NHL trade deadline: Should these 10 bubble teams buy or sell?

The mushy middle is the worst place to be in the NHL. Here's how 10 bubble teams should approach the March 3 trade deadline.

There are less than four weeks until the NHL trade deadline on March 3 but there are still many questions that need to be answered when it comes to what teams will play what role.

Ten teams are in the mushy middle of having a points percentage above .500 but below .600 and do not have the strongest case of making the playoffs this season. Context matters, so we’re attempting to answer the all-important question: should these teams be buyers or should they be sellers?

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals

Buy: It might be a little difficult for the Capitals to really be aggressive at the trade deadline, but according to CapFriendly, they are able to add the equivalent of $5 million in cap hits on March 3. With that amount of space, they should at least aim to improve their roster to compete in the tight playoff race they are currently in the middle of.

Washington has just nine current players signed to contracts right now, so that amount of flexibility can be utilized to secure not just a rental but some longer-term answers to keep this team competitive beyond this current playoff push.

Simply put, every single year you have Alex Ovechkin on your team you should be trying your best to be the best.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Buy, if they can: In a similar spot as the Capitals, with the legendary stars still on their roster, the Penguins should at least make one move to get better by the trade deadline. Maybe it’s to get more stable in net, or to secure some experienced forward or defensive depth, but some sort of move should be made.

The only issue is the Penguins have just over $2 million of deadline cap space. That’s not a lot of a wiggle room to make the big splash. If they can get Jeff Carter to waive his no-move clause and clear his contract off the books, then maybe there can be some hope in Pittsburgh.

Maximizing talent around Evgeni Malkin (left) and Sidney Crosby (right) should always be a priority. (Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via NHL Getty Images)

Buffalo Sabres

Buy with the future in mind: The Sabres have an incredible amount of cap space and are just one single point out of the playoffs at the All-Star break. Right now, if they make the playoffs for the first time since 2011 – and they totally can – they are just playing with house money and it wouldn’t truly matter how many postseason games they actually win. Getting there should be more important for them.

With this momentum, though, they can make a low-risk move to improve depth or acquire a player that is either under contract for multiple years or is young enough to match the timeline of other players like Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin. So…Timo Meier to Buffalo?

New York Islanders

Stay put, I guess? The Islanders already made their move. With the blockbuster acquisition of centre Bo Horvat, GM Lou Lamoriello laid all his cards on the table and cashed in all his chips. Now the pressure is on to make the playoffs despite being a poor team at even strength and heavy reliance on Vezina-calibre goaltender Ilya Sorokin.

Even if the picture becomes much clearer over the next four weeks that the Islanders are not going to make the postseason – which can be considered likely – they don’t have much to sell off.

Florida Panthers

Sell! The Panthers are just three points out of a playoff spot, but they feel too far out and stuck in the mud compared to the teams listed above. With it being so close to the cap ceiling, this team is going to have to make a trade once Anthony Duclair is healthy enough to play again. It might be Duclair himself, but regardless, a player currently on the roster will be sold with only picks or prospects expected in return.

Florida does not have many rental players to move, but if it wants to take a drastic franchise-changing turn in the middle of this season, there would certainly be teams interested in acquiring forwards Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett, who are under contract for at least one more season.

Sam Bennett (9) and Sam Reinhart (13) would draw interest at the NHL trade deadline if the Panthers decided to sell. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
Sam Bennett (9) and Sam Reinhart (13) would draw interest at the NHL trade deadline if the Panthers decided to sell. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Western Conference

Minnesota Wild

Can they do both? The Wild are famously in a difficult cap situation. With the dead cap hits of the Ryan Suter and Zach Parise buyouts looming large and costing this team over $12 million this season and over $14 million for the next two, some moves are limited.

But even with this self-inflicted financial wound, the Wild have buckets of cap space and can acquire the equivalent of $16.5 million in cap space at the trade deadline. Considering they are battling with the Colorado Avalanche for third in the Central Division, they need to improve their roster to make some progress in the final weeks of the regular season.

With Matt Boldy’s contract kicking in next season, the Wild need to pinch every penny at that point, so the time is now to make the splash. But because of this, we know this will be the final year defenseman Matt Dumba is on the team. So do the Wild trade him away to get some assets back and then in-turn use some of those assets to improve the roster? They are one of the more interesting teams to watch ahead of March 3.

Los Angeles Kings

Buy: The Kings have one of the strongest crops of young players in the NHL and find themselves in the soft Pacific Division. So why not go and make a splash to get into the postseason for two consecutive years for the first time since they lifted the Stanley Cup in 2014?

Los Angeles has strong underlying numbers at even-strength, so it’s not like luck is heavily contributing to its success. Getting some experienced players to skate alongside the ultra-young talent like Rasmus Kupari or Alex Turcotte could be beneficial – or maybe those players are the exact names that are shipped out to cash-in on this year.

Colorado Avalanche

Buy, of course: Do we really need to explain why the reigning Stanley Cup champions should try their hardest to improve?

They lost some key players like Nazem Kadri in the summer and because of that loss of depth they find themselves among these bubble teams. But, with the few draft picks they still have and the minimal prospects they have been able to develop, they should at least try to avoid being one of the few championship teams to miss the postseason less than 12 months after hoisting the Cup.

The Avalanche need to add talent to their roster if they want to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)
The Avalanche need to add talent to their roster if they want to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)

Calgary Flames

Sell as much as they can: A team with high hopes has suddenly found itself out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break and is not having the dominant season many expected. Just because the Flames are committed to the top end of this roster doesn’t mean they can't shuffle the bottom half of the lineup to see if they can lengthen their window.

Trading away Nikita Zadorov, Trevor Lewis, or Tyler Toffoli wouldn’t be the reason the Flames missed the playoffs, but the return for those players could potentially add more in the long run.

Nashville Predators

Give up and sell: The Predators have been treading water for way too long and we want some action to be taken in the middle of this season. They're three points out but have some heavy hitters ahead of them in the standings, so Nashville might need to just take this time to try and find out what its plan is.

Maybe this all waits until the summer, but just imagine if the Predators listened to offers for centre Ryan Johansen in the coming weeks. Mikael Granlund could be an interesting and expensive project for a team to try and get him to his prior performance, as well.

But we all know Nashville will likely just stay the course and will probably not make the playoffs with this locked-in roster.

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