The NHL is creeping toward one of the biggest days on the calendar in the estimation of many fans — the trade deadline.
This year, it’s March 21, as teams finalize their rosters for the stretch run, and playoffs, with teams that don’t have post-season hopes usually trading away veterans on expiring contracts in an effort to build for the future.
The Red Wings have been one of those rebuilding teams now for several years.
But this particular trade deadline, remains to be seen.
The Wings entered Friday’s game in Tampa 13 points away from Washington, and the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Obviously, with 26 games remaining after this weekend’s back-to-back games in Florida, time is running short.
But the Wings still have a glimmer of hope.
“Our mindset right now is we just want to push and win as many games as we can and try to find our way closer to those teams that are in the seventh and eighth spots (wild-card spots),” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I’m not saying it’s easy, or anything like that. But that’s our mindset.
‘We have a tough game here (in Tampa) and tomorrow (in Florida) and if you come out of here and do a good job, you’re in a better spot.”
During the last several seasons, in particular, the Wings were so far out of the playoff chase it was an easy decision to sell off tradeable parts.
But this season, there are several prospective veterans on expiring contracts who the Wings could be interested in retaining.
Forwards Vladislav Namestnikov, Sam Gagner and Carter Rowney, defensemen Marc Staal and Troy Stecher, and goalie Thomas Greiss are prospective unrestricted free agents who the Wings could have varying amount of interest in re-signing.
Defenseman Nick Leddy, a Wings’ potential rental who could attract significant interest from teams given his playoff experience, is a player the Wings might be willing to trade — but the market for available defensemen is expected to be long, with interested buyers having many choices to choose from.
“In the past, we’ve been way out of it and it’s been a bigger factor,” said Blashill, of the trade deadline. “I don’t here much scuttlebutt about it in the locker room. We’re totally focused on pushing upward in the standings as much as we can.”
Blashill could only chuckle after watching his good friend, Tampa coach Jon Cooper, be ejected Thursday in the Lightning’s game against Pittsburgh.
Cooper was given a game misconduct and “abuse of officials’ penalty in the second period after a heated discussion with referee Wes McCauley.
“I’m not so sure in all the years, what I said is something that he’s never heard before in his reffing history,” Cooper said after the game. “As a head coach, I have a duty to coach the game and at times you get a little emotional. I don’t know what I invented that got me tossed out.”
Blashill attended the game, as the Wings flew Thursday into Tampa.
“I was upstairs watching it live and I was trying to figure out what was going on, to be honest with you,” Blashill said. “Next thing I knew, he was gone.
“It’ll give me a little material to use with him (over the summer). Other than that, it is what it is.”
Forward Jakub Vrana continues and practice daily, but Blashill isn’t giving away any potential timetable for Vrana’s return to the lineup.
“I don’t have a specific time frame yet but obviously every day he’s out there he moves closer, so we’ll see,” Blashill said. “He’s not seen a doctor (for potential clearance). We’re still working towards that. He’s on the ice and he’s sent time in practice. I just would hate to put a real date on it and lock myself into that.”
… Forward Mitchell Stephens (lower-body) has begun skating. Stephens last played in November.
“He’s skating better than he’s walking, for whatever reason it’s easier to skate in terms of pain threshold,” Blashill said. “Until we get him into practice, I really can’t give any kind of timeline. He’s done a good job working through his rehab. It’s been a long, hard injury to come back from.”
Red Wings at Panthers
► Faceoff: 6 Saturday, BB&T Arena, Sunrise, Florida
► TV/radio: ESPN+/Hulu/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Panthers (36-13-5) are among elite in the Eastern Conference and are 24-6-0 on home ice…The Panthers won the only game against the Wings earlier this season…LW Jonathan Huberdeau (57 assists, 75 points), C Sam Reinhart (32 assists) and C Aleksander Barkov (25 goals) lead a deep team.