If you go back through the past five trade deadlines and peruse the moves made by Stanley Cup-winning sides, one thing stands out: the big budget, headline-making, splashy moves are the exception, not the rule.
Last season, for instance, the St. Louis Blues made one acquisition at the deadline, landing rearguard Michael Del Zotto from the Anaheim Ducks for a sixth-round selection. He played in seven games for the Blues, all in the regular season, and didn’t see a second of playoff action. The year prior, the Washington Capitals’ big deadline transaction was picking up Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks. As it turned out, that was a stroke of genius. And the deadline acquisitions by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the two campaigns prior and the Blackhawks before them included the likes Mark Streit, Frank Corrado, Ron Hainsey, Andrew Desjardins and Kimmo Timonen. Not exactly the biggest names.
In fact, the only major waves any of those Stanley Cup winners made in the past five seasons by Stanley Cup-winning teams were the Penguins’ three-way swap with the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights that sent Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh ahead of the 2018 deadline. That came three seasons after Chicago’s Antoine Vermette trade with the Arizona Coyotes. But in both instances, those were secondary pieces that supplemented the already-established top stars.
So, ahead of this deadline, it’s worth remembering that the best additions might not be the big guns, but rather the role-players and pluggers who can cement themselves as key pieces of the bottom six. And given more than half the league’s teams have projected cap space below $1.5 million according to CapFriendly, the contending clubs looking to add those types of players will likely have to do so with the spending limit in mind. That could make these 10 skaters prime trade candidates – and sneaky-good additions – come deadline day:
Derek Grant, C, Anaheim Ducks – $700,000 AAV
Grant, 29, has skated with six clubs across his seven seasons in the NHL, which speaks to two things: a number of teams see him as a useful piece and he has enough versatility to fit into just about any lineup. Like a number of players on this list, Grant isn’t going to make or break any organization’s post-season run, but what he will do is provide reliability in depth minutes and solidify a fourth-line with a legitimate big-league skater. Some teams want to entrust those minutes to veteran skaters and veteran skaters only. Grant can be that guy.
Brian Boyle, C, Florida Panthers – $940,000 AAV
Any selling the Panthers do ahead of the trade freeze, especially of role players such as Boyle, will be contingent on their spot in the standings come deadline day. If GM Dale Tallon does decide to move out some veteran pieces, however, Boyle, 35, should be at the top of the list for any club that wants to add some size and scoring to its fourth line. It’s not as though Boyle is going to be a bank-breaker in either the cap or cost-of-acquisition sense, and his penalty killing acumen, strength in the faceoff circle and mild offensive ability are attributes contending teams will covet at the deadline.
Joakim Ryan, D, Los Angeles Kings – $725,000 AAV
It’s a bit telling about the situation in Los Angeles that Ryan, who was pegged as a third-pairing blueliner, is averaging upwards of 19 minutes per game with the Kings. Any team that acquires the 26-year-old won’t be looking to utilize him in the same way, though. Much more likely is that he reverts to his prior playing time with the San Jose Sharks, which is to say around the 14-minute mark at most. What might entice teams about Ryan is that he’s got experience being part of a deep post-season run. He skated in 20 playoff games with the Sharks last season as a bottom-pairing rearguard. Never hurts to have another player who’s been there and seen the late rounds of the playoffs.
Brad Hunt, D, Minnesota Wild – $700,000 AAV
Hunt is the only player on this list with a contract that does not expire at season’s end, but the cap hit is so minimal as to almost be negligible moving forward. He has a league-minimum salary and he’s producing enough offensively that he should be on the short list of any club who needs a boost their power play. Hunt, 31, is a late-bloomer, but he can quarterback the second special teams unit and blast away when he tees one up. Of 51 defensemen with at least 100 minutes on the power play, Hunt ranks 21st with 4.96 points per 60 minutes. That’s better than the rates possessed by Zach Werenski, Erik Karlsson, Jacob Trouba, Kris Letang and Morgan Rielly.
Nate Thompson, C, Montreal Canadiens – $1,000,000 AAV
Thompson is cut from the same cloth as Boyle, the difference being that the potential for the former to be available is much higher than it is for the latter. At roughly the same price in terms of assets needed to pry the players from their clubs and cap hit, any team that misses out on Boyle will probably then look to swing around to Thompson and vice-versa. Any team acquiring Thompson, 35, is going to want to stash him on the fourth line and use him in own-zone, must-win faceoff type situations. His 55.2 faceoff-winning percentage is tied for 12th-best in the NHL among players who’ve taken at least 600 draws.
Rocco Grimaldi, RW, Nashville Predators – $1,000,000 AAV
Grimaldi was an inspiring success story last season, an experienced AHL hand who finally managed to crack an NHL roster and convince the higher-ups he belonged. The 27-year-old has proven the Predators’ faith in him right, too, with a nine-goal, 26-point output in 52 games that is double what he posted in 53 outings last season. That has only set up for Nashville to potentially move Grimaldi along should the Predators stumble out of the race in the next week-plus, though. Teams will be intrigued by his skill and ability to chip in with limited ice time. He’s worth kicking the tires on.
Dylan DeMelo, D, Ottawa Senators – $900,000 AAV
It would not be shocking in the least if the Senators were to cling to DeMelo through the deadline, as the 26-year-old defender has consistently skated top-four minutes and could be one of the key defensive cogs for the next few seasons. That said, he’s got the perfect price tag for teams that need to add on a budget and he can be slotted into a top-four and flourish. That’s remarkable value given the price. The only drawback is that DeMelo might be the most expensive acquisition, in terms of assets traded away, on this list.
Tyler Ennis, RW, Ottawa Senators – $800,000 AAV
After spending his early and prime years as a decent middle-six scorer with the Buffalo Sabres, Ennis, 30, has been a journeyman bottom-six hand across the past few campaigns. And though he’s found himself a nice spot with the Senators this season, his production – he has 13 goals and 30 points in 56 games, which is a 19-goal, 44-point pace – paired with his price tag makes him a prime secondary scoring option for the clubs that need to add on a budget. Ennis won’t be a game changer, but he’s shifty and he can create. If nothing else, he’s a bottom-six piece for a contending club who can chip in a point or two.
Patrick Marleau, LW, San Jose Sharks – $700,000
When he signed his one-year, $700,000 pact with the Sharks, the expectation was Marleau would get one last hurrah in the NHL and the chance to win a Stanley Cup in San Jose. The former held true. The latter? Not so much. With the Sharks so far out of the post-season race, the reality is Marleau’s only real use in San Jose right now is as trade bait. He’s not the player he once was, but the 40-year-old has 10 goals and 20 points this season and can still skate the game. Without question, Sharks GM Doug Wilson will leave the decision to stay or go to Marleau, but if he wants to chase a championship before he calls it a career, this deadline is likely his last opportunity to play for a contender.
Radim Simek, D, San Jose Sharks – $675,000 AAV
Understanding full well how ridiculous this sounds, Simek, 27, has been something of a crucial player for the Sharks since he arrived last season, if only because his presence allowed for San Jose to optimize their defensive pairings. It turns out that he’s a fairly decent depth defenseman, too. He’s not going to wow anyone, but he can contribute offensively from time to time, move the puck and play the stay-at-home role for a more fluid puck-moving partner. But really, the thing with Simek is that you can’t beat the price. He’s earning less than a league-minimum deal this season and can be that final budget addition for a team looking to really round out its defense corps.
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