Thursday, April 18, 2024
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2024 NHL trade deadline: Finding ideal matches for the biggest names, buyers on the market

With just over a week until the 2024 NHL trade deadline, teams around the league are working the phones and trying to strike deals. A handful of big names could be on the move, and I have taken on the role of matchmaker to find the perfect landing spot for each of them.

Players like Noah Hanifin and Jake Guentzel have garnered much of the trade speculation over the last week, and that will only continue through March 8. Both players will undoubtedly get significant interest from a handful of clubs, but some teams stand out as ideal destinations for each.

In net, Jacob Markstrom and Juuse Saros will be the hottest commodities, and it seems like the same teams are looking at both of them. The New Jersey Devils have reportedly shown interest in each of them, but only one of the two can wind up there. That doesn’t mean the other one will be without a new home, though.

Before the whirlwind begins, here are the perfect matches for some of the most notable names and buyers at the trade deadline.

Noah Hanifin | D | Calgary Flames

Age: 27
Cap hit: $4.95 million
Years remaining: 0 (pending UFA)
Perfect match: Detroit Red Wings

One of the best defensemen on the trade market this year, Noah Hanifin will have more than a few suitors as March 8 approaches. One of them should be the Detroit Red Wings because Hanifin would fit right in on their blue line.

For starters, the Wings have a need at that position, even with Moritz Seider emerging as a superstar. Outside of Seider, most of Detroit’s defensemen are veterans who have struggled at five-on-five this season. The only Red Wings blueliner with a five-on-five expected goals share above 50.0% is the 29-year-old Olli Maatta, per Natural Stat Trick, and he has just one year left on his deal beyond this season.

When it comes to resources, the Red Wings have the salary cap space, draft capital and prospects to strike a deal for Hanifin. Perhaps more importantly, Detroit has the flexibility to sign Hanifin to an extension to make sure he remains with the team for a while. David Perron, Patrick Kane, Daniel Sprong and Shayne Gostisbehere are all on expiring deals. Even after giving Seider an extension, GM Steve Yzerman should have some money to spend.

As good as the Red Wings’ offense has been this season, the defense has been lacking at times. Hanifin would fill that void, and he could be another cornerstone piece as Yzerman builds the team into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

Jacob Markstrom | G | Calgary Flames

Age: 34
Cap hit: $6 million
Years remaining: 2
Perfect match: New Jersey Devils

A few teams need a goaltending upgrade, and the New Jersey Devils are at the top of the list. In fact, the Devils were reportedly close to striking a deal for Markstrom last week before the potential trade fell through.

Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid and Nico Daws have all struggled in the crease this season. New Jersey ranks 31st with a team save percentage of 88.5%, and it has held the team back in 2023-24. The Devils entered the season with Stanley Cup aspirations, but they currently sit five points out of a playoff spot. The goalies certainly don’t shoulder all the blame for the team’s issues, but they have played a key role.

It’s not much of a secret that Devils GM Steve Yzerman is in the market for a new goalie, and Markstrom would make a ton of sense. After a brutal 2022-23 campaign, Markstrom has bounced back and thrust himself into the Vezina Trophy raace this season. He has saved 11.4 goals above average, per Natural Stat Trick, and his .864 high-danger save percentage ranks first among regular starters. That’s good considering New Jersey has been a little leaky in its own zone.

The key in this deal is that Markstrom has two more years left on his contract. The Devils might not make the playoffs this season, but they are still poised to contend in the near future. If New Jersey were to land Markstrom, the goalie position would be settled through 2026.

Jake Guentzel | LW | Pittsburgh Penguins

Age: 29
Cap hit: $6 million
Years remaining: 0 (pending UFA)
Perfect match: Los Angeles Kings

If and when the Pittsburgh Penguins do decide to become sellers ahead of the 2024 trade deadline, Jake Guentzel will become the most sought-after player on the market. Offensive skill players of Guentzel’s caliber don’t become available on a regular basis.

If there is one team that could use a little more finishing talent, it’s the Los Angeles Kings. Their offense has sorely underperformed compared to expectations. According to Natural Stat Trick, Los Angeles has generated 198.4 expected goals this season. That ranks fifth in the NHL. Their 176 actual goals rank 19th in the league. The Kings probably thought Viktor Arvidsson could give them a boost, but he hit LTIR again just four games after returning from a back injury.

L.A. needs more juice in its forward group if it wants to emerge from the West, and Guentzel could provide that. Guentzel is currently on the shelf with his own injury right now, but he has been tremendously effective this season. In 50 games, Guentzel has tallied 22 goals and 30 assists. His 52 points would lead the Kings, and Guentzel could slot in right alongside the great Anze Kopitar after riding shotgun with Sidney Crosby for so many years.

The Kings do have their next few first-round picks available for a deal, and perhaps a player like Alex Laferriere and/or Arthur Kaliyev could go the other way in a trade with the Penguins. Los Angeles seems to be just behind the true Stanley Cup contenders in the West, and adding Guentzel would help close that gap.

Sean Walker | D | Philadelphia Flyers

Age: 29
Cap hit: $2.65 million
Years remaining: 0 (pending UFA)
Perfect match: Tampa Bay Lightning

Sean Walker has played a significant role in the Philadelphia Flyers wildly exceeding preseason expectations, and he may not be on the move before the trade deadline at all. If Philadelphia does choose to move Walker, he would be just what the Tampa Bay Lightning need to improve what has been an otherwise underwhelming group of defensemen.

The Bolts may not be the juggernaut of recent years, but they still need to push for a Stanley Cup with the current core of stars on their roster. If Tampa is going to go on yet another deep playoff run, the defense has to improve. Mikhail Sergachev is on LTIR, Victor Hedman is in the midst of a down season, and the rest of the group has been rather pedestrian. That has led to 208 goals against, which ranks 28th in the league. That won’t get the job done in the playoffs.

Acquiring Walker would be a big step toward keeping pucks out of Tampa’s net. This season, Walker has been a force at five-on-five. Philly has controlled 55.1% of the expected goals and owns a plus-11 goal differential with Walker on the ice at full strength, per Natural Stat Trick. Walker can even contribute in the offensive zone a bit and has 22 points in 60 games this season.

Although there are multiple defensemen on the trade market this season, Walker is an ideal fit for the Bolts due to his low cap hit and pending free agent status. A cap-strapped Tampa team wouldn’t have to make a long-term commitment to the 29-year-old Walker, and his acquisition cost might be a little lower than that of Noah Hanifin.

Juuse Saros | G | Nashville Predators

Age: 28
Cap hit: $5 million
Years remaining: 1
Perfect match: Carolina Hurricanes

It still remains to be seen whether the Nashville Predators would be willing to move Juuse Saros before the trade deadline, but he would be the most appealing netminder on the market. If Nashville does choose to part with Saros, then the Carolina Hurricanes should step up to acquire his services.

The Hurricanes have dealt with some inconsistencies in 2023-24, and part of that has been due to uneven goaltending. Pyotr Kochetkov has played better recently, but the question is whether Carolina can rely on him and Antti Raanta to shoulder the load in the postseason. The Canes’ 24th-ranked save percentage of 89.3% certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence. An elite goalie should thrive in Carolina’s elite defensive environment.

While Saros hasn’t necessarily been on his game this season, he’s already proven to be one of the best goaltenders in the world. Saros has finished in the top five of Vezina Trophy voting in each of the last two seasons, and he saved a combined 52.9 goals above average from 2021-2023. If you put Saros behind the Hurricanes’ defense, it will be next to impossible to score on them in the postseason.

As an organization, Carolina doesn’t like to spend premium assets on rentals, so the good news there is Saros has another year left on his very reasonable cap hit. That means the Canes would get at least two playoff runs with Saros between the pipes. Of course, it would still hurt Carolina to acquire Saros, but the team has the ammo to make this deal happen. The Hurricanes have first-round picks in each of the next three drafts, and they have some intriguing young forwards to send the other way, including Martin Necas.

Trevor Zegras | C | Anaheim Ducks

Age: 22
Cap hit: $5.75 million
Years remaining: 2
Perfect match: Colorado Avalanche

You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts. For the last two years, the Colorado Avalanche have been searching for a second-line center to play behind Nathan MacKinnon. Instead of looking for band-aids every offseason, the Avs just need to be aggressive in finding a long-term solution at that position.

There has been speculation that the Anaheim Ducks would be open to trading Zegras, and if that is the case, Joe Sakic needs to be on the phone yesterday. Since Nazem Kadri left in free agency after the 2022 Stanley Cup run, the second-line center has been a sore spot for the Avs. J.T. Compher didn’t pan out in 2022-23, and Ryan Johansen has been moved down the lineup this year. Colorado needs someone other than MacKinnon to pick up the slack down the middle.

Zegras is a highly-skilled 22-year-old center who is signed for two more years beyond this one. Zegras has been dealing with a broken ankle for the last six weeks, but he should be back for the end of the regular season. From 2021-2023, Zegras totaled 46 goals and 126 points in 156 games. If he can produce like that on a rebuilding Ducks team, he should be able to thrive in a second-line role on a team with as much talent as the Avalanche.

The kicker will be making this trade happen. It would cost Colorado an arm and a leg, and the team would have to move some money in order to make it work. Maybe the Avalanche could send roster players like Johansen or Sam Girard to the Ducks, but that would also require more premium draft capital and high-end prospects. Even if things don’t work out for the Avs in their pursuit of Zegras, they could always pivot to Adam Henrique as another temporary solution.

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