Hutch's Hockey: Declaration of Intent

Hutch's Hockey: Declaration of Intent

An already-hectic NHL trading window was even busier in the last week, with a handful of trades that could have an impact on the remainder of the season. With the deadline looming this Friday, teams are signaling whether they think they can make a playoff push or if they're out altogether. 

Fantasy managers are in a similar position. Especially for those in keeper leagues, you should know by now if this is your year or if you're turning your focus to next season. I had to make the tough decision to run up the white flag on a couple of my teams' campaigns. Another one is right on the playoff bubble -- as much as I'd like to trade a couple of key pieces right now, it's too good of a roster to not see it through to the finish. 

Let's take a look at what's gone down in the NHL last week. All analysis in this article regards trades completed by the end of Sunday night -- everything from Monday to Friday will go in next week's piece. 

There were two big deals last week, the first being a three-team trade that was headlined by Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway going from the Capitals to the Bruins with the Wild retaining salary. Hathaway's role won't change a bit -- he's a wrecking ball on the fourth line, though he could see a little more point production on this deep Bruins roster. Orlov gets a slight knock to his value in the move. He's probably the Bruins' fourth defenseman, but they appear to want to keep Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo together, meaning Orlov ends up on the third pairing. 

Going the other way was Craig Smith, who had 10 points in 42 contests in Boston. He'll continue to be more of a bottom-six type of winger with the Capitals. This trade on both sides makes my point from the intro -- the Bruins are the best team in the league and loading up for a big run, especially since they don't know how long their aging core will remain competitive. The Capitals are on the record as not rebuilding as long as Alex Ovechkin is around, but their moves suggest they don't think they can make up ground in the wild-card race. 

The Timo Meier sweepstakes came to a close Sunday, with the Devils landing him after some prolonged negotiations. It was a whopper of a deal, with nine players and four draft picks included. Meier's the key piece here, and there's only four or five current NHL-level players involved, depending on who you ask. If you're still hanging onto Tomas Tatar or Yegor Sharangovich, you can probably cut bait now -- Meier bumps them both down the depth chart. Likewise, in San Jose, Evgeny Svechnikov and Noah Gregor take on a new interest with a potential top-six spot alongside Tomas Hertl up for grabs. 

Also in this mega-deal, Scott Harrington heads east. As far as I can tell, the Devils like their defensemen pretty well, even with the odd scratch of Damon Severson here and there. Harrington's nothing more than a third-pairing guy in New Jersey after getting the Erik Karlsson exposure for the last couple of weeks. 

In San Jose, Fabian Zetterlund should get his chance to show off. He'll be in the mix for a top-six role and power-play time, as the Sharks' wing depth is kind of pitiful outside of the occasionally useful Alexander Barabanov. Andreas Johnsson is also heading west in the deal, but it's unclear if he'll be able to recapture his 35-point form from 2021-22. On the fringe is Nikita Okhotyuk, who should at least get a look at some point on what's quickly becoming a thin defense corps for the Sharks. The defenseman has three points and 47 hits in 15 career NHL games, so deep-league managers should at least take a look at his usage if he's with the big club. 

Sunday also brought around a couple of interesting one-for-one deals. The Blues sent Ivan Barbashev to the Golden Knights for Zach Dean. Barbashev was clearly out the door in St. Louis, but he's a useful middle-six piece for Vegas after posting 29 points and 132 hits in 59 games this season. This may just be a rental for the Golden Knights, but it gives them a bit more grit and another source of secondary scoring. Dean is still in junior hockey -- he has 49 points in 38 games with Gatineau of the QMJHL. He's a first-round pick from 2021, so the Blues will hope he develops well and can help them in three or four years. 

The Stars ended the Denis Gurianov experiment Sunday, shipping him to the Canadiens for Evgenii Dadonov. Gurianov's reached the 30-point mark twice in his career, but just two goals and seven assists through 43 games this season wasn't good enough for a potential contender. He'll get a fresh start in Montreal -- Kirby Dach can tell you how valuable that is. While the Canadiens' team success is lacking, they've done well on reclamation projects lately. Where Dadonov fits for the Stars is a question, but he could be a solid addition to their second power-play unit and middle six. He has just 18 points in 50 contests, and this will be his fifth team in the last four seasons. A small bump in offense is a reasonable expectation, but I don't think he's going to be a game-changer worthy of a large investment from the fantasy community. 

There was a lot of divided opinions in the discourse around Nino Niederreiter being sent from the Predators to the Jets for a 2024 second-round pick. I actually thought that was a perfectly reasonable price for a physical winger on a 40-point pace. Niederreiter will add a little punch to a relatively tame top six for the Jets. He's a better winger option on the second power-play unit than Mason Appleton, and Niederreiter could also see time alongside Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois. I think El Nino's worth a look if he's available in your fantasy league -- this has the potential to be a move that pays off if the adjustment period doesn't last too long. It's not a move that massively changes the Jets' course, but it should stabilize their roster. 

A little less divided was the talk around the Lightning giving up five (!) draft picks and Cal Foote to acquire Tanner Jeannot. Those picks are spread over three years, but this feels like a move for the Lightning to keep prying their window open before the Bruins try to slam it on their fingers. Jeannot has the makings of a fantasy unicorn, if he can recover his 2021-22 play with his new team. He's at 14 points, 213 hits and 85 PIM in 56 contests as an old-school, bruising winger this season. Given the Lightning's reputation for turning gritty middle-six forwards into playoff heroes, I'll be keeping an eye on this situation. As for Foote, consistent playing time is the key here. He's got the potential to be far better than Kevin Gravel and Jeremy Lauzon, but he doesn't have the excessive physicality the Predators tend to cherish on their blue line. Foote also has just 15 points over 117 career appearances, and moving out of the Lightning's offense doesn't move that needle in the right direction. 

Finally, a few quick hits on smaller trades this week. Vitali Kravtsov for William Lockwood is essentially a minor-league trade at this point. Similar to Aatu Raty's move from the Islanders to the Canucks, I think Kravtsov will get a middle-six audition in Vancouver. He's still a winger with just 10 points through 48 career games and no physicality. The Canucks have done well with Andrei Kuzmenko this year, but their handling of Vasily Podkolzin has been questionable, though it seems the team is comfortable with developing Russian wingers. It's on Kravtsov to show he belongs in the lineup over someone like Jack Studnicka or Sheldon Dries. Lockwood, meanwhile, can expect to finish the season at AHL Hartford. 

Nikita Zaitsev to the Blackhawks is a straight salary dump. It's a move that makes sense on both sides -- the Senators free up salary, and the Blackhawks have a veteran presence on their blue line as they enter the thick of a rebuild. Zaitsev won't make a huge impact, but he can eat minutes and chip in around a 15-point pace. By the time his contract's over, the Blackhawks' defense prospects should be ready to fill in. 

Jack Johnson returning to the Avalanche doesn't change much. It's been years since Johnson put up passable numbers for fantasy -- his four assists and a minus-25 rating through 58 contests with the Blackhawks this year are low marks. Andreas Englund likewise won't get much of a bump going the other way. He had three assists in 36 contests this season, his first at the NHL level since 2019-20. He's a more physical player, but not much more than a bottom-four option for the Blackhawks. 

To think all of that happened roughly a week before the deadline is a little wild. The general advice for fantasy in these situations is not to target the players that switched teams, but to target the valuable roles that open up in their absence. There will be a new top-six forward in San Jose, a new power-play option in Montreal, a middle-six guy in Nashville. These aren't massive upgrades, but it could allow a previously unheralded player to flourish with more minutes. 

With these changes, there are risks. If you're tight in a playoff battle right now, you want someone who can help you, not someone who might help you. I'll keep this section short for the upcoming week -- there's still a lot of movement yet to happen, and all those shifting pieces are more likely to make this a small set of dart throws than a group of savvy depth additions for your roster. 

There's no telling if Max Domi will stay with the Blackhawks beyond Friday, but fantasy managers shouldn't be too worried either way. He extended his point streak to six games versus the Sharks on Saturday. I can't tell if this is growth in his game or a product of playing alongside a resurgent Patrick Kane recently, but Domi is once again a must-have in fantasy, especially in formats where he carries both center and wing eligibility. 

Erik Gustafsson dropped off my radar for a bit, but he's got my attention again with nine assists, including five on the power play, over his last nine games. The key here is that Gustafsson is essentially the Capitals' top defenseman until John Carlson (face) returns. There's no concrete timeline for that, so Gustafsson is safe to roster into March and could even close out the year as a valuable fantasy option. 

I'm not sure why Viktor Arvidsson is on the waiver wire in 72 percent of Yahoo! formats, but I'm not complaining. I made a late addition in a same-day moves format Sunday and he saved my bacon with a power-play goal. He's tallied five times with two assists over his last seven contests, and four of those points have been with the Kings a man up. I don't always trust this team's offense as a whole, but the second line of Arvidsson, Phillip Danault and now Kevin Fiala (Trevor Moore is sidelined by an upper-body injury) is an enticing trio. Arvidsson's got enough of a track record that he's not really a gamble, as long as he stays healthy. 

Like I said up top, I think the Capitals have signaled that this isn't their year. However, it's important to remember that players don't quit. T.J. Oshie is a shining example of that with five goals and four helpers over his last seven games. It hasn't led to a ton of success for his team, but the 36-year-old is showing flashes of his former glory. A first power-play unit role and growing minutes at even strength of late make Oshie a solid addition, though he carries the same injury-risk caveat as Arvidsson. 

It's fair to say Seth Jarvis has hit the sophomore slump in 2022-23. He kicked the walls down with 40 points in 68 outings last season, but he's at 31 points through 58 contests this year. The good news is he's finally turning things around with five goals, two assists, a plus-8 rating and 19 shots on net over his last five games. He's enjoyed steady top-six minutes all season despite the step back on offense, but now he's clicking again with elite talent on a line with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov

If you're in a deep format, Jake McCabe is a defenseman to take a look at. Yes, he's currently a Blackhawk, but he's defied the team's defensive woes with a plus-7 rating for the season. He's also got 20 points through 55 contests, making this just the time that he's reached the mark. It could very well end up as a career year for the 29-year-old, and he's added 122 hits and 115 blocked shots. The offense could go away at any moment, but physicality translates to any team, so he's a safe bet if you need help in those areas. 

In goal, Joonas Korpisalo simply won't back down. He's won three of his last four outings, including a chaotic 6-5 victory over the Oilers on Saturday. Even with the shaky showing, he's allowed just nine goals in that four-game span, and the one loss in there was when his teammates gave him no help. His .911 save percentage for the season is solid given that the Blue Jackets are in contention for the No. 1 overall pick. It's also tied for his best mark in his last seven seasons. There is a regression risk, but Korpisalo has earned a No. 1 role, and the playing time is valuable on its own. 

By the end of this week, we'll be through the storm of the trade deadline and into calmer waters. If you still have time to make trades, be like NHL teams -- signal your intent. There's not much time to haggle on picks and players right now. Offer what you can afford, budge a bit if you need to and be prepared to walk away if the deal doesn't feel right. At this point in the season, time isn't on your side. 

Next Monday, I'll break down all the rest of the NHL-level trades before turning my attention to the stretch run. May your teams not have too many players sitting out for roster management this week, and we'll see where the chaos takes us heading into March. 

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Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. He serves as a beat writer for the Calgary Flames and contributes in hockey and baseball. Shawn also enjoys soccer, rooting on his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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