The NHL trade market is getting muddy as teams need immediate help, but quarantine rules stand in the way. Would a Jake Virtanen for Jake DeBrusk trade make sense for the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, or is there a Virtanen sweepstakes in the East Division being held up by the Pittsburgh Penguins GM search?
Teams watched the fallout from the Patrik Laine-Pierre-Luc Dubois trade. The quarantine period for both players surely affected the NHL trade market and how teams proceed. Teams can’t get immediate help.
What should we make of the rapid COVID outbreaks around the NHL? Is there a snowballs’ chance the league could return to Hub cities?
More on that in the latest ‘Off The Record’:
1. Virtanen Sweepstakes In East Division?
On Saturday night, Sportsnet Insider Chris Johnston reported on ‘Saturday Headlines’ that the Canucks are exploring trade options to move forward Jake Virtanen. The Canucks winger, taken sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, who has been a healthy scratch more than once this season, is in the first season of a two-year contract that carries a $2.5 million cap hit.
Virtanen, 24, has one assist in 11 games this season and just 96 points (51g, 45a) in 290 career games. He is a reclamation project several teams are watching.
Back in September, a source told Boston Hockey Now that the Boston Bruins had trade talks with the Canucks regarding the 24-year-old Virtanen.
After some phone calls to three NHL insiders this weekend, it appears there is still a market for Virtanen. According to one source, the Bruins are again interested, as well as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils. One source wondered whether a Jake for Jake trade with the Canucks and Bruins would see Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk headed northwest to Vancouver and Virtanen to Beantown?
It sounds like the Penguins’ unsettled GM situation is also creating a holdup on the NHL trade market.
Off the record: “All those teams liked him heading into the draft, and they’re in again if there’s a fit, but the only difference is that the Penguins GM situation affects what they do,” one of the NHL sources told OTR. “I’ve heard Jake DeBrusk is available. Similar players. Maybe a change of scenery works for both? I’m also hearing Jeff Skinner is out there if you want him, so maybe the Sabres are a match?
Of course, Skinner’s contract is almost a Roberto Luongo-type albatross. The 28-year-old Skinner has six years remaining with a $9 million AAV cap hit.
2. Did The Dubois-Laine Trade Scare Teams?
Even if those teams are interested in making a trade for Virtanen, can and will they?
By all accounts, the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames have a mutual interest to make a Tony DeAngelo for Sam Bennett trade. In normal times, such a trade would be difficult. These abnormal times and quarantines are making matters worse. As the Winnipeg Jets just found out, when acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Columbus Blue Jackets, sometimes trading for players playing in the States during a pandemic is like ordering something on Amazon during the pandemic: Delayed.
Besides international quarantine, even teams based below the border seem to be a bit gun shy to pull the trigger on deals right now.
Off the record: “I can tell you right now that there is lots of trade chatter, but whether it’s dealing with teams in Canada or cap reasons – we’re all still trying to master the Taxi Squad – everything is up in the air right now,” an NHL source told OTR Saturday. “I figured DeAngelo and (Bennett) pretty much being a pain in the ass was the issue (with) trying to move him, but hey teams need offense from D, and now it seems it’s more we’re all trying to learn the new trade market on the fly.”
3. There’s Still a File for Hub Cities And Outdoor Hockey
The 2021 NHL regular season is scheduled to end on May 8, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs kicking off three days later. The last possible date for the Stanley Cup to be raised is currently set to be July 15. The New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, and Colorado Avalanche are all in shutdown mode, Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger just tested positive for COVID and is in quarantine, and on Saturday, the NHL announced that 26 more games had been rescheduled.
At this rate, it’s becoming hard to imagine that the NHL is going to meet their deadlines. The league has changed its COVID Protocol twice in the last three days, and players have begun to gripe about the ever-changing rules to prevent another outbreak. Notably, there was considerable grousing about the limitations on when players could arrive at the arena before games. The new limit is 105 minutes before game time.
In light of the changes and recent outbreaks, numerous sources told ‘Off The Record’ that every option to salvage a 56-game season for every team is on the table.
While not yet at the point of serious consideration, one of those options is the return of NHL bubbles in designated hub cities for each division.
We believe that players would shut down the season before they bubbled again. Perhaps for the playoffs if too many U.S. states continue to be slower than molasses with their vaccine rollouts. Connecticut and West Virginia are the models, but hockey states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts continue to lag. PA and MA are ranked 43rd and 48th, respectively, in the percentage of vaccines distributed.
Off the record: “I know that’s not out of the question if it gets to the point where we conclude that the traveling and the basically the poker game we’re playing when we go to different cities in the states is becoming a major issue,” one NHL management source told ‘Off The Record’ Friday. “This is going to be hard to convince the NHLPA to sign off on, but I know there are potential hub cities still being considered if it got to that.”