Inside the NHL: Sellers squeezed, trade tidbits, outdoor fun


One week out from the NHL’s trade deadline and things are quiet.

Scary quiet.

“Quietest it has been,” said one veteran general manager. “Maybe things pick up next week. No one wants to commit.”

This has all the looks of a buyer’s market, with a relatively small number of teams bidding on the most attractive players. And an extremely limited amount of available cap space to be found among them.

The squeeze is on the sellers, then, many of whom might be forced to lower internal expectations on the returns they seek before 3 p.m. on March 21.

That dynamic basically crippled the trade market over the last few weeks. You had the Maple Leafs and Coyotes swap involving Ilya Lyubushkin and Nick Ritchie, and the Tyler Toffoli trade from Montreal to Calgary, and that’s about it when it comes to moves with NHL implications.

At least some sources reported an uptick in trade conversations over the weekend.

The gridlock will break eventually.

What remains to be seen is how many first-round picks will change hands. That would typically be part of any ask for at least three of the available names — Claude Giroux, Hampus Lindholm and Ben Chiarot — but it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see even that many top-round selections change hands.

One thing to keep in mind is that cap charges are calculated daily. That means teams pressed tight to the ceiling like the Golden Knights, Lightning, Leafs, Panthers and Avalanche will have the easiest time making room for new additions on the deadline day itself. Expect most of the action to go down then as a result.

However, this is also the NHL’s third straight season with a flat salary cap. We’ve never seen that before and we might see a different kind of trade deadline, too.

Going outdoors

The vibes were immaculate.

Emerging from the grips of another locked-down pandemic winter — one that saw the Leafs play five home games inside an empty Scotiabank Arena in January and February — you had a sea of blue crash over Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton on Sunday.

It was technically a Buffalo Sabres home game, but that’s not how it felt.

The “road” fans met the occasion even with snow blowing sideways and temperatures dipping to minus-10 C with the wind chill. They were tailgating in Matthews and Marner sweaters three hours before puck drop.

It may have been as much for warmth as revelry.

But there was a feeling of fun in the air, which is not something we’ve had around NHL games in this country to the degree we would have expected this season. This was a welcome respite from that.

While the NHL’s outdoor games may have long since lost their novelty as a TV product, they always seem to deliver on the ground. I’ve attended them in Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Washington, Annapolis, Toronto, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa and now Hamilton.

They always manage to fill the seats no matter the conditions. And the NHL generates a gate that far exceeds what it could get from a typical regular-season game in any of its traditional buildings.

For participants, these games break the monotony of a long regular season. Steven Stamkos referred to Tampa’s recent outdoor game at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium as one of the best experiences of his 14-year career.

There were plenty of smiles as the Leafs walked off their bus in Stelco-inspired factory uniforms and hard hats. The Sabres went with the “Semi-Pro” basketball uniforms. It didn’t feel anything like game 59 on the schedule.

“I thought it was excellent,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe.


What are the odds that the Leafs get Marc-André Fleury? Or Claude Giroux? Or Mark Giordano?


I’ll set the extremely unofficial C.J. odds of Toronto trading for one of those players at 40-1. In other words: long, but not completely out of the question. They carry cap hits of $7 million (Fleury), $8.275 million (Giroux) and $6.75 million (Giordano) in U.S. dollars, which means Leafs cap guru Brandon Pridham would have to pull off some wizardry to make the money work.

Do the Florida Panthers need to add anyone to solidify they’re already deep team? If so, who are you looking to acquire?


I’m not sure it’s a need, but it’s a want. The Panthers finally have a team worthy of contender status, so GM Bill Zito has plenty of motivation to take a swing. Keep an eye on Claude Giroux here — Florida may not be the favourite to land him, but has genuine interest.

Do you think the Flames make any more moves before the trade deadline? Or was Toffoli their splash?


It wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t make any more moves before the deadline. Expect the Flames to monitor the market for depth upgrades, but with Toffoli in the fold and 16 wins in 19 games this doesn’t look like a team in need of a splash.

Are there ever going to be any trades?


Ummmm … I hope so?

If the NHL expanded to 40 teams, which cities could you see getting an NHL team?


OK, let’s get crazy. For the NHL to grow this much it’s probably going to require a European division. So I’ll start with London, Berlin, Prague, Stockholm and Tampere, Finland. Back here in North America I’m adding Houston, Quebec and a second team in the Greater Toronto Area.

How long until Cobourg produces its next NHLer? I need a new hometowner to cheer for since Mr. Game 7 retired. Also, Viking or Comet?


Finally, we get to the important questions. Justin Williams is part of a group currently building an elite training facility in the area, so I’m sure it won’t be long. In the meantime, I’d suggest following Cobourg Cougars alumni Justin Danforth, who recently earned a two-year contract extension in Columbus. (Oh, and I’m a Viking.)

In a hockey-based Teen Wolf situation, do you think Teen Wolf would thrive or would the wolf’s natural inability to skate hinder the athlete more than help?


I’d never bet against Teen Wolf. He would thrive in any environment.

Why didn’t you come visit us in the studio (Friday) night?


Ya CJ? Big wheeling us?


I’ll just say this: It’s always nice hearing from fans.


Jakob Chychrun left Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury and may find himself off the trade market, pending the results of an MRI in Arizona on Monday … The Coyotes still hope to be active, with GM Bill Armstrong making it known that he’ll take on unwanted contracts as long as they’re attached to future assets … San Jose is focused on signing Tomas Hertl to a contract extension, but the Sharks may have trouble trading the productive centre if it doesn’t happen because he can prevent a move to all but three teams of his choice … A Hampus Lindholm trade out of Anaheim gets a little more likely with each passing day … With Jake Muzzin expected to be activated off long-term injured reserve in the next month, the Leafs have limited room to make a trade without sending some salary back out the door … The Oilers are much more likely to add a defenceman than a goaltender … Ottawa is a seller in possession of six unrestricted free agents — Nick Paul, Zach Sanford, Chris Tierney, Tyler Ennis, Josh Brown, Anton Forsberg — but GM Pierre Dorion’s phone is eerily quiet … There’s no guarantee Artturi Lehkonen is moved with one RFA year remaining, but the Habs are listening … Shea Weber’s contract could be useful for a team needing help to reach the cap floor in coming seasons … Claude Giroux is on track to play his 1,000th game for the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday … It might also be his last … The NHL is expecting full capacity and all 32 teams in attendance for the draft on July 7 and 8 at Montreal’s Bell Centre — the first held in-person since 2019 … Interesting nugget from Stamkos during his recent appearance on the Bob McCown podcast: The Lightning maintain an active group chat that includes departed members from their 2020 and 2021 Cup teams. “You have that connection,” he said … Marc Staal became the third Staal to play 1,000 NHL games over the weekend, bringing the family total to 3,365 games (and counting) for the four brothers from Thunder Bay. Incredible achievement.

C.J.’s Top Five

Tim Hortons Field became the 32nd different venue where the NHL has conducted a regular-season game outdoors. Here are the top five places we’d love to see them go in the future:

1. Lake Louise, Alta

The league actually investigated this during the pandemic, but ran into regulatory issues. It’s worth trying again. What better backdrop could you find for the Battle of Alberta?

2. Wembley Stadium, London

The obvious issue is selling 90,000 tickets. But if you’re going to Europe you might as well try a major city with oodles of Canadian and American expats, not to mention one of the world’s most iconic venues.

3. Central Park, New York City

Let’s do this for the spectacle alone. You might not be able to get many fans into temporary stands, but a Rangers-Islanders game in the park would be unreal.

4. Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.

There’s always been a hockey vibe emanating from the NFL’s coldest venue. Perhaps we could see a Lambeau Leap after a big goal.

5. Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

The site of the 2014 Winter Classic between the Leafs and Red Wings is worth revisiting. These events are all about the fans, and you can pack more than 100,000 people into the Big House.

Parting thought

With Jesperi Kotkaniemi set to sign an eight-year contract extension at slightly less than $5 million in average annual value on March 21 — the first day the Carolina Hurricanes can extend him on that maximum-length term — we ask: When was the last time a player averaging 12 minutes per night was given that much security?

Chris Johnston writes about sports betting for NorthStar Bets. NorthStar Bets is owned by NordStar Capital, which also owns Torstar, the Star’s parent company. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterchris


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