Fantasy hockey – What to watch for at the NHL trade deadline

As comprehensively and expertly examined by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, this year’s trade deadline is shaping up to be the most unusual in league history:

“… There are unique challenges, like quarantines and immigration issues. There’s the seismic shift in the league’s economic landscape. There are the struggles teams have had in evaluating players outside of their organizations. There are the struggles teams have had in figuring out why their own players are underperforming. Oh, and beyond the pandemic effects, there’s also this sea monster lurking in Seattle that’s casting a shadow over every transaction …”

No question, the next 11 days are sure to unfold more bizarrely from a transaction perspective than we’re used to. But what else should we expect this unparalleled season? And some players are still going to move. Probably more than one prominent figure. So here’s a look through the fantasy lens – no offense to the excluded Luke Glendenings of the world – at a handful of potentially tradeable characters and a few of the league’s more intriguing landing spots.

Taylor Hall, LW/C, Buffalo Sabres (78.0%): One-game winning streak aside (ahem), it’s difficult to imagine why the worst-team in the league wouldn’t trade the pending unrestricted free agent before April 12. If the Sabres and Hall truly want to extend their relationship beyond this dreadful season, they can always ink a deal in the summer. Why not get something back for the underperforming winger in the meanwhile? Fantasy managers who have stood by Hall this long – as a good number of you have – may as well hold tight through the next week or so. A spot on David Krejci’s scoring line in Boston, in offering one example, would likely result in a quick escalation in productivity for the former Hart winner (2018). Considering his two goals and 16 assists on the season – including just five helpers his past 14 games – there’s really nowhere to go but up.

Kyle Palmieri, RW, New Jersey Devils (54.5%): The last time Palmieri averaged under 0.52 points per game was during his final (and incomplete) season with the Ducks in 2014-15. He’s never even neared that mediocre rate since joining the Devils in 2015. Yet here we are. The pending unrestricted free agent should enjoy a fresh lease on this season if/when traded into a top-six scoring gig outside of New Jersey. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues shouldn’t give up on the veteran yet.

Tanner Pearson, LW, Vancouver Canucks (42.8%): Despite suffering an ankle injury in mid-March, Pearson remains a semi-attractive trade asset from this year’s altogether shallow pool of not-too-pricey scoring wingers. And why not? Due back mid-April, the 28-year-old could provide a boost to a contender for the final crucial three-plus weeks of the regular season even before the playoffs launch. Just about any fantasy manager in a deeper league with a wealth of IR spots – this bit is key – has little to lose in shelving Pearson for the time being. Such a low-risk investment could payout handsomely if he indeed is moved elsewhere and slides into a spot within a dynamic top-six. Before this flop of a campaign, Pearson collected 30 goals and 27 assists through 88 contests spanning two previous seasons with the Canucks. He’s clearly capable of putting the puck in the net and might again soon, if offered another fresh start.

Rickard Rakell, C/LW, Anaheim Ducks (29.7%): With a year left on his super-affordable contract (salary cap hit: $3.79-million), Rakell (listed day-to-day at present) could use a change in scenery in the worst way. Remember when the career Duck potted 30-plus goals in back-to-back years? Wasn’t that long ago (2016 – 2018). A gig on a scoring line with a squad that averages more than 2.22 goals per game could go a long way in helping Rakell optimize his negotiating stance next season. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues should keep a view of where the 27-year-old lands, if anywhere, in the next few days.

Mikael Granlund, LW/C/RW, Nashville Predators (48.9%): Never mind having one foot out Bridgestone Arena’s door, Granlund was perceived as halfway down Broadway only two weeks ago. Now, eight wins in nine games later, the fourth-place Predators may not feel as eager to trade their current No. 2 center – shifted from the wing – and top power-play participant. Nashville has six games scheduled ahead of April 12, including a back-to-back set in Detroit, a pair with the Stars, and single tilts with the Blackhawks and Lightning. A successful run though that stretch – hardly out of the question considering how much better they look from the net out – and both the versatile forward and defenseman Mattias Ekholm could be staying put. This presents as win-win for Granlund’s fantasy managers in deeper leagues. He’s probably scoring if the Preds are winning. He’s playing elsewhere if they’re not.

Prominent roles to be filled with contending teams

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs are said to be actively pursuing a winger to play in their top/middle-six; perhaps, one might surmise, a winger to skate on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander. An ideal three-way union in that vein would prove extra dangerous to opposing sides – already tasked with shutting down the dynamic Auston Matthews/Mitch Marner duo – while benefitting Tavares and Nylander, along with the newbie. If the Predators start losing again and decide to play trade-ball, Mikael Granlund is a rumored target. There’s also talk of interest in Taylor Hall because of course.

New York Islanders: Even before Anders Lee suffered a season-ending knee injury the Islanders were reportedly interested in adding a top-six scoring winger. The unfortunate loss of their captain not only amplifies that want, but clears $7-million of cap space with which to work. Center Mathew Barzal and winger Jordan Eberle need someone to slide on their left side – someone not named Leo Komarov. Without diving too deep into the prognostication game, Kyle Palmieri looks to be a good fit here.

Boston Bruins: They need secondary scoring. Fully cognizant the “Perfection Line” can’t continue to shoulder the overwhelming bulk of responsibility for putting points on the board, the Bruins are believed to be pursuing a winger to accompany centerman David Krejci on the second line. Whoever lands the gig – Taylor Hall or another figure – stands to immediately benefit from Krejci’s underrated playmaking abilities. There’s big fantasy potential brewing in Beantown.

Colorado Avalanche: No question, Philipp Grubauer hasn’t been complimented properly for his reliable-to-superb play this year, seizing the reigns far more often than not with Colorado’s trusty backup Pavel Francouz out of commission. But Grubauer is only one man – one that has never played more than 37 games in an NHL regular season. With the playoffs still several weeks away, he’s already up to 30 appearances. Since Jonas Johansson or Hunter Miska haven’t proven sufficiently worthy, the Avalanche are likely in the market for someone to step in when Grubauer needs a break. Or, goodness forbid, falls hurt. The Avs have their collective eye on winning the whole darn thing this year. If dealing for San Jose’s Devan Dubnyk or Detroit’s Jonathan Bernier or one of Carolina’s three competent netminders helps them to that end, so be it.

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