It’s always a safe bet to expect a flurry of trades at or before the NHL draft. Which players are most likely to move this year?
What do Ryan Kesler, James Neal, Scott Hartnell, Cory Schneider, Jordan Staal, James van Riemsdyk and Sergei Bobrovsky have in common?
Each was traded at or just before the NHL draft over the past three summers. It’s a time of year when the smoke of the NHL rumor mill produces fire. Some teams need to shed salary before free agency. Others simply want draft picks to kickstart their rebuilds. It’s different than the trade deadline, when we primarily see rentals of expiring contracts. All 30 teams are ready to effect change come June. Everyone’s a suitor. That’s why the draft yields some of the biggest blockbusters.
Which names are most likely to move within the next nine days? And make no mistake, some will move…
10. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
It feels like Staal should be higher on this list but, hey, Hurricanes GM Ron Francis said recently he has no plans to move his captain at this time. Curious. The Canes are in all-out rebuild mode, and Staal’s $8.25-million cap hit is palatable since he has one year left on his deal. Staal has a no-trade clause, and waiving it would mean leaving brother Jordan. But playing together hasn’t yielded any success. Maybe Eric needs a change of scenery. And the list of interested teams is longer now than it would be for a deadline rental. Shouldn’t Francis at least listen to offers?
9. Rick Nash, New York Rangers
Nash is the Rangers’ leading scorer, fresh off a resurgent season, and his team was one victory away from a second straight Stanley Cup final. So why trade No. 61?
Cap space is a reason. Nash eats up $7.8 million annually for three more seasons. New York’s payroll is already $59.5 million for 2015-16, with restricted free agents Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast unsigned. An expected league-wide cap of $71 million gives the Blueshirts $11.5 million to play with, which could be enough for that quartet, but Chris Kreider needs a new deal as an RFA next year, too. Maybe the Rangers decide to move Nash and take a step backward to take a step forward. For what it’s worth, Bob McKenzie raised the idea of moving Nash last week, and Rangers beat writer Larry Brooks championed it the week before that. Elliotte Friedman mentioned Buffalo as a team aggressive enough to push for Nash.
That said, dealing Nash at the draft would be complicated. He still has a no-movement clause, and it doesn’t change to a modified no-trade clause until July 1. But we could see a Scott Hartnell situation in which simply being asked to waive it would spur Nash to waive it. It’s human nature to be happier where you’re wanted.
8. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
We know for a fact teams are making calls on Kessel, and that the scorched-earth Leafs will entertain offers seriously, especially if suitors dangle high picks and/or sexy prospects. Per TSN, Kessel’s limited no-trade clause is believed to list Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, the Rangers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as teams to which he’d accept a trade. I’ve already explained why I think Montreal makes a lot of sense, and Sidney Crosby’s wing in Pittsburgh would be a dream landing spot if the Penguins could find the cap space. Still, Kessel, 27, is young enough that he can be part of Toronto’s future. The Leafs have William Nylander and may draft another offensive center depending on who falls to them fourth overall June 26. Kessel could form a formidable first line with one of those players going forward. So while a trade might be prudent for Toronto, it doesn’t have to happen. Retaining Kessel wouldn’t be a failure.
7. Keith Yandle, New York Rangers
Yandle makes much more sense than Nash as a cap casualty. Yandle has just a year left on his deal and, even if he wasn’t a good fit with the Blueshirts, plenty of teams could use what he offers. He’s still one of the sport’s best puck-moving defensemen, and he’s in his prime. He wouldn’t be a hard sell. Especially since any team acquiring him only has to pay the $2.625 million New York owes him. Arizona retains the other half of Yandle’s contract per the terms of its trade with the Rangers.
6. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues
Blues GM Doug Armstrong made it clear to our own Ken Campbell that re-signing RFA Vladimir Tarasenko trumps all other off-season priorities. Unsigned players will have to wait for Tarasenko to sign, UFAs, such as Barret Jackman will be jettisoned and, maybe, some salaries must be traded. Oshie produces more like a second-liner than a first liner, so his $4.175-million cap hit isn’t all that cheap. He’s not the vital cog he once was. Those roles are reserved for Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Oshie has zero trade restrictions on his contract, unlike his usual linemates Alexander Steen and David Backes. Dealing Oshie makes sense, and he’d fit nicely on a winger-starved team. Once again, Pittsburgh comes to mind.
5. Cam Talbot, New York Rangers
The Talbot rumors are more about other teams than they are about the Rangers. Talbot has been one of the league’s best backups over the past couple seasons, and he’s filled in admirably whenever Henrik Lundqvist has a malady. But teams like the Sharks and Oilers, desperate for goaltending, should realize Talbot is too good to be a backup anymore and that he’s years away from passing Hank on the depth chart. A deal makes all too much sense. The situation is similar to that of Jonathan Bernier when he was stuck behind Jonathan Quick in L.A.
4. Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche
Is anyone else tired of the yearly Ryan O’Reilly rumors? For whatever reason, these two parties won’t commit to each other long-term. O’Reilly has one year left on his contract at $6 million. Avs GM Joe Sakic reportedly seeks a “significant defenseman” for O’Reilly, whom he has made available via trade.
Colorado is starved for a top-four blueliner to support Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, yes. And moving O’Reilly would mean subtracting high-end centers from the team core in consecutive seasons after Paul Stastny left in free agency last summer. But with Matt Duchene topping the depth chart and Nathan MacKinnon capable of becoming a full-time center, Sakic can afford to move O’Reilly.
3. Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks
It’s no secret Stan Bowman must attempt pure cap wizardry this off-season. He did it after 2010, shipping out Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien following a Cup victory, and Bowman must do it again. Chicago has less than $7 million in cap space, with RFAs Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger, among others, needing new contracts. Some name-brand forwards will go. Bickell, a healthy scratch on and off during the final, seems a logical choice. Sitting in the press box doesn’t do wonders for his trade value, but there’s still a market for bruising top-nine forwards. A team rolling in cap space can stomach two more years at $4 million. How about vertically challenged Calgary?
2. Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators
If we knew for sure which netminder would go, he’d top the list. The Senators have inked Andrew Hammond, not to mention college free agent Matt O’Connor, packing their depth chart in the crease. They’ve gone on record stating they want to trade Lehner or Anderson before the draft. One will almost certainly go, but it’s a matter of whether teams want Lehner’s potential and lower price or Anderson’s more bankable veteran play.
1. Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
Everything points to a Sharp trade. It’s when, not if. Chicago must lighten its pockets, he has two years left at $5.9 million per and, just as importantly, teams will want him. Even if his game has slipped, he’s a top-six forward with three Stanley Cups. Any team wanting to sign Justin Williams could trade for Sharp instead.
And Bowman isn’t above the stone-cold notion of trading someone days after that someone hoisted the Cup. In 2013 he dealt Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik six days after winning it all – and Bolland had scored the series-winner. In 2010, Versteeg, Byfuglien and Ladd were all dealt by July 1, with the Byfuglien heading to Atlanta before the draft. So there’s significant precedent here. History suggests Bowman will start tearing down his latest masterpiece in the next couple weeks.
Honorable mentions: Zach Fucale, Eddie Lack, Kari Lehtonen, Evgeni Malkin (highly unlikely), Jacob Markstrom, Dion Phaneuf
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin