We’re 30 games into the season and still awaiting the first NHL trade of any significance. (And, no, Kevin Poulin–for–future considerations doesn’t count.) Rosters officially freeze for the holidays Saturday, but the nature of the modern NHL means the frost settles early.
“It just seems that we’re all talking to each other, we’re all trying to get one more piece or whatever, but the bottom line is nothing’s happening,” Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray told reporters Friday.
Half of the league’s teams are within $4.325 million of the cap ceiling, according to General Fanager, making it a puzzle for buyers to take on heavy hitters. And the prevalence of no-trade clauses makes the dealing of a star player (Patrick Marleau, Steven Stamkos) fall somewhere between unlikely and impossible.
Parity — a point of pride for the league — deters deals, too. The Flames and Oilers appeared to early sellers, but their respective five-game winning streaks have made them suddenly relevant in the Pacific Division race. Anaheim sits last in the West, but the Ducks are built to win now, not rebuild.
Arguably the greatest hindrance to a good trade, however, is a bad contract: too long, too rich, too many roadblocks.
Based on their performance this season, we take a look at each NHL team's most-difficult-to-trade player. We did a similar examination last year, and it was interesting to see how many new names make the list.
Justly billed as the type of player you love to have playing for you (especially come spring) but hate to play against, Kesler finds himself on this list due to the price and term of the monster $41.25-million contract he inked over the summer. It won't expire until he's 37. And $6.875 million per season is too much for a second-line centre. With three goals and a minus-12 rating through 29 games this season... yikes. A no-movement clause kicks in next year.
Long-term, ugly contracts are tough to spot among skaters, as the Coyotes are well-positioned financially for their rebuild. (And we've learned that Chris Pronger's contract can actually be used as a sneaky little bargaining chip.) The immovable object, however, is in the crease. Mike Smith ($5.667-million cap hit) is signed 'til 2019. He took flak for his .904 save percentage last season; this season it's .901. Smith's no-movement clause becomes a no-trade clause next season.
With David Krejci ($7.25-million cap hit) and Brad Marchand enjoying bounce-back years, the captain must be looked at as the most difficult to move here. Big Z is still a force, but one in decline. Chara is 38, holds a no-movement clause, and has two more seasons on a deal that carries approximately a $7-millon hit. The guy has his Massachusetts real-estate licence, so we're not sure he wants to move. The only thing making his contract more desirable to other teams would be that his actual salary drops to $5 million in 2016-17 and $4 million in 2017-18.
The Sabres' books are in much better shape since the Cody Hodgson buyout, but it's hard to imagine another club taking on Gionta at this point. The 36-year-old has two more years at a $4.25-million cap hit and is on target for his least-productive season goal-wise.
A frequent healthy scratch this season, the 29-year-old has had a tough time cracking the Flames lineup. He's played just nine games (yielding zero points and a minus rating) this season, and one of those was in the AHL. Smid makes $3.5 million this season and next.
A solid goaltender who has risen to every challenge thrown his way from a hungry backup (Anton Khudobin, Eddie Lack), Ward is likely available for trade during this, his contract's final year. But who can take his $6.3-million cap hit, even prorated? Carolina would need a playoff contender to suffer a crease injury and become desperate enough to rent a proven No. 1.
Due in part to the significant long-term commitments made to superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the summer of 2014, the Blackhawks are still feeling a cap crunch. Winger Bryan Bickell ($4 million cap hit through 2016-17) is overpaid and now labelled an injury risk. That he can pass through waivers unclaimed proves there's no trade market here. An attempt to deal the forward to Edmonton earlier this season reportedly fell through.
Plenty of fair, smart contracts here for a budget team. But the Avalanche's $5.9-million goaltender has a losing record (7-8-1) and a .900 save percentage. Varlamov is on the books until 2019.
I know, I know. The "untradeable" Clarkson was traded less than 12 months ago. But with a $5.25-million cap hit through 2020, Columbus would need to take on someone else's bad money to make a move. Clarkson has played just 13 games total for the Blue Jackets. No goals yet.
We're not big fans of the Jason Spezza price point ($7.5 million annually), but $5.9 million a year for a decent tandem goaltender is harder to swallow. Dallas has committed 60-starts money to the 32-year-old through 2017-18, and trading an expensive goaltender takes work and luck.
See above. Howard will make roughly $5.3 million per season through 2018-19, and he has become 1B to Petr Mrazek's 1A. Mrazek, a pending RFA, earns a bargain-basement $737,500. Once Howard's deal does expire, Justin Abdelkader ($4.25 million through 2020) is a candidate to take his spot on this list.
Great guy, too much term. The Oilers may have regrets for not buying out the former captain last summer. Ference has a no-move clause and is on the books at $3.25 million for 2016-17. Six games played, zero points, minus-4.
Dale Tallon committed to Dave Bolland when Toronto's Dave Nonis would not. Now Florida will pay the depth centre $5.5 million for three additional seasons after this one. He has one goal this season and is a member of our dubious All Healthy-Scratch squad. Classic case of a player milking his UFA window.
Lots of dollars and term committed here, the side effect of modern championship teams. Captain Dustin Brown ($5.875-million cap hit) is on the books through 2022, and he's four years removed from his most recent 20-goal season. Might not hit 10 this season.
Ryan Suter and Zach Parise both carry sky-high cap hits ($7.538 million) but are elite players consistently performing at a high level. We think it would be harder to move Pominville, 33, who hold a no-move clause until 2019. The winger has been a point machine for the bulk of his career, but this season has signaled another step in a decline that began in 2012-13. Three goals on the season.
Wow. Much credit to Marc Bergevin. We really have to scrounge here, and honestly there should be takers for most of his contracts. The ever-consistent Plekanec is having another solid campaign. But perhaps the $6 million he makes as a 35-year-old in 2018 will end up looking like a loyalty bonus.
It's not the cap hit (a showtime $7.857 million) or the player (one of the best at his position) that would make moving Weber difficult. It's that his salary is stratospheric the next few seasons: $14 million this year, then $12 million, then $12 million. A team would have to be stinkin' rich and blessed with vacant cap space, crazy, or Philadelphia to make that work. Weber should be rocking a gold helmet through 2026, even if Roman Josi passes him as the team's best defender.
The days of consecutive 20-goal seasons are long gone for 30-year-old Travis Zajac. At a $5.75-million cap hit through 2021 (worse: Zajac's take-home pay is $6.5 million), the centre makes $1.75 million more per year than the younger, more productive Adam Henrique. Oh, he also has a no-trade clause. Solid player, tough contract to take on.
The second-highest-paid forward on the Islanders is just New York's seventh-most productive offensive player. He's already been bought out once (by Toronto). In 2016-17 he'll be making $6 million, and already he's the oldest forward on the regular roster. His no-trade clause is his contract, as the snarky kids say.
At age 39, the once-great defender has become a frequent healthy scratch on a deep Rangers blue line. Boyle sparked a little bidding war when he hit free agency in 2014 and has a no-move clause. Now he may retire after what could be his least productive NHL season. More penalties than points. Aging can suck.
A long-shot to return to the Senators this year, according to GM Bryan Murray, the injured Phillips (back) may well be headed to retirement. Technically, the 37-year-old Sens lifer is set to become a free agent on July 1, when his $2.5-million-a-year contract runs out.
Philly has tried to move him and failed. Lecavalier was bought out from his last unmovable contract (Tampa Bay), and now he's stuck in another one. A team known to throw money around, the Flyers gave Vinny a five-year, $22.5-million deal when he was 33 and on the decline. The centre keeps getting scratched (healthy and otherwise) and has no goals in seven games played this season. (That defenceman Andrew MacDonald cleared waivers this season proves he won't be easy to trade, either.)
When the talented Kris Letang is healthy for a full season, some consider him a Norris Trophy threat. But that doesn't happen anymore. The offensive-minded D-man inked a monster eight-year, $58-million extension in the summer of 2013 (wouldn't you?) that could look ugly at the end. What will make his contract difficult to move — eventually — is a 12-team no-trade list.
The Sharks have freed themselves of most bad contracts. Anyone locked up long-term is a proven player at a reasonable rate. That said, veteran leaders Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton (both of whom are signed through 2016-17 and make more than $6.6 million) have each had their spin in trade rumour mill. The difficulty? Both hold no-movement clauses, and Thornton especially appears uninterested in a move out of San Jose.
Good restraint here by St. Louis in terms of doling out contracts. A beneficiary of weak free agent class in 2014, Stastny is the second-richest player on the Blues ($7 million cap hit) and holds a no-trade clause, but injuries and age have hindered attempts to regain the 70-point (or even 50-point) status he had in Colorado.
Matt Carle, 31, is a decent depth defenceman, but he makes $900,000 more than any other Lightning blueliner and has already been scratched and (reportedly) shopped this season. He'll take home $5.5 million in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 while his play will, best case, stay level.
For the first time in memory, Phaneuf does not lead the Leafs in ice time (that would be Matt Hunwick), and it appears to be benefiting the captain, who has succeeded under new coach Mike Babcock and leads all Leafs with 14 assists. That contract, though. A salary of $7 million per season through 2021 means he won't be moved for anything other than another bad contract. Toronto tried to trade him last year and failed.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The twins will make $7 million each for the next three seasons and have full no-move clauses. These incredible talents and beloved leaders are proving their staying power, ranking first and second in club scoring again. But it's unfathomable to see them split up, and what team can absorb on a $14-million cap hit?
Defenceman Brooks Orpik (currently on injured reserve) does what big shutdown blueliners do: play top-four minutes (19:14) and cash in on free agency (big 27.5-million deal in 2014). No matter how important Orpik is to Washington's success now, he'll be 38 when he enters the final year of this contract.
Injured goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has a $3.9-million cap hit but his actual salary is $4.25 million. That figure goes up again, to $4.75 million, in 2016-17. Cheaper, younger backups Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck are proving they can hold down the fort in Pavelec's absence.
(Contract numbers via the excellent General Fanager.)