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Invaluable & Inexpensive: Five Role Players Up For Grabs at the NHL Trade Deadline

Every team can’t land the big fish at the NHL trade deadline, but those who miss out on the big-name talents or want to add on a budget should look to these five role players.

Following Tuesday night’s transaction between the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings, a deal that sent Dion Phaneuf and Nate Thompson to California in exchange for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore, the NHL’s trade season is officially upon us.

In the coming days and weeks, NHL teams will test the trade market in an attempt to improve the roster either for the stretch run or with the future in mind. The deal that make the biggest headlines will be those including top stars or big-name rental players. But there are also a few sleeper options available for teams looking to improve on a budget. 

Here are five role players with skill sets that could provide just what a contending team needs without breaking the bank:

Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks
Sure, Vanek is one of the high-profile forwards available at the deadline. Many would include him in the top five trade targets. But Vanek isn’t a guy who is going to come in and play heavy top-six minutes for a contending team, especially not when he’s not even playing top-six minutes for his own team, the Canucks, who are closer to landing top odds for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft than they are to the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Right now, he’s averaging less than 14 minutes per game. He can take on more, but limited, sheltered minutes are his sweet spot.

So, where does Vanek fit on a team looking to make noise in the post-season? Well, the best place for him would be as a triggerman working the wall on the power play. Among forwards, Vanek is tied for 44th in power play points, having scored four goals and 14 points with the man advantage. He can provide an almost instant boost to a power play with his scoring and playmaking abilities, and at an even $2 million, his services will come much cheaper than those of some other top depth scorers.

Derek Ryan, Carolina Hurricanes
This isn’t the way Carolina saw this campaign going, but they do have some intriguing rentals if they’re on the outside of the playoff picture as we get closer to the Feb. 26 deadline. Maybe the most intriguing is Ryan. The 31-year-old pivot has stepped up this season into a middle-six role and has been one of the Hurricanes’ most consistent scorers. His 11 goals match his career-best, set last season, and his 26 points in 54 games put him four shy of surpassing his previous high. He should get there, too, given he’s on a 38-point pace. 

Ryan can offer more than scoring, though. While he’s not a go-to penalty killer in Carolina, he has been utilized on the unit as a depth option. Additionally, he’s a weapon for the second-unit power play. That’s not to mention a strong possession player, although he doesn’t take on top competition on a night-to-night basis.

Cost is really no concern with Ryan, either. And that’s true in more than one way. He’s only carrying a $1.425-million cap hit this season, and it’s probably not going to cost any team looking to acquire Ryan much more than a mid-round draft pick and/or a half-decent prospect to bring him aboard.

Lee Stempniak, Carolina Hurricanes
Only one player in NHL history has ever played for more than 10 teams across his entire career: Mike Sillinger, who skated for a dozen clubs before he hung up the skates. Stempniak, however, could become the second player to eclipse the 10-team mark in his career. He’s not the first guy who comes to mind when it comes the deadline, but teams that swing and miss on the top or even secondary forwards could do much worse than bringing in Stempniak, 35, as a depth scorer.

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It’s been a trying season for Stempniak, who missed the entire first half due to a hip injury and then an upper-body ailment. But he’s been back in Carolina’s lineup over the past 13 games, and Stempniak has registered one goal and five points in limited minutes. Considering he’s only one season removed from notching 16 goals and 40 points for the Hurricanes, it’s obvious he has the ability to contribute in a bottom-six role.

Better yet, Stempniak has a modest amount of playoff experience and success. He has played in 28 post-season games, scoring three goals and six points while averaging about 14 minutes per outing. And at $2.5-million cap hit, he’s not going to ding up the books too much.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
Everything seemed to be trending in the right direction for Pageau, but he’s had a tough go his season. After scoring 31 goals and 76 points in 164 games across the past two seasons, Pageau will be lucky to end this campaign with 10 goals and 25 points. He has only seven tallies and 18 points to his name through 50 games. Despite that, one doesn’t need a great imagination to see Pageau moving along at the deadline. There’s a good chance several teams will be intrigued by his performance in the playoffs last season. As part of Ottawa’s run to the Eastern Conference final, Pageau scored eight goals and 10 points in 19 games, all the while averaging upwards of 18 minutes per game. 

However, for those intrigued by Pageau’s offense, there may be an equal number interested in what he can do on the defensive side. He has received Selke Trophy votes in each of the past two seasons, and he continues to be one of the most heavily relied upon two-way forwards in the Senators’ arsenal. And, if nothing else, Pageau is at least worth a look for the parodied “Olé, Olé, Olé” sing-along.

Nick Holden, New York Rangers
All eyes are on Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, and with good reason. It’s not often a legitimate top-three defender, one who can produce on both sides of the puck, is available at this time of year. That said, only one team can land McDonagh — if he even moves at all — meaning others will have to settle for secondary options. And those clubs could do well to inquire about Holden.

Is he flashy? No. Does he pose anywhere near the offensive threat that McDonagh does? No. But Holden can chip in. He has three goals and 11 points in 51 games this season. And what he lacks in offense he can make up for in defensive reliability as a depth defenseman. He averages 19 minutes per night on the Rangers’ blueline and no rearguard in New York consistently faces a higher quality of competition than Holden. He plays the thankless minutes for the Rangers. That includes the penalty kill, where he averages upwards of two minutes per game.

Holden’s not the kind of pickup that’s going to make hair-raising plays or turn heads. But teams seeking an effective depth defender should target him.

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