinced this is their year to start.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes tend to do business differently than the rest of the leagues. While they have the most headroom and flexibility among the larger competitors due to Max Pacioretty’s LTIR designation, they have prices that don’t always match what the market says, and they stick with it. As they watch Kane and Meier, I wouldn’t be surprised if the acquisition is an off-the-radar player with a term. Sticks don’t usually make rentals or short-term decisions. They also tend to do business at the eleventh hour. So while a lot of teams applied before the deadline, Carolina should be active on March 3rd.
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