TRAIKOS: 10 burning questions heading into the NHL's trade deadline

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The NHL’s trade deadline arrives at 3 p.m. on Monday. And with four Canadian teams making the playoffs — and one of them guaranteed a spot in the conference final — it promises to be eventful.

Could we see a bidding war between Toronto and Winnipeg for a defenceman? Is Edmonton and Montreal really done adding? And do the non-playoff teams in Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa have anything worth selling?

Who should the Maple Leafs target?

The Leafs made a small move on Friday by trading a conditional seventh-round pick to Columbus for fourth-line centre Riley Nash, who is out until at least the playoffs with a sprained knee. It was a move that took advantage of a salary cap loophole, potentially freeing up money for an even bigger move. Now, the question is whom the Leafs will use the money on? Hall and Columbus’ Nick Foligno are obvious targets, with the latter being a better fit in my opinion to handle what’s waiting around the corner in the playoffs. But the Leafs are one injury away from having their depth seriously tested on defence, so GM Kyle Dubas has to make sure he gets some insurance on the backend.

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Where is Taylor Hall going?

The biggest name on the trade market doesn’t have the stats this year (two goals and 19 points in 37 games) to necessarily back up that claim, but it’s nothing that a change of scenery can’t fix. Put him on a line with Toronto’s John Tavares and William Nylander, and you can bet that Hall will produce points befitting a former MVP. Another potential landing spot is Boston, which has the assets (Jake DeBrusk) and cap space needed to acquire Hall, whom they previously tried to sign in the off-season.

Why is David Savard the No. 1 trade target?

That a defensive defenceman is the most sought-after player in this year’s deadline tells you everything you need to know about the quality of talent available this year. And yet, it should be surprising that teams (Florida, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg, to name a few) would be willing to give up a first-round pick for a player who has one goal in the past two years. After all, blocking shots and killing penalties tend to be more important in a playoff series than an ability to rush the puck and for a highlight-reel goal. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins, who probably don’t win the Stanley Cup in 2017 without the addition of Ron Hainsey.

How important is cap space?

It’s one thing to have the assets required to make a trade. It’s another to have the cap space available to take on a rental player. For that reason, don’t expect the Oilers to be particularly busy in the next couple of days. As GM Ken Holland said, any trade would. At the other end of the spectrum are Florida and Carolina, which have the most money available amongst the contending teams. The Panthers, who are without defenceman Aaron Ekblad for the rest of the season, acquired Brandon Montour from Buffalo and still have more than $10-million to spend. The Hurricanes have $8.9-million. The question is whether the small-market teams, who have typically operated well below the cap, will give their GMs the green light to actually use the money.

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What will the Jets do?

Like the Leafs, the path to the Stanley Cup final has never been this clear for the Jets. The team is stacked up front and they have a Vezina Trophy winner in net. All that is missing is a blue line that can stand up against Toronto’s and Edmonton’s offence and whatever could be waiting for them around the corner. Expect Winnipeg to be in talks for Savard. But if the price is too high (Cole Perfetti and Ville Heinola are not going anywhere), then the B-listers provide plenty of options, whether it’s Anaheim’s Josh Manson, Buffalo’s Colin Wilson or Dallas’ Jamie Oleksiak.

Are the Canadiens done?

The Habs already made a deadline move when they acquired Eric Staal from Buffalo earlier this month. But with Brendan Gallagher done for the regular season, there is additional cap space to make another move. If so, look for GM Marc Bergevin to add more depth to his defence. A name to watch is St. Louis’ Vince Dunn, who would look great quarterbacking Montreal’s power play. Another puck-moving option is Columbus’ Michael Del Zotto, who won a Cup a couple of years ago and wouldn’t cost much.

Who is going to make the biggest splash?

The Tampa Bay Lightning were the most active at last year’s deadline, where they acquired Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn for their championship run. This year, their biggest add will be getting Nikita Kucherov back healthy for the playoffs. But according to reports, don’t be surprised if they also join the bidding war for Columbus defenceman David Savard to take some of the pressure off Norris Trophy hopeful Victor Hedman. But in doing so, they might have to convince Columbus to take back Tyler Johnson and his $5-million cap hit.

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Are the Oilers really standing pat?

Based on their place in the standings, the Oilers should be buyers. But it’s not so simple. The team is right up against the cap, so any money coming in has to represent money going out. And in order to get someone to take James Neal ($5.75-million), you’re going to have to sweeten the pot by also including a first-round pick or a prospect. For a team who’s cupboards aren’t exactly overflowing with prospects, I’m not sure that is the wisest decision.

Are Mattias Ekholm and Mikael Granlund off the board?

With Nashville back in the playoff picture after winning nine of their past 10 games, it’s hard to imagine the team would subtract from its lineup at the deadline. And yet, with the injuries piling up recently — forwards Filip Forsberg, Eeli Tolvanen, Matt Duchene and Mathieu Olivier, as well as defencemen Dante Fabbro, Ryan Ellis, Mark Borowiecki and Alexandre Carrier — keeping their head above water could be a challenge. That might be even more of a reason to hang on tightly to Ekholm and Granlund. Then again, if the Predators are nothing more than first-round fodder, maybe it’s time to at least something for Granlund, who is a pending UFA.

Do the non-playoff teams in Canada have anything worth buying?

If Calgary decides to move on from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the return could be enormous. But those kinds of deals are typically done in the off-season rather than at the trade deadline. That leaves the Flames trying to get something of substance for backup goalie David Rittich and fourth-line centre Derek Ryan. The Senators don’t have anything much better to offer. Are teams actually interested in Erik Gudbranson or Mike Rielly? How about Ryan Dzingel? If so, it won’t be for much more than a late-round pick. As for Vancouver, the team’s recent COVID outbreak could scare potential buyers from taking a chance on Brandon Sutter or Jordie Benn.

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mtraikos@postmedia.com

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