NHL buyer/seller and playoff tiers 3.0: Where each team stands one month ahead of the trade deadline

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NHL buyer/seller and playoff tiers 3.0: Where each team stands one month ahead of the trade deadline

The NHL’s March 8 trade deadline is creeping closer and closer, now less than a month away, and big names are already on the move.

In the next four weeks, every team will have to decide: Are we buying, are we selling, and how aggressive are we going to be? For some, the decision is already made. For others, every win and loss could push them over the edge one way or the other.

Who do we see in which camp?

To get the full lay of the land, this week The Athletic revisited two questions with its NHL staff: 1. How confident are you in each team’s playoff chances? 2. Will the team be a buyer or a seller at the deadline?

Here’s what they said.


Record: 18-30-2
Playoff tier: Not happening
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive seller

Analysis: When it comes to selling at the deadline, it’s about quality, not quantity, for the Ducks. I don’t get any sense that either Trevor Zegras or John Gibson will be changing NHL addresses unless Anaheim general manager Pat Verbeek is completely blown away by an offer. Verbeek, however, is in a good position to drum up the value of versatile forward Adam Henrique to teams that missed out on Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan. The 34-year-old Henrique might be the best remaining center on the market who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Another potential UFA that Verbeek is talking to fellow GMs about is Ilya Lyubushkin, who has been through an in-season trade before, going from Arizona to Toronto in 2022. All-Star winger Frank Vatrano might also be an option for potential buyers looking at someone who can be more than a rental. — Eric Stephens

Record: 23-23-3
Playoff tier: Bubble at best
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: Coming out of the bye week, the Coyotes have fallen five points behind the Blues, who are holding down the second wild-card spot, and also would need to leapfrog four teams to qualify for the playoffs. A February surge could put them back in the race, but if they maintain their current positioning for the next three weeks or so (and start to run out of games), they do have some pending unrestricted free agents (primarily Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker) who could draw interest as rentals. — Eric Duhatschek

Record: 32-10-9
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The Bruins don’t pick until the fourth round in 2024. They don’t have much in terms of prospects. They’re short on cap space. So given their lack of futures capital and cap situation, they won’t be able to compete with their opponents when it comes to bidding for game-changing players. — Fluto Shinzawa


Linus Ullmark and the Bruins don’t have many options to trade for additional help, but they seem to be doing fine as-is. (Rich Gagnon / Getty Images)

Record: 22-24-4
Playoff tier: True long shot
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: The Sabres aren’t mathematically eliminated, but it’s getting close. They have some unrestricted free agents, like Erik Johnson, Victor Olofsson, Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons, who could net a small return. General manager Kevyn Adams should also be looking to add to this roster, but only if it’s a player who can help long-term as well. It’s not time to tear down the core, but Adams needs to supplement that core now or in the offseason. — Matthew Fairburn

Record: 24-22-5
Playoff tier: Bubble at best
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: As of now, we don’t know what Noah Hanifin’s future is with the team. Maybe the Flames keep him. Maybe they sell. If it’s the latter, Flames GM Craig Conroy will have two of the biggest trade pieces, along with Chris Tanev. And that’s after moving on from Elias Lindholm. And who knows who else could be made available before then? A significant portion of the Flames’ retool can be done ahead of March 8. But until we learn for certain what Hanifin will do, we’re labeling the Flames as a cautious seller instead of aggressive. — Julian McKenzie

Record: 29-16-5
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The Hurricanes are back to fighting for first in the Metropolitan Division, so any concerns about them making the postseason are in the rear-view mirror. Carolina’s DNA is to be aggressively cautious — the Hurricanes are in on everything but on their terms. So general manager Don Waddell will check in on anyone and everyone in the lead-up to the trade deadline, but he’s not going to pay more than he believes is fair value in a trade. Sometimes it leads to big deadline trades — the acquisitions of Vincent Trocheck and Brady Skjei in 2020 stand out — and other times it ends up with a bargain addition, like Max Domi and Shayne Gostisbehere the last two seasons. — Cory Lavalette

Record: 14-35-2
Playoff tier: Not happening
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: The Blackhawks remain in tank mode. The difference this season at the trade deadline is that they don’t have much to trade. Petr Mrázek and Jason Dickinson were probably the only players who might have drawn some interest, and the Blackhawks have already re-signed both. General manager Kyle Davidson wouldn’t mind taking on a bad contract or being a third party in a deal if it meant adding draft picks, because he has the cap space, but the Blackhawks aren’t expected to be major players at this deadline. — Scott Powers

Record: 32-16-4
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive buyer

Analysis: The current East Coast road trip hasn’t gone as planned for Colorado, but the Avalanche are still a lock to make the playoffs for the seventh straight season. With that, expect general manager Chris MacFarland to add at the deadline. The Avalanche could use an upgrade at 2C, and with Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan both already dealt, the options are dwindling. It’s also reasonable to think Colorado will be seeking an upgrade in net, whether it’s to improve Alexandar Georgiev’s backup or possibly give him some competition. — Jesse Granger

Record: 16-24-10
Playoff tier: Not happening
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive seller

Analysis: The Blue Jackets have a glut of depth players on both ends of the rink, which has been an issue since the start of the season. Much has been learned this season about the young players who figure to be the future of the franchise, so now it’s time to streamline the roster and clear lineup space to allow them to thrive. Forward Jack Roslovic is the only significant unrestricted free agent, but general manager Jarmo Kekalainen could afford to be aggressive. Will he finally start listening to offers for captain Boone Jenner? Will he try to move Patrik Laine, in the event that Laine exits the NHL/NHLPA assistance program? On the back end, Ivan Provorov is the only top-four type who could be moved, but depth guys Andrew Peeke and Jake Bean are available at a reasonable cost, too. — Aaron Portzline

Record: 31-14-6
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The Stars know they have a void on the blue line that needs to be addressed to give them a more practical chance at a deep playoff run. They’re forced to balance that reality with the fact that they love their top prospects and envision them as affordable talents with high ceilings. If other teams hold bidding wars, the Stars will only be willing to go so high for expiring veteran contracts. — Saad Yousuf

Record: 26-18-6
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: In reality, it all depends on how this month goes for the Red Wings. Standing pat may be the most likely outcome for that reason. But if they continue to play as they did in January (or even close), they should at least be able to avoid selling by staying in playoff position. If Detroit is going to do something, though, a depth forward could make some sense, especially if it’s not a pure rental. This Red Wings team has surpassed expectations, but Steve Yzerman has the unenviable task of deciding how much to reward that success while not getting swept up in it. — Max Bultman

Record: 29-16-1
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive buyer

Analysis: Let’s start with the caveats that cap space is limited, there are few tradeable contracts to increase financial flexibility and the prospect pipeline is weak. But there’s no question that the Oilers, as a clear Stanley Cup contender, will attempt to add a piece or two. A middle-six winger, a depth center and a defenseman are areas that could be addressed. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman

Record: 32-15-4
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The Panthers are one of the East’s best teams, and you can expect them to behave as such. There are no glaring needs, nor does taking on long-term money make sense, given Sam Reinhart’s pending-unrestricted-free-agent status, but general manager Bill Zito has a history of adding at the deadline. He has approximately $1.2 million in projected cap space. Adding a cheap, playable forward makes sense, but anything splashier is likely out of the question. — Sean Gentille

Record: 23-15-10
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The focus is now squarely on general manager Rob Blake after he fired coach Todd McLellan, so he may look to fortify the roster for interim coach Jim Hiller and boost the Kings’ playoff chances in this make-or-break season. The problem is, Blake has no salary cap room to speak of, especially when he’s ready to activate winger Viktor Arvidsson and his $4.25 million cap hit from long-term injury reserve. Arvidsson will likely be a big in-house acquisition, and he looked good skating with them for the first time on Thursday following months of recovery from his second back surgery in less than 18 months. But because of the cap issues, it’s more likely that Blake sticks with internal solutions while hoping the team responds under Hiller. — Eric Stephens

Record: 22-23-5
Playoff tier: Bubble at best
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: This just doesn’t seem to be the Wild’s year. General manager Bill Guerin has to know that by now. They’ve been inundated by injuries, and every time they have a chance to gain traction, they get a flat tire. A lottery pick could be just what the doctor ordered. There is no chance that Guerin attempts to make a trade to save the season. Instead, there could be possible trade chips the other way, like Brandon Duhaime, Zach Bogosian and, if another team feels he could help after he recovers from recent back surgery, Pat Maroon. The most intrigue revolves around Marc-Andre Fleury, who has made the playoffs in 17 consecutive seasons. Guerin will do whatever Fleury wants. If he wants to go to a contender, and an interested one whets Fleury’s appetite, Guerin would show that respect. A lot will have to do with location and role, because it’ll be a pain for Fleury to leave his family. And if it’s a true contender, he could be away from them for three months. — Michael Russo

Record: 21-21-8
Playoff tier: Not happening
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive seller

Analysis: The Canadiens have already pulled off their big sell, picking up the Jets’ first-round pick in 2024 for Sean Monahan last week, but they will surely try to move out another body or two. Goaltender Jake Allen has been on the market a long time, but with another year left on his contract at $3.85 million, he is not a rental and therefore a trade is more complicated. David Savard, with a year left on his contract at $3.5 million, is another player who could move if the price is right, and with rugged, playoff-style defensemen in high demand, it is possible the Canadiens could get that price. The Canadiens are not desperate to move either, but they remain very much open for business. — Arpon Basu

Record: 26-23-2
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: It’s hard to answer on the Preds at this moment, because I think the next stretch of hockey could push general manager Barry Trotz definitively in either direction. But I went with cautious seller because I believe the potential of trading goalie Juuse Saros by the deadline has increased. He’s had a down year — which can’t help the Preds’ leverage — and prospect Yaroslav Askarov is showing nothing but giant potential. Will a contender grab Trotz’s attention with an offer for Saros? It will have to be significant. — Joe Rexrode


Juuse Saros may be available at the deadline, even if the Predators are pushing for the playoffs. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Record: 25-21-3
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The next few weeks will likely have a big say in how New Jersey approaches the trade deadline. If the Devils string some wins together, they could hop into playoff position. If they go on a skid, they’ll likely be out of the running. Given injuries (Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler) and other unavailable players, there are holes on the roster. The team has also dealt with inconsistency in net. It likely doesn’t make sense for general manager Tom Fitzgerald to trade important future pieces unless he is acquiring someone with term, but cheaper rentals could make sense if the team is pushing for the playoffs. — Peter Baugh

Record: 22-17-12
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: Lou Lamoriello clearly believes his team can make the playoffs — he likely wouldn’t have fired Lane Lambert and hired Patrick Roy if he didn’t — and he’s always on the lookout for ways to improve the roster. That doesn’t mean he can. The Islanders have some immovable contracts, all signed by Lamoriello, and injuries earlier in the year have left a glut of extra players around. If there’s a place to upgrade, it’s at forward, where the Isles could probably use one more middle-six player with skill. — Arthur Staple

Record: 32-16-3
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive buyer

Analysis: The Rangers now have clarity on Filip Chytl, who will miss the rest of the season to injury. That gives general manager Chris Drury $4.4375 million of additional cap space with which to work. Even after a difficult January, New York is a team with high aspirations for the postseason. For the Rangers to maximize their potential, they’ll likely need to add at forward. A top-six wing, middle-six center or both would make sense for the club. — Peter Baugh

Record: 20-25-2
Playoff tier: Not happening
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive seller

Analysis: I suppose there is a world in which the Senators make a push for a veteran like Chris Tanev and are technically labeled a “buyer” at the deadline. But if we’re being honest, Ottawa is the last-place team in its division and fits the criteria of an aggressive seller. And their most intriguing asset to move is pending unrestricted free agent Vladimir Tarasenko. As Pierre LeBrun reported this week, Tarasenko just switched agents again, moving over to be represented by Craig Oster. It’s hard to gauge exactly what that means, but a move to a contender seems like a mutually beneficial scenario for both the player and the team. Tarasenko netted the Blues an excellent haul near last year’s deadline — including a first-round pick from the Rangers. It’s hard to imagine the Senators fetching the same return, but they should be able to recoup some nice value for the veteran winger, who is an established postseason performer, with 44 goals in 97 career playoff games. — Ian Mendes

Record: 27-19-6
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: John Tortorella reminded everyone earlier this week that the Flyers are still looking to acquire assets before the deadline. “If it’s the proper asset that’s coming back … there will be no hesitation,” he said. Sean Walker and Scott Laughton are now at the top of the list of players who could be on the move, particularly if general manager Danny Briere can get a first-round pick in return. That said, there’s no question the organization is hoping to qualify for the playoffs. Might there be a situation in which they try to acquire a depth piece for a modest price to help them reach that goal, while also selling off some of the others? — Kevin Kurz

Record: 23-17-7
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: Sidney Crosby is performing at an elite level, and the Eastern Conference stinks. As a result, general manager Kyle Dubas may roll the dice and attempt to give his Penguins a boost with the hopes of making a Cinderella run against a mediocre conference. Of course, a five-game skid would likely reverse Dubas’ plan in a hurry. It’s all in the Penguins’ hands. — Josh Yohe

Record: 14-32-5
Playoff tier: Not happening
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive seller

Analysis: This isn’t an advocacy for Sharks general manager Mike Grier to trade away everything that isn’t nailed down, but he should be aggressive with seeking out potential trade partners for the players he can move that have the best value. Would this be a time to deal Kaapo Kähkönen, who might be the best trade asset among any of his pending unrestricted free agents? Anthony Duclair is having a down season, but his speed and finishing ability can still be useful for a club seeking depth scoring up front. Might Grier look beyond those with expiring contracts and consider dealing someone with term, like Mario Ferraro? Some of his movables have seen their value depressed, but Grier still has deadline options he should eagerly investigate. — Eric Stephens

Record: 21-19-10
Playoff tier: 50-50
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The next month will determine general manager Ron Francis and the Kraken’s ultimate path forward. The eighth-place spot in the West is up for grabs. The Kraken are one of six striver-class teams — along with Nashville, Calgary, St. Louis, Arizona and Minnesota — with a legitimate shot at winning it. And I think the Kraken have the most complete roster among that group. If they get hot over the next month, a second consecutive playoff berth is in reach. If they fade, they’ll have to seriously consider their options with some key unrestricted free agents — Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz among them. Expect the Kraken to lean toward buyer ahead of March 8. An upstart NHL team in a new hockey market has to heavily weigh maintaining the sort of momentum that more playoff games this spring would infuse in their crowded sports marketplace. — Thomas Drance

St. Louis Blues

Record: 26-21-2
Playoff tier: Bubble at best
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: The Blues returned from the break in a wild-card position in the Western Conference, which may have general manager Doug Armstrong holding onto his pending unrestricted free agents at the trade deadline. This year isn’t like 2022-23, when the Blues had prized assets Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, who fetched first-round picks. This year, fringe players such as Kasperi Kapanen, Marco Scandella and Oskar Sundqvist are perhaps the only ones in the offing. But if they can only yield a mid-round pick, Armstrong may be more inclined to stay status quo. — Jeremy Rutherford


The way the Blues have been going, they may decide to hang onto their pending UFAs. (Rick Ulreich / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Record: 27-20-5
Playoff tier: Looks like a decent bet
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: The Mikhail Sergachev injury is a blow to the Lightning’s playoff chances, but management also potentially now has more cap space to elevate its blue line. That could put Tampa Bay in the “aggressive buyer” category, in theory. The problem is that this team has depleted its prospect pool and draft capital so much that it may not be able to go all out, even with the cap space. Already, the Lightning are without 2024 picks in rounds 1, 2 and 4. And their 2025 first-rounder also was traded. So while the team should poised to be aggressive, it probably has to sit somewhere in between that and cautious, due to limited trade assets. — Shayna Goldman

Record: 26-15-8
Playoff tier: Looks like a decent bet
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive buyer

Analysis: This is a subject of real debate in Toronto, whether the Leafs should be buyers at all at the deadline. And if they are buyers, should they be aggressive buyers or cautious buyers? I think they have to be aggressive in trying to improve a team that’s supposed to be contending for the Stanley Cup. If anything, there should be even more imperative for a team with those aspirations, but those flaws as well, to try to improve. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly are in their primes. Other parts of the roster are aging. The time is now! It’s been 57 years since the Leafs won a Cup — 57 years since they even went to a Stanley Cup Final. The thought of just punting on this season seems ridiculous to me. — Jonas Siegel

Record: 34-12-5
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive buyer

Analysis: They’ve already bought aggressively, adding Elias Lindholm for a top prospect, a first-round pick and two other assets. It won’t be a surprise, given that the Lindholm deal actually cleared short- and long-term cap space, to see the club continue to explore other avenues to improve its forward and blue-line depth ahead of March 8. — Thomas Drance

Record: 31-15-6
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Aggressive buyer

Analysis: Vegas has won seven of its past nine to pull within five points of the division-leading Canucks. Another playoff appearance looks like a lock for the Golden Knights, and they should be looking to add at the deadline. Without a glaring weakness, the most likely position to upgrade is probably on the wing. Vegas is deep at center and on defense, and Adin Hill has been great in net. A middle-six winger with offensive upside would be ideal. — Jesse Granger

Record: 22-20-7
Playoff tier: True long shot
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious seller

Analysis: The Capitals, sixth in the Eastern Conference wild-card standings despite a minus-36 goal differential, continue to hang around, but it’s impossible to take them seriously as an actual contender. They’re short on desirable pending unrestricted free agents, but it’s easy to imagine them moving defenseman Joel Edmundson. Max Pacioretty, Anthony Mantha and Nicolas Aube-Kubel could factor in there, as well. Nic Dowd, a 33-year-old center with one year left at $1.3 million, can also knock in some goals on a fourth line. — Sean Gentille

Record: 30-14-5
Playoff tier: It’s a lock
Trade deadline buyer or seller? Cautious buyer

Analysis: Winnipeg pushed some of its chips into play by sending a first-round pick (and a conditional third-round pick) to Montreal for Sean Monahan, who appears to meet the Jets’ biggest needs up front. Pierre LeBrun also reported that Winnipeg was in on Lindholm prior to the Monahan trade. This is clearly a team ready to make a push in 2024. At this stage, I’m expecting the Jets to focus on their defense, with playoff-tested veteran experience being the name of the game. Whether that means an established top-four defenseman like Chris Tanev or something closer to the edge of the roster, I’m not yet sure. — Murat Ates

Tiers at a glance

Eastern ConferencePlayoff tierBuyer/Seller

It’s a lock

Aggressive buyer

It’s a lock

Cautious buyer

It’s a lock

Cautious buyer

It’s a lock

Cautious buyer

Looks like a decent bet

Aggressive buyer

Looks like a decent bet

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious seller

True long shot

Cautious seller

True long shot

Cautious seller

Not happening

Aggressive seller

Not happening

Aggressive seller

Not happening

Aggressive seller

Western ConferencePlayoff TierBuyer/Seller

It’s a lock

Aggressive buyer

It’s a lock

Aggressive buyer

It’s a lock

Aggressive buyer

It’s a lock

Aggressive buyer

It’s a lock

Cautious buyer

It’s a lock

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious buyer

50-50

Cautious seller

Bubble at best

Cautious seller

Bubble at best

Cautious seller

Bubble at best

Cautious seller

Bubble at best

Cautious seller

Not happening

Cautious seller

Not happening

Aggressive seller

Not happening

Aggressive seller

(Top photos of Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm hugging, and Alexander Holtz skating away after a Flames goal: Lawrence Scott and Sarah Stier / Getty Images)