One of the things I missed about last season was there wasn’t an opportunity to pretend that the holiday freeze is a mini-trade deadline. This year we get that opportunity again, and pretty much from now up until the December 19th freeze there will be an increase in rumours that more likely than not lead anywhere, or at least until the New Year.
It seems that the NHL has been overly quiet. The Canucks certainly look to be on the verge of doing something, but the situation there seems to involve the removal of Jim Benning’s phone privileges. While there is league interest in players like Tyler Motte, J.T. Miller, and possibly Brock Boeser, there isn’t an appetite to let Jim Benning handle those moves. You’d think that would mean that Benning would be canned, but the assumption I’ll make is that the Canucks aren’t interested in Benning’s assistant GMs functioning as an interim option either.
You’re going to see trade chatter pick up over the next week or so. Biggest challenge: so many teams are cap tight. Hard to pull off dollar-in, dollar-out.
Like what was mentioned above, we are very much into three weeks of increased chatter. There isn’t going to be much that comes of it, but in a league that has been completely quiet on the trade front for the past couple of months, save for the excitement of acquiring Kyle Clifford for future considerations, something is better than nothing.
As for the dollar-in and dollar-out approach, that is pretty much the Leafs situation in a nutshell. When it comes to teams significantly out of the playoff picture that can absorb cap hits the list pretty much consists of the Sabres, Senators, and Coyotes for now. Of those teams the Coyotes looks like the best dance partner.
Buffalo has to be looking for a goalie. Aaron Dell was pulled following the first period of Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Boston. Unfortunately, Craig Anderson’s return date is not certain, and the Sabres need to give their young players help behind them. The challenge is teams still in the race might not be willing to give up any of their top three goalies for their own insurance. You want an option that can help you. How many are available?
On the surface this looks like a way of the Leafs regaining some cap space. The Leafs are a quarter of the way into the season and Toronto has proven that it can function without Petr Mrazek. Sending Mrazek to Buffalo frees up some cap space, but creates two potential new problems. The first being that it’s putting Woll in a backup situation far sooner than he should probably be in one, and secondly, there’s a danger in trading Mrazek before Campbell is re-signed. Consider it thinking out loud.
On the other hand if the Sabres are interested in continuing to try out every depth goaltender they can find, moving on from Michael Hutchinson is makes sense for the Leafs, and as long as the Sabres aren’t trying to fix their goaltending situation long term, Hutchinson gives them another option to play. There’s no salary cap benefit from the move for the Leafs, but potentially can shop the available depth in Buffalo.
On Kevin Fiala: Minnesota’s at the top of the Central Division, and GM Bill Guerin is not going to make his team worse. He’s also not going to trade Fiala simply because of a slump, although the forward scored a big one in Tampa and another in the shootout Wednesday at New Jersey. So, if anything does happen, it’s going to be part of a plan to make them better.
It’s easy to understand the appeal of Fiala. He’s had two 20 goal seasons in shortened years, and even with his drop in production, he’s still doing a lot of things right. Of course if Bill Guerin sees that too we can pretty much scrap the idea.
Where Fiala will be a name to not lose track of solely off the fact that the flat cap may force more hockey trades this season, and with teams reluctant to trade firsts in a strong draft year, this could be a shuffling deck chairs season rather than the typical stocking up by using futures as currency.
So back to the Leafs…
One of the most prominent rumours of the year has been that the Leafs are shopping either Holl or Dermott. Kyle Dubas made the opportunistic move of adding Kyle Clifford for nothing, and while there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency around the Leafs making a move, it’s almost pretty clear that the Leafs are in a situation where adding to win now makes a ton of sense for this team. There’s also the huge benefit in making moves earlier in the season rather than waiting until the deadline only to add players who never had a chance to adapt to their system. That might be fine for a scoring winger or two, but most difference makers can benefit from a longer run with their new team.
A fair bet is the holiday freeze comes and goes without any significant movement, but the new year means new faces. How that happens in a cap world, that will be the mystery, but the Leafs will be adding.