With a little under a month to go before the NHL trade deadline and the playoff picture becoming a little clearer with every passing game, it’s time to focus on trades.
Specifically those involving teams well out of the picture and those needing to get better and/or shed some salary to sign free agents later.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of movement on the trade front during the 2017-18 season, other than the three-team mini-blockbuster involving Matt Duchene going to Ottawa, with Kyle Turris flipped to Nashville, along with prospects to Colorado.
After that deal, Ottawa has gone downhill, while Nashville continued to thrive and Colorado got a whole lot better.
The Senators, who have been pretty much horrible all year, will likely be sellers at this year’s deadline, Nashville and Colorado may or may not make more moves to improve their lot.
Now that the All-Star shinny contest is over, it will be interesting to see how teams jockey for position and what potential deals might go down.
Here are 20 stars, most of them pending unrestricted free agents, who we believe should be dealt before it’s too late for their teams to recoup a healthy return.
20. Lars Eller – Washington Capitals
The Capitals, according to Cap Friendly, are near maxed out on cap space (just over $1 million and just under $500,000 projected) so a decision may have to be made at the deadline. Washington, ever the bridesmaid, are currently tops in the Metropolitan Division — no surprise there — but will find the going tough in the playoffs with Tampa and Boston both ripping it up. One player due to hit free agency on July 1 is center Lars Eller. He is 28 and having a decent season, with 23 points (10 goals) in 48 games. Other than a couple of playoff bound teams like Tampa, most with any aspirations could use an upgrade and Washington is in need of a better shooter from the rear end. Eller might likely walk in free agency, so maximizing his return at the deadline is key.
19. David Backes – Boston Bruins
Boston’s recent unreal run — they are 14-0-4 since last losing in regulation on Dec. 14 — has many looking at them as a playoff favorite. But, they are also a team with limited cap space and a need for secondary scoring. Now, getting rid of a forward like Backes might not be in their best interests, yet he is the fifth highest paid at that position and the eighth most productive. He is currently on a contract (with a no movement clause) that pays him $6 million per year until 2020-21. The problem with him is that he is 33 and in a bit of decline (19 points in 30 games this season). With that NMC, it’s likely he won’t be dealt, however Boston should at least explore talking to the veteran about lifting it. The best fit would be a move to his hometown Wild, with perhaps a versatile and younger guy like Charlie Coyle (who is from Massachusetts) coming the other way.
18. Joe Pavelski – San Jose Sharks
The margin for error in the Western Conference playoff picture is super slim. There are seven teams within three points of each other who will battle each other for basically four playoff spots. The Sharks, with 59 points to sit second in the Pacific, are one of them. They are also an older team with a need to shed some salary going forward and maybe get better in the process. The old saw goes that you don’t trade your captain, but at 33, Joe Pavelski still has something in the tank and with a modified no trade clause could be on the table. Joe Thornton is on the last year of a $8 million pact, but has a full NMC, so Pavelski with another year at $6 million is a better trade candidate. He has 34 points in 48 games, but is -10. There are some younger players coming up who can fill his offensive void, too. Like Washington, the Sharks are perennial bridesmaids and a big swap to change the culture might not be the worst idea.
17. Nick Bonino – Nashville Predators
Nashville has been playing sound hockey as of late and with 65 points and a second place standing in the tightly packed Central Division, look headed to the post-season barring a complete collapse. They have few holes in fairly deep line-up and are also in a decent place financially, yet we can’t help but think that Bonino might be a better fit elsewhere. We say that because after signing a four-year, $16 million deal (without any clauses) this past summer he has but 12 points in 36 games and is a -3. Yes, he has plenty of playoff and Cup winning experience, however he will soon be 30 and the Preds could use some scoring down the wings. We also think Bonino was made even more expendable by the acquisition of fellow pivot Kyle Turris, who has eight more points (in four less games) in a Nashville uniform.
16. Kris Letang – Pittsburgh Penguins
Whenever a team says they have “zero intention” of dealing a player, that’s usually a signal that the opposite may in fact be true. The Penguins have won the last two Stanley Cups — the last one without the services of Kris Letang — but don’t have that favorable a chance this season. As well, they have little cap space and not a lot in the way of secondary scoring after the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. If they are to “three-peat” Pittsburgh will have to get creative and with a modified no trade clause, the 30-year-old Letang could be dangled to a true contender for a package in return. The Pens would also get his $7.25 million cap hit off the books (his contract runs to 2021-22). Food for thought, if anything.
15. Jason Spezza – Dallas Stars
Just like the Sharks, Dallas, while improved, is either on the precipice of making the playoffs, or with a prolonged losing streak, right out of it. They have 60 points, good for fourth in the Central and in that logjam of seven teams within three points of each other. Looking ahead, 34-year-old center Jason Spezza is a UFA in 2019 and currently soaks up $7.5 million on the salary cap. Spezza is still a great face-off man and leader, but his production up the middle has gone south. He currently has 21 points in 49 games, which puts him even way off the pace of the career low 50 points he had in 2016-17. The Stars need scoring down the wings and Spezza could be dangled to a contender, as he has a modified NTC. Dallas will also have a need for a decent — and cheap — back-up goalie to replace the soon-to-be-departed Kari Lehtonen.
14. James van Riemsdyk – Toronto
Toronto is in the second worst cap position of all 31 teams, but does have some expiring contracts in van Riemsdyk’s, as well as those of Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. The player they stand to lose the most in free agency is JVR. He is in his prime (28) and can score (19 goals and 30 points in 50 games), making him very attractive to a host of teams. The Leafs’ conundrum is: do they keep him for a run this year, or deal him to shore up a shaky back end? After making a friendly $4.25 million per year, van Riemdsyk is due a big raise, so he’d be a rental and the Leafs might likely have to take back salary. The luxury the Leafs do have is a stocked farm system and players champing at the bit to take on a player like JVR’s ice time. Interesting days ahead for the Buds.
13. Rick Nash – New York Rangers
The Rangers are good, but are they good enough to skate through the Eastern Conference playoffs? At 55 points as of Jan. 29, they are certainly in the thick of the post-season mix. Yet, this is a team that should look at shedding an older scoring asset in Nash, who is UFA and could fetch the Rangers a prospect or two. Yes, he would be a rental and he does have a modified no trade clause, however, should the Rangers fall out of the picture come late February, several preferred teams may line up for his services. He is second on the team in goals with 15 and sixth in points with 25. For a contending club, he’s a big presence down low who has been fairly productive in the playoffs with 41 points in 77 games. We think it’s 50/50 on whether he’s dealt.
12. Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings
Prior to the All-Star Game, in which Drew Doughty took part, the Kings were one of the coldest clubs in the league, going 3-7-0 to plunge them in the standings. In fact, after an early seven-game win streak in early December, the Kings have been a dismal 6-10-2. In another year, L.A. also faces the unenviable task of re-signing their All-Star rearguard. For a team that will need to re-tool, Doughty is their most marketable asset, worthy of high end prospects and draft picks in return. His contract, too, has no stipulations, meaning the Kings can send him anywhere they please — though they would probably ask him if he had a preferred destination. It will be interesting to see what the Kings do with Doughty, whether it’s now or in the future.
11. Justin Williams – Carolina Hurricanes
Justin Williams, 2.0, has been as good as expected in his second go around with the Hurricanes. He has 31 points in 49 games as of Jan. 29 (third in team scoring), including 10 powerplay points. The Canes, though, are just technically in the playoff race, sitting four points out of a wild card playoff spot. Williams, 36, signed a two-year, $9 million contract to go back to the Hurricanes last summer, but should the team falter any further in the post-season race, his name will undoubtedly come up in trade talks. With his age, number of Stanley Cup rings (3) and outstanding playoff scoring ability (94 points in 140 games), Williams could still bring back a nice return for a young Carolina squad on the way up. He does have a modified NTC but we believe it includes many contenders.
10. Thomas Vanek- Vancouver Canucks
For a little while there, the Vancouver Canucks were surprising people by staying in the Western Conference post-season race. Since early December, though, they have gone 5-14-2 to slip below the underachieving — and equally inept — Edmonton Oilers. The Sedin Twins are in the last year of their contracts but have no movement clauses, ditto underperforming and expensive winger Loui Eriksson. Which makes the vagabond — but productive – Vanek a likely target for trade. Only super rookie Brock Boeser has more points than Vanek’s 35. The Austrian sniper has 14 goals and 35 points in 49 games, a pace that would give him around 60, which would be his best output since 2013-14. Vanek has been no stranger to being dangled at the deadline and this year will likely be much of the same.
9. Adam Larsson – Edmonton Oilers
It’s amazing how lousy the Oilers have been this season. They are 10 points out of a playoff spot as of Jan. 29, but they might as well be on the dark side of the moon in that regard. That’s why a bit of a fire sale may be in order come the trade deadline. They need a complementary winger for Connor McDavid and with many teams looking for a steady right-hand shooting defenceman like Adam Larsson, a deal may be in the offing. We may be spitballing on this one, but he is under control for the next three seasons at a reasonable cap hit of just over $4 million. Plus, he has no terms on his deal, making him easy to move, should Peter Chiarelli entertain it. And he should be considering the move of anybody not named McDavid or Draisaitl.
8. Mike Green – Detroit Red Wings
Detroit, in tandem with Montreal, is 15 points out of third place in the Atlantic Division (the Leafs are third at 61 and hold that sure thing post-season spot) as well as 10 points out of a wild card. Which means the Winged Wheels aren’t going anywhere in April. And according to website Natural Stat Trick, the Wings are the oldest team in hockey at an average age of 28.9. To boot, Cap Friendly says Detroit is in the worst cap position of all 31 teams. Therefore, the deadline sell-off is a near dead certainty, if Ken Holland wants to re-make this team. Mike Green, who is 32, is the Wings highest paid defenceman at $6 million and that contract expires at the end of the year. He is also the team’s highest scoring defender with 26 points and eats up 22 and a half minutes a game, too. Being a right shot also enhances his market value. The big “if” is his no trade clause, which we think he might waive or modify to have a shot at his first ever Stanley Cup.
7. Marcus Johansson – New Jersey Devils
A recent swoon (2-6-2) has seen the Devils tumble in the standings, to the point they are tied with surging Philadelphia for the wild card spots. However, the Rangers and Islanders are just a point behind and Carolina a scant four. The Devils are fine, cap-wise, but center/winger Marcus Johansson has been a bit of a bust from a free agent standpoint. That is not to say, however, that he wouldn’t fit in better elsewhere. The usually very consistent two-way forward, who is currently on the IR with a concussion after being elbowed by Boston’s Brad Marchand last week, has 14 points in 29 games and a -11 rating. Should he get healthy enough by the deadline, Johansson would be a useful addition to a team looking for post-season experience and production (15 points in his last 25 playoff games with Washington). The 27-year-old does have a modified no trade clause and a cap hit of just over $4.5 million until 2019.
6. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Arizona Coyotes
Even the team with the lowest payroll and most cap room in the NHL will be looking to shed even more dollars, considering the dismal season the last place Coyotes have had. Ekman-Larsson might seem the best bet to be moved, considering he is just 26 and already has 544 games of NHL experience. He is one of the better puck-moving defencemen in the NHL and has 23 points in 50 games for the offence challenged ‘Yotes. The only drawback to his game is a “Green Jacket” worthy -36, but he does play over 24 minutes per game for a defensively challenged team. Ekman-Larsson brings leadership — he’s an “A” — and durability (has missed just 12 games in seven seasons) to any potential suitor. He has no clauses to a contract that pays him $5.5 million per season until 2019 and will command a fairly hefty return in trade, now more than later.
5. Michael Grabner – New York Rangers
An even better trade chip in the Big Apple than Rick Nash might be “Cy Young” candidate Michael Grabner. On a one-year deal that pays him $1.65 million, the 30-year-old Austrian gunner has a team-leading 21 goals — and just five assists — hence the alternative “Cy Young” award. He has been quite an efficient shooter, too, potting those 21 markers on just 109 shots for a sterling 19.3 percentage. As we said with Nash, the Rangers are just below the wild card playoff line and could go either way. Grabner would be a very cheap rental for any club needing secondary scoring from a third (or even fourth) line winger. He is also an efficient penalty killer and playoff performer, having scoring four goals and six points in 12 games with the Rangers last spring.
4. Gustav Nyquist – Detroit Red Wings
If the Red Wings can swing it, trading Gustav Nyquist may be a better option than Mike Green and get more bang for their buck. Yes, he does have a no trade clause, but given a chance to win a Stanley Cup, the 28-year-old Swede might entertain a modification. The versatile forward is on the last two years of a contract that pays him $4.75 million, so he’s not overly expensive and not a rental. He’s been very consistent with Detroit, too, having averaged 48 points for the last four seasons and on pace to have about 40 in a sub-par year for the Red Wings. GM Ken Holland has to take a good hard look at his roster over the next few weeks and we think at Nyquist’s age and offensive ability, the time couldn’t be any better to try and get him to waive the NTC.
3. Evander Kane – Buffalo Sabres
By all counts, former bad boy Evander Kane might be having his finest statistical year since breaking in with Atlanta in 2009. With 36 points in 49 games, the former fourth overall pick is on pace to hit 60, which would beat his personal best 57 posted with Winnipeg in 2011-12. Kane would be a rental, being in the last year of his deal, which would undercut slightly the yield the bottom-feeding Sabres could net. Yet, he is just 26 and having the kind of year that might translate into post-season success with a better team around him. Kyle Okposo would be a better candidate, if he didn’t have a no movement clause attached to his contract and five years remaining at $6 million per season. Kane is the rugged shooter teams will be looking for at the deadline.
2. Derick Brassard – Ottawa Senators
Owner Eugene Melnyk fired a shot across the bow of Senators fans earlier this year, decrying the lack of support for a team that reached the Eastern Conference finals last spring. Now that the Sens are tanking badly and all but assured of missing the post-season, the fire sale will begin in earnest. The most likely to be dealt might be Brassard, who at 30 has one more year at $5 million, but is still a decent point producer and two-way face-off man a few teams will covet. He has 12 goals and 16 assists in 47 games (a 50-point pace) and is just under 50 percent on draws. What will really make him blue chip to other teams is his playoff output of 55 points in just 78 games. He had 11 in Ottawa’s 19-game run last spring and there is no reason to believe he couldn’t top that this year.
1. Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens
It’s make or break time for Montreal GM Marc Bergevin. The Habs are an awful mess and at 10 points out of the playoff picture, likely going to be a seller at the deadline. What he does in a few weeks will likely determine Bergevin’s fate, as the team has already changed coaches to try and turn things around. The one player he can max out on a return is Pacioretty, who leads the team in scoring and has one more season at $4.5 million. Sure, he wears the “C”, but the Canadiens need to re-tool and re-stock the minors cupboard. “Patches” has been a good and loyal warrior for Montreal, but won’t likely hit 30 goals for the sixth time in his career. He is still just 29, though, and with his sensible two-way play and scoring touch he will bring back a fair return — not to mention have a hand in potentially saving Bergevin’s tenuous job.