Down Goes Brown: Who won’t, but should, be in play at trade deadline

Hockey Central at Noon panel discusses where the NHL trade markets lie right now, wondering why we're less than two weeks away from the deadline, and there's crickets?

The trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and we finally got our first major February deal with Tuesday’s Dion Phaneuf/Marion Gaborik swap. There are still plenty of names of the market, with various reports suggesting that guys like Max Pacioretty, Mike Hoffman, Evander Kane and Mike Green could be available.

But as is usually the case, the really big names aren’t in play. There was a time when it wasn’t unusual to see elite players moved near the deadline, with stars like Ron Francis, Rob Blake and Marian Hossa switching teams. But in recent years, most teams prefer to fall back on the old standby that you can only trade big stars during the off-season — or, more often, not at all.

Sometimes that makes sense. But not always. So today, let’s challenge the conventional wisdom by imagining an alternate universe where NHL teams aggressively reshaped their rosters to put themselves in the best possible position to win — and didn’t just instinctively revert to kicking the can down the road.

What would the landscape look like then? Here are a half-dozen names that reportedly aren’t in play heading towards the 2018 deadline, but maybe should be.

Shea Weber, Canadiens

We’ve been told that the Habs are finally ready to bite the bullet and rebuild, which means shopping veterans like Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Andrew Shaw. There’s even been talk of moving on from Alex Galchenyuk. But two names have been largely absent from the rumour mill: Carey Price and Shea Weber.

Price probably makes sense, since he recently signed a massive extension that starts next season. Whether you like that deal or not, it would be unusual to make that kind of commitment to a player and then trade him before it even has a chance to kick in.

But Weber? On paper, he’d be among a rebuilding team’s best bait. He’s old enough that he’s likely to be a declining asset by the time the team is ready to contend again, but not so old that a contender wouldn’t want him around for the new few seasons. His contract is an issue, but as Montreal fans constantly remind me, maybe not quite as big a problem as you might think given that the actual salary dives in a few years and the Predators would absorb any cap-recapture penalties. And whatever you think of the P.K. Subban trade that brought him to Montreal, there are tons of people in the hockey world who absolutely love Weber’s game, even today.

He’s injured right now, which complicates things (although reports were saying he wasn’t on the block even before he got hurt). Still, he’s expected back before the playoffs. Why not trade him this year, reap a windfall, and give the rebuild a major kickstart?

Potential destination: Edmonton. It’s almost too perfect. The Oilers need blue-line help, Peter Chiarelli needs to pull off a big deal to keep some of the heat off, and Edmonton would be thinking ahead to next year and beyond, so Weber’s current health status wouldn’t be a hurdle. Sure, the cap hit is an issue, but a little retained salary and maybe another injured star going the other way could largely even that out.

They say you should never make a big trade when things are bad and other teams know you’re desperate. One way to mitigate that: Find a trade partner who’s just as miserable as you are.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes

As the Coyotes stumble through another miserable season, we’ve been repeatedly told not to expect them to move Ekman-Larsson. That makes some sense: He’s their best player, he’s still relatively young, and he has another year left on his contract. There have been questions over how much it will cost to re-sign him in 2019, or whether after all this losing he even wants to come back. But even if you know you have to move him eventually, why would you do it now instead of waiting until the off-season?

Here’s why: Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson is essentially Ekman-Larsson, but better. And that means that if and when Ottawa decides to move him, every team looking for a defenceman is going to be banging down the Senators’ door. And any other team looking to shop a star defenceman of their own is going to have to do it under the cloud of being second choice at best.

That’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world; maybe some team misses out on Karlsson, panics, and offers too much to Arizona for Plan B. But maybe not. Trading Ekman-Larsson would be one of the biggest moves in Coyotes franchise history; you’d think they’d want to do when they can be the centre of attention, rather than waiting to be a bridesmaid while everyone is focused elsewhere.

Possible destination: Toronto. Even though he shoots left, you have to figure the Leafs could figure out a way to fit him into their rotation. So we’re sending him to the Leafs, mainly for two reasons. One, we’re legally obligated to make sure we link at least one star to Toronto. And two, you have to assume that the Senators would never deal Karlsson to their provincial rivals, so the urge to play wait-and-see on a bigger prize wouldn’t be there.

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Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks

If the Blackhawks weren’t done before this weeks’ dispiriting losses to the Coyotes and Golden Knights (they were), then surely everyone knows it now. But Stan Bowman insists that he won’t be moving any of the team’s “core four”, the highly paid veterans who helped them win three Stanley Cups.

It’s tempting to get crazy and suggest that the Hawks should be shopping Jonathan Toews, and there’s an argument to be made there. But instead, let’s focus on Seabrook, who’s still considered part of that core four even though his status as a star is somewhat debatable these days. He’s had a tough year that’s included being a healthy scratch, and his contract looks like one of the worst in the league. Even if they’re not going to rebuild — and with all those other big contracts, they probably can’t — the Hawks should be looking to get out from under Seabrook’s deal any way they can.

Would they get much for him? Probably not, and they’d likely have to retain money, take back a bad contract and/or sweeten the deal with a pick or two. Seabrook also has a NMC. Still, he’s a proven winner with three Cup rings in a league where GMs love their intangibles. This could be the Hawks’ last chance to wriggle away from this albatross before it’s completely unmovable. If only there were a legitimate contender out there that had lots of cap space, could use some of that knows-how-to-win leadership, and was in a market that players love to play in…

Potential destination: Vegas, baby. It’s as close to a fit as we’re going to find, and they’ve even got the David Clarkson chip ready to play if they need it.

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Mark Stone, Senators

The Senators are another team that’s just setting out on a rebuild. They’ve been rumoured to be shopping just about everyone on the roster, up to and including Karlsson. But the one name that we’re constantly told is off limits is Stone.

To be clear, they shouldn’t want to move Stone, who’s having a breakout season. He’s 25, can score at a first-line rate, and gives you Selke-worthy two-way play. He’s probably one of the most underrated forwards in the league, and might still be getting better.

But he also needs a new contract this summer, and that’s always tricky in Ottawa; if he opts for a short-term deal, UFA status would be right around the corner. More importantly, the Senators should be able to get a ransom if they ever moved him. With apologies to Evander Kane or whoever else, Stone would be the best forward available by a mile. If you’re really set on a major rebuild, wouldn’t you at least want to hear what other teams might offer?

Maybe not. There’s an argument to be made that even a rebuilding team have to hold onto a few guys, especially those that are young enough to contribute when the team is ready to contend again. That makes sense. But then why do we keep seeing Hoffman’s name show up in rumours? He’s 28, signed to a great contract, and is the team’s second-leading scorer behind Stone. If the team is willing to listen on Hoffman, if not shop him outright, why not Stone?

Potential destination: Pretty much anywhere; if the Senators were taking offers, the line should wrap around the block. Stone would be a great fit in Nashville. Or if seeing him chase a Cup alongside Kyle Turris was too painful for Sens fans, there’s also St. Louis, Carolina or even Edmonton.

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Claude Giroux, Flyers

Calm down, Flyers fans, this wasn’t my idea.

Instead, we can blame a certain Sportsnet personality for initially floating this idea; I’m going to protect his identity for now, at least until he’s finished Crisco-ing all the telephone poles near his home. But I have to admit, the idea makes at least a little bit of sense.

Giroux just turned 30, and has four full years left on a contract that carries a hefty $8.25-million cap hit. He signed that deal in 2013, then saw his point totals decline for three straight years. Last off-season, there were rumblings that the Flyers might consider moving him. More than a few observes thought that sounded like a good idea.

This year, Giroux has looked like his old self, scoring at better than a point-per-game rate while leading the Flyers back into the playoff hunt. In theory, you don’t trade guys who are having good years. But on the other hand, there’s that pesky “buy low, sell high” thing. The Flyers would be selling sky-high here, and if they were ever going to get maximum value for Giroux, now would be the time.

The Flyers are making a run at a playoff spot, but they’re not Cup contenders yet. More importantly, a Giroux deal wouldn’t have to be a rebuild-style move based purely on futures; last we checked, NHL GMs are still allowed to make hockey trades. Trading a 30-year-old on a big deal when his value was highest is the sort of move that might anger a fan base in the short-term, but could pay off nicely in the not-so-distant future.

Giroux has a no-movement clause, and last year he said he wasn’t going anywhere. But you couldn’t blame Ron Hextall if he at least kicked a few tires.

Possible destination: Come on. He’s an undisputed first-line forward, can play centre, and he speaks French. You do the math.

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Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers

The Rangers have been among the more newsworthy teams heading into the deadline, with management basically hanging a “FOR SALE” sign on the entire roster. Even as the team remains within range of a playoff spot, Jeff Gorton has apparently decided that the path to a Stanley Cup requires a rebuild. That means plenty of big names are available, with rumours mentioning everyone from Nash to Mats Zuccarello to even Ryan McDonagh.

But one name has been missing from the list: Lundqvist. It’s been made clear that he’s not on the block. As plugged-in Rangers beat writer Larry Brooks subtly phrased it over the weekend: “Repeat after me: N-o-t G-o-i-n-g A-n-y-w-h-e-r-e”.

The question is why? If you’re truly committed to a full rebuild, wouldn’t moving a 35-year-old future Hall of Famer be something you’d have to at least consider? And given that the Stanley Cup is just about the only thing Lundqvist hasn’t won yet, a move that sent him to a contender would seem like a scenario that could work for both sides.

The first problem is that Lundqvist has a no-movement clause. He has a family and seems to love it in New York, so if he doesn’t want to go, the Rangers’ hands are tied. That doesn’t mean the team couldn’t try to change his mind, and we’ve seen plenty of players waive NTCs and NMCs in the past. But Lundqvist has earned the right to hold the cards here, and it’s possible there’s just no circumstances under which he’d want to leave.

A second issue is that it’s rare to see star goaltenders moved during the season, especially near the deadline. The reason is obvious — teams that have made it this far into the season without decent goaltending are typically out of the race and selling by now. There just aren’t many 1995–96 Avalanche teams that are one superstar goalie away from a dynasty out there.

Still, it feels like this is an issue the Rangers are going to have to address at some point. Lundqvist still has three more years left on a contract that will carry the second-highest cap hit among goalies once Carey Price’s new deal kicks in. He’ll be 39 when that deal ends, and the list of goalies who were still worth top dollar at that age is a short one. It’s possible the Rangers are rebuilding for the rest of his deal. Or maybe they’re ready to contend again soon, and don’t want to do it with an $8.5 million cap hit clogging the books. (For what it’s worth, they have a decent prospect in Igor Shestyorkin, who’s currently playing for Russia at the Olympics.)

Again, they may not have a choice. But it seems like at the very least, Gorton may want to start laying the groundwork for a future move now, while Lundqvist would still hold some decent value. Writing off the possibility altogether seems short-sighted.

Possible destination: The Flyers have been mentioned, but that couldn’t happen if Lundqvist doesn’t want to leave New York, so I guess we’re out of options. I mean, unless there happened to be another New York-based team out there that was desperate to make the playoffs, needed to send a win-now message to a pending UFA franchise player, and has struggled with its goaltending for years, and… nah.

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