The TSN Hockey Insiders Chris Johnston, Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger discuss why Connor Bedard’s amazing World Juniors run could spark teams to fortify their draft lottery chances via January trades, the status of former No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere in New York, and what the future may hold for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Gentlemen, no one wants to use the word tank. The league was adamant to avoid even a hint of it, so they brought in the draft lottery. But does Connor Bedard’s amazing run have general managers at least re-evaluating what they do over the next couple of months?
LeBrun: What I would tell you is that Connor Bedard’s unbelievable World Juniors has certainly fortified what a lot of teams already thought – those teams are at the bottom of the standings – that this guy is super special and that if these teams were already going to move a certain players, some rental players, why not try to get to it sooner rather than later to fortify those draft lottery chances? And so, those are the conversations I think are going to happen here in short order. Now, it’s one thing for teams in the bottom third of the standings to want to make those trades. It’s another to have the buyers being ready to make that type of deal so early out of March 3rd, especially given the lack of cap space around the NHL. But believe me, those conversations are happening right now.
Johnston: Well, there’s kind of a push pull when it comes to the situation because you also want to get something back for your assets. And specifically, the best assets at this deadline are mostly all going to be asking for at least a first-round draft pick in return. And that goes for the high-profile forwards that are out there, but also a couple defensemen. I think if the Montreal Canadiens are to move Joel Edmundson at this deadline, you’re looking at a first-round pick, plus. Same in Columbus with Vladislav Gavrikov – their defensemen. These are similar returns that we’ve seen with other defensemen at previous deadlines. And so maybe that doesn’t come up right away. And there may be one other wrinkle in the Gavrikov situation. Lots of teams out there like him, but Columbus does too. And I don’t believe the Blue Jackets have yet determined if they are going to sell this player.
Dreger: I’m also looking at the St. Louis Blues who are in a precarious position right now. They’ve got injuries to three key pieces in Ryan O’Reilly and [Vladimir] Tarasenko and Torey Krug are also on the sideline now. Those guys are going to come back before the trade deadline, but [general manager] Doug Armstrong has a decision to make. He’s just not under pressure right now to make that decision any time soon. It seems likely that he is going to think hard on the trade value, the return of Ryan O’Reilly, especially because we know that he is a hot commodity, but there has to be an extension with or conversation of extension with O’Reilly , maybe with Tarasenko, and then you make that call closer to the deadline.
The Chicago Blackhawks [are] dead last in the standings, currently in the best shape in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. So does that have them wondering what to do with their third and first overall picks from  and ?
Dreger: Yes, but this is more about Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. These guys drive the bus in terms of trade and what I know is that [the agent who represents] both of those players are going to engage with serious conversation on Kane and Toews in the very near future. The three things that they’ve got determined: No. 1, do they want to be traded? I mean, that pretty much starts it and ends it. No. 2, what does the contending field look like? They might need a little bit more time to figure that out in terms of the standings. And then No. 3, is it best to just accept a trade and then look at the open market as free agents in the summer or is it a trade and sign a possibility? Those are the three options that Kane and Toews have to work through.
The first pick overall from 2020, Alexis Lafreniere, came into the league with big expectations, but three years into the league and he’s on pace for another sub 40-point season. Could the Rangers be looking to move on from him?
LeBrun: Not at the moment. My understanding is that certainly, predictably, there were teams that checked in with the Rangers last week after his healthy scratch that made news around the league. But the reality is that the Rangers have told those teams, ‘Hey, we still believe in this young man.’ The Rangers – my understanding is – have told the same to Lafreniere himself, that they hope this is a good reset and they very much believe in his long-term potential here. So for now, he’s definitely a Ranger.
And as teams continue to make moves to open up spots on their rosters, a rather interesting move by the Red Wings.
Johnston: Yes. Big time, surprising one I would say on Tuesday with Jakub Vrana being placed on waivers. This isn’t a player we’ve seen much of this year. He spent a couple of months in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. But a source close to Vrana told me he’s fit and ready to play now. He’s ready to resume his career and get going. He’s been in the American Hockey League on a conditioning stint. The reason this happened at this point in time is the Red Wings are facing a squeeze with their roster. They have Robby Fabbri returning from injury. Tyler Bertuzzi isn’t too far off. But I think this is someone [who] will get a long look from other teams for a waiver claim. Has a big price tag – $5.25 million through next season – but he has a strong history of production.