Hockey Prospectus is taking a look at the NHL division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline. On Friday, we continue with the Northeast Division.
Feb. 28 marks the NHL's trade deadline and every team in the league -- both 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.
One statistic you'll come across in the analysis below is GVT, the main player valuation metric used by Hockey Prospectus. For a detailed explanation of GVT, click here.
The Problem: Before the season began, it was already obvious that Ottawa was facing an uphill climb simply to make the playoffs. It has turned out to be even worse than expected: the Senators have the second-lowest goals for in the league, the third-worst goals against and have a decent claim to being the worst team in the NHL. Their leading point-getter, defenseman Erik Karlsson, has a meager 32 points, the lowest total by any team leader. The Senators have gotten solid contributions from Karlsson, defenseman Chris Campoli and forward Peter Regin, but almost everyone else has been a disappointment.
The Fix: The Senators should have gone for a rebuild in the offseason, but it's never too late. They've already traded Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu, and more players should go out the door. Jason Spezza's contract probably makes him unmovable, but Chris Phillips could fetch prospects or draft picks; only captain Daniel Alfredsson, if he so wishes, must be allowed to retire a Senator. Phillips, in particular, is a key commodity often sought at the trade deadline: a quality stay-at-home defenseman who can be a top-2 D and a member of the top penalty-killing unit. Phillips has had a terrible season so far, like many of the Senators, but is only 32 and can still be an impact defenseman.
Phillips: -1.8 GVT
The Problem: Once again, the Sabres are an average team. But this season their goaltender has not been able to make up for it. The Sabres could use an extra blueliner or a decent scorer, but where they really need help is in the faceoff circle; the Sabres have won only 47 percent of their draws this season, putting them 27th in the NHL.
The Fix: The Sabres will be in the unenviable position of not knowing if they are buyers or sellers. With top-scoring talent at a premium, the Sabres should go for a reliable center like Marty Reasoner. Reasoner is a defensive specialist who can spend three minutes a night killing penalties. He also happens to win 55 percent of his draws, putting him among the league's elite. The addition of Reasoner will also help reduce the pressure on Buffalo's blue line, which lost two quality blueliners during the offseason (Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder) and gained back only one (Jordan Leopold, who has been superb for the Sabres).
Reasoner: 8.1 GVT
The Problem: Montreal has the fewest goals of any of the Eastern Conference's playoff contenders, after finishing second to last in that category last season. The Habs' woes are exemplified by center Scott Gomez, who is good at carrying the puck and dishing it out but is one of the weakest snipers in the league and has scored only seven goals this season. The Canadiens had a great playoff run last year, and Carey Price is playing as well as Jaroslav Halak was last season, but the strategy of "get outplayed and hope the goalie stops everything" is not the most reliable one.
The Fix: There are typically few proven scorers available at the trade deadline, but one who would fit with the Canadiens is Milan Hejduk. Despite just turning 35, Hejduk has had 10 straight 20-goal seasons and is on pace for an 11th. He is particularly dangerous on the power play and could help turn an already dangerous unit into a deadly one; his 18 power-play points are more than any Canadien this year.
Hejduk: 8.1 GVT
The Problem: Tim Thomas' spectacular season has masked the fact the Bruins' defense is actually quite mediocre, ranking 27th in the league in shots against. The Bruins' biggest problem was getting the puck out of their own end: until this week, the Bruins didn't have a true puck-moving defenseman who can make tape-to-tape passes to wingers on the breakout and who can double as point men on the power play.
The Fix: The Bruins have already addressed the above issues with the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle, a superb addition to the Boston blue line. Boston's top two defensemen, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, are complete two-way players but not exceptional puck movers. Having Chara also means the Bruins can exploit Kaberle's strengths without having to expose him to difficult defensive situations, keeping him on the second pairing at even strength, much as the Chicago Blackhawks maximized the value of Brian Campbell. Unfortunately, Boston is now scraping against the salary cap and cannot really add another impact player. The good news is that the Bruins are likely to win the division and earn the third seed in the East, with home-ice advantage and the potential of a matchup against archrival Montreal.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Problem: There is no longer a problem in Toronto, where Brian Burke has finally accepted that he is rebuilding. The trading of Kris Versteeg, a good young player, showed that the Leafs were serious about acquiring draft picks and rebuilding the correct way. The Leafs still have a good young core of forwards, with Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, revelation-of-the-year Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel, while James Reimer is certainly looking like the No. 1 goaltender going forward.
The Fix: With Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle gone, the time is right for Toronto to rebuild its blue line for the future. If possible, the Leafs should look for any way to trade Michael Komisarek, possibly for a younger, cheaper defenseman. It was never likely that Komisarek was going to be worth the money the Leafs were paying him, but it's time to accept that the experiment is a failure. The trade deadline is a unique opportunity to trade such players, as the lack of sellers means prices are inflated across the board; witness Mike Fisher fetching a first-round draft pick. Toronto could use the cap space to sign free agents in the offseason, with a clearer long-term plan.
Komisarek: 2.0 GVT
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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