Arctic puffins performing a traditional mating dance.

Arctic puffins performing a traditional mating dance.

 Puffin fancier

The NHL’s trade deadline is less than a week away now, and things have been… quiet.

With a flat cap, COVID protocols, and an impending expansion draft bringing extra weight to every decision in this shortened season, the idea of buying or selling isn’t as cut-and-dry as it was in years past.

“One thing that I’ve heard from a couple people I speak with is that there’s kind of an industry bet, I think, that’s running right now that prices are gonna drop as we get closer to the 12th — that there aren’t really as many buyers as there might be in a normal year,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said on Monday’s episode of 31 Thoughts: The Podcast.

“I’ve heard a few GMs or assistant GMs posit that one of the reasons we haven’t seen much action is, teams have established a certain price and there’s a sort of calculated bet going around the industry that those prices are going to have to drop as we get closer to the deadline itself.”

So, as we wait for this week’s first big domino to fall, here’s a roundup of trade thoughts and things to watch — with a massive stick-tap to Johnston, Elliotte Friedman, and Jeff Marek from Monday’s podcast episode for fuelling many of these ideas explored — in the coming days.

Note: As the Vancouver Canucks continue to deal with a serious COVID-19 outbreak, the main focus there is on the health of players, staff, and their families and community. We’ve put a pause on any trade thoughts there as the team, league, and all involved navigate the difficult situation.

Devils side line Palmieri in case of possible trade

Few things feel certain right now, but Kyle Palmieri being dealt by the New Jersey Devils feels like a sure thing.

The Devils held him out of Sunday’s game against Washington for “precautionary reasons,” with his agent then confirming that it’s in anticipation of trading him.

Palmieri, 30, has been linked to the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders. Both make sense, with Boston needed depth scoring and Lou Lamoriello’s Islanders looking for an offensive boost from a known quantity like Palmieri.

Panthers, Islanders look like teams to watch

When we talk about this deadline having the potential to be a little more reserved than others, we’re not talking about the Florida Panthers or the Islanders.

They’ve both got bold GMs and cap flexibility, have outplayed expectations and sit at or near the top of the Central and East, and are now in rally mode following the losses of their respective captains in Aaron Ekblad and Anders Lee. That’s a recipe for some deadline moves.

Even before the incredibly unfortunate loss of Ekblad, the Panthers were rumoured to be shopping for a defenceman. The Islanders are deep at defence, but could use a boost on offence.

All signs point to Bill Zito and Lou Lamoriello going shopping this week.

Trading Hall ‘not as open-and-shut’ as we might think

Taylor Hall is very much on the trade block, but his pricey cap hit could stand in the way of him actually being dealt. There’s also the matter of whether Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams will stick to a high asking price or simply get what return he can for a player who’s walking away anyway.

Johnston believes there could be some challenges with trading him by Monday:

“That’s one that has my attention. I’m not sure which way it’s going to go yet. I do think there’s the potential circumstance where he’s not moved, just because some of the cap issues, other teams maybe not being able to talk extension with him. I think that there’s a lot of moving parts to that one, even though he is a rental player,” said Johnston.

“I think with the unique sort of COVID season we’re having and some of the financial issues, that he’s not as open-and-shut. That’s a story that will really take on some life here in the coming days.”

It’s possible he’s already played his last game for the Sabres:

Avalanche, Capitals should be shopping for a goalie

From pre-season to their current position atop the West Division, the Colorado Avalanche have looked like real-deal Stanley Cup contenders and are expected to approach the trade deadline accordingly — as buyers.

Adding a defender makes sense for them, but the bigger priority here should be in net. Starter Philipp Grubauer has been playing at an otherworldly level this year (23-7-1, 1.76 GAA, .929 SV%, 5 SO) but Colorado learned the hard way last post-season what happens when the injury bug strikes in the blue paint.

“You’ve got to wonder about the goaltending, just in case,” said Johnston. “I know everything’s going right for them right now, probably the favourite right now to win the Stanley Cup. But you wonder if what happened to them last year in the playoffs, if it entices them to go add another goaltender.”

With backup Pavel Francouz currently side lined and no word on when he’ll be back, an unproven Jonas Johansson is backing up Grubauer. Bringing in a more experienced backup would surely go long way.

Johnston believes the Capitals will also look to bring in help in net. The Capitals’ crease has seen an unexpected hero emerge in rookie Vitek Vanecek, who stepped in after second-year goalie Ilya Samsonov spent significant time on the COVID-19 list. With Samsonov posting wins but struggling with consistency since his return, it would be wise for Washington to complement what is otherwise a very complete club with another helper in net.

So, who could these clubs — and other teams seeking goalies (TBD if the Maple Leafs are one of ’em) — try to trade for? One top rental netminder on the market is Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark, while the Columbus Blue Jackets could move one of their two goalies in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Carolina’s got three pending free agents in their net and GM Don Waddell has suggested he could sell one for a little depth elsewhere in the line up.

Don’t expect Golden Knights to be busy

“Neutral” is not a word we tend to associate with Vegas, but it could apply to this Golden Knights team’s approach to the trade deadline. Currently sitting second in the West, it would make a ton of sense for them to make a deadline deal to put them over the top… if only they could afford it.

The Golden Knights have spent right up to the cap, making it almost impossible for them to take a big swing — or any swing — at a trade without busting up its current winning core. So strapped is their cap situation that they’ve had to ice shortened line ups in recent weeks when some players aren’t available, as they weren’t able to call up replacements and stay below the cap.

Is Foligno available?

The Columbus Blue Jackets have fallen to seventh in the Central Division and are barrelling towards some big decisions — the biggest of which is about their captain, Nick Foligno. The 33-year-old is the heart-and-soul leader of this club and a guy who clearly loves playing for the Blue Jackets. But he’s also a pending unrestricted free agent who would be coveted by contenders should he be available.

“It’s gonna be up to him, I think,” Johnston said on the podcast. “It strikes me as the sort of circumstance where the player’s been there long enough, they have that kind of relationship where if he’s willing or wants to go elsewhere…”

Johnston also pointed to the possibility of Foligno being traded and then circling back and re-joining the Blue Jackets in free agency if willing.

David Savard, Michael Del Zotto, perhaps Riley Nash, and one of the netminders feel more clear-cut in terms of their availability for the right price, considering Columbus’s need to retool.

“Foligno’s different,” said Johnston. “That’s almost a sort of spiritual one as much as an asset we’re talking about, so I’m not sure how that’ll fall.”

According to The Athletic‘s Aaron Portzline, interested team could include Toronto, Colorado and the Islanders. But, he noted Sunday, GM Jarmo Kekalainen “hasn’t yet engaged in Foligno talks.”

Savard to… Tampa?

“To me, they’re my stealth team on David Savard,” Friedman said of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday’s podcast. “It’s not easy, they’re going to have to move some stuff around, but I think they think they can win it again — and they should think that — and I think they go after someone like that.”

The Lightning dipped into their defensive depth last year, which included guys like Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn, to get through an incredibly demanding post-season, so it would make sense for them to try to stock up at the position once again.

The defence market isn’t particularly deep this year, which could result in a bit of a bidding war now that Savard might just be the belle of the ball on the blue line…

Looks like Ekholm’s off the board

In the span of just a few weeks, Nashville Predators defenceman Mattias Ekholm went from being considered the top trade target across the board to being off the board altogether thanks to a win streak that’s got the Preds back in playoff position and rethinking their course of action at the deadline.

With his team now looking like they’ve got a great chance at a ticket to the dance, it appears that general manager David Poile isn’t exactly a motivated seller, particularly when it comes to players with term like Ekholm and Ryan Ellis (whose name has also recently been floated).

So, what of Nashville’s more conventional rentals, like Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula? Both forwards were late-off-season signings on one-year deals, so while Poile could flip them for an pick or two without drastically altering his line up, he also wouldn’t really be losing much by keeping them in the fold and letting them walk in free agency considering the nature of their one-year deals.

Beware the teams on the brink

Of course, Nashville isn’t the only team in that mid-division spot deciding whether to complete or recede. That indecision, along with the tight cap, is no doubt contributing to this slow market so far.

GM Stan Bowman of the fifth-place Chicago Blackhawks are just two points behind Nashville and three ahead of the rallying Dallas Stars, but he’s been on record saying he’s not looking to add.

Over in the West, two more interesting cases in fourth and fifth, respectively: Arizona and St. Louis. Of the two Armstrongs at the helm, it’s the one in the desert who we’ll dig into here. Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong is in his first year on the job and in dire need of assets, making the Coyotes a strong candidate to sell despite currently sitting in a playoff spot. Veteran defencemen Alex Goligoski and Niklas Hjalmarsson (should he return from IR) could be options to move, too, for teams looking for defensive depth.

In the East, it’s the fourth-place Boston Bruins and fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers who have some big decisions on their hands. They’ve also got some massive games coming up: The Flyers just topped the Bruins in overtime Monday night, and the foes go head-to-head again Tuesday night followed by another matchup on Saturday with that fourth-place berth on the line. While Boston’s motive this year feels a little clearer — win with this core, and complement them with a depth scorer — Philly’s rough patch has them looking like a deadline mystery.

Is Scott Laughton available?

Let’s explore the Flyers a little bit more.

Forward Scott Laughton, a pending UFA who brings depth scoring and sandpaper to the line up, is exactly the type of player contenders look to add… but is he available? We could know as soon as Tuesday night — a loss to the Bruins could perhaps prompt the Flyers to admit they’re ready to sell.

The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t hidden the fact they’re looking at the possibility of adding a centreman, with team president Brian Burke telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently that “when two of your top four centres go down, you start looking around. And, I’m a big fat piece of shit.”

Friedman suggested a familiar foe could be an excellent fit for the Penguins — that’s Laughton. While it’s unclear whether he’ll be made available by the Flyers, and if the club will try to re-sign the pending UFA, it feels like he’d fetch a decent return if dealt.

Laughton, 26, has a $2.3-million cap hit.