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The National Hockey League trade deadline nears, and the stretch run of the NHL season is around the corner. This time of the year is when we begin to see the race for the Stanley Cup begin to heat up. In this piece, I will be looking at four teams that look to be in the best position to win it all, and I will talk about how the NHL Trade Deadline could affect their standing. This is not in order from best to worst, as it is just a general layout of the four teams in prime position come playoff time.
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
Let’s start with the team that holds the best odds to win it all. According to My Top Sportsbooks, who review all the odds for the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning sit at an astounding (+280) and hold a 42-11-4 record, which stands at the top of the NHL. Nikita Kucherov leads this team offensively and has emerged as a star. He has totaled 24 goals and 60 assists, and those 84 points lead the league. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos are also shining through, as the two have combined for 133 points. Not to be outdone, the Lightning contain one of the best top defensive pairings in the league with Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh patrolling the point. The Bolts also boast a solid goaltending tandem of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue.
The only real threat to the Lightning’s Cup aspirations are the Lightning themselves. We saw last year in the Eastern Conference Final that this team can be its own worst enemy. If Tampa can sustain this impressive run they currently enjoy, there is no reason the team shouldn’t be playing come June.
2) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs could be the first Canadian franchise to win Lord Stanley’s Cup since the Montreal Canadiens won it all in 1993. They contain some of the best young talent in the league, with guys like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews leading the team offensively. The marquee free agent acquisition of the summer, John Tavares, has played as advertised. He has 33 goals and 27 assists for 60 points. The biggest question for the Maple Leafs looks to be on the blueline, which the Leafs have already addressed. They acquired defenceman Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a 2019 first-round selection, forward Carl Grundstrom, and defenceman Sean Durzi.
Rumor has it the Maple Leafs are in the market for stability on their fourth line. Recent reports have them linked to Detroit Red Wings forward Luke Glendening; someone they showed interest in last year before opting to acquire Tomas Plekanec from the Canadiens. If the Leafs were to engage the Wings in trade discussions, Frank Seravalli of TSN suggests the price could start with a second-round pick, with the Brian Boyle to Nashville trade in mind.
A second-round pick for Glendening seems like an overpay, and the fourth line isn’t exactly a glaring hole for this team. However, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock loved Glendening from their days together in Detroit. Glendening has been praised around the league for his work ethic and leadership too, which may be appealing to the Toronto brass.
3) Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets came close to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, ultimately falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals. This year, they are looking to get past the Conference Finals, and are in great shape. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler lead the team offensively, and Kyle Connor shows promise. Patrik Laine has struggled, but can still be dangerous when he’s on his game. Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien are holding it down on the blue line, while Connor Hellebuyck has been steady in net.
TSN’s Darren Dreger recently reported that the Jets are in the market for a top six winger, with Laine struggling and Nikolaj Ehlers on injured reserve. They have a number of contracts to take care of this summer, with Laine being a restricted free agent and defenceman Tyler Myers being an unrestricted free agent. Whoever they decide to pursue will likely have to have an expiring contract.
Nick Kypreos recently spoke on potential deals for top deadline targets Mark Stone and Artemi Panarin. He noted that it may take more than just a first-round pick to acquire one of those players. He mentioned defenceman Sami Niku as a name being discussed. Niku, a seventh-round pick in 2015, has made incredible strides and was the American Hockey League’s Defenceman of the Year. Niku is only 22 and could progress in the NHL if he can continue in this direction. Whether the Jets are willing to part with the emerging Finnish blueliner remains to be seen.
4) San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks haven’t been to the Cup Finals since 2016 when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, this year could be the year they go back. They have one of the best blueline tandems in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, and Timo Meier is coming into his own. Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski continue to lead the charge offensively. The Sharks also have Joe Thornton, who is 39-years old, but is still sustaining a high level of play. Martin Jones has been consistent in goal, and has shown flashes of dominance, especially in that 2016 playoff run.
The name of the game for San Jose this deadline is depth. The team’s third line hasn’t been altogether great, and their defensive depth hasn’t been reliable either. One wonders if the Sharks would add a veteran bottom six guy and/or defenceman, or if the team would go big and grab the aforementioned Stone or Matt Duchene from Ottawa. A big move like that would force a shuffling of the lines, and in theory, would add the offensive punch to the bottom six this team lacks.
Featured Image: Tampa Bay Times