We’re days away from the 2018 NHL trade deadline, which we hope brings more significant moves than what we saw at this time last year. There are many impactful players potentially available, from Max Pacioretty to Mike Hoffman to, gasp, maybe even Erik Karlsson — each of whom would be huge factors for any acquiring team this season and ones to come.
But we’re going to focus on the top rental players who could be available. We’re setting our sights on guys who are on expiring contracts and due to become UFAs on July 1.
This is not a ranking of players — we’ll leave that up to you — but we look at what each guy is doing this season and what he may be able to add to a contender.
Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres
At 26, Kane still has a chance to hit 30 goals for just the second time in his career, but he’ll need to heat up to hit that mark. Despite a strong start to the season, Kane has slowed with just three goals in his past 20 games and now has 19 in 60 games overall. The good thing is he generates all kinds of chances and is fifth in the league with 224 shots on goal. A whopping 60.2 per cent of his even strength starts come in the offensive zone, so if he’s moved on to a line with a different team that brings that number down, it could hurt his performance. That said, starting from Buffalo, almost any new situation Kane moves into would certainly surround him with better players, which could be enough to carry his strong year down the stretch. Kane hasn’t made a playoff appearance yet in his nine-year career.
Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
He shouldn’t be a No. 1 defender for any acquiring team, but that also means he won’t cost an arm and a leg to get. What Green would bring is offensive upside who can carry and pass the puck well and, as Andrew Berkshire explored, someone who specializes on the power play. Put him on your second/third pair, give him secondary man advantage minutes and Green could be a very nice pick up — especially for a team needing a PP burst.
Radim Vrbata, Florida Panthers
He’s having a miserable season, but if there is a team searching for a cheap-to-acquire winger for their second power-play unit, Vrbata may be a fit. He is just one season removed from a 20-goal campaign, though injuries and rapidly declining play at 5-on-5 have led to him being a healthy scratch. Another factor in his decline has been going from getting significant power play minutes on last year’s Coyotes to that part of the game being almost completely cut out of his role in Florida. Vrbata is set to retire from the NHL at the end of the season which, combined with his nightmare season, may keep him with the Panthers as they try to keep the playoff door open. But if another team strikes out in its attempt to acquire a winger with scoring upside, Vrbata could be a fallback option. He has a modified no-trade clause in which he can submit 10 teams he would accept a trade to, and reports are that he’s submitted that list to the Panthers.
Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs
Now 31, the not-so-Young-Bozak is still a positive possession driver (52.6 CF%), but more than 60 per cent of his zone starts come at the offensive end so he’s put in favourable spots more than at any other time in his career. Bozak averages more power play time than any other Leaf forward, but has only one goal on the man advantage this season, so it’s not an area an acquiring team would use him in. Bozak has a career low shooting percentage and his play has been slipping of late, so his value in trade may not be where Toronto needs it to make a move. It’s hard to see how Bozak fits into the Leafs lineup in the years to come, but if they move him at this trade deadline and don’t get another centre in return, they may not have the desired depth at the position for the playoffs.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers
There are a lot of goal scorers potentially available at the trade deadline and Rick Nash tops the list of rentals in this regard. He has a 12-team trade list and, after sending a letter to their fans, the Rangers are positioned to take a more long-term approach with this team instead of trying to extend their playoff streak. Nash’s shooting percentage has been more than two percentage points lower than his career average in two of the past three seasons, so there does appear to be decline happening here. Still, he has 18 goals this season, nine of which have come in the past five weeks. His value to an acquiring team would be as a secondary scoring option who could be used on the second power-play unit, and not a franchise-altering top-liner. Nash isn’t a primary option anymore. In 77 career playoff games, he has just 15 goals.
Michael Grabner, New York Rangers
Ian Cole, Ottawa Senators
The Penguins had been shopping Cole since at least November, and he was finally moved to Ottawa in the Derick Brassard deal Friday. But don’t expect him to stay for long. Cole remains on this list because the expectation now is that Ottawa will try and flip him for a pick/prospect or two ahead of the deadline. A defence-first player and the Pens’ best shot blocker, Cole was one of Pittsburgh’s most-used defenders on the penalty kill, but is also one of the more penalized players on the team and has been called for eight more infractions than he’s drawn.
Mark Letestu, Edmonton Oilers
After a fantastic 2016-17 in which he was one of Edmonton’s top power-play scorers and a significant piece of the penalty kill, Letestu has — like many of his teammates — taken a step back this season. But is it because the team around him has been so bad, has it been his own personal decline, or a combination of both? At 32, Letestu may be losing a step, but a player this versatile will always hold some value and could be a very nice find for a contender. Andrew Berkshire recently acknowledged Letestu as a potential bargain deadline acquisition.
Patrick Maroon, Edmonton Oilers
He’s not going to be used in a defensive role, but as Maroon’s shooting percentage has fallen back towards his career average (but still well above it), he’s still fourth in goals on the Oilers. The worry prior to this season about Maroon was if he’d still be able to find goals away from Connor McDavid. As he’s moved to the second line on occasion this year, he’s proving he can. Maroon isn’t a driver, but a solid passenger on a scoring line who can play physical, be a strong net-front presence and a nice complement to a skillful top-two centre. He’s not the top scoring winger available, but a worthwhile and likely cheaper option if a team misses out or doesn’t want to pay up for the likes of Nash, Kane, Hoffman and others.
Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks
When the Canucks signed Vanek to a one-year, $2-million deal in the summer, it was just assumed he would be moved by the deadline for draft picks. But as it turns out, he’s found some chemistry with rookie sensation Brock Boeser. So will the team trade him for lottery tickets, or find more value in re-signing him? An acquiring team would get a player who can be counted on to approach or eclipse 20 goals, but one who needs mostly sheltered minutes and doesn’t help on defence. He was traded from Detroit to Florida at last year’s deadline for Dylan McIlrath and a third-rounder, then managed just two goals in 20 games.
Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens
His shooting percentage has been in the toilet the past three seasons as he experiences age-related decline at 35, and his role is more of a defensive one. Look past the miserable offence and you’ll see a fairly effective shutdown centre who fits on to the third or even fourth line, plus a PK unit, for a contender. Currently making $6 million against the cap, Plekanec will surely have to sign for less with any team next season. But there may be value for the Habs, who are weak up the middle, to keep him rather than create an even bigger depth problem.
James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights aren’t the sellers we thought they would be, but any pending UFA who remains unsigned is still a candidate to move. Currently running with the second-highest shooting percentage of his career (14.6) Neal trails only William Karlsson on the team in goals with 24. But with so many goal-getters out there on the market, Vegas may find itself dealing Neal from a position of weakness, and instead keep him as their own rental (who may even re-sign). They may be better off keeping him for their fairy-tale run.
David Perron, Vegas Golden Knights
The question of Perron’s availability is the same as Neal’s: the Golden Knights are making a run and may find the greater value is in keeping, or trying to re-sign, these guys. Perron is on his way to having a career season but, like many of his teammates, underlying measures would suggest a downturn is coming. We’ve been saying that all season for Vegas, though — and it doesn’t appear to be happening.
Jason Garrison, Vegas Golden Knights
He’s played only eight NHL games this season, but there’s a chance a team could slip in, acquire him very cheap, and uncover a decent power-play option for the point. He won’t score 16 goals in a season like he did six years ago, but if you put him in favourable offensive zone starts and on the power play, he still has a heavy shot that could create opportunities or goals.
Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets
As his average ice time has fallen to below 20 minutes a game, the 31-year-old Johnson has requested a trade, preferably to a place where he would see more ice and set himself up for another score in free agency. But with a diminishing role and negative possession numbers, the Blue Jackets would be selling low on a player they might need in the playoffs.
Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets
If 2017-18 hasn’t convinced you that all teams need a credible backup goalie, nothing will. This season is filled with great backup stories — from Carter Hutton to Aaron Dell — and situations where a team may have been sunk without solid play from its No. 2. Enter Hutchinson, who has excelled at the AHL level this season, but has just one NHL game — a 23-save win over Tampa Bay. In the AHL, Hutchinson has been elite. He has a .910 career save percentage in the NHL and was absolutely not a steadying hand when Hellebuyck struggled last season. Hutchinson is by no means a safe backup option, but he has potential to cover for injuries. Winnipeg signed Steve Mason to be its backup, but he is on the shelf with his second concussion of the season. Hutchinson is now in the same boat, so the Jets may end up having to keep him for their own insurance.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) January 31, 2018
Brad Richardson, Arizona Coyotes
If you’re looking for offence, Richardson is not your guy. If you want a fourth-line centre who can be leaned on in the defensive zone and be a factor on the penalty kill, Richardson could be a sneaky pickup. The 32-year-old wins 51.8 per cent of his faceoffs, starts in the defensive zone 66.7 per cent of the time and is the Coyotes’ most-used penalty-killer up front.
Benoit Pouliot, Buffalo Sabres
He’s one of many Sabres having an atrocious season. An acquiring team would want to shield Pouliot more than the Sabres and start him in the offensive zone north of 55 per cent of the time, with the possibility of some power-play time if needed. But at 31, he’s a fringe add and a threat to take bad, lazy penalties. There are better first options.
Tommy Wingels, Chicago Blackhawks
With the Hawks out of the playoffs, UFA-to-be Wingels is the kind of player who will likely be moved out of town for a late pick or two. Though he can play centre, Wingels may be better used as a third- or fourth-line winger who can step into a centre role if injuries hit — that kind of depth and versatility can’t be underestimated. At 29, Wingels won’t be added for his offence, but it’s still worth noting that he’s just four seasons removed from being a two-time 15-goal scorer. He recently was even boosted to the top line in Chicago as a right winger.
Blake Comeau, Colorado Avalanche
Comeau gets 68.6 per cent of his zone starts in the defensive end and, next to Carl Soderberg and Matt Nieto, has made up Colorado’s surprisingly effective shutdown unit. Comeau has hit 10 goals in three of the past four seasons, but his primary value is as a depth-checker who leads all Avalanche forwards in ice time on the PK. He is a physical player, but not a liability — he has just 30 penalty minutes this season.
Johnny Oduya, Ottawa Senators
Another left-shot defender available on the market, the 36-year-old Oduya won’t fetch much for the Senators, though Nick Holden is a potential indicator of what they could get for him on the market. Now a third-pair defender who can be used on the PK, Oduya would be a good option for a playoff team seeking depth and experience. He has 106 playoff games to his name and two Stanley Cup rings, both with Chicago.
Matt Cullen, Minnesota Wild
Linked to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their search for a centre the past few months, Cullen’s role has actually been expanding the past few weeks in Minnesota, who surely wouldn’t trade the bottom-six centre without replacing him. The Wild are more buyers than sellers, but if they can find a younger option to play over Cullen, it could make the 41-year-old expendable to an Eastern Conference contender.
Antti Niemi, Montreal Canadiens
Only because the importance of the backup goalie has been highlighted this season is Niemi here. The Habs signed Charlie Lindgren to a three-year, one-way contract last week which locked him in as the long-term backup and assured Niemi will not return as a Canadien next season. So, would anyone be willing to pony up a late-round pick to bring on Niemi as their emergency backup for the playoffs? After a terrible first two stops in Pittsburgh and Florida this season, Niemi has posted a credible .915 save percentage in eight games with Montreal. Despite the low acquisition cost, the question is whether his horrid start showed him as too big a risk for a playoff team.