Martin St-Louis, Marian Gaborik, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo: these were some of the big names who were traded during the 2013-14 season. Who is in the cross-hairs this season? We look at 10 trade candidates who could move because of their contract situation, or because their team decides it's time to go in a different direction.
Cody Franson Franson has signed three consecutive one-year extensions with the Maple Leafs, but this time he'll be a UFA when his contract expires at the end of this season and, at 27, he's in prime position to score a big deal. The 6-foot-5, 213-pound blueliner will surely be looking for a real commitment from the team this time and if he doesn't get it, the Maple Leafs will have to trade him by the deadline. He's an important part of Toronto's (bad) defense and an extension would likely make him the second-highest paid player on Toronto's blueline. But does management believe he's worth that long-term investment when they've already put down on Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner? If not, they'll be looking to get something for him.
Kris Versteeg The Blackhawks aren't paying Versteeg his full contract value because the Florida Panthers retained half of his cap hit when they traded the winger to Chicago last season. On his own, Versteeg brings good potential with a small risk - he could be a 20-goal scorer and is being paid a fairly cheap $2.2 million by the Hawks. But while his move back to Chicago started very well, Versteeg faded down the stretch. He started by scoring 15 points in his first 21 games with the team, but managed only six in his last 25 games, including a woeful playoff run. A factor to consider is the Blackhawks are currently about $2.21 million above the cap, so a move will come. Versteeg won't quite get them below the cap by himself, but his departure would put them inches away from it. Bryan Bickell may be another trade candidate, but his hefty $4 million cap hit isn't very attractive so the Hawks would probably have to retain some of that (plus he has a modified no-trade clause). Johnny Oduya is a pending UFA with a modified no-trade clause, while pending RFA Nick Leddy is another trade possibility, though his skill is valuable and he's an asset worth moving forward with. Versteeg is the only one of these guys who wasn't on the 2013 Cup winning team and his contribution is easier to replace with a young, cheaper player - such as Teuvo Teravainen.
Josh Bailey At 24, it's still not clear what Bailey is as an NHLer. Is he going to be a productive second-liner, or is he going to continue being a streaky player who struggles to score goals and reach the 40-point barrier? Bailey had two pointless streaks of 10 games or more last season, but then he ended the season with 17 points in 22 post-Olympics games. Meanwhile, the Islanders need an upgrade on defense very badly - it's an area that may hold them back from reaching the playoffs. And there's likely to be a team out there that believes it can unlock Bailey's full potential. His $3.3 million contract may be high for a 38-point scorer, but at least he's locked up for four years - a team that believes in him will find value in that. GM Garth Snow has stood behind his core of players (sometimes stubbornly) but the defensive need is so great and the pressure so high for this team to move forward that something has to happen this year. If it's not Bailey who moves, perhaps it's Michael Grabner, another streaky scorer who makes $3 million against the cap and is only signed for two more years.
Johnny Boychuk The
six-year extension Boston gave David Krejci last week will make him the highest-paid player on the team when it kicks in next season. The Bruins were clearly locking in to their core of top-line players and betting they'll be able to lead the team to another Cup in the next couple of years. But Krejci's contract will also squeeze the team against the cap when you consider it has six UFAs and four RFAs after this season, plus the current RFA negotiations going on with Reilly Smith and Torey Krug. This brings us to defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who makes $3.36 million against the cap now and will become a UFA at the end of the season. There's likely not enough room to invest even more money ($4 million-plus) in a second pair defenseman. Boychuk has been rumored to be on the block for weeks now and
although he's said he'd like to stay in Boston, it's hard to see how his salary would fit into the team's cap structure.
Evander Kane This one makes absolutely no sense to me, but it's never going to go away. The latest ridiculous "controversy" came after Blake Wheeler talked about how Kane wasn't a young player anymore and was someone who could step up into a leadership role and really emerge as an all-star or superstar player in the NHL. Kane followed it up with this tweet that was then over-analyzed once again:
Kane is coming off a bad season in which he scored just 41 points in 63 games, but the one-time 30-goal scorer has the potential to reach that mark and then some. But there seems to be this weird desire to run him out of Winnipeg after each minor interaction gets overblown. Now, the Jets do need to do something. They have a serious problem in net and perhaps some depth issues, plus a missing elite scorer. But is trading Kane, the potentially elite scorer you need, really going to get the team out of its rut? He's under Winnipeg's control for four more seasons at a $5.25 million cap hit so they have all the time in the world right now. Still, this situation has been bubbling since the team arrived from Atlanta. What's the next blown up controversy going to be: Kane takes too long to shower after a game? This isn't going to be the last time we talk about Kane's fit with the Jets and the trade rumors aren't going anywhere. But they can't actually trade him - can they?
Cam Ward First thing's first: the
goalie trade market is extremely weak and it's been like that for years. Last season, the Blues paid a hefty price (too much) for a short time with Ryan Miller…and Ward is no Miller at this point. Ward has two years left on his contract with a heavy $6.3 million cap hit, so Carolina would likely have to retain some of that in a trade. But reducing any amount owed to Ward would be a win for the Hurricanes. Anton Khudobin stepped up and took the No. 1 job away from Ward last season and while the team says it believes Ward still has No. 1 skill left in him, if an opportunity to move him comes along, they'd probably be happy to unload his anchor contract. If he starts this season well, that might actually make a trade more likely, as some desperate team could start turning on to the idea of acquiring Ward. But make no mistake: the return to Carolina won't be very high.
Eric Staal The Hurricanes have $38.1 million tied up in six players: Eric and Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk. That's a big investment in a core that has the team closer to Connor McDavid than the Stanley Cup playoffs. If Carolina is once again sinking to the bottom of the standings, you have to think some change will come and that it won't involve the trading of either Skinner or Faulk. On the one hand, Eric Staal's trade value may be at an all-time low after his 61-point season from a year ago, while carrying an $8.25 million cap hit. On the other, high-scoring and proven centers don't become available very often so teams that are always looking for one (Toronto) may not care too much about his down year and choose instead to look at the tremendous upside. Staal isn't done yet. He'll be 30 next month and is a
strong candidate for a bounce back season. The Hurricanes aren't going to give him away and GM Ron Francis says he's committed to this core, but if they are still a bottom-feeder and a strong offer comes along, maybe it's time to move on from the long-time centerpiece. A deal involving Staal may be more likely to happen in the off-season around the draft, but quite a few big names moved in-season last year. Keep an eye on this situation.
Nail Yakupov Like the Islanders, we come to a team that has good potential and scoring options up front, but lack defensemen on the back end. Much (too much) has been made of Nail Yakupov's struggles and his 24-point season in 2013-14 was a low point. Still, the first overall pick from 2012 is another player with vast bounce back potential. The Oilers won't want to make a move here unless they hit a home run with a No. 1 defensemen, but if Yakupov struggles again, it may force their hand. This is a big year for Yakupov and the Oilers. He's an intriguing trade chip that could bring them a nice return, but they may regret moving him in a couple years.
Joe Thornton Finally, there's Thornton, who it looked like the Sharks might trade all off-season. He's no longer the captain and there's been suggestions his ice time will get cut, perhaps significantly, this season. The fact is, he's still a big presence in the room and one of the most dominant possession players on the team. He's going to get his points and his departure would leave a massive hole down the middle. However, Sharks GM Doug Wilson does seem intent on transitioning to a new leadership group. The fly in the ointment here is Thornton's no-movement clause. The Sharks can't just trade him anywhere and Thornton isn't likely to accept a trade to a team that isn't a strong contender for the Cup. It doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, especially since Wilson just signed Thornton to a three-year extension last season, but it's a rumor that's probably going to follow the Sharks all season.
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