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Tough to trade: Five players who are difficult to move in NHL's salary-cap world

It's buyer beware in the salary cap era, especially in a world where big-money contracts can become tough to trade if push comes to shove. And these five players could be among the most difficult to move thanks to their contracts.
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Tuesday’s news that Mike Hoffman was traded — not once, but twice — made it evident that teams are still willing to take players embroiled in some off-ice controversy if the price is right and it works within their salary structure. It helps, too, when said player is capable of scoring 20 to 30 goals, as Hoffman most certainly is.

But what of the player whose only real baggage comes in the form of an anchor contract that pays too much money over too long a term? Well, when production begins to slip from players of that ilk, the players and their deals become almost impossible to move. We say almost, of course, because if what was considered the most unmovable contract in the salary-cap era, David Clarkson’s seven-year, $36.75-million deal, was eventually shipped out by the Toronto Maple Leafs and then subsequently shuffled along by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s no reason these so-called untradeable pacts can’t moved, too.

Not everyone with a big contract fits the bill — teams would line up to trade for Connor McDavid, even if he does carry a $12.5-million cap hit — but these five players, along with their contracts, will be among the toughest to trade in the NHL's salary-cap world:

MILAN LUCIC, EDMONTON OILERS
One rumor picking up steam as we enter the summer — and quite frankly the impetus for diving into these tough-to-trade contracts — is that the Oilers want to find a way to move Lucic and get the final five years of his seven-year, $42-million contract off the books. But finding a team to take on Lucic at $6 million per season for the next five campaigns is going to be quite the tall task, especially with his production dipping from 23 goals and 50 points in 2016-17 to 10 goals and 34 points this past season. Making matters more difficult for the Oilers, though, is that they probably don’t want to move Lucic out for the sake of moving him along, and getting a return that is even somewhat favorable is going to be incredibly difficult without sweetening the pot.

It’s becoming increasingly important for the Oilers to move Lucic’s deal given the pending contracts, though. Goaltender Cam Talbot could be in for a significant raise as an unrestricted free agent next summer, while restricted free agents Ryan Strome, Anton Slepyshev, Iiro Pakarainen and Darnell Nurse need deals before the 2018-19 campaign begins. Add in a few more RFAs next season, too, and whatever other additions Edmonton seeks to make and money could get tight in a hurry with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins already accounting for $27 million of what could be an $80-million cap.

DAVID BACKES, BOSTON BRUINS
Some eyebrows were raised back in July 2016 when the Bruins went out and inked Backes to a five-year, $30-million deal, but the belief was the versatile veteran could offer Boston some stability as a second-liner and help the Bruins get back into the NHL’s winner’s circle. Instead, the Bruins have paid out $16 million in actual salary to Backes over the past two seasons for him to provide 31 goals and 71 points in 131 games and average middle-six minutes. And while Boston has been smart enough when it comes to cap considerations, particularly when it comes to Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, to be in decent financial position, there’s going to come a time in the near future when an extra $6 million could go a long way. That time may be as early as next summer.

Consider that ahead of the 2019-20 season, Boston will need to pay up to retain the services of the following: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Noel Acciari. And that’s after finding room to potentially bring back several pending free agents this summer. Eventually, something’s got to give in Boston when it comes to the cap, and Backes seems the most obvious choice, though the Bruins will likely have to sweeten the pot to make it happen.

BOBBY RYAN, OTTAWA SENATORS
Ryan, 31, was a four-time 30-goal scorer when he landed in Ottawa back in 2013-14, and though he’s hit the 20-goal plateau two times since then, it appears his days of being an offensive threat are all but over. In fact, over the past two seasons, Ryan has scored a mere 24 goals in 124 games, which would be a scoring rate commensurate with a 15-goal player over that span. That alone is cause for concern, but it’s all the more difficult to see how any team would take a risk on Ryan when he’s carrying a $7.25-million cap hit.

It’s been quite evident for some time, though, that the Senators are going to do everything in their power to move Ryan along. He’s been one of the players most oft-mentioned in trade circles, and Ottawa appears to be so serious about getting Ryan off the books — particularly as he enters the four highest salary years of his seven-year pact — that he became a reported sticking point in trade discussions surrounding all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson. That’s to say that any team who wants Karlsson might have to saddle up and take Ryan, as well.

RYAN CALLAHAN, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Obviously, that Callahan, 33, needed to go under the knife to repair his shoulder and the fact that he’ll subsequently be sidelined for five months complicates matters further, but truth is even a healthy and ready-to-go Callahan would have been a tough sell for the Lightning. It’s not that Callahan doesn’t serve a purpose on the Tampa Bay roster — he’s a veteran leader who can chip in here and there offensively — but his price tag has begun to outweigh his value for the Lightning to the point that he’s become somewhat of an anchor on the cap.

Make no mistake, either, Tampa Bay is going to want to move him along at some point before next season. At $5.8 million against the cap for each of the next two seasons, Callahan takes up a healthy portion of the Lightning’s spending room, and that near $6 million could go a long way next season especially when new deals will either need to be inked or will kick in for Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman. That’s not to mention any potential additions the Lightning make, and they were considered to be a team at least in the mix for Erik Karlsson. Suffice to say cap space is at a premium, and the Lightning will have to get creative if they want Callahan off the books before some of their big-money deals kick in.

COREY PERRY, ANAHEIM DUCKS
Having wracked up 102 goals and 194 points in the 206 games prior to his eight-year, $69-million contract kicking in, not to mention winning the Hart Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy and earning an end-of-year all-star nod, there was no way the Ducks could have seen this coming with Perry. But since his age-30 campaign back in 2015-16, things have been heading downhill fast for Perry. He has gone from no-brainer top-line forward to the fringe of the top-six. His production has slipped from easy 30-goal guy to a secondary contributor. In his past 153 games, he has fewer goals (36) than he scored during 80 games during the 2011-12 season. He hasn’t scored 20 goals in two years, and he failed to reach 50 points this season, marking the first such full-season occurrence since his sophomore year. Oh, the 33-year-old is still on the books for three more years at $8.625 million per.

It’s an unenviable contract for Anaheim, and one that needs to go as the walls start to close in on them when it comes to cap space. Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg need new deals next season, John Gibson is due a big raise at the same time and they have to worry about new contracts for Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie ahead of the coming campaign. It’s going to take some enticing for another team to accept Perry’s contract, if the Ducks are able to move it at all.

Other Candidates: Zach Bogosian, Buffalo Sabres ($5.143-million AAV); Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks ($6.875-million AAV); Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets ($5.85-million AAV); Marc Staal, New York Rangers ($5.7-million AAV); Andrew MacDonald, Philadelphia Flyers ($5-million AAV).

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