Oh, trade rumors. You know you love them. They’re what makes the mid-season lull fun: knowing teams will be making big moves ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
Thus far, there has been no shortage of rumors involving defensemen, particularly puck-moving defenders, but Erik Gudbranson’s move from the Pittsburgh Penguins to Anaheim Ducks has been the only trade of note this season that has involved a rearguard.
But which other defensemen could be on the move before the trade freeze? Here are five blueliners who could find new homes:
Rasmus Ristolainen, 25 (Buffalo Sabres)
Whispers of Ristolainen moving along have been circulating over the past few months, but the Sabres may have done just the right thing by keeping him for as long as they have. With a goals-above replacement of 5.1 and a wins-above replacement of 0.9, Ristolainen leads all Sabres defensemen in both categories and trails just Jack Eichel for the overall team lead, per Evolving-Hockey. That’s partly due to how much he’s been used. Ristolainen has averaged 17 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time per game this season and has a 47.4 expected goals-for percentage. In the past two, however, he’s fallen to 15 minutes of even-strength action and an xGF% of 52.91. You do the math. He’s better when he’s not shouldering the load.
Shayne Gostisbehere, 26 (Philadelphia Flyers)
What a difference two years makes. In 2017-18, Gostisbehere’s 65-point season earned him Norris Trophy consideration and he looked to be well on his way to becoming one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen. But Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch on a few occasions this season and is on pace for just 28 points, the fewest of his NHL career. His average ice time is the lowest it has ever been at 18:19, too, and it’s clear Gostisbehere and coach Alain Vigneault aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. The Montreal Canadiens have been rumored to have interest in the defender over the summer and speculation of a trade has ramped up over the past two weeks with Gostisbehere spending a few games watching from the press box. A new home and a renewed opportunity could provide Gostisbehere with a spark.
Alec Martinez, 32 (Los Angeles Kings)
The Kings are not a good hockey team right now. Who could have seen that coming? The club will want to move some veterans to add assets, and Martinez will likely be one of the first candidates to go. Martinez is currently on injured reserve after taking a skate to the wrist in late November, but prior to that, his ice time fell from 24 minutes per game to 18 minutes in the six games he played before the injury. At 32, the top-four defender can still chip in about 20 points a season, but he’s better suited to a stay-at-home role. Martinez is known for his ability to keep it simple and stay out of trouble, so pairing him up with a free-flowing youngster could benefit a team looking for a veteran presence.
Erik Gustafsson, 27 (Chicago Blackhawks)
Gustafsson was one of Chicago’s biggest surprises last season, blowing up for a 60-point season during his first full year in the NHL. Gustafsson is on pace to record half of that this season and was even a healthy scratch on a few occasions in November with the Hawks instead giving looks to rookies Adam Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert. Given the late-blooming nature of the 27-year-old’s career and the fact that he produced at a high rate during a nothing season for the Blackhawks, some wonder if he can actually be a consistent producer in the NHL. As a pending UFA, Gustafsson could be a good gamble for a team needing a bit of extra scoring depth, but his next contract could be messy if he doesn’t start producing again.
Julius Honka, 24 (Dallas Stars)
This one is tricky. As an unsigned RFA, and one who failed to sign before the Dec. 1 signing deadline, Honka can’t play in the NHL this season. It’s clear the Stars and Honka are no longer a fit, but at 24, he’s still young enough to be a part of another team’s future. The two-way defenseman struggled to hold a full-time role in Dallas – most notably, he was scratched for the final 35 games of the regular season and the entire playoffs – so a team looking to acquire Honka may be able do so at a low cost. The first-round pick in 2014 (14th overall) has fallen short of expectations, but he looks to have found his groove again with JYP in the Finnish League.
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