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Most of the dialogue around the NHL trade deadline so far has centered on how difficult it could be for teams to make relevant moves.

That’s the way it goes when so many franchises have so little money to spend. But there are still teams that have emerged as key players leading up to the March 3 deadline. Teams with notable players who could be on the move — players on their checklist — and the cap space to make it happen.

We’re lucky to have these teams. Without them, what would we talk about?

There may be more to come as we approach March 3. But right now, whatever happens — or doesn’t happen at the NHL trade deadline — seems to hinge on these 10 teams.


Chicago is interesting for obvious reasons. We’re all waiting to hear about the futures of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Kane hasn’t been himself this season, but that shouldn’t hurt his trade value. He is still one of the better wingers in the league, and no deadline name will have a better resume.

Toews, meanwhile, has been one of the Blackhawks’ best players this season. He’s been discussed as a center upgrade for several teams since the fall.

They both control their own destiny with matching no-move clauses, and come with $10.5 million cap hits, though we can expect Chicago to retain some of that. Will they decide to stay in Chicago? Will they provide one preferred destination, like Claude Giroux did last year?

Things are expected to pick up in the next few weeks. Whatever happens in Chicago — trading one, both, or neither of their franchise icons — is going to be fascinating.

We’re already used to paying attention to the Canucks this season, for the wrong reasons. Why stop now?

The team has taken what president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford called their best shot at re-signing Bo Horvat to a deal that is fair “for what he’s done up until this year.” What Horvat has done as a pending UFA is score 30 goals and 49 points through 46 games, putting him in the league’s top 10.

So, the Canucks can “overpay” Horvat, end up more cap strapped and less able to make meaningful improvements to a roster that is 27th in the league. Or they can trade their captain to the highest bidder.

Any team with a hole at the No. 2 center spot would benefit from Horvat’s play and production. Teams like Carolina, and Colorado come to mind.

Luke Schenn is also the kind of player teams are looking to add at the deadline. He’s a big, physical defender with Stanley Cup rings on an expiring contract. There’s also Brock Boeser to consider. Rutherford said the team wants to unload some of its contracts, and Boeser makes $6.65 million for two more years. He hasn’t scored at his typical clip this season, but if the Canucks want to shed salary, he’d be one option.

The Coyotes have assets to sell, including one of the top players on The Athletic’s trade board: Jakob Chychrun. He has to be traded at some point … right?

The team can remain patient because they don’t actually have to move him before the March 3 deadline, given he’s signed for another two years after this season. But, according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, the desire is still there to move him for the right price, which is reportedly two first-round picks plus a prospect. I wonder how many teams will be open to paying that price.

Nick Bjugstad looks like the perfect big — 6-foot-6 — forward depth add, coming in at a $900,000 ticket, and Shayne Gostisbehere could provide some offense to a team’s defense corps. Plus, his cash owed is only $1 million, compared to his $4.5 million cap hit. We know that matters to teams.

Another player I’m looking out for in Arizona is Karel Vejmelka. His record and save percentage don’t do him much justice. He’s taken on one of the biggest workloads in the league in terms of time on ice, shots faced and expected goals against. He currently ranks 12th in goals saved above expected. A playoff team with a question mark in net — and better players in front — could do a lot worse.

The Panthers are in a tough spot.

After a disappointing start to the season, they’re showing signs of life and have climbed back to within three points of a playoff spot. They can’t really commit to being buyers at the deadline, and even if they wanted to, what could they realistically do to get better?

Florida does not have their first-round pick in 2023, 2024 or 2025. That’s been the reported cost of bringing in the top players on the trade board. The club also has a pretty tough cap situation, with little cap space and $8.3 million on LTIR.

What makes this team interesting is the trade they’ll likely need to make to become cap compliant once — or if — their roster gets healthy. Anthony Duclair is skating and getting close to returning from an Achilles tendon tear in the summer, while Patric Hornqvist remains out with a concussion.

Take a scroll through our last NHL All-32, and you’ll see a lot of teams looking for a top-six winger with a scoring touch. Duclair hasn’t played yet this season, but he’s only one year removed from a 30-goal campaign, and his cap hit is a modest $3 million this year and next. He’d make a ton of sense for a number of teams (like, for example, the Calgary Flames).

Of course, the Panthers could just keep Duclair and go on a tear down the stretch. Plus, if Hornqvist stays on LTIR, the club could activate Duclair without making a move to shed cap space.

Let’s say things don’t work out in the next six weeks for Florida — they remain in cap hell, they’re forced to make a deal that makes them worse, and they slip out of the playoffs. Even if they wanted to steer into the skid, that would only give the Montreal Canadiens two cracks at Connor Bedard.

Carolina Hurricanes

When Rod Brind’Amour came on “The Athletic Hockey Show” earlier this season, he talked about Max Pacioretty’s injury — a torn Achilles tendon sustained off-ice training in August — and how he would, effectively, be Carolina’s “big deadline acquisition.”

“That should be a good boost for us at a real crucial time of the year,” he said.

An MRI confirmed on Friday afternoon that Pacioretty tore his Achilles tendon with 19 seconds left the night before against the Minnesota Wild.

Now what?

Well, we got a glimpse of what made Pacioretty a good fit in Carolina in his short stint back from injury, where he scored three goals in his first four games. The Canes are still one of the league’s best, but that natural scoring ability from Pacioretty was a box they needed to check after scoring ran dry in the playoffs last season.

“It’s the kind of player we needed,” said Brind’Amour. “A guy that can put the puck in the net.”

Carolina has not been a team that typically makes deals for high-cost rentals at the deadline. Could they make an exception this season, and go for someone like Horvat? Perhaps that’d be more realistic if they could first negotiate an extension.

In 2020, they gave up a first-rounder for defenseman Brady Skjei, but he had term on his deal. Maybe there’s a deal out there like that they could pursue?

Regardless, it’s hard to imagine them standing pat, especially when they’ll eventually need to get through the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, making them one of the few buyers worth really keeping an eye on.

When Vladimir Tarasenko returns from his hand injury — as soon as this week — it will give him an opportunity to showcase his value to teams looking to improve at the deadline. The same thing can be said for Ryan O’Reilly when he eventually returns from a broken foot, which he’s set to be re-evaluated for in around three weeks.

Their futures will be major storylines surrounding the Blues down the stretch. Will Tarasenko waive his full no-trade clause, or would he rather just hit the market in the summer?

O’Reilly does not have trade protection, but comes with a $7.5 million cap hit. Tarasenko comes in at the same price. Their salaries might hurt their value, but Tarasenko and O’Reilly still look like solid additions — at the very least fine consolation prizes for teams that miss out on more cost-effective solutions.

Let’s not forget other Blues’ pending UFAs in Ivan Barbashev and Niko Mikkola. GM Doug Armstrong has said the team’s results will dictate the franchise’s direction at the deadline. Even if they’re buoyed by Tarasenko or O’Reilly’s returns, if the Blues aren’t going to re-sign their UFAs, we should expect some movement out of St. Louis.

The Red Wings are as interesting as what they decide to do with their unrestricted free agents.

They have classic rental players, like Adam Erne. But, also key pending UFAs in Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin.

Bertuzzi, when he’s healthy, can be a consistent top-six scoring threat. If the Red Wings can’t work something out before the deadline, they will need to explore moving him to avoid losing him for nothing.

Larkin would be the perfect “1B” center on a contender, in the same class as Horvat. The only difference between the two is that the belief remains that Larkin and the Red Wings will get a deal done. Whether it’s before the deadline or it goes down to the wire remains to be seen. Larkin has said he wants to stay, so it’s hard to imagine him getting flipped, even if they can’t get a contract done by March 3. If something changes in the next month, though, he’d immediately become one of the prizes of the deadline.

They also have some players with term that they could sell high on — or hang on to — like Filip Hronek, Dominik Kubalik and David Perron. Hronek, in particular, is intriguing. The smart bet is that he stays in Detroit as a long-term top-four piece. But, a young, productive, right-shot defender would have considerable trade value, too.

We’ve seen GM Steve Yzerman make some surprising moves at the deadline before. He makes them a team to keep an eye on.

Rick Dhaliwal — who contributes to The Athletic — connected Detroit to Horvat. You have to figure the price would be young NHLers in return … someone like Hronek perhaps?

San Jose has the best defenseman who could be traded at the deadline, and one of the few top forwards. But neither is certain to move.

Erik Karlsson’s contract — $11.5 million through 2027 — is enormous and the cost to acquire him would be high. And they might want to extend Timo Meier who is productive, only 27 years old, and still in team control as a pending restricted free agent.

It might not be as dramatic as Kane and Toews Watch, but it’s no less relevant.


Erik Karlsson. (Neville E. Guard / USA Today)

Sabres GM Kevyn Adams has made it clear that he doesn’t want to hit fast forward on the long-term plan for the organization. He doesn’t want to make any rash deadline deals that could jeopardize what they’ve been building in Buffalo.

We probably shouldn’t expect Buffalo to be in the market for a high-priced rental player. But adding some depth — particularly on defense — couldn’t hurt, depending on the price.

Chychrun could be a short- and long-term solution, given he’s under contract for two more seasons. The cost — reportedly an A-level prospect and a first-round pick — might be too steep for Adams for only two years of team control.

Even if they aren’t active as buyers, the Sabres are intriguing because of their $41.71 million in cap space — the most in the NHL. If they decide to weaponize that cap space, the Sabres could be one of the few power brokers at the deadline, acquiring future assets while allowing other teams to make big swings.

Most of the talk surrounding the Ducks has been about John Klingberg, signed in the summer by design to flip at the deadline.

I’m curious to find out if a team will be willing to spend a first-round pick on Klingberg, given his struggles. There are a few other UFA defensemen in Anaheim like Kevin Shattenkirk and Dmitri Kulikov.

But the most intriguing things Anaheim has to offer are $31.8 million in cap space and Adam Henrique, a versatile effective middle-six forward.

Henrique has 16 goals this season, has been playing top-line minutes and is the only player on the Ducks with a positive goal differential at five-on-five. His contract isn’t great — at $5.825 million for this season and next — but, with that cap space, you’d think the Ducks could retain salary to make it more palatable.

(Top photo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane: Robin Alam / Getty Images)

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