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Five weeks before the NHL’s March 21 trade deadline, the Montreal Canadiens kicked off the festivities Monday by dealing winger Tyler Toffoli to Calgary for a (top-10 protected) first-round draft pick, a fifth-rounder, prospect Emil Heineman, and forward Tyler Pitlick. 

The trade sets the market for the type of asset Toffoli is – a young-ish veteran (29 years old) and proven point-getter with a high-value contract (two years remaining after this season, at $4.25 million per season).

It’s not a certainty that all teams will wait until the final hours before the deadline to consummate swaps; indeed, veteran GMs like Vancouver president Jim Rutherford have preferred to make their moves well in advance of the cutoff date, and teams that don’t want to enter into bidding wars will put pressure on seller teams to get something done sooner than later. And now, with the bar being set on expectations for talent, it’s going to be easier to make a transaction right away.

With that said, which teams are going to be sellers, and who is likely to be on the move? 

Here’s an educated guess at seven teams who’ll be big-time movers-and-shakers by or before the deadline:

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have been an abject disaster this year, and GM Chuck Fletcher is under fire to make the best of an awful situation by moving captain Claude Giroux and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Both veterans will be unrestricted free agents at season’s end, and both have the experience to land the Flyers a first-round pick, above-average prospect, and perhaps, an NHL fringe player who may thrive when given more ice time in Philly. 

Veteran forward Derick Brassard, another soon-to-be-UFA, could be a depth pickup that brings Fletcher a smaller bounty in return. If the deadline passes and Fletcher hasn’t moved Giroux and Ristolainen, a GM change should also be in the offing for the Flyers. 

But that probably won’t happen, as Fletcher has no justification for keeping this team together for the rest of the year. 

Arizona Coyotes

Just about everyone on the Coyotes is available, including star defenseman Jakub Chychrun, veteran blueliner Anton Stralman, and forward Phil Kesel. 

A whopping eight current Coyotes forwards will be UFAs this summer, and Arizona GM Bill Armstrong has a little less than $7 million in salary-cap space to use to acquire more draft picks and prospects. 

The biggest haul will come in exchange for Chychrun, who has three seasons left after this one, at $4.6 million per year. But Stralman would be a nice consolation prize for a team that tries and fails to land Seattle defenseman Mark Giordano, and Kessel can be a solid depth acquisition who won’t get you as much as Toffoli netted for Montreal. 

Next season is going to be similarly painful for the Yotes, so bringing in long-term help is the priority for them.

Vancouver Canucks

Yes, the Canucks have looked significantly better than they did before firing GM Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green, but their playoff aspirations remain far-fetched, and new GM Patrik Allvin knows the Canucks have many holes to fill before being considered a true Stanley Cup contender. 

Veteran forwards J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser each would net quality prospects and draft picks, especially when considering all are either signed through next season or are under team control as a restricted free agent. 

Also, winger Tyler Motte (a UFA this summer) would be an excellent depth acquisition, and teams searching for an experienced backup goalie wouldn’t have to pay much to acquire Canucks’ No. 2 netminder Jaroslav Halak. 

Vancouver’s debacle of an early regular season hasn’t been forgotten, and changes to their core of foundational talent remain necessary. Allvin has his work cut out for him, but he at least has talent other teams will pay dearly for.

Chicago Blackhawks

Many buyers at the deadline will be seeking help on defense and in goal, and the Blackhawks have two veterans who will be in high demand: star netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, and blueliner Calvin de Haan, both of whom will be UFAs at season’s end. 

Fleury has a 10-team no-trade list, but de Haan doesn’t have any protection restricting his value. Both players would bring the Hawks some picks and prospects. 

And don’t fool yourself into thinking Chicago would entertain offers for stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They’re both UFAs in the summer of 2023, but they’re not going anywhere, and likely will sign at a reduced rate to remain Blackhawks before the market on them even opens up. 

A team like the Capitals may push to the front of the line for Fleury, while a Cup contender like the Maple Leafs could show much interest in de Haan as a pure rental. 

In any case, standing pat is not an ideal option for Chicago. They’ve underwhelmed greatly this season, and roster change is coming because of it.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Prior to this season, the Blue Jackets weren’t seen as playoff contenders, and their play in the first half of the year has confirmed their rebuild will take at least the rest of this season and next year before they turn a corner to become true competitors in the Metropolitan Division. 

Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen has some valuable assets in pending UFAs Max Domi and Joonas Korpisalo, and he might be persuaded into surrendering bigger names if the price is right for their services. 

For now, at least, they can count on adding prospects, and perhaps some NHL-caliber talent if they choose to utilize their $10.6 million in available cap space to help facilitate deals primarily involving other teams.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs aren’t done dealing after moving Toffoli. Not even close. 

Defensemen Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry are likely to be shipped out, with Chiarot probably landing Montreal at least a first-round pick and prospect in return. Petry is a different story, as he hasn’t been playing well of late and still has three years left on his contract after this season at a not-inconsequential $6.25 million per year. 

Would a team like the Dallas Stars (and more on them below) take a chance on him if Montreal assumed $1-2-million of his salary as an older replacement for the likely-to-be-moved John Klingberg? 

Stranger things have happened. But at age 34, Petry won’t want to stick around for the full rebuild the Canadiens require.

Dallas Stars

Regular readers of my work know the high expectations I had for the Stars this season, but they’ve disappointed more often than not, and now find themselves seven points behind St. Louis for the fourth playoff spot in the Central Division. 

Dallas GM Jim Nill knows he probably won’t be able to re-sign Klingberg before he becomes a UFA this summer, and Klingberg will be one of the most sought-after defensemen on the market. 

The wild cards for the Stars, however, will be in a few other veterans who’ll be UFAs at the end of this season: goalie Braden Holtby, and forwards Joe Pavelski and Alex Radulov, who all would have suitors if Nill put them on the block, and although the latter two have one form of no-trade clause or another, both are at or near their mid-thirties, and may not get many more chances to win a championship. 

The Stars are capped out, so any help getting well under the cap ceiling would be a good starting goal for their future competitiveness.

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