Weekend notebook: Trade deadline right around the corner

📝 by Patrick Williams

It’s late February, and that means the National Hockey League gossip mill is going into overdrive.

For weeks as the NHL trade deadline approaches, general managers, fans, and media all attempt to decipher what exactly might happen. People take a day off from work to stay home and take in the day’s proceedings. Social media crackles with speculation. The day that NHL clubs must put their final touches on rosters for the last time before the Stanley Cup Playoffs arrive is a day that can define an organization’s success for years to come.

But the deadline’s impact goes well beyond the NHL: AHL teams feel its effects as well. And they already are, even with the NHL trade deadline still a week away.

Player movement is one of the AHL’s most defining elements. This team just called up that player. Another team wants this prospect to head back to the AHL for more playing time. It’s the nature of the AHL, the give-and-take that has helped to define the two leagues’ relationship for decades.

And so when this time of year rolls around, that player movement can accelerate even more, potentially revamping AHL rosters and upending Calder Cup Playoff races across the 32-team league.

Think of the many impacts that the NHL trade deadline can have on the AHL. The trickle-down effect on AHL clubs can be significant. Prospects skating in the AHL can be a key part of making a deal happen, as a club with Stanley Cup hopes may have to part with a top prospect or two in order to land what it hopes can be the final missing piece.

Adding or losing a key prospect or two can reshape an AHL team’s playoff chances considerably. Perhaps the NHL parent team brings in experience, thereby pushing a player off its roster back to its AHL affiliate. That player may well be someone the caliber of a number-one goaltender, a top-six forward or a top-four blueliner at the AHL level. Maybe a parent team that is “sell” mode then recalls talent from the AHL to fill vacated spots and take on some NHL time. That situation can be quite common. Then again, perhaps an AHL team’s remaining players step up to compensate for that loss and keep the drive to the postseason going.

At 3 p.m. ET next Friday, it’s pencils-down time for NHL general managers.

But from the AHL perspective, there is a second deadline that front offices encounter. Along with the NHL trade deadline, there is the annual AHL trade/loan deadline. This year it’s March 10, two weeks from today. It enables further tinkering as teams settle in for the final five weeks of the AHL regular season.

At last season’s AHL deadline, the Chicago Wolves acquired forward Richard Panik on loan from the New York Islanders. That move brought an NHL veteran into the Chicago lineup, and Panik went on to become a major contributor down the stretch.

Three months later the Wolves lifted the Calder Cup.

The action started early this year. Forward Aatu Räty went from Bridgeport to Abbotsford as part of the Bo Horvat trade between the New York Islanders and Vancouver on Jan. 30. Bringing Ryan O’Reilly in from St. Louis cost the Toronto Maple Leafs a pair of Marlies forwards in Adam Gaudette and Mikhail Abramov, both of whom joined the Springfield Thunderbirds. This week, Henderson landed experienced defender Dysin Mayo when he was acquired by Vegas from the Arizona Coyotes; that followed the Silver Knights’ acquisition of forward Gemel Smith on loan from Tampa Bay.

What might be next? The next two weeks should tell a lot.

Belleville and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, two clubs fighting for positioning in their respective divisional playoff races, will meet in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week on Saturday night (6 p.m. ET).

The Penguins (22-21-2-5, 51 points) took a critical 4-3 win on Wednesday night at home against Lehigh Valley. In his first game since returning from Pittsburgh, Dustin Tokarski made 31 saves in the victory.

The Penguins, who are in Syracuse tonight, begin the weekend three points behind Bridgeport for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

Belleville, meanwhile, dropped a 5-1 decision in Bridgeport on Thursday to open a three-game road swing through the Atlantic. The Senators (20-26-4-1, 45 points) are in their own playoff battle, currently five points below the playoff line in the North Division.


🏒 Bridgeport Islanders forward Arnaud Durandeau made his NHL debut on Monday, the 54th AHL player to graduate to the NHL this season.

Durandeau, who has 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games for Bridgeport this season, skated in New York’s 4-2 win at Pittsburgh, then made his home debut on Wednesday against Winnipeg. Durandeau was a 2017 sixth-round draft pick by the Islanders.

🏒 Victor Soderstrom has been one of the Tucson Roadrunners’ top projects for nearly three seasons.

Taken 11th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Arizona Coyotes, Soderstrom came to the AHL as a 19-year-old defenseman in 2020-21. His time last season was divided between Arizona (he played eight games for the Coyotes in October 2021 alone) and Tucson, and he made his first NHL appearance of 2022-23 earlier this month. Soderstrom, who is second among Roadrunners defensemen in scoring with 21 points this season, has gone on to dress in six consecutive games with Arizona, reaching 15:06 of ice time earlier this week against Calgary.

“It takes time for these guys,” Roadrunners head coach Steve Potvin said before Soderstrom’s promotion, “and I really like his development right now. His offensive touches are far better. His blue-line sequences are crisper. He’s getting pucks through at a higher rate now, and we’re starting to see some of this creativity and really his confidence shine through.

“He’s on the right page, and we’re looking forward to a good second half here.”

🏒 In a season filled with such days, Belleville had to scramble again to fill their crease Thursday in Bridgeport.

Mads Sogaard remains with the Ottawa Senators, who have had their own injury issues in net with Anton Forsberg out. Antoine Bibeau and Logan Flodell were unavailable for the team’s three-game trip this week. But the B-Sens did have Kevin Mandolese back from Ottawa for Thursday’s game with the Islanders, and he was to be backed up by Luke Richardson, a 23-year-old from Queen’s University who was signed to a tryout deal.

Or at least that was the plan until the morning skate, when Mandolese was dinged and ruled out, as Senators play-by-play voice David Foot told listeners. That thrust Richardson into his first pro game, and forced Belleville to land Brian Wilson from nearby Danbury (FPHL) as an emergency back-up.

The Senators have used a league-high 45 players this season, including six goaltenders. Earlier today, they acquired goalie Dylan Ferguson from the Toronto Marlies for future considerations.

🏒 The hockey gods both giveth and taketh away. Just ask the Charlotte Checkers, who open a six-game road trip tonight in Providence.

On Wednesday the Checkers lost goaltender Alex Lyon to recall by the Florida Panthers, but forward Grigori Denisenko from the Panthers while also securing long-time AHL star forward Cory Conacher on a professional tryout.

Thursday, however, unfolded a bit differently. Chris Tierney, who had 16 points in 20 games for the Checkers earlier this season, was lost on waivers to the Montreal Canadiens. And Florida recalled Charlotte captain Zac Dalpe — as well as summoning Denisenko back. And earlier today, it was announced that goaltender Spencer Knight, who had been assigned to the Checkers earlier in the week, will be unavailable for an indefinite period while he receives care from the player assistance program of the NHL and NHLPA.

Winners of seven straight on the road (tying a franchise record) and nine of their last 11 overall, the Checkers begin a six-game road stretch in Providence tonight. They start the weekend third in the Atlantic Division, seven points behind second-place Hershey.

🏒 Can the Syracuse Crunch find some additional traction?

The Crunch have had three separate winning streaks of at least four games this season. They have also had three different five-game winless slides. Through it all, the Crunch have managed to lift themselves into third place in the North Division, where they are only two points behind Utica and clutch three games in hand.

Following road wins in Utica and Rochester last week, Syracuse has Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hartford in town this weekend before a Sunday visit to division-leading Toronto.

🏒 First in the Eastern Conference and 18 points ahead of the pack in the North Division, the Marlies are not showing signs of slowing down.

After losing forwards Adam Gaudette and Mikhail Abramov in the Maple Leafs’ trade with St. Louis immediately following last Friday’s loss at Rochester, and with goaltenders Erik Källgren and Joseph Woll on recall, Toronto went out and defeated the Amerks and Comets behind Keith Petruzzelli, who stopped 59 of 61 shots combined.

The Marlies have tonight off before hosting Laval on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, NHL Network) and Syracuse on Sunday.

🏒 Henderson got a boost from goaltender Jiri Patera, who backstopped the Silver Knights to back-to-back wins in Calgary this week. Patera made 36 saves — 14 of them in the third period — in Thursday night’s 5-2 victory. Henderson has now won four of five meetings with the first-place Wranglers this season.

“I felt pretty good,” Patera told the team website. “We’re just trying to make the playoff push. Every point is really important.”

The Silver Knights are nine points out of a playoff spot in the Pacific Division with 20 games remaining. They return to action on Sunday afternoon when Calgary visits Dollar Loan Center.

🏒 San Diego’s two Southern California dynamos connected immediately.

La Mirada native Chase De Leo, re-acquired in the offseason by Anaheim, had missed all but opening night with an injury before returning last Saturday against Ontario. Head coach Roy Sommer told Gulls team broadcaster Andy Zilch that De Leo had approached him about playing alongside Anaheim native Rocco Grimaldi, who leads the team with 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) in 51 games this season.

Sommer obliged, and Grimaldi delivered a hat trick that night while De Leo picked up an assist. The next day against Bakersfield, De Leo and Grimaldi both scored. In a return engagement with the Condors on the road, De Leo notched another goal.

“They’re both fast, skilled hockey players,” Sommer told Zilch, “and usually when you have that combo together you see some fun things. [They] made it look genius.”


🗣️ “Pressure is a good thing. It’s a privilege to have that pressure, because it means you’re competing for important things.”

— Rochester head coach Seth Appert via the team website on the Amerks’ playoff push. Only eight points separate third place from seventh place in the North Division.