Trade deadline buzz will only start heating up from here, and the Nashville Predators remain a mystery on how they'll approach it with first-year General Manager Barry Trotz at the helm.
The Predators are exceeding the preseason expectations of many after stumbling at first, but becoming more consistent since mid-November. They're in the top wildcard spot, but barely with Edmonton, Seattle and St. Louis within arm's reach.
Some fans would rather see this front office fully commit to a rebuild rather than playing both sides of the fence, but Trotz might have other plans of being in "win now" mode. They've thrown around the term "retool" over "rebuild, but what does that really mean?
Next 20 Games Will Dictate What Predators do at Trade Deadline
The Predators have 20 games to play before the March 8 trade deadline. How they perform over this stretch will probably shift the strategy one way or the other, or leave Trotz with doing much of nothing.
The more likely scenario as of now would seem to be Trotz chooses to be a modest seller due to having so many free agents coming up in the offseason, including nine forwards.
We could get more clarity leading up to the deadline if Trotz decides to deal out some contract extensions beforehand, most notably to pending unrestricted free agent Tommy Novak and pending restricted free agent Philip Tomasino. Both should be top priorities to get re-signed.
There are 2024 free agents who might very well get dealt at the trade deadline, with Yakov Trenin standing out as a possibility. Teams looking for forward depth for their playoff push will be drawn to a hard-working middle six player like Trenin.
The Bruins are a team that's interested in adding scoring depth to their lineup, per ESPN's Emily Kaplan. They're a team that definitely has Stanley Cup or bust aspirations and will look to be buyers at the trade deadline.
However, let's say that the Predators go on another heater in the next 20 games, similar to what they did over a month's stretch from November to December. They're six points behind the Dallas Stars, who they've beaten twice in less than a week, but most think the Predators have little chance of breaking into the top-three of the Central Division.
If the Stars were to stay in a freefall and the Predators pass them for third once the trade deadline gets here, would that pressure Trotz to be a cautious buyer? I would be careful of getting too deep into the buyer's market if I'm Trotz, but again, we really don't know how he'll approach it.
From the other side of the coin, if the Predators fade out of the playoff picture in the next 20 games, then you absolutely sell off some assets and realize this isn't your year even if you do sneak back into the postseason as a wildcard.
Trade Market is Underwhelming, Nothing Moves the Needle for Preds
Furthermore, this trade market doesn't really have me all that hyped anyway. I don't see any realistic trade options for Predators that would suddenly make them a legit Stanley Cup contender. It wouldn't be worth taking any kind of risk just to maybe push your team to a second round appearance, as fun as that would be for the fanbase.
Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff's Top-5 Trade Targets
1. Elias Lindholm, Center, Calgary Flames
Current AAV: $4.85M
2. Sean Monahan, Center, Montreal Canadiens
Current AAV: $1.985M
3. Chris Tanev, Defenseman, Calgary Flames
Current AAV: $4.5M
4. Trevor Zegras, Center, Anaheim Ducks
Current AAV: $5.75M
5. Noah Hanif, Defenseman, Calgary Flames
Current AAV: $4.95M
So the Flames have three of the top-five trade target according to Seravalli's list. None of them pique my interest for the Predators. They shouldn't be interested in a defenseman at all, and while Zegras is certainly interesting, he would come with a lot of money and risk.
Another reason why Trotz should be careful about adding any of the top trade targets out there is they have a few prospects who are close to being NHL ready, most notably Egor Afanasyev, Joakim Kemell, Fedor Svechkov and Spencer Stastney.
Trotz hopefully has the long game in mind here. He needs to retain his young future stars of this team, like Novak and Tomasino. He needs to address his goalie dilemma with Juuse Saros, Kevin Lankinen and Yaroslav Askarov.
Another reason why there's a suggestion that the Predators won't do much at the deadline in term's of buying is because this roster is building vital chemistry and actually establishing a foundation of winning. I see a major pickup through a trade potentially being counterproductive because you shake everything back up and disrupt your young core of players.
Even if the Predators are in a top-three spot and playing their best hockey when March gets here, that would make it even more important to keep things primarily intact. If anything, you sell some depth pieces that you know aren't coming back in the offseason, like Trenin, Kiefer Sherwood, Cole Smith and Tyson Barrie.
If someone forced me to bet on what Trotz will do sitting here two weeks into January and the Predators in the top wildcard spot, I'd say he trades a couple depth pieces but doesn't add any major pieces in terms of current NHL caliber players. I would like to see him get another solid prospect for Milwaukee and acquire some draft picks.