- Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.
The NHL trade deadline is on March 3, and with just nine days to go, talks are intensifying around the league. Here’s what I’m hearing about some dynamics going on behind the scenes…
What will Patrick Kane decide?
We should get clarity on Kane’s decision this week. None of this has been easy for the veteran winger. Kane always envisioned himself retiring as a Blackhawk. It’s only been over the last several months — and maybe even the last several weeks — where he was forced to accept that vision may not be realistic anymore. Based on conversations I’ve had with sources around the league, the behind the scenes talks with the Rangers were more advanced than have been reported. There was a path for Kane going to New York, his preferred destination should he leave Chicago, and then suddenly it felt like it was taken away — which is why you saw him react so vulnerably to the Vladimir Tarasenko trade.
Kane has been upset about the reporting about his hip injury, but that’s a real concern that teams have expressed. Kane is one of the league’s biggest gamers. He’s incredibly competitive and is diligent about the way he takes care of his body. Ahead of his age 30 season, he switched to a body weight movement-based training method; many players around the league, including Auston Matthews, follow. There’s a lot Kane does to get ready to get through the season. But he’s proven, especially with his home ice hat trick against the Maple Leafs on Sunday, that he still can be effective despite whatever ails him and no matter which linemates he’s playing with.
So now Kane is recalibrating again. I believe he’s asked to explore if going to the Rangers is still an option. It’s not impossible, but would require serious maneuvering. Kane also must consider what else is available. I know the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars are interested in him. I believe the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers are as well. There could be a mystery team lurking. One of the reasons Kane loves playing in Chicago is that there’s comfort and structure in place for him and his family. So Kane must decide if he can recreate the comfort and structure in one of those spots while giving himself a legitimate chance to win. If he can tick those boxes, we’ll see him move on and enter that next chapter. If not, the Blackhawks have been prepared for Kane to come 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 had been keeping tabs on him this season. The Seattle Kraken were monitoring his play as well. But once Toews took time away this month to search for answers on why he still didn’t feel healthy — symptoms of long COVID and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, he said — a move became less likely. GM Kyle Davidson confirmed to me that Toews will not be traded at the deadline.
This creates interesting flexibility for Chicago’s rebuild plans. Teams are only allowed to retain salary on three players, and the Blackhawks were expecting to retain some of Toews’ $10.5 million cap hit in a trade. They’ll likely retain some of Kane’s $10.5 million in a potential trade. But how could they use the other two spots now that Toews won’t be traded? Davidson has made it clear to his peers that he’s open to business. Call about any player on his roster, and give an honest offer, and he’s willing to listen. There’s a lot of league-wide interest in Jake McCabe, especially if his $4 million cap hit through 2024-25 is cut in half. I believe the ask from Chicago is a first-round pick, plus more for McCabe. There’s also been a lot of buzz about Sam Lafferty, who has finally found his speed in a regular NHL role, has an attractive $1.15 million cap hit and is under contract for next season, too. I believe the Blackhawks are looking for a second-round pick for Lafferty.
But even with Chicago trying to rebuild — collecting as many prospects and draft picks as possible — Davidson is not trading away players just to do it. He’s taken a lot of calls, but if the asking prices don’t materialize, he’s comfortable holding on to both veterans — who have helped with the culture of the team — and will be attractive to teams next year, as well.
What do the Bruins need?
The Boston Bruins have been the most complete and consistent team in the NHL this year. But they know a Presidents’ Trophy doesn’t guarantee playoff success, and they’re still looking to add. They’re plotting something potentially big. Other teams have told me that the Bruins have called asking if they’d take Craig Smith ($3.1 million cap hit) which would help them clear space.
While Boston has monitored all of the big names, including Timo Meier, their biggest need is on left defense. Ideally they can find somebody with size, and that can play with Charlie McAvoy — which would bump Matt Grzelcyk down in the rotation. They’ve been monitoring the Jakob Chychrun situation for a while now. I have heard from multiple sources that the Bruins have had advanced talks on Columbus’ Vladislav Gavrikov, but perhaps are waiting to do another transaction before they can consummate that trade. And if Gavrikov doesn’t work out, I believe they have contingency plans.
Expect the Lightning to do something
For the last three years, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois has publicly said the same thing around this time: He has no cap space to make any moves. And for the last two years, he’s figured it out, making a splash for Blake Coleman in 2021 and then Brandon Hagel in 2022. This year he’s singing the same tune, and when I met with him in Tampa last week, he insisted to me: “Really, this year I don’t have the cap space or the assets to do a Coleman or Hagel-type deal.”
The Lightning are without a first- and second-round pick in this year’s draft, and don’t have their first-round pick for 2024 either. Yet I have a hard time believing BriseBois. He is one of the craftiest managers in the league. He’s going to figure out a way to do something to help his team. BriseBois told me defense is not an area of need. They feel they have 10 NHL-ready blue liners across their NHL roster and with the AHL Syracuse Crunch. I have heard from other teams that the Lightning are open to moving Cal Foote, who has only played 25 games this year — in part due to the emergence of Nick Perbix.
Realistically, the Lightning are looking at a bottom six forward who can fit to their identity and culture (like Nick Paul, another pickup for them last season). I also think they’d like to add an element of speed, which is why Sam Lafferty out of Chicago and his cost certainty for next season makes sense. But again, when it comes to BriseBois, you should expect the unexpected.
Any surprise teams ahead of the deadline?
I asked an assistant general manager to tell me the surprise team that could be the main character of trade deadline day. “The Seattle Kraken,” the assistant general manager told me. “I think they’ve been sniffing around on a lot of possibilities to add to their roster. They still have the big picture in mind to build the right way, but I think they see an opportunity this year and may go for it.”
There have been some rumors that Carson Soucy could be available. He was scratched on Monday against the Sharks after taking a puck to the foot. Soucy, 28, is an unrestricted free agent this summer and there have been no extension talks yet. But it would be a big surprise if Soucy was moved; taking a veteran defenseman off a playoff bound team is bold.
Latest on Canes and Wild
The Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild are both looking for scoring help, but both teams are looking creatively. The Wild have been hesitant to give up high picks or prospects for rentals as they still navigate their buyout-forced cap crunch — and I also don’t think they are convinced this is their year to go all-in.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes tend to do business differently than the rest of the league. While they have the most cap space and flexibility among the top contenders due to Max Pacioretty’s LTIR designation, they have prices that don’t always align with what the market says, and they stick to them. While they’re monitoring Kane and Meier, I wouldn’t be surprised if their acquisition is an off-the-radar player with term. The Canes typically don’t do rentals or short-term decisions. They also tend to do business in the 11th hour. So while a lot of teams got ahead of the deadline, Carolina should be active on March 3.
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