It’s never too early to fire up the rumor mill. Which players might wind up playing for new teams during the upcoming season?
It’s prediction season now. Typically, when we think predictions we think standings, but what about trades? We know some big names will change addresses this season. Figuring out which is a matter of examining every team’s circumstances. The most obvious trade candidates have contracts expiring next summer and happen to play for teams we expect to miss the playoffs, as those players make for natural trade bait. Not that every big-time candidate is a pending UFA. See Duchene, Matt.
And not that every heavily rumored player will get moved, either. Ryan-Nugent Hopkins pops up often in Edmonton, but at this point the Oilers need him as part of what may be a Stanley Cup push in 2017-18. Same goes for Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk. His contract expires this season, and he’s been rumored to get dealt for a defenseman, but such a trade likely would’ve happened already. He’s still an important part of the Leafs’ roster, and they may just decide to keep him around for a playoff push. You thus won’t see these two crack this list of my top 10 trade candidates.
1. Matt Duchene / Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
So my list is immediately a cheat consisting of more than 10 players. No biggie. My blog, my rules. Duchene and Landeskog are mentioned in the same breath so often that it would feel dishonest to mention one without the other. We know Avs GM Joe Sakic wants to dig into a thorough rebuild by trading these assets, who can net top-drawer prospects and picks. Unfortunately, he hasn’t found an offer he thinks is fair. There isn’t necessarily a rush to move Landeskog, who is signed through 2020-21, but if Sakic can’t strike a Duchene deal, it will cost Colorado dearly. Duchene enters the final season of his contract next year and will thus become a rental commodity rather than a long-term investment, unless the team acquiring him works out an extension. It seems likely the return Sakic gets would worsen if he can’t move his best chip during the 2017-18 campaign.
2. Every pending UFA on the Vegas Golden Knights roster
Two slots in and I’m breaking the rules again! But the truth is the Golden Knights would populate this entire list if I didn’t amalgamate them into one category. We know what GM George McPhee’s plan is here. James Neal, a UFA next summer, will be a perfect piece to shop at the 2018 NHL trade deadline. He’d probably land McPhee a second-round pick, maybe a first if Neal is having a decent year, which in Vegas might mean a 25-goal pace. David Perron is another pending UFA winger virtually guaranteed to get moved to a contender. Teams looking for depth on the back of their bluelines will make calls on Jason Garrison and Brayden McNabb, too.
The most interesting UFA to watch in Vegas this year will be Jonathan Marchessault. It’s not a given he gets traded. He’s 26 and fresh off his first 30-goal campaign, with a chance to consistently play top-line minutes on a talent-starved team for the next few years. Maybe McPhee tries to work out an extension with him. On the other hand, Marchessault would yield the best return if the Knights chose to dangle him at the deadline. That’s a conundrum.
3. Erik Gudbranson, Vancouver Canucks
It’s a near certainty the Canucks come nowhere near a playoff berth this season. They’ve gotten surprisingly useful contributions from youngsters Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher behind Chris Tanev. Gudbranson suddenly isn’t a must-keep piece, especially when the Canucks will want to make room for stud Olli Juolevi and other prospects like Jalen Chatfield, Guillaume Brisebois and Jordan Subban eventually. Gubdbranson’s rugged game makes him an ideal rental piece for a playoff team willing to overlook his ugly possession stats. It makes too much sense for GM Jim Benning to deal him.
4. Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
Green might wind up the highest-impact player on the board when the trade deadline rolls around, assuming the Red Wings are out of the hunt, which we predict will be the case. As a puck-moving right shot who can play in the top four, it was no surprise to see him land a $6-million AAV on the open market, and it’s the same reason teams will line up with trade offers in the spring. Given Green’s premium position, the Wings can demand a first-round pick in return for his services.
5. Drew Stafford, New Jersey Devils
We know who Stafford is now. He’s a middle-six forward entering the gun-for-hire phase of his career, also known as The Stempniak Years. The non-contending Devils gave him a one-year contract for a reason. Just as Stafford got shipped to Boston for last year’s playoffs, he’ll get dealt for a low pick to plug a hole on a new team for the 2018 post-season. Then he’ll likely rinse and repeat. He seems to perform best when he’s motivated and playing on a short timeline, and it appears teams have figured that out, which explains why he didn’t secure a long-term deal this off-season.
6. Mike Cammalleri, Los Angeles Kings
When healthy, which isn’t often these days, Cammalleri still brings good scoring touch and leadership at age 35. The Kings might think they’re making the playoffs in 2017-18, but we don’t see it at THN. Cammalleri was the Kings’ top off-season addition. A team missing two of the past three post-seasons needed a lot more help than that, especially with the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames lording over the Pacific Division. The Arizona Coyotes made more improvements than any other Pacific club, too. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see L.A. slide as far as sixth this season. That means Cammalleri’s stay should be short, and he’ll become rental trade bait by March.
7. Dante Fabbro, Nashville Predators
Fabbro is a big-time prospect, the kind most teams would cling to. But this Nashville Predators team has traded Seth Jones and Shea Weber while letting Ryan Suter walk as a UFA. General manager David Poile is absolutely fearless. He also already has the best top-four defense corps in the NHL with P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, each of whom is still in his mid-20s. It would make sense for a team very much in its Stanley Cup contention window to deal from a position of strength to improve in other areas. Fabbro could net Nashville a helpful forward (Duchene, hint hint). Poile is as aggressive a trader as you’ll find in hockey, so I wouldn’t rule out any blockbuster deal from him, even one involving the highly regarded Fabbro.
8. Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have a savvy new GM in Jason Botterill and a rising star coach in Phil Housley. They’ve added Nathan Beaulieu, Marco Scandella and Victor Antipin to their blueline. They should get a full healthy season of superstar-in-the-making Jack Eichel. Ask yourself, “Will the Sabres improve on last season’s 78 points?” and most of us will say yes. But now ask if the Sabres can beat out three of Tampa Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Washington, Columbus, the New York Rangers and Carolina and make the playoffs. It’s highly unlikely.
Instead, we should see the Sabres improve by five or 10 points but not enough to realistically compete for a playoff berth. Now let’s shift our case to Mr. Kane, a big, strong, physical winger coming off a 28-goal season and set to become a UFA in 2018. His skill set and situation scream playoff rental, regardless of any questions about how he jives with dressing room chemistry. His current deal carries a $5.25-million cap hit. If he wants anything close to that AAV on his next contact, it might give Botterill pause, as Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Robin Lehner are RFAs next summer and could combine to eat up about $20 million on their extensions starting in 2018-19. It thus might make sense for Buffalo to move on from Kane and deal him at the deadline.
9. Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks
It seemed like a given Anaheim would move Vatanen in the summer, but his major shoulder injury, which will sideline him into this season, complicated things. The Ducks worked out side deals with the Golden Knights and ended up losing prospect Shea Theodore instead of a veteran contributor. The Ducks could still deal Vatanen for forward help since they already have Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Brandon Montour and Jacob Larsson to build around. On the other hand, Lindholm is recovering from shoulder surgery of his own, and you can never have enough mobile D-men. Vatanen is certainly a name to keep watching, especially once his shoulder recovers, but he’s no longer a lock to get traded. A summer 2018 deal feels more likely.
10. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes
A lot can change in a year. Faulk was unquestionably Carolina’s No. 1 blueliner entering the 2016-17 season, but Jaccob Slavin ended up leading the team in minutes and playing the top-pair shutdown role alongside Brett Pesce. Carolina has an embarrassment of riches on ‘D,’ with Noah Hanifin in town and prospects Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean also on the way. Fleury’s on the cusp of arriving in the NHL and has a chance to unseat Klas Dahlbeck for a bottom-pairing spot alongside Trevor van Riemsdyk this year. If Fleury is ready, the Canes will have enough depth that they can consider trading Faulk for the first-line pivot they desperately need. A Faulk deal is just as likely to not happen as it is to happen. It would be a pretty shocking blockbuster. But it makes sense for Carolina and GM Ron Francis from a “hockey trade” perspective.