Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
It’s October, and for fans of the NHL, that means that the regular season is finally getting underway. No more wondering which rookies will make the cut and who won’t. No more offseason projections or “way-too-early” power rankings.
The 2018-19 NHL season is here and will be officially rolling on Wednesday.
While this past summer has featured all kinds of headline-inducing movement, from Erik Karlsson being traded to the San Jose Sharks or Max Pacioretty landing is Las Vegas, there’s nothing quite like opening night to whip the trade rumor mill into overdrive.
With rosters taking shape and young players starting to sift into place, general managers from around the league are looking for ways to improve. Sure, conventional wisdom holds that big trades are less likely to happen in-season, but that doesn’t mean that we still won’t see some moves in the coming days as teams identify needs.
There are also a handful of intriguing contract negotiations—or lack thereof—unfolding in cities such as Columbus and Toronto—that will impact how the trade market unfolds. As we approach opening night, here’s the latest on a few situations from around the NHL.
Colorado Avalanche Shopping for Puck-Moving Defenseman?
Wondering why teams like the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings aren’t willing to call 2018-19 a wash despite an evident lack of talent? All you’ve got to do is check the standings from last year and scroll down to the Western Conference wild-card race.
There, you’ll see the Colorado Avalanche sneaking in by just a single point despite offseason predictions pegging them as a sure-fire lotto team.
Under the watchful eye of GM Joe Sakic, the Avalanche overachieved in a big way and are reportedly looking to get better on the blue line. According to Jimmy Murphy, Colorado is shopping for a puck-moving defenseman.
Jimmy Murphy @MurphysLaw74
Hearing Colorado looking around for “puck-moving” D-man right now. #Avs
Sakic added Samuel Girard in the Matt Duchene trade last year, and the defenseman saw his ice time spike to nearly 18 minutes per game; not bad for a 19-year-old rookie. Can he find a top-six defenseman for the second straight season, this time without trading a player of Duchene’s caliber?
Overall, Colorado’s blue line is seemingly in a solid place, with the team having finished with the eighth-best goals against per 60 at 5-on-5 last season. But overall, they had the lowest expected goals for in the entire league, so there’s a clear need for more offensive zip.
Adding a puck mover—even if it’s on a flyer via trade or waiver wire grab—would be another step in the right direction as Colorado looks to build off of a simply shocking 2017-18 campaign.
Toronto Maple Leafs Could Trade Connor Carrick
Defensemen are always in high demand, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are reportedly shopping 24-year-old Connor Carrick as the season opens. Head coach Mike Babcock seems to have taken a liking to newcomer Igor Ozhiganov, consistently giving him playing time over Carrick as the preseason unfolded.
David Pagnotta @TheFourthPeriod
Hearing noise the Maple Leafs are actively shopping D Connor Carrick, who isn’t in their top-six plans. Told some early convos have occurred, so far.
Toronto’s top-six has taken shape, and the former fifth-round draft pick doesn’t appear to be a part of the organization’s plans moving forward. This shouldn’t be the end of the road for him, though.
He’s a somewhat mobile right-handed defender with a reasonable cap hit of $1.3 million on a deal that expires after this season. He’ll be a restricted free agent at that point, so the team that hypothetically trades for him will still have control once his contract is up.
Perhaps this is a case of a player simply needing a consistent opportunity to get into the lineup, as Carrick was only iced 47 times a year ago. While his counting stats aren’t great—two goals and six assists—his underlying numbers aren’t half bad.
Among the eight Toronto defensemen who skated in at least 300 minutes in 2017-18, Carrick had the second-best relative Corsi for percentage and the second-best expected goals for percentage.
General manager Kyle Dubas has proven time and time again that he’s no dummy, so he’ll be aware of Carrick’s on-ice impacts before moving him. The defenseman hasn’t looked great in preseason, however, and teams looking for a touch more skill in their top-six group—and an opening that needs to be filled—could find a fit with Carrick.
Carolina Hurricanes Told “No” When Asking About William Nylander
You can’t blame the Carolina Hurricanes for trying. Not after they pried Dougie Hamilton away from the Calgary Flames in June.
You also can’t blame the Maple Leafs for rebuffing Carolina when it came calling about William Nylander either. Toronto still hasn’t been able to come to terms on a new deal for the 22-year-old restricted free agent, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to trade him anytime soon.
Pierre LeBrun was on Toronto’s TSN 1050 recently and spoke about the Hurricanes approaching Toronto about Nylander (h/t to Chris Nichols for the transcription):
“… I can tell you that I know the Carolina Hurricanes are among the teams that have phoned of late to check in on William Nylander with the Leafs. Just in case. As they should, by the way. ‘Are you trading him?’ They were told no.”
It seems safe to assume that there’s a gap in Nylander’s ask and what Toronto is willing to give him. Early offseason rumblings indicated that the forward could be asking for something north of $8 million per season, but Dubas knows he has to be careful when making this deal.
Both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner—the only two Maple Leafs players who have outscored Nylander over the past two seasons—are due for new contracts next summer as well, and it’s not tough to see how Toronto, from an organizational standpoint, would like to set the bar a bit lower when coming to terms with Nylander.
The forward has been nothing short of electric during his time with the Maple Leafs, however, and the longer this situation remains stalled out, the tougher it’ll be for all parties involved. For the time being, though, Dubas has made it clear that he has no intention of trading Nylander.
Yet the NHL is a funny, fickle beast sometimes; who knows what’s waiting just around the corner as October plays out.