As the NHL trade deadline draws closer on February 25, more and more chatter about who is available and who isn’t starts floating around the league’s front office circles. It’s no secret that the Dallas Stars need help in the depth scoring department (as evidenced by their recent losing skid and current state of “mediocrity”) and the perfect time to make some changes to shake up the forward group is swiftly approaching.
One of the names that has come up somewhat consistently in Stars’ potential trade target chatter is the Washington Capitals’ Andre Burakovsky. At 23 years of age, the Swedish winger is currently in his fifth NHL season and an upcoming RFA. But what would trading for Burakovsky mean? While his numbers so far this year have been less than stellar — nine points (five goals, four assists) in 41 games — there is quite a bit of potential that Burakovsky brings to the table.
Stars and Capitals have been scouting each other heavily lately. Including Stars head pro scout in Washington this evening. The Caps Burakovsky is on the Stars list as they look at trade options and continue to assess where team is at.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) January 19, 2019
His story looks to be like the ones where a change of scenery could help boost his play. Burakovsky’s career high of 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) came in his sophomore season of 2015-16, an interesting feat considering most players go through the traditional “sophomore slump”, but he has yet to reach the 20-goal threshold in his career. His third and fourth seasons in the league amounted to only 35 (12 goals, 23 assists) and 25 (12 goals, 13 assists) points respectively, which shows a downward trend in his production. To speak more to his rough season this year, Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch five times so far, four of which happened consecutively in December 2018. This downward trend could be tied to a few things, such as his numbers going down since his hand injury in 2017 or his well-documented confidence issues to name a few, but the potential is all still there, waiting to be tapped into.
Another plus that Burakovsky brings to the table is NHL playoff experience, which is hard to find in a player as young as he. The Capitals have made the playoffs every season since Burakovsky joined the roster, and his performance in the postseason is an area of his game where he has made progress, with six points in 13 games the past two years. And that’s not to mention that he is now a Stanley Cup champion as of 2018.
If you’re searching for a phrase to describe Burakovsky’s career so far, I’d go with “lots of potential, but no real results yet.” When he’s on his game, Burakovsky shines on the ice, but all that’s missing is the consistency.
With all of that being said, you may ask, why trade for him? At this point, the Stars need to find some solutions and Burakovsky could be just what Dallas is searching for. He has more potential upside and better past point totals than some of the current roster, including fellow wingers Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie. He also has a good amount of NHL playoff experience (unlike most of Dallas’ younger players), and would be a good middle-six fit with the team. With Nichushkin struggling to find his footing again in the NHL and Ritchie having yet another down year, why not package one of them in a trade for Burakovsky?
The biggest obstacle with this potential trade would be who and/or what would be part of the deal going to Washington. In a recent interview with Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post on January 11, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan spoke to what possible moves the team might make, stating that “the only thing we’re going to look for is: Is there a hockey trade to be made — salary for salary, player for player — in the forward group?” With that in mind, a one-for-one deal with either Nichushkin or Ritchie doesn’t seem that far off, considering Burakovsky’s contract is $3 million AAV and $6 million total and is set to expire this summer. Nichushkin is signed through 2020 at $2.95 million AAV for a $5.9 million total, has only seven assists to his name so far this season, and will be RFA when his contract is up. Ritchie’s point totals aren’t much better at five (three goals, two assists) so far, but his contract comes in significantly less at $1.75 million AAV ($3 million total) and expires this summer, making him an RFA as well. With both of them coming up as RFAs, their contract sizes, and similar rank to Burakovsky would make either one of them options in the case that a player-for-player trade was on the table.
Looking at history though, another point also mentioned in the Washington Post article is MacLellan’s tendency to add defensive depth at the trade deadline. Were this to be the case, looking at the Stars’ roster, only one name really sticks out: Julius Honka. Honka has been in trade chatter for what feels like his whole career in and out of the NHL, but it could be for a reason. Once a highly-touted, diamond-in-the-rough prospect, Dallas’ first go at a Miro Heiskanen type if you will, Honka hasn’t exactly panned out as fans and the organization had hoped. While his numbers in the AHL were brilliant, Honka just can’t seem to find consistency at the NHL level. Not to repeat the same phrase, but maybe a change of scenery in a one-for-one trade would work in this case as well.
Other than the recent quote and past deadline moves, MacLellan is a bit of a mystery in what he values in trades. Would a player-for-player trade be enough? Does he consider Burakovsky worth more than a straight swap because of the Cup champion addendum? The trade spectrum is wide open and while I doubt MacLellan would ask for heaven and earth for a player clearly struggling, what else could potentially be part of a deal for Burakovsky? In the event that MacLellan is higher on Burkovsky than a one-for-one trade would fulfill, what other players, prospects, or picks could be made into an appealing package?
If we were to take a look at the higher end of the spectrum, a combination of one of Nichushkin, Ritchie, Honka, or a prospect packaged with a pick or two (anywhere from the third through fifth rounds depending on the price) wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question. However, it would almost definitely require MacLellan to sweeten the deal from the Capitals’ end with another player or a pick (or two) in order for Stars’ GM Jim Nill to get onboard. In the middle of said spectrum, the best case would most likely be the player-for-player deal MacLellan has said to be searching for. Nill isn’t exactly the biggest fan of those straight swaps, but then again, he could make this trade if he felt that Burakovsky would be a good fit — which he clearly does if the rumors of the Stars scouting him closely have any truth to them. And lastly, on the low end, where Dallas gets the better end of the deal, Nill could send just a few picks to Washington in exchange for Burakovsky.
At the end of the day, all we can do is play everyone’s favorite game of Armchair GM about what moves and trades will be made. In the case of Andre Burakovsky, the Washington Capitals have a dilemma on their hands and from the sound of the trade deadline chatter, it could be that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars hold the potential solution.