Patrick Sharp hones in on NHL trade deadline, Maple Leafs, Connor McDavid and Stanley Cup picks

The NHL trade deadline may be fast approaching, but there is another deadline nearing as well — to compete for the designation of Kraft Hockeyville USA.

The Kraft Hockeyville program is designed to bring communities together to share their passion for hockey and their local ice hockey arena. Nominations for the coveted prize are being accepted until Feb. 29. The winning community will receive $10,000 in equipment through the NHLPA's Goals and Dreams Foundation, host a preseason NHL game that will be aired on NBC, and receive $150,000 toward rink upgrades. This year, prizes will also be given to the first runner-up, which will receive $30,000, and the second runner-up, which will receive $10,000.

The top four entrants will be announced March 22, followed by voting March 28 and 29. The winners will be announced March 29.

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Former NHL star and current NBC Sports analyst Patrick Sharp serves as the ambassador for the program that aims to give back and grow the game around the country.

Sharp, who captured three Stanley Cup championships with the Chicago Blackhawks, recently spoke with Sporting News regarding Kraft Hockeyville, the upcoming trade deadline and his early playoff predictions — including whether this is the year a Canadian team finally pushes through.

(Note: Portions of the interview have been edited for brevity, clarity and timeliness.)

SPORTING NEWS: How important is it for these rinks to have this opportunity and to win this award to get the renovations?

PATRICK SHARP: Oh, I mean, I could only imagine my hometown, Thunder Bay [Ont.], had won this contest 20 years ago, 30 years ago when I was a kid playing hockey, a couple times a day, three times on the weekend sometimes for tournaments, could have made a huge difference. Locker rooms could get upgraded, maybe it's a scoreboard, maybe it's minor repairs around the building. Either way, it draws the community together, and $150,000 could go a long way, so I'm excited to see who wins. We've been to Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York; I keep saying that I'm hoping to get to, like, Arizona, Texas, Florida, somewhere nice and warm come September so I can go host the event.

SN: The trade deadline is coming up. What are your thoughts on who the biggest sellers are, who the biggest buyers will be?

PS: There's a lot of teams that are right on the fence, right on the bubble that want to compete the rest of the way to try to make the playoffs, but at the same time, are you one of those teams that's planning for the future that think that you can win in the next three to five years? In that case, maybe you're a seller.

There's a lot of names that are floating around out there, a lot of teams. We know who the top teams are that are, relatively speaking, comfortable in their playoff spot. I think the Boston Bruins are one of those teams that can maybe go out and add something at the deadline; we saw them add some secondary scoring last year. Tampa Bay looks like they're ready to erase last year's memory of their playoff sweep, at the hands of Columbus, this season, so maybe they add something. [Note: this interview was conducted before the Lightning traded for Blake Coleman.]

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I like the St. Louis Blues making a move; they want to try to defend the Stanley Cup championship — they've got a team that looks like they can do it. And how about Colorado? I mean, they're a team that everybody's looking to win a couple of playoff rounds this year. They've got an exciting team but it's a tricky time of year because you don't want to make too many moves that are going to disrupt your future. A team like Colorado that should be good for the next five or eight years, you don't want to make any drastic moves that set yourself back. So it's a tricky time of year and an intense time of year for a lot of players because who knows where you're going to end up.

SN: How do you make that decision? Some teams know they're already out of the playoff picture, like Detroit and Ottawa . . .

PS: Well, I hope they know. I hope those teams know they're not making the playoffs when they look at the standings. They know they're not going to make it.

SN: But how do teams that are on that bubble make that decision? Like a Montreal?

PS: I get what you're saying. Whether you make the playoffs or not, I think every organization kind of gauges where they are in the grand scheme of things. Are they going to be a Cup contender? You can never say what year you're going to win the Stanley Cup but you can say what year you feel your team is going to be best ready to compete for that Stanley Cup and we don't want to disrupt that timeline.

So, you mentioned the Montreal Canadiens. Well, their playoff hopes aren't finished, but ... they're kind of slipping a little bit here. Even if they did make the playoffs, I don't think Montreal feels they're a team that can run the table and win. Now, St Louis, proved everybody wrong last year. Once the playoffs start anything can happen, so getting in is one thing — winning the Stanley Cup is another. All these general managers are going to make trades that are best suited for their team going forward, whether that's short term, long term, you name it, there's 31 different scenarios out there.

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SN: Were you surprised by the Jason Zucker trade considering how much Pittsburgh gave up?

PS: Every time there's a trade with big names like that and a lot going back the other way, it does get your attention. I don't know if surprised is the right word when you really look at this trade; it's two general managers that know each other well, Bill Guerin trading with his former team with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And then Pittsburgh, much like the Chicago Blackhawks over the years, they're a team, they're currently in the win-now moment. They've got Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, they've got two good goaltenders. They got a lot of guys in the prime of their careers, so they kind of owe it to themselves and their fan base to try to win now. So, bringing in a guy like Zucker to replace an injury to [Jake] Guentzel is a great move. And look what they're giving up, they're giving up pieces for the future.

SN: Obviously Chris Kreider is a big name that is out there. Where do you think he fits?

PS: Anybody, really. He's a guy that's got some good playoff experience under his belt. St. Louis Blues come to mind, Boston Bruins. He's a big body that can play both wing positions, play the power play and he's done it before. I don't know. That's a decision the Rangers have to make: If they do want to let him go [or] maybe keep him around. They've got a nice thing going there in New York and they should be good in a couple years if they're not good next year already. So, that'll be an interesting situation but he's a big, heavy body that can help out [in] the playoffs.

SN: Toronto Maple Leafs, do they still need to make another move? What are your overall thoughts on the Leafs?

PS: I think they made their move bringing in Jack Campbell and [Kyle] Clifford; two areas where their game can be improved. The backup goaltender position is obviously one that's been talked about a lot in Toronto and Jack Campbell's a guy that can help there. I think Clifford — somebody that's got some bite to his game and knows how to play physical and has been in those big playoff matchups before — I like him going into Toronto to kind of change the face of their team a little.

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But they've got it tough with a lot of good teams in that division. It's not easy to make the playoffs these days so I think their main focus right now is just getting in and once you get in, who knows what can happen? But I like the way they play, it's a fun style. I like to see my old teammate Jason Spezza still doing his thing at an older age ... I like watching the Leafs every single day.

SN: OK, how are your predictions to make it to the final and then win the Cup?

PS: Well, there's still a lot of games to be played, so don't hold this over my head, but I like Tampa. Tampa in the East for the reasons I mentioned earlier: they've got a huge chip on their shoulder and they'll get into the playoffs and then once they get in I think they kick it up another level. Then the West, I'm going to go with the Dallas Stars. I think that they're built from top to bottom and they keep the puck out of their net and their playoff mentality is kind of what they're doing right now in the regular season. They're a team that I think is going to come out of the West.

SN: Rick Bowness finally gets his Cup?

PS: That's my Cup prediction. Wait a couple of weeks to see what my actual winner prediction is after that (laughs).

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SN: But could this be the year we see a Canadian make a deep playoff run and potentially, maybe, win the Stanley Cup?

PS: Who's it going to be, then? Is it going to be Vancouver? Because they've got a nice young team. I don't know if they're ready to win four playoff rounds, but I do like the future in Vancouver. I think there's a lot there. Calgary? But [Mark] Giordano being injured [and] the Flames' performance last year in the playoffs, I don't know if I'm ready to say they're the next Cup winner for Canada.

Winnipeg's playing real good hockey right now. They're physical. They've upped their intensity, could look for them to make another move at the deadline. It seems like every deadline, they're adding to their team. [Note: this was before they traded for Dylan DeMelo]. Who knows, Montreal? We'll skip Montreal. Toronto, we touched on them. But how about Edmonton with [Leon] Draisaitl and [Connor] McDavid? If they can be healthy come playoff time. It was just a couple years ago that Edmonton was in the playoffs and it seemed like McDavid carried them through a couple playoff rounds. So, man, I can't believe I'm saying it but if I had to put my finger on one Canadian team to go deep it might be the Edmonton Oilers, believe it or not.

SN: There's a good chance if they make it McDavid finds another gear.

PS: They've been doing it all season long. There's plenty of good players in Edmonton, and I like Dave Tippett as a coach, but when you've got talented players like McDavid and Draisaitl they're as good as it gets in all of hockey. You've got two of those guys which just makes everybody so much better, that city can get crazy during the playoff time. You get that city rallying behind you, you never know. They could go on a nice playoff run and I'm gonna have to change some predictions there, get Dallas out and Edmonton in, maybe.