It’s never too early to talk about the next big wave of NHL trades – especially when a couple prominent players have already outed themselves as candidates to be moved. Topping my list of early-season trade candidates are two first-round Finns openly fed up with their situations. They’re the most obvious bets to change addresses. Perusing every NHL team’s salary-cap breakdown, however, unearths a few more candidates. Many are pending UFAs on teams that may or may not make the playoffs. They’ll likely become buzzy commodities approaching this season’s trade deadline.
Who are the top picks to be traded before or during the 2019-20 season? I’ve ranked them according to likelihood. Later this season, I’ll create an extended top-30 list.
1. Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres
Yes, Sabres GM Jason Botterill publicly downplayed the Ristolainen trade talk this week. But remember when Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said Phil Kessel was off the block? Botterill can posture all he wants, but (a) the Sabres have a logjam on the right side of their blueline between Ristolainen, Brandon Montour, Colin Miller, Henri Jokiharju and (once healthy) Zach Bogosian, (b) Ristolainen has publicly expressed his exasperation with life as a Sabre and (c) Buffalo could use some help at forward. Too many stars have aligned for us not to see a Ristolainen trade.
2. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Edmonton Oilers
Here’s another relatively simple case. Puljujarvi has made it clear he wants to play for a team that will give him a shot as a top-six forward. But has he earned that role? Has he been a massive bust as 2016’s No. 4 overall pick because of his own play or because Edmonton hasn’t given him the proper opportunity? It’s a chicken-and-egg situation at this point. Whoever is to blame, Puljujarvi is determined for a fresh start, perhaps looking longingly at the resurgence Dylan Strome enjoyed after being traded last season. It’s virtually impossible to imagine Puljujarvi rejoining the Oilers at this point. The only reason he ranks below Ristolainen on this list: Puljujarvi hasn’t generated any tangible trade value with his play, so finding a suitor won’t necessarily be easy for new GM Ken Holland.
3. Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton committed to a rebuild over the past couple seasons, and that included shipping out veteran assets such as Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. Gorton was willing to listen on offers for Kreider at the deadline last season but wouldn’t force a deal. A rebuild still needs some veteran voices, and the fast, physical power forward Kreider could be an asset for years to come. Now that the Rangers have beefed up on talent, signing Artemi Panarin, trading for Jacob Trouba and drafting Kaapo Kakko, it’s not a given that they’ll be a bad team in 2019-20. If they aren’t playoff-ready, however, Gorton will have to ponder selling off pending UFA Kreider as a rental.
The Rangers insist Kreider will be with them for training camp, but they barely clear $1 million in projected salary-cap space with RFAs Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo still unsigned and no obvious candidates to stash on LTIR. Even after the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout, the money doesn’t add up. Will Kreider have to be a casualty?
4. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Ottawa Senators
Pageau kills penalties and plays with contagious tenacity. He’s a tough player not to like. That makes him dear to the Sens, but it also makes him a depth piece that plenty of contenders could covet for their bottom sixes. He also happens to be a pending UFA on the NHL’s most clear-cut rebuilding team. The math is easy here. Pageau’s got to go.
5. Mike Hoffman, LW, Florida Panthers
We know Hoffman was a legitimate trade candidate this past season, as the Panthers asked him to submit his 10-team no-trade list leading up to the deadline. He’s also a pending UFA fresh off a career-best 36-goal, 70-point season, due a major raise over his $5.19-million AAV. The Panthers broke the bank on a pack of UFAs this summer, most notably Sergei Bobrovsky, and have a glut of good young forwards coming up their prospect pipeline, so retaining Hoffman, who turns 30 in November, won’t necessarily be a priority. He’d command a nice return if shopped as a rental this season.
On the other hand, the Panthers look vastly improved on paper, helmed by new coach Joel Quenneville, and have an excellent chance to return to the playoffs. If they’re contenders, they’ll likely hold Hoffman as an in-house rental. He’s a vital component of their top six.
6. Justin Faulk, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Faulk is a survivor. It feels like he’s appeared on every trade-candidate list for the past couple years. Carolina has gotten shallower on defense after trading Calvin de Haan this summer, but Faulk remains unsigned beyond 2019-20, Carolina is loaded on the right side of its blueline with or without him, and we know GM Don Waddell was shopping him at one point this off-season, as was reported by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, though that was before the de Haan trade. If Faulk and the Canes aren’t close to hammering out an extension and he’s tempted to go to market, is Waddell willing to risk losing him for nothing? Since Faulk plays for a contender, he’s arguably more likely to be dealt before the season as part of a “hockey trade” than during it as a sell-off.
7. Jack Roslovic, C, Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have graduated many first-round picks into high-impact roles since the move to Winnipeg in 2011, including Mark Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine. The speedy Roslovic, a 2015 first-rounder, is entrenched as a full-time NHLer but hasn’t crossed the threshold to become a top-six forward. He’s expressed frustration over his deployment and even fired his agent in June. He hasn’t officially requested a trade but seems like someone who would benefit playing higher in the lineup on a new team. Meanwhile, the very fact Roslovic can’t escape the bottom six tells us the Jets aren’t lacking for forward depth. He’s a logical candidate to be used in a “hockey trade,” and the Jets sustained major losses on the right side of their blueline this summer. The situation screams “trade with Buffalo.” How about Roslovic and a pick for Ristolainen?
8. Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings
Kings GM Rob Blake reportedly came close to moving Toffoli at last season’s deadline. Holding off could prove wise. He endured the worst season of his career last year, with 13 goals in 82 games, but did so with a shooting percentage of just 5.8, way south of his career 10.1-percent clip. Toffoli, 27, isn’t devoid of upside and averaged 25 goals per 82 games in a four-season span leading up to 2018-19, so there’s a good chance positive regression hikes the shooting percentage and makes him a 20-goal guy again this season – just in time for him to be a pending UFA. He could have some value to a contender seeking middle-six scoring help.
9. Jared Spurgeon, D, Minnesota Wild
There’s no denying the trade market for Spurgeon would be significant. He’s a right-handed shot who moves the puck well and plays highly underrated defense belying his slight frame. He’s averaged better than 24 minutes a game three straight seasons. He’d be a difference-making rental piece.
But Spurgeon, 29, is a crucial member of the Wild. Before GM Paul Fenton’s firing, Spurgeon expressed interest in signing a long-term extension provided he had a good sense of the team’s long-term commitment to winning. With the Wild hunting for a new GM, it’s unclear what the new vision will be. It’s possible the new roster architect assesses the roster, realizes it needs to bottom out and announces a true rebuild by trading Spurgeon. Or the new GM could view Spurgeon as a building block and work hard to retain him on a long-term pact. It's worth noting Spurgeon has a 10-team no-trade list but, considering how badly he wants to win, he doesn't seem like someone who'd reject a trade to a Cup contender if he's unsigned by the deadline.
10. Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings
It sure feels like it’s time for Green to enter the gun-for-hire phase of his career. Teams sniffed around him at the 2018 trade deadline, but an injury stopped him from getting moved. He signed a two-year extension the ensuing summer. Now he’s on Year 2 of that pact, heading back to unrestricted free agency. On Feb. 1, 2020, his no-trade clause becomes a modified version in which he can submit a 10-team no-trade list. New GM Steve Yzerman wasn’t the one who signed Green, so there isn’t necessarily any baked-in loyalty there. Green would make sense as bait for one of Yzerman’s first major trades and, unlike in recent seasons, Green won’t have as much of a say in the matter. Green turns 34 in October and has a heck of a time staying healthy these days but remains an effective puck-mover when he’s in the lineup – and a right-handed one to boot. There will be a market for him this winter.
Other trade candidates to watch: Ron Hainsey, Wayne Simmonds, Justin Braun, Carl Soderberg, Chris Tanev, Thomas Greiss, Vlad Namestnikov, Sami Vatanen, Darcy Kuemper
Pie-in-the-sky trade candidates: Ryan Getzlaf, Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, Torey Krug, Taylor Hall
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