After trading Andy Greene and Blake Coleman last Sunday, Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald could still be plenty busy leading up to Monday’s deadline, with several other players drawing interest around the league.
One of those players is defenseman Sami Vatanen, who is in the final year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. Plenty of defensemen have already been moved ahead of the deadline, and Vatanen is one of the best still on the market.
Even though Vatanen hasn’t played since Feb. 1 due to a leg bruise from blocking a shot, teams still have interest in the veteran.
So if Fitzgerald gets the right return, he could move Vatanen in the coming days. But which teams make the most sense for a potential deal? Here are a four that could use Vatanen and have the assets to make a deal work.
Vatanen has been tied to the Hurricanes several times in recent weeks, and Carolina’s need for help on the blue line was amplified by Dougie Hamilton’s broken leg suffered in January. Hamilton could still return this season, but adding Vatanen could help the Hurricanes continue to make a playoff push while they wait.
The Hurricanes are also flush with assets that could help swing a deal with New Jersey. In recent days, four defensemen on the market have netted second-round picks in trades, including Devils blue liner Andy Greene, who was dealt to the New York Islanders.
With the market establishing and the number of defensemen thinning out, the Hurricanes have the draft capital to make a trade work. On top owning each of their own picks in the first four round of the 2020 NHL Draft, the Hurricanes have one additional pick in each of the first three.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Like the Hurricanes, the Leafs are dealing with their own injury on the blue line. Morgan Rielly has been sidelined with a broken foot since January, and he is expected to be out until March.
The Leafs are on the bubble of the playoffs in the Eastern, currently sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division with the Florida Panthers two points behind them. The Leafs had expectations to contend for a Stanley Cup this season, so they could be looking to make moves at the trade deadline to ensure their spot in the postseason.
But unlike the Hurricanes, the Leafs don’t have many draft picks to spread around. Their 2020 first-round pick belongs to Carolina, and they already traded their 2020 third-round pick. They will also be short a 2021 second or third-round pick, depending on the conditions of another trade with the Kings.
So that could make a potential deal for Vatanen more difficult, but if they created a package to entice the Devils, they could certainly use his services.
After Florida’s summer spending spree that saw them land goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency, the Panthers’ urgency to make the playoffs will be high, and they currently sit outside the picture in the Eastern Conference.
They’ve got a talented forward group, so adding a piece on defense could make sense. The Panthers also own a draft pick in each round of the next three drafts, so they have the flexibility to make a deal work from that perspective. But they are pushed to the ceiling of the salary cap, so they would need to find a way to fit Vatanen into the fold, even if the Devils retained some salary.
The Flames currently hold the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and after finishing with the best record in the West last season, they’re just trying to secure a playoff spot at this point. They’ve also been playing without two of their top defensemen for some time.
Mark Giordano, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, is expected back in the lineup soon, but Travis Hamonic is still considered week-to-week. Adding Vatanen would provided a boost to that group, and even with Giordano and Hamonic healthy, Vatanen would bring another strong piece for their playoff push.
The Flames are also pushed up against the cap, but they have a little more flexibility than the Panthers and Leafs. They also have all of their relevant draft picks for the next three drafts.
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