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Finding a dance partner: Red Wings trade deadline candidates

The Nick Leddy Sweepstakes starts today!

Vegas Golden Knights v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Dating can be hard.

It takes good timing, great chemistry, and a seemingly otherworldly aligning of the stars to bring people together. In a sense, finding a trade partner in the modern NHL is quite similar. The right candidate share similar mentalities and can meet the other person’s needs. Sometimes, the trade goes south for both parties. Other times, relationships can become pretty one-sided.

In the case of Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings, a few tickets to the big dance are still available — and many eligible bachelors on the roster are in need of a partner. Plenty of teams are on the lookout for the right fit to punch their ticket to the playoffs. Whether they’re in need of a depth forward or a veteran defenseman, the Red Wings have plenty available in just about any department.

Everyone has needs, wants, and bonus points. These trade candidates in particular might be just what the Red Wings need to bring home a big return.

Candidate #1: Edmonton Oilers

Sometimes, the safest bet is the old flame. Ken Holland has a long history with the Red Wings and Yzerman. In fact, they’re only two years removed from the big Andreas Athanasiou trade that saw the Red Wings acquire two second-round picks. Could a trade be made with the old general manager? Given the current state of the Oilers, all signs point to yes.

The Oilers need just about everything. Depth scoring, middle-pairing defensemen, and a goaltender capable of starting at the NHL level will all be priorities for Holland during the deadline. Strangely enough, Holland doesn’t seem keen on trading the Oilers’ first-round pick. Still, that doesn’t mean the Oilers are lacking in tradeable assets. If a trade is to be made with Detroit, one of the best options the Red Wings can offer is a solid, reliable goaltender: Thomas Greiss.

While Greiss has had a rough go of his last few games, he’s shown that he’s still capable of handling an NHL starter’s workload. Through his last three games, he’s compiled a .919 save percentage- — nearly a point above the NHL’s average goaltending save percentage. While he’s had his fair share of rough games this season, they’re a far cry from what the Oilers have endured this season. Take a look at what Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett had to say about his netminders:

If the Oilers want to upgrade between the pipes, their options are limited. Do they stick with Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, who both have 3.15 GAA or higher, or should they seek outside help? It’s becoming abundantly clear that the Oilers need a change in net. Apart from Marc-Andre Fleury, who will likely garner a sizable return, there isn’t much in terms of suitable goaltenders come trade deadline time. While Greiss might not be a long-term solution, he’s certainly a Band-Aid they can use to temporarily cover up the glaring cracks in the foundation.

Candidate #2: Calgary Flames

Dan Rosen of NHL.com, when asked about the Calgary Flames’ needs, had this to say:

I’d be looking for a puck-moving defenseman and a top-six forward before the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline on March 21.

The Red Wings have one of each of those, but both may garner significantly different prices. The former is Nick Leddy, the veteran defender acquired from the New York Islanders before the 2021-22 season. In exchange for a 2021 second-round pick, Leddy has been a shifty, puck-moving defenseman, capable of effortlessly transitioning from zone to zone without much issue. While he’s had a handful of rough games, signs of the poignant, prescient defender have surfaced from time to time.

As far as top-six forwards go, the Flames have their work cut out for them. If they’re looking for proven top-six talent, they may elect to make an offer on Tyler Bertuzzi, though he won’t come cheap. In addition, complications with his vaccine status and Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions may throw a wrench in trade options. Still, such a move would rival the world-breaking Anthony Mantha deal of the 2020-21 trade deadline. A more budget-friendly alternative can be found in Vladislav Namestnikov, though he doesn’t have much to offer in terms of top-six viability.

If the Flames want to look in a younger direction, they could potentially make a move for forward Filip Zadina. The 2018 6th overall pick has had a very rough season, scoring at just a little over a quarter point-per-game. It’s doubtful that Yzerman would sell low on a player that’s barely played a full NHL season, but, if the right deal were to manifest itself, it would be foolish to pass it up.

Candidate #3: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens seem to have it all: star forwards, scoring depth, and a well-balanced defense and goaltending system that plays to everyone’s strength. Sidney Crosby & co. know all too well what kind of toll the playoffs can take. Injuries and inconsistencies can sink even the best of teams. It never hurts to secure a little depth insurance — and Detroit has plenty of players right up Pittsburgh’s alley.

The defensive core of Kris Letang, John Marino, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Mike Matheson, and Chad Ruhwedel looks solid, to be sure. But if any of those players go down with injury, they’ll need insurance — someone who can step in right away.

Enter Troy Stecher. The currently-injured defenseman had somewhat of a Renaissance season in 2020-21. He carried his defensive pairing with Marc Staal more often than not, and seemed to bolster Filip Hronek’s presence whenever they were partnered together. There’s something to be said about his consistency — and, at a cool $1.7M through the rest of the season, Stecher might be just what the Pens need to take their depth to the next level.

Candidate #4: Vegas Golden Knights

If big returns are on Yzerman’s mind, the best bet might be to gamble on Vegas. The Golden Knights are in a bit of a bind. With star center Jack Eichel coming off long-term injured reserve, Vegas will be $5M above the salary cap. In addition, top-pairing defenseman Alec Martinez is due to return at some point this season, and he carries a $5.25M cap hit. To put it simply, Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon will need to make a move — and fast.

The Red Wings have just a hair above $10M in cap space. If Yzerman plays his cards right, he could walk home with a roster player, picks, and, maybe a prospect or two. Reilly Smith, Brendan Smith’s brother, is the most common name thrown around with trades. Taking his $5M cap hit off the books would free up almost exactly what Vegas needs. The problem is, Smith is the team’s second-line right-wing and he’s scoring at a 60-point pace. There’s not much else they can use to fill the void once he’s gone.

Evgenii Dadonov, however, is a match made in heaven for both parties. The third-line winger is signed through 2022-23 at a $5M/year cap hit. He’s played the part of a solid depth scorer for Vegas, but his 21 points in 45 games do not justify his current contract. If a trade is to be made, Dadonov might be just what the Red Wings need.

In addition to whatever Vegas offers as a sweetener, Detroit will obtain a veteran winger who can be flipped for even more assets. Plenty of would-be contenders need depth scoring. Should Detroit opt to retain a portion of his salary, Dadonov would be a great get for any team in need of a little extra playoff oomph.

Candidate #5: Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto, like every year, is looking to go all the way. Their biggest roadblock, however, is their lack of depth defense. Jake Muzzin is in decline, and TJ Brodie and Rasmus Sandin can only do so much. Relying on Justin Holl and Travis Dermott to carry a defensive pairing is the quickest way the Leafs can guarantee yet another first round exit. If they want to mitigate that anxiety, they’ll need help on the backend — and they’d better be prepared to pony up.

The trade deadline market is rife with marquee name defensemen. Jakob Chychrun, John Klingberg, and Ben Chiarot (one of these things is not like the other) are three blueliners that top nearly every trade list. The problem, however, lies in the price — and the viability. The Maple Leafs have only $200K in cap space. $200K doesn’t get you John Klingberg. In fact, it doesn’t even get you Danny DeKeyser. They’ll need to make some big moves if they want to secure that depth defender — and they’ll need a partner with flexibility and cap space to pull it off.

While it’s fair to assume that Toronto may target Nick Leddy or Troy Stecher, they may opt for a longer-term solution to become Stanley Cup contenders. That solution could come in the form of Filip Hronek. The 24-year-old defender just signed a three-year, $4.4M contract with the Red Wings, but his prime lines up perfectly with the contracts of Toronto’s core. His contract is set to expire alongside Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Jake Muzzin. If the Maple Leafs want to win now, they need to lock up a cost-controlled asset with proven viability in the NHL. Hronek is just the man for that.

Freeing up cap space shouldn’t be much of a problem, either. The Red Wings can easily absorb the contracts of Nick Ritchie and Justin Holl, replacing the Red Wings’ need for a right-shot defenseman. The return they’d be poised to receive from Hronek would be significant, especially when you look at what Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas paid for 11 games of Nick Foligno.