We’re on to the NHL off-season, which means it’s time to start wildly speculating about which big-name players are about to be traded.
That’s been an annual tradition for hockey fans over the years, even if deep down we always knew that almost all of those blockbusters would never happen. But ever since the NHL off-season went haywire on a June afternoon in 2016, this time of year has felt just a little bit more exciting. If Shea Weber, Taylor Hall and P.K. Subban could all be traded within a few minutes, who’s to say that any big name is really off the table?
So today, let’s run down 10 of the biggest names that could be moved over the next few weeks. Will any of these players actually end up being traded? There’s a chance that at least one or two could be. Will most of them stay with their current teams, at least through opening night? Undoubtedly. Will at least a few these seem so ridiculous in hindsight that the author will feel embarrassed to have even mentioned them? Not if we remember to come back and delete this post, no.
Either way, let’s get to the trade bait. We’ll start with the most likely big name to be moved, and work our way further out from reality as we go.
1) Erik Karlsson, Senators
Why a trade could happen: We’ll start with a player who may be the biggest star on this list, yet also seems like the most likely to move. The Karlsson trade saga was one of the biggest stories of the regular season, springing to life after some eyebrow-raising comments from the Senators’ captain about his impending free agency, blossoming into a full-blown bidding war by the deadline, and then ending without a deal being struck.
That last part sure feels temporary, as we head into an off-season that figures to see plenty of teams finding enough cap space to take a serious run at one of the best defencemen in the league.
Why we shouldn’t assume that it has to: The Senators don’t have to trade their star, and in a perfect world they’d sign him to a reasonable extension and get on with the work of building a contender around him. Back in February, it felt like there was just way too much smoke for there not to be a fire here — remember, Bobby Ryan told reporters that he and Karlsson actually thought a deal was done. But a lot can change in four months, and even if Karlsson doesn’t want to re-sign, the Senators could hold onto him through the summer in hopes of finding a better deal during the season.
And yet…: Players don’t normally make a point of collecting souvenir pucks when they think they’re sticking around. Karlsson seems like a guy who’s made up his mind to be elsewhere by 2019. And if so, it would be in the Senators’ best interest to get a deal done soon rather than let this situation hang over everything the team does for most of the next year.
2) Ryan O’Reilly, Sabres
Why a trade could happen: Few players should be untouchable after a last-place season. And that’s especially true when that player ends the season by suggesting the team has “been OK with losing” and that it’s cost him his love of the game. That’s not really what you want to hear from one of your leaders.
GM Jason Botterill came over last spring and played his let’s-wait-and-see card. That approach works for one year, but after watching his team finish dead last, it’s time for action. Finding a new home for O’Reilly would be the kind of shakeup move that teams occasionally need, if only as a reminder that the status quo isn’t good enough.
Why it doesn’t have to: After what we’ve seen recently in Toronto, New Jersey, Colorado and Vegas, anybody who suggests that a team as bad as the Sabres must be years away from a playoff run hasn’t been paying attention. Turnarounds can happen quickly these days, and O’Reilly is a good-enough player to be a key part of one in Buffalo. Besides, with a $7.5-million cap hit for five more years, it may be tough to get top value for him.
And yet…: After those end-of-season comments, bringing O’Reilly back for another year would almost seem cruel.
3) Phil Kessel, Penguins
Why a trade could happen: He’s been in Pittsburgh for three years now, which is about the maximum length of time Kessel can last anywhere before the trade talk kicks in.
Why there’s a chance it might not: You may recall that the Penguins did pretty well in two of those three years, and Kessel had a lot to do with that. Given his production, his cap hit (which the Leafs are already paying a chunk of) is fairly reasonable. In a league where every team could use at least a little more speed, skill and scoring depth, you’d think a team might want to hold onto a guy who brings as much of all three as Kessel.
And yet…: Those are all good reasons to trade for a guy, too, which means Jim Rutherford should be able to extract a decent return on a deal. Whether the Penguins are tired of Kessel behind the scenes or just see him as an asset that could provide a nice return, Rutherford has never been shy about making big moves.
4) Max Pacioretty, Canadiens
Why a trade could happen: Much like Karlsson, Pacioretty was a big name who seemed to be on his way out at the deadline. The deal never happened, but with one year left on his bargain-basement contract and the Canadiens looking to get younger and fill holes elsewhere in the lineup, a trade to a contender still makes all sort of sense.
Why it seems less likely than it once did: Unlike Karlsson, Pacioretty has made a point of sounding like a guy who really does want to stick around. That doesn’t mean he’ll get his way, and his contract reportedly doesn’t include any kind of no-trade protection. But even a rebuild doesn’t necessarily mean you say goodbye to all of your stars, and keeping the captain on board might offer some stability as this team transitions into whatever comes next.
And yet…: The Canadiens already have two veterans who are unlikely to be traded in Weber and Carey Price. That leaves Pacioretty and perhaps Alex Galchenyuk as the best trade chips they have. It would be nice to keep everyone and still make the team better, but at some point you have to give something to get something.
5) Dougie Hamilton, Flames
Why a trade could happen: The possibility sure seems to be coming up a lot. And given the Flames’ strength on the blue line and holes up front, it could actually even make some sense.
Why there’s no reason to assume it will: The Flames gave up three high picks to acquire Hamilton just three years ago (and managed to get him signed to what seems like a reasonable long-term deal), so you’d assume they’d want at least that much back in return if they decided to move on. That’s fair, but teams tend to shy away form big asking prices, even when the player involved might be well worth it.
And yet…: The Flames don’t have a pick in this year’s draft until the fourth round, which isn’t ideal when you’ve just missed the playoffs. If a team could offer a good young winger and a high pick, you figure Brad Treliving would at least have to think about it.
Why a trade could happen: Ekman-Larsson is another star defenceman heading into the final year of his deal. He’ll turn 27 next month, and has had only one playoff run in his eight years in Arizona. After finishing dead last in the Western Conference, you wonder if it wouldn’t make more sense for both him and the cash-strapped Coyotes to pursue a trade to a contender this summer.
Why history suggests that it won’t: Every time this subject comes up, the message out of Arizona is the same: We’re not trading this guy. We heard it again from John Chayka just last week. And it’s worth remembering that this is the same franchise that publicly ridiculed the idea of even considering moving Ekman-Larsson to land local boy Auston Matthews just a few years ago. That seems silly in hindsight, but it reinforces the notion that the Coyotes just have no interest in making any sort of move here.
And yet…: We just laid out why the Coyotes don’t seem to want to move him, but that’s only half the equation. Does Ekman-Larsson want to come back? If not, or if he insists on being paid in the Karlsson ballpark even though he’s never finished higher than seventh in Norris voting, the team may not have a choice but to move on.
7) P.K. Subban, Predators
Why a trade could happen: Despite another strong season that saw Subban named a Norris finalist, the Predators are deep enough on back end that they could afford to trade him for help up front and still have one of the better bluelines in the league. There’s been plenty of talk that the team could do exactly that in the off-season.
Why we know that it almost definitely won’t: This is one of those rumours where most of the talk just seems to be people shooting down the idea. The Predators are coming off two of the best seasons in franchise history, so pulling the trigger on a blockbuster to shake up the team would seem like an odd choice.
And yet…: We’ve been here before, right? Two years ago, the Canadiens swore they weren’t looking to move Subban, then they stunned everyone by making a monster deal. Remember, that trade meant that the NMC Subban had negotiated with Montreal didn’t follow him to Nashville, so the team is free to move him anywhere they want. Would it make sense for a team to give up a bounty to get Subban when Karlsson and friends could all hit free agency next year? If someone wanted to get ahead of the market, it might.
8) Corey Perry, Ducks
Why a trade could happen: Perry is a former Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard winner, and was a first-team all-star as recently as 2014. But his numbers have been declining since then, and he hasn’t even cracked 20 goals in either of the last two seasons despite carrying a hefty $8.65-million cap hit for each of the next three seasons.
Why we just told you why it can’t: Go back and read that last sentence again. Did we mention that he’s also 33 years old and has full no-movement protection? I’m sure Bob Murray’s phone is ringing off the hook.
And yet…: Perry wouldn’t bring much in return for the Ducks, and there’s a case to be made that they should just hold onto him and hope he can return to form rather than selling low. But there are ways to make a deal like this work if Murray were motivated to do it, including retained salary or another bad contract coming back the other way. It’s not impossible to imagine somebody out there deciding that the right price could make it worth the gamble. Hard, but not impossible.
9) Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
Why a trade could happen: The Rangers are at least kind of rebuilding, having moved Ryan McDonagh and others at the trade deadline. They don’t seem to be doing the full tear-down, but Jeff Gorton’s recent moves suggest that the team is looking at least a year or two down the line. If so, does it really make sense to have a 36-year-old goaltender who carries the position’s second-highest cap hit and is still signed for three more seasons? Lundqvist has done everything a goalie can do in this league except win the Stanley Cup; giving him a chance to do that somewhere else while adding some assets for the future makes almost too much sense.
Why Rangers fans will slap you for even suggesting it: Lundqvist has full no-movement protection, so he’s not going anywhere if he doesn’t want to. When asked about the subject last season, he said he didn’t want to. Case closed, right?
And yet…: You can understand why Lundqvist wouldn’t want to leave New York, a city he seems to have been made for. But there’s at least a small difference between saying no to the general concept of a mid-season deal and turning down an off-season move to a specific contender. If that sort of scenario did materialize, and he had more than a few days to consider his options, it doesn’t seem impossible to imagine him being open to a move. But it still feels very unlikely.
10) Drew Doughty, Kings
Why a trade could happen: Along with Karlsson and Ekmon-Larsson, Doughty is the third all-star defenceman who’s scheduled to hit the free agent market in 2019. And while most star players deal with pending free agency by mumbling about the importance of loyalty and letting their agents handle the details, Doughty was crystal clear about his intentions back in November: He’s going to get paid somewhere.
It’s certainly still possible that that could be in L.A.; the Kings could offer an extra year and have plenty of time to get an extension done. But does that kind of commitment make sense for either side, given that this team has won only one playoff game in four years? It might make more sense for Doughty to orchestrate a move to a young team that owned plenty of cap space, had a coach Doughty likes playing for, and was one right-handed defenceman away from being a Cup contender.
Why this is all a transparent attempt by a Leafs fan to create a Doughty-to-Toronto scenario: Was it that obvious?
OK, yes, we can all see where this is going, as any kind of delay in signing an extension would lead to Doughty becoming the latest big star to be breathlessly linked with the Maple Leafs. That would make for a nice local-boy-comes-home storyline, but the reality is that it’s extremely unlikely. Lately, Doughty sounds like a guy who wants to stay right where he is. History tells us that he probably will.
And yet…: The Leafs have retired most of their low numbers, but No. 8 is somehow still available and we’re pretty sure Connor Carrick could be talked into give it up. Just saying.