The Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators, one team in the playoff hunt and the other going nowhere, respectively, got out ahead of the trade deadline coming up in less than a week.
Last Tuesday, in what amounts to a salary dump of two overpaid players, the Kings took on Dion Phaneuf’s $5.25 million cap hit, sending Marian Gaborik and his $4.875 million hit the other way.
Phaneuf, who gets paid top two money but is realistically a middle two or even bottom two defender, will help the Kings down the stretch, to a degree. Gaborik, 36, and on the downside of his career, will be trade bait at the end of the season, which will be early in the Senators case.
Now, it wasn’t a blockbuster in any way, but this deal might signal the first salvo in the deadline war for available help from a fair list of probable sellers.
With that, we have 15 candidates who could likely be dealt before zero hour on Feb. 26. And, as an added bonus we put forth five names who probably won’t be on the block, but would be fun to see dealt. They are ordered from 15 likely to 5 not so much (with potential others in italics).
20. Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens
GM Marc Bergevin needs to hit a home run, since his job in Montreal is far from secure. He not only presides over one of this year’s worst and most disappointing teams, but also over the 28th ranked farm system, according to The Hockey Writers. One of his biggest chips heading into the deadline, and who he would be forgiven for dealing, is captain Max Pacioretty. And with Patches nearing 30 and leading the team in scoring, the time is now to maximize his value and re-stock a fairly barren system. The impetus to make deals has been ratcheted up by a recent five-game losing streak, with a particularly odious 5-2 loss to the horrible Arizona Coyotes last Thursday. Pacioretty has 34 points in 57 games, including 14 powerplay points and has one more year left on a contract with a cap hit of $4.5 million. Others potentially in play: Tomas Plekanec, Paul Byron, Alex Galchenyuk, David Schlemko.
19. Derick Brassard – Ottawa Senators
Even more so than Atlantic Division foes Montreal, it has been a most disappointing campaign in the Canadian capital. The Sens, after taking Pittsburgh to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals last spring, have landed with a resounding thud in 2017-18. With 24 games to go and 13 points out of a wild card playoff, the countdown to mathematical elimination is in high gear. Just about anyone, other than maybe Erik Karlsson, and without a No Movement Clause, should be made available. Like Montreal, the Sens farm system lacks depth, too. Thus, center Derick Brassard, who has one year left on a contract with a $5 million cap hit (with a modified no trade clause), might be attractive to teams looking for production up the middle. Brassard is fourth in scoring in Ottawa, with 17 goals — four in his last five games — and 18 assists in 56 games. He’s also won 49.9 percent of his face-offs and is just a -2 on a defensively suspect club. Others potentially in play: Mike Hoffman, Johnny Oduya, Cody Ceci.
18. Evander Kane – Buffalo Sabres
If rumors of his less-than-stellar locker room presence didn’t persist, Evander Kane would likely be wearing a different uniform already. The Sabres, who lost Jack Eichel for an extended period recently, may be in full fire sale mode this week. The only problem with the hot-headed Kane is the fact he’s been relatively stone cold since the New Year, with just four goals and one assist in his last 20 games (he has 19 goals and 20 assists total in 60 games). If rookie GM Jason Botterill can leverage impending UFA Kane into a rental deal with a contender for the big left winger and bring back good value in return (a prospect and a pick seems doable), it’s a good start for the last place Sabres. Others potentially in play: Benoit Pouliot, Josh Gorges, Marco Scandella, Chad Johnson.
17. Rick Nash – New York Rangers
It’s not a near certainty that sometime by the middle of the afternoon on Feb. 26 that Rick Nash is gone from Broadway. However, it is probable the 33-year-old veteran will be packaged up and moved for prospects. He’s on the last year of a $7.8 million contract with a modified no trade clause, making him a perfect, if not high-priced rental. Say what you will about him, Nash can still score, albeit not at the level we last saw in 2014-15, when he had 42 goals. He is certain to eclipse 20 this season, as he has tallied 18 times and added 10 assists in 60 games. Adding value to his totals is the fact that just three of his goals and one of his assists has come on the powerplay, making him a great 5v5 addition. Any playoff bound team — who he approves of — needing a big body down the left wing would be foolish not to at least make an inquiry into his availability. Others potentially in play: Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden (gone to Boston on Feb. 20), Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast, David Desharnais.
16. Mike Green – Detroit Red Wings
Mike Green is a right-shooting defenceman with an offensive penchant. Which makes him solid gold trade real estate. For the second season in a row, GM Ken Holland is in seller territory and he can get the rebuild into a higher gear by recuperating assets for the veteran Green. At 32, he’s not that old and even though he has a No Trade Clause, we think with a big of fancy footwork, Holland could convince him to waive it and move him to a contender. Otherwise, Green will probably sign elsewhere when July 1 rolls around. He is Detroit’s most potent offensive defenceman this season, scoring six goals (one on the powerplay) and 23 assists (12 on the PP) in 56 games. He is also logging over 22 minutes of ice time per game. Others potentially in play: Jonathan Ericsson.
15. Thomas Vanek – Vancouver Canucks
Not even the world’s biggest optimist — or craziest Canucks fan — would even think that Vancouver is making the playoffs this season. The ‘Nucks are 19 points out of the wild card and if anything, they need to get younger. The best trade chip they have is 34-year-old Thomas Vanek, who is UFA at the end of the season and has a very friendly $2 million cap hit that pretty much any contender could absorb. And the Viennese sniper is used to being moved at the deadline, having been moved in 2014 and 2017. In fact, he’s been with seven different teams in less than five years. This year, he is second in scoring to super rookie Brock Boeser, with 16 goals and 24 assists in 59 games. Those numbers are more impressive due to the fact he has logged under 14 minutes of ice time per game. Others potentially in play: Eric Gudbranson, Michael Del Zotto.
14. Radim Vrbata – Florida Panthers
When the Panthers signed free agent Vrbata in the off-season to a one-year, incentive laden $2.5 million contract, the expectation was that he would contribute as he did in Arizona (55 points in 81 games). However, Father Time has caught up to the 36-year-old Czech, who has rode the pine more often than he’s played lately. Thus, it looks like his time in the NHL is growing short. Yet, we believe he can help a contender down the stretch, especially in the powerplay department. And for those who don’t know, Vrbata still has some life his game, as he scored a hat trick against Anaheim this season. Some team willing to absorb the remaining portion of his contract would get a crafty right shooter who has 13 points (five goals) in 38 games, playing less than 13 minutes per game. Others potentially in play: Derek MacKenzie.
13. Ryan Kesler – Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are in the playoff race in a tightly packed Western Conference, but could go either way, fast. There are seven teams in the middle within three points of each other with just over 20 games to play, including the Ducks at 71 points holding third place in the Pacific. Therefore, Anaheim could be thinking of selling, as well as buying. GM Bob Murray has an aging core, including Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf (both 32) and may want to get a little younger. Making 33-year-old Ryan Kesler’s $6.875 million cap hit disappear might be the way to go. What potential suitors might need to be assured of is Kesler’s health, since he has played in just 23 games so far this season. In those 23 games Kesler has six goals and two assists, after scoring 58 points in 82 games last season. He is also among the best on the face-off dot, winning 52.3 percent of his 392 draws so far. Others potentially in play: Antoine Vermette.
12. Matt Calvert – Columbus Blue Jackets
Of all the current non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, the Blue Jackets are just one point out of the last wild card position owned by Carolina. But with a 29-25-5 record (2-6-2 in their last 10) how realistic can their chances be? We think it’s incumbent on GM Jarmo Kekalainen, then, to decide what his team is and maybe get some kind of value back for what trade pieces he has. One is 28-year-old veteran Matt Calvert, who is a free agent this summer and carries a cap hit of just $2.2 million. He’s not the biggest scorer and would represent bottom six depth only. He’s got seven goals and 10 assists in 47 games this year, while playing a shade under 14 minutes per game. He is in his eighth season with Columbus, which makes it a tougher decision based on his loyalty. Others potentially in play: Jusse Jokinen, Brandon Dubinsky.
11. Justin Braun – San Jose Sharks
Just like their cousins down the California coast, the Sharks are swimming in dangerous playoff waters. With 72 points, San Jose is in second place in the Pacific Division, but they are just one point up on the Ducks, and three points clear of division rivals Los Angeles and Calgary. Being the fifth oldest team in the NHL (27.9 earlier this season), the Sharks either win now, or not at all. One older player they could deal, and get a decent return on, is 31-year-old defenceman Justin Braun. He has two years remaining on a fairly friendly contract carrying a cap hit of $3.8 million — a deal also unencumbered by a no trade/movement clause. With 24 points (22 assists) in 59 games, Braun has already surpassed his career high in points (23 in both 2014-15 and 2015-16) and on track to eclipse career bests in hits (he has 113) and blocked shots (115). As a second pair d-man, Braun could fetch a very healthy return. Others potentially in play: Joel Ward, Jannik Hansen.
10. Jonathan Bernier – Colorado Avalanche
Even though the Avalanche have made strides after finishing dead last in 2016-17, management shouldn’t stop the rebuild that started when they jettisoned Matt Duchene. The Avs are just five points out of the last wild card spot in the west, however, the roster is still a bit of a work in progress. They don’t have a lot of big decisions to make in the off-season with UFAs, but could stand to add depth to a so-so farm system, or to the bottom half of their roster. Back-up goalie Jonathan Bernier, who has been fairly good (30 games, .914 save percentage, 2.82 GAA) is a free agent with a cap hit of $2.75 million. We think he is expendable, given that third-stringer Andrew Hammond is capable of filling in (he was just added to the roster this past weekend). A team looking to add a capable back-up for a stretch run might be willing to part with a decent prospect for Bernier.
9. Derek Ryan – Carolina Hurricanes
We don’t envy the position that Carolina GM Ron Francis might be in. The ‘Canes hold the last wild card playoff spot with 64 points, but have as many as four teams hot on their heels. They include the Islanders (also 64 points), Columbus (63 points, one game in hand), the Rangers (59 points) and Florida (58 points, four games in hand). So, Ronny Franchise has to decide whether he really likes his roster and stands pat, tries to add a piece for a playoff run, or deals what assets he might have to keep the team competitive in years to come. The Hurricanes have great young defence and older goaltending, and if they want to make a run, it might take dealing a good third-line centerman in soon-to-be UFA Derek Ryan. He’s 31, has 26 points in 58 games and has won an admirable 56.2 percent of his face-offs. Those kind of numbers, added to a contract that carries a hit of just $1.425 million, make him quite attractive. Others potentially in play: Lee Stempniak, Cam Ward.
8. Leo Komarov – Toronto Maple Leafs
Unless the team completely collapses in the last quarter of the season, Toronto is making the playoffs. They sit third in the Atlantic Division with a 19-point lead on fourth-place Florida, with 21 games to go. Even though the Panthers have a ridiculous five games in hand, they aren’t likely to catch the Buds. The problem staring them in the face is a bit of a glut on impending unrestricted free agents, including James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. Of the three, Komarov has no protection clauses like the other two, who have modified no trade deals. The Leafs, if anything, need depth going into the playoffs, especially on defence. Sure, Komarov provides a lot of sandpaper on the ice, but the Leafs could easily replace him with a deserving Josh Leivo on the fourth line (and Nazem Kadri does a fine job in the agitator category). Others potentially in play: Tyler Bozak, Dominic Moore, Roman Polak.
7. Rick Nash – New York Rangers
For the first time in a few years, the Rangers look like sellers at the deadline, rather than buyers. Their biggest piece to dangle, then, would be impending free agent and likely rental Rick Nash, a big body down the left side who can still rip it home. In 60 games so far, the 15-year veteran has 18 goals (second on the team) and 10 assists. Nash has been reasonably hot for the last calendar month, scoring nine goals (third in the NHL over that span) and one assist in 16 games dating back to Jan. 16. In that span he has logged three multi-goal games and logged 54 shots. Nash is also effective on the powerplay and penalty killing and is decent enough in all three zones. His cap hit of $7.8 million still has quite a bit left on it, however, any team with aspirations on a title — and in need of a first/second line winger — would be foolish not to inquire. Others potentially in play: Michael Grabner, Josh Holden, Ryan McDonagh, David Desharnais, Jesper Fast.
6. Ryan Strome – Edmonton Oilers
Well, the time has come for Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli to pour the cold water of reality all over this tire fire of a season the soon-to-be-golfing Oilers are having. I am sure if he could find a way to deal anyone not named McDavid or Draisaitl, he would. Chiarelli, though, has been the author of part of his own misfortune, including the trade that sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey and Jordan Eberle to the Islanders. Those two have 62 and 43 points, respectively, which would put them second and fourth in Oilers scoring. The Eberle deal stings more, in that the player coming the other way, Ryan Strome, has struggled mightily this season. On Sunday, he scored his first goal in 23 games dating back to Dec. 23 and overall he has just eight, along with 15 assists. The Oilers have gamely kept him on the third line, when his production says fourth. He is still youngish at 24 and is a RFA at season’s end. The Oilers need goaltending and defensive depth. He could bring one or the other in return. Others potentially in play: Mark Letestu, Patrick Maroon, Mike Cammalleri, Brandon Davidson, Al Montoya.
5. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Arizona Coyotes, One We’d Like To See Traded
Now that we’ve got the pleasantries out of the way, we’ll get down to five players who, while trading them could be difficult for a number of reasons, would no doubt be in blockbuster territory if they were. The first is 26-year-old Arizona assistant captain Ekman-Larsson, who has been linked to teams from coast to coast and places in between. The ‘Yotes, who have played better of late, are still dead last in the NHL, leading many teams to speculate on Ekman-Larsson’s availability. The raw numbers see him having his usual productive season with 29 points in 59 games, while logging over 24 minutes of ice time. The glaring stat, though, is plus-minus and Ekman-Larsson’s is a NHL low -36. He’s not a huge defensive liability, given that his team has below average goaltending and team defence, but that number is alarming. On the plus side, he has another season on a relatively inexpensive deal that pays him $5.5 million. One to watch in the next couple of days.
4. Shea Weber – Montreal Canadiens, One We’d Like To See Traded
We will preface this by saying, yes, we know Shea Weber is injured and yes, he’s 32 with a near un-tradeable contract. But, he doesn’t have a no movement/trade clause attached to the 14-year contract he signed in 2012 with Nashville. It has an average annual cap hit of just over $7.8 million and an eroding actual salary that goes from $12 million this season to $6 million next year and downward. Predators GM David Poile looks pretty genius right now, having off-loaded Weber’s deal and getting his playoff bound team’s leading scorer, P.K. Subban, in return. So, in turn, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin could look uber-genius if he could get a willing suitor to take on Weber. The Habs are going to get worse before they get better and don’t have a hope in hell of making the playoffs this year, or for years to come, unless they unload expensive assets and rebuild. If not now, then in the off-season.
3. Brent Seabrook – Chicago Blackhawks, One We’d Like To See Traded
For years so successful, the Blackhawks now find themselves as pretty much an also-ran. Most of their best players are 30-plus, or are about to be and seven of them eat up over $50 million of their $76 million-plus cap hit, which is third highest in the NHL. It might seem like a stretch, but maybe it’s time the Hawks look into a mini-rebuild by shipping out costly players. One we think could get them a major haul, including picks and/or prospects, would be longtime defenceman Brent Seabrook. He’s 32, as consistent offensively and defensively as they come and a right shooter, making him extremely valuable. On the negative side, and one that again we have to highlight, he has a no movement clause until 2022 on a contract with an annual cap hit of $6.875 million (it expires in 2024, when he’ll be 39). If the Hawks promised to ship him to a contender so he would possibly waive his NMC, Seabrook could be dealt easily.
2. John Tavares – New York Islanders, One We’d Like To See Traded
Johnny T, when asked, has been polite and not taken the bait about his impending free agent status and whether he could see himself elsewhere. But, short of signing a surprise extension it’s all just bluster and his future is really cloudier than usual. We firmly believe the Isles, who will scuffle to make the playoffs — again — should at least consider getting something for their best player, who may bolt and leave them dangling. He’s having his best season since 2014-15 (30 goals, 34 assists) and of all players we’d like to see traded he would bring in a sizable package of players and future players. The fact the team hasn’t extended him yet is not a good sign. Teams hoping to added a ready-made leader with outstanding offensive and even defensive ability will clamor to sign him when free agency hits. GM Garth Snow ought to consider the trade route.
1. Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators, One We’d Like To See Traded
This season couldn’t be going any worse for the Ottawa Senators. Compounding their malaise is the fact they went to the Eastern Conference championship last spring, giving the Pittsburgh Penguins everything they had before succumbing. At present, they are tied with Montreal for the third worst record in the league and back-sliding. They are burdened by some suspect contracts (i.e. Matt Duchene, Marian Gaborik and Bobby Ryan) and looking at having to re-sign Erik Karlsson in 2019. He’s on a very friendly deal for a non-playoff team, soaking up just a $6.5 million cap hit. The captain and leading scorer, despite his lousy -27 rating, is second on the team in scoring. The beauty of his pact with the team is that he has a modified no trade clause, meaning he can be sent out for a monster return. It’s plausible — if not possible — that the could be gone by next Monday.