NHL Teams Most Likely to Make a Deal Before the Holiday Roster Freeze
The NHL's annual Christmas holiday roster freeze runs from Dec. 19-27. Struggling clubs, such as the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers, could use the days leading up to that period shopping for help via the trade market.
For the Sabres, mired in last place in the Eastern Conference, a roster overhaul could commence with a big trade. The Oilers, meanwhile, could seek a deal to save their fading playoff hopes.
In recent years, there hasn't been a lot of notable trade activity prior to the holiday freeze. However, a pair of significant deals in November could set the stage for some pre-Christmas movement.
On Nov. 5, the Colorado Avalanche shipped center Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators, who dealt center Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators in a blockbuster three-team trade. The Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils made a noteworthy swap on Nov. 30 involving defenseman Sami Vatanen and center Adam Henrique.
Here's a look at the teams most likely to swing a deal prior to the Christmas roster freeze. We'll examine their roster needs, possible trade bait and take note of the latest significant speculation. Feel free to express your views on this topic in the comments section below.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are still having difficulty regaining the form that powered them to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. With his club clinging to one of the final wild-card spots in the Western Conference, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson might be tempted to consider a move before the holiday trade freeze.
Scoring carried the Sharks to the 2016 Cup Final, with 2.89 goals per game (fourth-best) averaged during the regular season. With goal production on the rise in 2017-18, the Sharks' 2.50 average is third-worst in the league.
Wilson failed to find a suitable replacement last summer for departed winger Patrick Marleau. Veteran forwards Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are declining, Tomas Hertl still hasn't blossomed into a reliable scorer, and winger Joonas Donskoi is sidelined by injury.
Finding some scoring depth at this time of year is difficult but not impossible. On Nov. 29, The Mercury News' Paul Gackle suggested the Winnipeg Jets as a trade partner. He noted the high-flying Jets carry plenty of scoring punch and could perhaps use some blue-line depth with defenseman Toby Enstrom sidelined for several weeks.
It remains to be seen whether there's a trade fit between the Sharks and Jets. However, Wilson isn't shy about making in-season moves to help his club. While he usually makes his deals closer to the trade deadline in late February, perhaps he'll keep a close eye on the trade market leading up to Dec. 19.
A recent 10-game winless skid sent the Philadelphia Flyers tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings. With their playoff hopes in jeopardy, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall could face some difficult decisions heading toward the holiday roster freeze.
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol has endured criticism for the club's poor performance. On Monday, however, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi reported Hextall had no intention of firing Hakstol.
If a coaching change is off the table, a trade in the near future could be an option. The Flyers could use some help. They are 19th in goals per game (2.82), 17th in goals against per game (2.96) and 26th in penalty-killing percentage (76.8).
NHL insider Nick Kypreos recently speculated Flyers right winger Wayne Simmonds could get mentioned in the rumor mill closer to the trade deadline (h/t Sportsnet's Emily Sadler). A solid two-way forward, the 29-year-old would attract considerable interest if he became available in the trade market. However, Hextall might be reluctant to part with such a valuable player.
Since becoming Flyers GM in May 2014, Hextall has yet to swing a significant trade that provided immediate improvement. If his club fails to gain ground in the standings, he could feel pressured to make a big move before the holiday roster freeze.
After coming within an overtime goal of reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, expectations were high for the Ottawa Senators this season. However, they find themselves sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. With his club winning only once in their last 10 games, general manager Pierre Dorion could explore the trade market before the holiday roster freeze.
On Monday, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch speculated Dorion could decide to call up a player or perhaps make a trade at some point, suggesting the Senators could get back into playoff contention if they can regain their winning ways soon.
Garrioch felt defenseman Cody Ceci could be the Senators' best trade chip. Although the 23-year-old blueliner has struggled at times this season, the pundit said he remains highly regarded around the league. Despite the presence of superstar Erik Karlsson, the Senators defense has not played well in recent weeks. Trading Ceci could exacerbate the issue.
Goaltending is also a concern, as the usually reliable tandem of Craig Anderson and Mike Condon has been shaky of late. Scoring is another problem. Despite the Duchene's addition, Ottawa's 2.8 goals per game ranks 21st in the league.
The Senators approach the holiday freeze with several problem areas in need of addressing. Dorion already made a bold move earlier this season by acquiring Duchene. Perhaps he's working on another before Christmas.
The Pittsburgh Penguins haven't looked much like back-to-back Stanley Cup champions this season. While they remain in playoff contention in the tightly packed Metropolitan Division, they are clinging to one of the wild-card berths in the Eastern Conference.
With backup Tristan Jarry filling in for Murray, general manager Jim Rutherford could seek goaltending depth. On Monday, TSN's Darren Dreger reported the Penguins are among the teams contacting the Buffalo Sabres inquiring into the availability of netminders Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson.
The Penguins still haven't suitably addressed the offseason departure of former third-line center Nick Bonino. Their acquisition of Riley Sheahan earlier this season hasn't panned out as hoped. On Nov. 27, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Jason Mackey reported Rutherford was shopping defenseman Ian Cole in the hopes of boosting his club's scoring depth.
As long as the Penguins maintain a hold on a playoff spot, Rutherford will likely remain patient. However, it appears he's doing what he can to address his club's roster needs. Perhaps he'll find what he's looking for prior to the holiday trade freeze.
The Edmonton Oilers find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. That's a far cry from last season's 103-point effort, which saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in a decade. General manager Peter Chiarelli could be feeling the pressure to swing a season-saving deal.
Chiarelli has already made one trade this season. On Nov. 14, he shipped left wing Jussi Jokinen to the Los Angeles Kings for forward Michael Cammalleri in a bid to bolster his scoring depth at right wing. That move did little to improve the Oilers offense, which drops noticeably beyond the Connor McDavid line.
Goaltending is also a concern, with starter Cam Talbot on injured reserve. Backup Laurent Brossoit's struggles prompted speculation Chiarelli could seek help between the pipes. On Monday, TSN's Darren Dreger reported the Oilers were another of the teams believed to be calling the Buffalo Sabres to inquire about the availability of Lehner and Johnson.
Edmonton is also having difficulty coping with the absence of defenseman Andrej Sekera, who underwent offseason knee surgery. If he returns before the end of December, however, there might not be a need to seek a blueliner via trade.
Given the heightened expectations the Oilers faced when this season began, their performance is a significant disappointment. They cannot afford to slide any further out of playoff contention. Chiarelli could be working the phones up until Dec. 19.
Entering this season, the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres were expected to make significant progress. Instead, they are once again wallowing at the bottom of the NHL standings. As the holiday freeze approaches, first-year general manager Jason Botterill could be planning to shake things up.
Botterill's already made two moves in December. On Monday, he sent a fifth-round selection in the 2019 NHL draft to the Detroit Red Wings for center Scott Wilson. A day later, WGR 550's Paul Hamilton reported veteran winger Matt Moulson had been waived and assigned to the American Hockey League's Ontario Reign.
The Sabres GM might not be done dealing. On Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada, NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said there's a sense around the league the Sabres are "open for business" (h/t Sportsnet's Emily Sadler). They are apparently willing to entertain offers for anyone except franchise player Jack Eichel.
That could stoke trade speculation involving the Sabres' leading scorer, Evander Kane. The 26-year-old left winger is eligible for unrestricted free-agent status in July. If Botterill decides to move Kane, however, that deal could take place leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline, when there could be a bidding war for his services.
Should Botterill make another move before the holiday freeze, it could involve one of his goaltenders. On Monday, TSN's Darren Dreger reported teams were inquiring into Lehner and Johnson's availability.
Stats and standings (as of Dec. 6) via NHL.com.