The rumors had swirled for the better part of the past two seasons, but when Phil Kessel was shipped by the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Arizona Coyotes ahead of free agency, it finally put an end to the longstanding trade talk that had followed the sharpshooting winger.
With that, though, one of the oft-talked about trade chips came off the board. Thus, the focus for GMs – armchair or otherwise – who believe their club’s best chance at improving in the remaining weeks and months of the off-season is by way of trade have to look elsewhere. Luckily, there are several readymade trade candidates on the market.
Here are five players who could be dealt before the summer is up:
Nikita Gusev, Vegas Golden Knights
It’s a numbers game in Vegas right now, and, simply put, the numbers don’t add up to keep Gusev around. The Golden Knights are already over the spending limit and Gusev’s reported asking price is too rich for Vegas’ blood. It’s a shame, too, because Gusev arrived with considerable hype, having scored 39 goals and 144 points in his past 116 games in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg. Doesn’t hurt, either, that he scored 16 goals and 31 points in 33 post-season games over the past two seasons, stood out at each of his past two World Championship appearances and was a hero for the Olympic Athletes from Russia in 2018 in Pyeongchang.
Colleague Steven Ellis has already outlined a number of possible trade destinations for Gusev, including the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets. All three clubs need some scoring punch. Gusev fits the bill.
Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild
That the Wild have tried to ship out Zucker not once, but twice, is no secret. The first deal with the Calgary Flames fell through at the deadline, the second with the Pittsburgh Penguins was nixed when Phil Kessel vetoed the deal. Minnesota GM Paul Fenton has said that he’s not going to ship out Zucker for the sake of shipping out Zucker, though. That said, it seems unlikely the Wild are going to start the season with Zucker in the lineup if the feeling is moving him can make the team better in the immediate.
Where does Zucker land? That’s the tricky question, though it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see Minnesota and Calgary circle back and see if there isn’t a deal that can be worked out. There are a few teams who could use some speedy, top-six scoring help, though, and Zucker would be a fit on any number of clubs.
Travis Hamonic/Michael Stone, Calgary Flames
All right, so the headline says five and the inclusion of both Hamonic and Stone brings this group to six. It’s something of a toss up as to which rearguard gets moved. Ideally, the Flames would probably move Stone, who has played primarily third-pairing minutes and missed much of last season due to injury. But the market is going to be stronger for Hamonic, who is more valuable and can play second-pairing minutes.
Why move either, though? Well, Calgary is on the verge of something of a cap crunch. Matthew Tkachuk’s career year as he exited his entry-level deal puts him in line for a hefty raise, as the Flames also have to re-up restricted free agents Sam Bennett and goaltender David Rittich, who is expected to share crease time with Cam Talbot. Add to it that Juuso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson are ready for increased roles and something has to give. So, Hamonic or Stone, one or the other seems a good possibility to be on the move.
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
His name entered the rumor mill last season and it hasn’t left since, and Kreider does still seem a reasonable candidate to end up elsewhere before the beginning of the season. The Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild, one that was accelerated by landing the second-overall pick, which became Kaapo Kakko, as well as top-tier free agent Artemi Panarin. And while New York doesn’t have to go scorched earth in order to retool this roster, Kreider’s pending free agency will make him an attractive trade chip as a one-year rental or a veteran piece on a team ready to compete.
The Rangers aren’t going to part ways with Kreider easily, however. He posted his second 28-goal, 50-plus-point season in three campaigns and he can skate in just about any top six in the NHL. It’ll take a roster player or maybe a promising prospect and a pick or two to get Kreider off Broadway.
Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks
Some believed Eriksson was a potential buyout candidate during the first window, but he remained with the club, as did the final three years at $6-million per season of what has become an anchor of a contract. Others connected him to potential swaps with cap-rich teams that had oodles of space to assume what was left of his contract. That didn’t come to fruition before signing season began. But the ship hasn’t necessarily sailed on Eriksson moving on from the Canucks this summer, especially not with Brock Boeser unsigned and the $3-million cap recapture penalty incurred as a result of Roberto Luongo’s retirement.
Sure, Vancouver can move around some money, shuffle some contracts to the minors, but the best way forward would be to rid themselves of Eriksson’s deal and do so in whatever way possible. It’s likely – incredibly likely – the Canucks will have to sweeten the pot to move the pact or maybe eat some money. But even half of Eriksson’s deal would be better than the full weight of the contract given he’s scored 32 goals and 76 points in nearly 200 games since he arrived and ranked 10th in average ice time among forwards with at least 20 games played.
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