General managers, count your draft picks. In this trade market, they're valuable currency.
In the days leading up to Monday's 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline, draft picks have been moving at a fast and furious pace. It's a seller's market and much more selling could be coming before the clock runs out.
Already the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes have gotten first-round picks for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, Andrej Sekera and Antonie Vermette, and older players like Kimmo Timonen and Jaromir Jagr have fetched second-rounders and more.
Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall didn't want to say he's licking his chops about what else he could get in other deals after acquiring second- and fourth-round picks from Chicago for the 39-year-old Timonen, who hasn't played this season.
"In the end they may have underpaid by a long shot for this deal," Hextall said on a conference call Friday night. "If Kimmo had played all year and we had moved him right now, this wouldn't have been the return. It would've been, I believe, far greater than this."
Considering that and the recent price for contenders to get deals done, the first-year GM is probably right. Jeff Petry of the Edmonton Oilers and Zbynek Michalek of the Coyotes are the top pending-unrestricted-free-agent defencemen available, and the Leafs might even be able to get something for Korbinian Holzer.
If Washington GM Brian McLellan wanted to deal pending UFA Mike Green, he might be able to land one heck of a haul. But with the Capitals a contender to come out of the East, they're likely better suited to hold on to him and make a run, and acquiring Curtis Glencross from the Calgary Flames on Sunday for 2015 second- and third-round picks helps that cause.
The Capitals are far from the only team that believes it can go deep in the playoffs, and a wide-open East could set the table for an interesting pre-deadline frenzy. The banged-up Boston Bruins would love to add someone as centre David Krejci is out with a knee injury, and the Montreal Canadiens could use some depth on a team that has been carried largely to first place in the Atlantic Division by goaltender Carey Price.
On Sunday the New York Rangers acquired Keith Yandle from the Coyotes in a huge trade that sent Canadian world-junior star Anthony Duclair, a 2015 second-round pick, conditional 2016 first and John Moore to Arizona for the veteran defenceman, Chris Summers and a 2016 fourth.
Out West, the Blackhawks gave up a handful of picks to get Vermette from Arizona and Timonen from Philadelphia, using the salary-cap space created by the potentially devastating injury to star winger Patrick Kane. Adding them to the mix of buyers made the market even more competitive in the past week.
Enter teams like the Coyotes and Maple Leafs, with more hope of landing Connor McDavid in the draft than a playoff spot and assets to sell off. Leafs GM Dave Nonis said he wasn't just going to "fire-sale people out," but he's listening.
"We need to get value," Nonis said. "I know from talking to other teams that they covet some of the players we have. If there are trades that make sense for us, we're going to do it."
The Leafs have already made every logical trade they had to, unloading Franson, Santorelli and Daniel Winnik, and an unconventional one by sending David Clarkson to Columbus for injured winger Nathan Horton. But Holzer and veteran centre Olli Jokinen will be free agents this summer, and anyone from goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer to captain Dion Phaneuf to forwards Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul could be on the move.
"They could trade everyone or anyone," Bozak said Thursday night. "We expected things to happen. With a lot of guys who are UFAs, those are guys that usually end up getting traded."
Teams that want rentals could look at Buffalo Sabres winger Chris Stewart or goaltender Michal Neuvirth, Dallas Stars centre Shawn Horcoff or New Jersey Devils forwards Scott Gomez and Michael Ryder. There's plenty of uncertainty around the NHL, and while it has been heightened in the Leafs' room, players fully understand why.
"We put ourselves in this situation," Phaneuf said. "We have underachieved as a team, and when that happens, change comes."
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