Hockey Prospectus is taking a look at the NHL division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline. On Monday, we looked at the Atlantic Division. Today, we continue with the Northeast Division.
Feb. 27 marks the NHL's trade deadline, and every team in the league -- both the playoff-bound and those likely for the draft lottery -- has needs to address. To prepare for the final flurry of transactions, we're going team by team to see which players can help fill some holes on contenders or provide some foundational stability for teams building for next season and beyond.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Problem: The Leafs have been in the playoff picture for the entire season, but they are hardly a lock to make a run in the postseason. Finishing the season in the top eight is a must for a team with a playoff-starved fan base, but it will be difficult to do without a better penalty kill. The improved health of James Reimer certainly improves the Leafs' chances, but they have a success rate of only about 75 percent when short-handed. Only one team in the NHL has been worse on the PK this season.
The Fix: Toronto needs to bring in an experienced penalty killer without moving any major parts. With the Leafs' top lines established and a blue line with decent depth, they should seek a penalty-killing forward who can add offense to their third line. The Blue Jackets might be looking to move Antoine Vermette's $3.75 million cap hit through 2014-15. Vermette is a quality penalty killer, scoring 18 career short-handed goals and winning 56.9 percent of his faceoffs this season. He also is used to playing against the league's elite as part of the Blue Jackets' No. 1 penalty-killing unit. Columbus' veteran forward is having a down season offensively, but an extremely low shooting percentage suggests the 29-year-old will bounce back.
Vermette: 0.9 GVT
The Problem: When the Senators were selling off parts for draft picks two years ago, it's unlikely they could have imagined being a contender this quickly. But everything has fallen the right way for Ottawa. Veterans Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar have been playing like it's 2006, and young players such as Erik Karlsson and Nick Foligno have played up to their potential. Their shortcomings, however, exist on the blue line. The Sens have players who create but few who keep the puck away from the net. Goalie Craig Anderson has a slightly below-average save percentage at .908, but his defense hasn't made things easy, allowing the second-most shots against per game in the NHL. Ottawa has a great chance for a playoff run but won't get far if it continues to allow more shots (and goals) than it scores.
The Fix: The Senators need a stay-at-home defenseman who can keep pucks away from Anderson. One on-the-market defenseman who fits the bill is Calgary's Cory Sarich. Only T.J. Brodie has seen fewer even-strength shots against while on the ice on the Flames' blue line than Sarich. When he's off the ice, opponents average four more shots per 60 minutes. Last season, Sarich finished 17th among defensemen in blocked shots. The 6-foot-4 blueliner's overall numbers are down this season -- hence the unsightly GVT -- but last season, Sarich's GVT was 7.0.
Sarich: minus-0.3 GVT
The Problem: After a recent run of hot goaltending that saw Ryan Miller finally play at the Vezina Trophy level he's capable of, the Sabres are looking more like what they expected after an offseason spending rampage by GM Darcy Regier. But unless Miller plays like he did in the 2010 Winter Olympics for the rest of the season, the Sabres' chances of making the postseason are just about nil. Although management has blamed injuries, the reality is Buffalo can't score. The Sabres rank 24th in the NHL and haven't gotten production out of big-money forwards Drew Stafford, Ville Leino and Brad Boyes.
The Fix: Regier needs to take a long-term approach to the trade deadline. He doesn't need to have an all-out fire sale to think toward 2012-13 and beyond, but he does have to begin clearing out players who are not in the Sabres' five-year plan. Defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr are two of the few players who have retained their trade value despite the team's down season. With defensive depth in the system, one or both (provided Regehr waives his no-movement clause) could be moved for depth at forward. Leino isn't going anywhere because of his egregious contract, but Boyes and faceoff specialist Paul Gaustad are movable unrestricted free agents. And with Miller likely staying put and averaging more than 65 starts per season, Regier could consider moving his high-quality backup Jhonas Enroth. More simply put: Almost everything should be on the table.
Sell what you can.
The Problem: Although the Bruins are one of the top scoring teams in the NHL, Nathan Horton's recent concussion showed some vulnerability in last year's Stanley Cup champs. With his history of head injuries, losing Horton long-term could leave Boston with a big hole in their power play. Horton could come back to full speed, but with the B's looking to make another Stanley Cup run, they need a backup plan. Boston is in the top half of the league on the power play, and Horton leads the team in goals per 60 minutes during 5-on-4 situations.
The Fix: Last season, Boston dealt a first-round pick to grab rent-a-player Tomas Kaberle. This season, they could fill Horton's role with a one-year fix such as Phoenix Coyotes veteran Ray Whitney. At 39, he leads the Coyotes in power-play scoring, and as an unrestricted free agent, he's unlikely to be in the Coyotes' long-term plans. Whitney also is an experienced postseason player. He's scored 46 points in 87 NHL playoff games and won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins are deep enough and young enough to afford moving another draft pick or young player to improve their chances of winning it all.
Whitney: 9.4 GVT
The Problem: Things have gone from bad to really bad in Montreal. The Habs tried shaking things up by firing coach Jacques Martin and trading top-line forward Mike Cammalleri midgame, but neither move improved results. The Canadiens are in the basement of the Eastern Conference in large part because of a lack of scoring on the power play. They rank last in the NHL, scoring on only 12.5 percent of man-advantage situations. Even-strength scoring has been decent for the Habs, ranking 11th, but they need a player who can score on the power play. And the answer isn't the recently acquired defenseman Kaberle, who hasn't been much above average in man-advantage situations in years. Considering ugly long-term contracts and bad chemistry, the Canadiens could benefit from addition by subtraction.
The Fix: Columbus Blue Jackets forward Derick Brassard could boost Montreal's putrid power play. His production on the man advantage, 4.33 points per 60 minutes, has been solid while given just 2:39 PP minutes per game; most of the league's similar producers receive upwards of four minutes per game. As the NHL's worst club, the Blue Jackets are no doubt sellers and could look to move Brassard, whose career was derailed by injury and who has failed to live up to high expectations. If given more ice time and better teammates, however, Brassard could turn into the quality producer Columbus hoped he would be when it drafted him sixth overall in 2006.
Brassard: 1.0 GVT
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Matthew Coller is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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