Monday, 18 March by The Hockey Daily.
Coming into this season it was unclear as to whether the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets or Ottawa Senators would be in playoff contention half way through the schedule. That’s why they play the games. All four Eastern Conference Canadian franchises are currently sitting in the playoff picture with little less than half the season remaining. The success of Canada’s eastern teams creates some tough decisions for their general managers with the trade deadline approaching soon.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs came into this season having not made the playoffs since 2004. In recent years Leafs’ management have avoided making deadline moves for the future that have potentially hurt their franchise. The Leafs find themselves sitting 6th in the East with a realistic shot at making the playoffs this year. They have lost 5 straight but have only dropped one spot in the standings suggesting that it would take a major collapse to see them out of the top 8 when the season ends.
The Leafs have a few pending free agents they have to decide about very soon so they don’t repeat recent deadline day missed opportunities to sell UFA’s for picks. LW Clarke MacArthur, C Tyler Bozak and RW Colton Orr are all pending UFA’s this summer. All three players have been regular contributors to the Leafs success this season. If the Leafs’ plan to make the playoffs this season they will likely want to keep all three around and risk losing them in the off season for nothing.
The Leafs are in the playoffs by 3 points right now. Not the most comfortable of margins, especially given the team’s recent second half meltdowns. If the Leafs find themselves in the playoffs by 3 points at the trade deadline they will have to decide on keeping the team together for a playoff run or trading away assets to continue building for the future. Given their recent history this decision may be extra difficult for the Buds.
The Montreal Canadiens have exceeded expectations this season. Last year the Habs finished 15th in the Eastern Conference, this season they find themselves 2nd in the East, a comfortable 13 points ahead of the 9th place New York Islanders. The Canadiens can safely go into the deadline knowing they will make the playoffs which creates some difficult decisions for them.
The Habs may want to become buyers this trade deadline. They may feel better going into the playoffs against Eastern giants the Bruins and Penguins if they can add a little bit more depth and experience to their roster. If they are looking to add depth or top end talent their best prospects may be asked for in compensation. Do they Habs feel strong enough about this season to trade away any of the future? It’s a difficult question management will face as the temptation of bringing a Cup back to Montreal for the first time since 1993 will factor into their decision making.
The Winnipeg Jets have played very well this season to lead the Southeast Division. Usually 1 or 2 teams make the playoffs from the Southeast and it varies greatly from season to season. Last season the Capitals and Panthers made it, both of which are not looking good to repeat as playoff teams this year. Two seasons ago the Caps and Tampa Bay Lightning made the playoffs. The Lightning’s chances of making it this year are becoming very slim.
Many regulars on the Jets roster are UFA’s this summer leaving Jets’ management with a bit of a dilemma. C Nik Antropov, W Kyle Wellwood, RW Antti Miettinen, D Ron Hainsey and D Grant Clitsome all stand to walk for nothing this summer if they are not signed by the Jets before July 1st. Trading all five players for picks would severely weaken the Jets lineup going into the playoffs if they make it. Whereas, not trading any of them could be viewed as a wasted chance to improve the franchise for the future. Ultimately, whatever decisions they make might be heavily dependent on how the Jets see their chances as a playoff team. If they feel like all they need to do is make it then anything can happen they may want to play it safe and hold onto their players for the time being. If they feel like this season is just a step in the right direction they could decide to sell as high as possible and take a chance at the playoffs anyway with some younger less experienced guys.
When the Ottawa Senators slipped into 8th last season many people were surprised. This season they are once again in a playoff spot with less than half the season remaining. What’s made this season more impressive is that the Sens have not slipped since losing Erik Karlsson last season’s Norris Trophy winner and their best forward, Jason Spezza. The Sens are proving that GM Bryan Murray has done a wonderful job quickly rebuilding the franchise and they will be playoff bound for many years to come. Where does that leave them this season?
It would be perfect timing if the Sens could make the playoffs and get their two big injuries back right before the post season starts. With the deadline a few weeks away they seem to have the easy decision of not doing much, if anything at all. If they still sit in the playoffs come trade deadline day, April 3rd they can look forward to the pending arrival of their stars back to the lineup and take solace in the fact that as good as their chances are this season, they will likely be even better next season and the season after.
Daniel Alfredsson is an UFA this summer and it stands to reason the Sens will get some tempting offers for their long time Captain and proven goalscorer. Alfredsson doesn’t score at the pace he once did but he could add some significant depth to a contending team. All signs out of Ottawa suggest they will not move their captain unless he asks to be moved. With the Senators poised to make the playoffs an Alfredsson trade doesn’t look likely.
If all four Canadian teams in the Eastern Conference make the playoffs it will be the first time that has happened since 1993 when the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames all made the playoffs as members of the Clarence Campbell Conference.