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Five players to keep an eye on with the trade deadline approaching

The trade deadline is less than two months away, and these five players could be the best bets to be moving at or ahead of the annual trade freeze.

The Montreal Canadiens stopped the bleeding Thursday night. Losers of five-straight and nine of their past 12 games heading into action against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carey Price put on an otherworldly performance in overtime as the Canadiens picked up a shootout victory over the league’s top team. But one win at the midpoint of the campaign, one win when the team is already well out of the final wild-card spot, isn’t going to stop the trade rumors that have followed this team from persisting. And lately, those rumors have been focused on one player: Max Pacioretty.

As the Canadiens have slid down the standings over the past month, Pacioretty, Montreal’s captain and offensive leader, has been at the forefront of trade speculation and not without reason. He’s arguably the best and most valuable trade chip the Canadiens have, and with the organization struggling to find answers to what has gone so horribly wrong this season, the thought of trading Pacioretty, recouping a few assets and starting to re-tool around Price, Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber has become enticing to some.

But as quality a trade chip as Pacioretty may be, there’s no guarantee anything is imminent. Matter of fact, according to reports, it seems the Canadiens and GM Marc Bergevin are going to take their time seeking out a deal for their captain — with good reason, too, as Montreal would be much better served to take their time with such a trade. So, as intriguing as Pacioretty is to those teams in the playoff hunt and visions of hoisting the Stanley Cup, the chances are he’s not going to be easy to pry out of Montreal without sending a sizeable return back the other way. And those types of trades, as we’ve come to learn over the past several seasons, are much better suited to the off-season.

Luckily, those clubs looking for an offensively capable addition at or ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline aren’t stuck with Pacioretty as the only option. Instead, there are a number of players who look as though they’re almost certain to be moving on in the coming months. Here are five players who stand a good chance of being dealt before the NHL imposes its annual trade freeze:

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators

Maybe his numbers don’t scream top trade candidate, but don’t sleep on Hoffman just because he’s only managed nine goals and 24 points in 38 games this season. Over the past three season, Hoffman has proven himself a consistent sniper, registering at least 26 goals each campaign for a total of 82 goals between 2014-15 and 2016-17. That puts Hoffman in the same company as scorers such as Jeff Carter, Jeff Skinner, T.J. Oshie and Blake Wheeler over that span. And even if he is having a down year thus far, Hoffman is still on pace to hit 19 this season.

Hoffman would be a great addition to a top-six on a contending team, too. He has the wheels to keep up if a game turns into a track meet and he proved he can produce in the playoff environment. In 2014-15, he notched one goal and three points in the Senators’ six-game stay in the post-season and then contributed six goals and 11 points in 19 games during Ottawa’s run to the Eastern Conference final last season. Landing Hoffman might be cheaper than landing another top-six scorer, like, say…

Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres

Is this the worst-kept secret of all the trade rumors floating around? Speculation that Kane wasn’t long for Buffalo started last season, carried through the summer and have continued on into the current campaign. And if you had to lay down a bet on one single player being dealt at or ahead of the deadline, it would have to be Kane.

The powerful winger is going to have his fair share of suitors, too, given the year he’s having for the lowly Sabres. In 40 games this season, Kane has potted 16 goals and 35 points while skating nearly 20 minutes per night, and he’s been contributing all over the ice. On the power play, he has two goals and eight points. He’s scored three shorthanded goals. That leaves another in 11 goals and 24 points that he’s chipped in at even strength.

There are two questions surrounding Kane, though. The first is how he fares in the post-season, given he’s never seen the playoffs in his 500-plus game career. The other is if his health can hold up. Kane has only played one full season in his career and that was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. There’s some risk involved with acquiring Kane, but with the way he’s performed this season, he might just be worth the gamble.

Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings

In the final year of his contract on a Red Wings team that has very little hope of making the post-season, Green is as good as gone. That’s not a bad thing for Detroit, either, because Green could have some serious value come the deadline given his offensive prowess and ability to chew up some big minutes. He’s currently skating upwards of 22 minutes per night for the Red Wings right now and his four goals and 22 points in 39 games put him just outside the top 20 highest scoring rearguards this season.

There are a couple drawbacks in trading for Green, mind you. The first is finding a way to fit his $6 million salary under the cap, particularly with Detroit’s tight salary situation limiting the amount of salary they’ll want to or be willing to retain. The other is the cost of actually acquiring him from the Red Wings. There aren’t many capable offensive defensemen available on the rental market this year, so teams looking for punch from the blueline might get into a bidding war for Green’s services.

Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks

When the Canucks signed Vanek, the thinking was clear: he would come to Vancouver, produce decent numbers, show he had some value and, when the time was right, get sent packing for the best offer. Sure enough, everything is going according to plan. In 40 games, Vanek has managed to fire home 12 goals and pick up 28 points while playing limited minutes for the Canucks. Better yet, he’s doing so on a relatively friendly contract. His cap hit is a mere $2 million, making him that much easier to bring aboard for interested parties.

What makes Vanek most intriguing, though, is his ability to help a struggling power play. More than one-third of his production this season has come with the man advantage — four goals and 11 points — and Vanek is tied for 35th in the league in power play scoring among forwards. That’s even with the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Joe Pavelski and Mitch Marner. There will be a few teams looking for exactly what Vanek can bring, too, which is some quality scoring as a third line option and enough offensive acumen to give the power play a jolt. He won’t be the deadline’s grand prize, but he could be a sneaky-good acquisition.

Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes

The Athletic’s Craig Custance reported that Duclair, after yet another trying season in Arizona, has asked out. And with the Coyotes in no need of hanging on to Duclair as they spend another year at the bottom of the league table, there’s no reason for GM John Chayka to not ship out Duclair to the highest bidder. 

Those judging by his performance last season, a five-goal, 15-point campaign that saw him spend some time in the AHL, will be of the mind that Duclair doesn’t offer all that much. The same goes for those who look at Duclair’s game log, which has been dotted with healthy scratches. But Duclair actually isn’t that far off from reaching the same heights he did as a rookie. With a goal Thursday, Duclair’s eighth of the season, he’s now on pace to register 18 goals and 32 points in 72 games. That’s equal to a 21-goal, 36-point campaign across a full 82-game slate. That’s not too bad, and chances are Duclair could be had for cheap.

Are there still some concerns about his development? Sure. Has he regressed since his rookie season? Statistically, that’s absolutely the case. But Duclair has room to grow and could be a cheap and effective addition to a fourth line with potential to improve down the road.

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