The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is not exactly imminent. The delayed March 21 date this season is 11 weeks away and a lot can change in that amount of time. However, the end of the holiday trade freeze is the unofficial start to trade season leading up to the deadline. In the first few months of the season there have been ten trades completed, but outside of the Jack Eichel deal there have been very few moves of any substance. That may not change any time soon either.
An active trade deadline requires there to be identifiable buyers and sellers and they must be willing and able to deal. Buyers should not be an issue this season; the eight teams currently in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference may be locked in, as nearly 100 percentage points separate the eighth and ninth team in the conference standings, while the Western Conference includes 13 teams with .500+ records. Therein begins the sellers problem though. Only three teams out west look like potential sellers right now, while there could be more teams willing to sell in the east but many are in a rebuild and don’t have much to offer, while others are merely lacking impact rentals. There are also a number of fringe teams that probably should be sellers, but are close enough to a playoff berth that would mean so much to their players and fan base that they may hold out.
The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek notes another wrinkle that could limit sellers: five teams are currently operating with an interim GM. The Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks have hired new heads of their respective front offices in Jeff Gorton and Jim Rutherford, but neither has in turn hired his GM yet and seem unlikely to make major moves independently. This could take Gorton’s Canadiens, one of the most obvious sellers on paper, off the market. Rutherford’s Canucks hope to be in the playoff race, but he has already vowed that the team will either sell or stand pat this season and the longer it takes to hire a GM, the more likely it will be the latter. The Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks are all operating with temporary GMs, all of whom have limited experience. Chicago and Anaheim fired their most recent GMs and have internal replacements for the time being, while San Jose GM Doug Wilson is currently away from the team for medical reasons. As Duhatschek points out, the likes of Kyle Davidson, Jeff Solomon, and Joe Will are not only new to the GM position, but lack the relationships around the league to make impact moves. So while the Blackhawks look like bona fide sellers and the Sharks and possibly the Ducks could get to that point, will they actually be willing to make trades?
The Seattle Kraken also fall into a category all their own. The NHL’s newest team was just put together in its entirety this off-season. Although they struggled mightily all season and do possess a number of expiring contracts, it remains to be seen if GM Ron Francis is ready to blow it up.
On top of all of this, the rental market among potential sellers is not strong. Of the top 20 impending UFA’s in per-game scoring this season, zero are on teams with sub-.500 records and just three are on teams not currently in a playoff spot. Expand that to the top 50, and only ten players are on sub-.500 teams: Phil Kessel, Travis Boyd, and Johan Larsson for Arizona, Vinnie Hinostroza for Buffalo, Chris Wideman for Montreal, P.K. Subban for New Jersey, Tyler Ennis for Ottawa, and Calle Jarnkrok, Colin Blackwell, and Mark Giordano for Seattle. Even if valuable defensemen like Ben Chiarot and Colin Miller or even a future Hall of Fame goaltender like Marc-Andre Fleury are considered, it’s not exactly an inspiring list for teams adding at the deadline. More importantly, it’s a short list for a potentially large group of buyers.
For those teams looking to make a meaningful trade this season, the conundrum is when to make a move. On one hand, with a small group of exciting targets it may be beneficial to make a trade early and possibly avoid the high prices of deadline bidding wars. On the other hand, the pool of sellers could also expand closer to the deadline and prices could drop if there is a flood of supply to meet the demand. Until that happens though – if it even does – there will be few moves to make early on and quite possibly right up to the deadline. Serious contenders should be prepared to pay up or sit tight this season.