Unless you count role players, AHLers and healthy scratches moving for late-round draft picks, the in-season trade market has given us squat.
We’re now more than halfway through the 2016-17 season and are still awaiting the first NHL trade of any significance. (Although we do believe the Senators picking up Mike Condon from Pittsburgh has had some impact. The backup has delivered nine wins.)
“It’s been very, very quiet…. If there was something I could have done to this point that would make our team better, I would have done it,” Steve Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times recently. “We’ll keep trying.”
Looking to shake up his underachieving group, Yzerman said he couldn’t recall the market being tighter than it is today. The reasons for this are familiar: Gary Bettman’s beloved three-point-game parity keeping all but a few teams in the playoff hunt, a cap ceiling that is raising at a snail’s pace, and the prevalence of no-trade clauses.
Roughly a third of teams would be over the cap ceiling right now were they not already leaning on long-term injured relief. And, paradoxically, the four clubs best positioned financially to be buyers — Winnipeg, Carolina, Florida, and New Jersey — are performing like sellers.
For fun, we analyzed each team to pinpoint the most difficult player for them to move. We excluded AHLers and those hidden on long-term injured reserve (the Chris Prongers and Dave Bollands of the world) and focused on roster guys. (Note: This does not mean the team wants to trade the player, though certainly that is the case with several on this list.)
No one is untradeable, of course. Just ask Wayne Gretzky or David Clarkson. Hey, perhaps some of these guys could be traded for each other.
Based on their performance and their contract, these are the NHL’s hardest to trade players. Anchors aweigh.
Two even-strength points, 39 minutes in penalties and a minus-5 rating is not cutting it for a top-four defenceman. That Bieksa is already 35 years old, signed through 2017-18 at $4-million per season and holds a no-movement clause only makes a trade less likely. Fun guy, though — and a helluva shovel boy.
Long-term, ugly contracts are tough to spot among skaters, as the Coyotes will be well-positioned financially for their rebuild when Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk’s contracts come off the books on July 1. (The inactive Dave Bolland is signed for $5.667-million through 2018-19, but we’ve learned that absorbing bad cap hits can land you real talent.) The Coyotes’ immovable object is in the crease. Smith (another $5.667-million hit) is signed until 2019 and has been hit with injuries the last couple years. He used to hold a no-move clause; that’s now a no-trade clause. The 34-year-old is in the midst of his fourth straight losing campaign, but he’s been hung out to dry on many a night and his save percentage (.918) is the best its been in five years.
Zdeno Chara might get some consideration here, but at 39 he’s still the Bruins’ best defenceman. His salary has dropped to $5-million this season and falls to $4-million in 2017-18. So we’re looking at Backes, who struck it big as a free agent in the summer. He has 21 points through 36 games. Not bad, but he’s not a $6-million asset — and that’s what his cap hit will be through 2020-21, when the wear and tear of his rugged game will have taken it’s toll. For the next three years, the centre also holds a no-movement clause.
The Sabres’ books are in good shape. GM Tim Murray hasn’t committed to many bad-money deals. That he has tried and been unable to trade Kane — not even to offence-starved Vancouver, the winger’s hometown — shows how deep the player’s off-ice reputation is interfering with business. A one-time 30-goal star, Kane scored 20 in 65 games last season and looked to be on the right track. He’s only 25 and does not hold trade protection. Through 29 games, he has 15 points and hasn’t become the core player Tim Murray hoped to build around.
On the trade block for the bulk of 2015-16, Wideman is actually enjoying a decent bounce-back campaign after the still-lingering drama he caused by cross-checking linesman Don Henderson a season ago. He’s chipped in 12 points from the blue line while skating more than 21 minutes a night and has a plus rating on a minus club. That Wideman is in the final year of his deal could’ve made him a rental candidate, but $5.25-million cap hit is a steep price to pay and the Flames have rebounded back into the hunt.
At a total cap hit of $58.1-million, Carolina is currently the league’s most frugal club. Not a lot of bad money on the books here. But the re-signing of 32-year-old Ward for two years at $3.3-million per season remains one of the 2016 off-season’s head-scratchers. To his credit, Ward’s .915 save percentage is his best in five years.
Think a player can’t or won’t be traded from Chicago, and GM Stan Bowman will find a way. Depth centre Kruger, 26, is getting paid more than $3-million, yet he ranks seventh in ice time and ninth in points among Chicago forwards. He’s also the principal penalty-killing forward on one of the NHL’s worst penalty-killing teams.
Plenty of fair, smart contracts here for a budget team that is open to shaking up its core. But the Avalanche’s $5.9-million goaltender has an atrocious record (6-14-0) to go along with a .901 save percentage. Varlamov is on the books until 2019 and his numbers have declined for the third consecutive season.
With 10 goals and 24 points, the veteran is producing at respectable rate. Still, he ranks 10th in ice time among Blue Jackets forwards and has spent time in head coach John Tortorella’s doghouse. Hartnell was on the block last season, and there were even murmurs of a possible buyout. He’s 34 and has another full season at $4.75-million, plus, he holds no-move protection.
We’re not big fans of the Jason Spezza price point ($7.5-million annually through 2018-19), but $5.9-million a year for a decent tandem goaltender is harder to swallow. Dallas has committed 60-starts money to the 33-year-old through 2017-18, and trading an expensive, under-performing goaltender might take a miracle.
Much like Dallas, Detroit has too much money tied up between the pipes and is on pace to whiff on the playoffs. Howard will make roughly $5.3-million per season through 2018-19, and he was enjoying a lovely bounce-back season (.934 save percentage) before succumbing to injury. Once Howard’s deal does expire, Justin Abdelkader ($4.25-million through 2020) is a strong candidate to take his spot on this list.
Six-million-dollar man Nugent-Hopkins has seen himslef tumble down the Oilers’ depth chart. You’d have to put him below Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on your list of Centres Worth Keeping, and the buzz was that GM Peter Chiarelli moved Taylor Hall only because interest in RNH was so low. That Nuge’s point total was equal to that of Mark Letestu at the midway mark doesn’t help his value, but the kid is still only 23.
The Panthers’ major off-season acquisition can move a puck with the best of ’em, but the Yandle deal is a classic case of overpaying a free agent. A seven-year, $44.45-million windfall (and, hey, let’s toss in a no-move clause) is great for the player, but means Florida is stuck with him for better or for worse. Yandle waited until January to notch his first even-strength goal.
Lots of dollars and term committed here, the side effect of modern championship teams. Former captain Dustin Brown ($5.875-million cap hit) is on the books through 2022, and he’s five years removed from his most recent 20-goal season. Might not hit 10 this season and he’s minus-13. (Runner-up: Marian Gaborik, who’s 34 and holds a $4.875-million cap hit through 2021. Might not match last year’s total of 22 points.)
Used to be that Pominville, 34, would always be among the most productive players on his team. For the third consecutive year, his offence is in decline. Still, the winger holds trade protection and commands $5.6-million a year through 2019.
Turtleneck enthusiast Plekanec, 34, has had his name churned in the rumour mill this season, so it’s worth noting that the long-serving centre does not have trade protection on his hefty $6-million a year contract, which runs through 2017-18. The seven-time 20-goal man is in sharp decline offensively — he’s on pace for eight goals — but is still leaned on for his defensive responsibility.
Yes, we’re well aware that Subban is capable of being traded, but his extraordinary cap hit — a showtime $9-million for the next six years, tops among all D-men — makes another deal unlikely, especially when you consider that his actual salary is $11-million. Fun fact (unless you’re P.K.): Nashville had the option to decline Subban’s no-move clause when acquiring him, so now the Predator is the only player among the NHL’s 12 highest cap hits without trade protection.
The days of consecutive 20-goal seasons are long gone for 31-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 highest-paid, longest-committed forward on the Islanders is just New York’s 12th-most productive offensive player. Character guy capable of excellence, but GM Garth Snow made a mistake giving Ladd seven years, $38.5-million and a bunch of trade protection.
The world’s most handsomely (paid) goaltender — with a $8.5-million cap hit through 2021 — is still one of the world’s best. But his high price tag and the fact his save percentage has taken a hit for the second consecutive season should scare off interested teams from wanting the King on the books when he’s 38.
By a nose, over Dion Phaneuf. The top-earning Senator has the highest cap hit ($7.25-million) and longest contract (expires 2022) of anyone on the team. Since leaving Anaheim, he’s gone from a 70-point guy to a 50-point guy, and this season the winger might be just a 35-point guy, and one who was recently healthy-scratched for reasons unknown.
The fact that the defenceman has rebounded well from a disastrous 2015-16, in which he cleared waivers and spent the bulk of the season in the AHL, is to his credit. But did you know that the 30-year-old MacDonald’s salary keeps going up from here? Three seasons from now, he’ll be taking home $5.75-million.
We love Geno. He is one of the best players in the game, period. But taking on a $9.5-million cap hit when he’s in his mid-30s would be a tall order. Did you know that Malkin will get $5-million in bonuses during the final two seasons of his deal (2020-21 and 2021-22)? Pretty sweet thank-you money.
The Sharks have freed themselves of most bad contracts. The Pacific Division powerhouse is getting strong performances from its high-paid players. Like many on this list, Boedker milked free agency for a player-friendly, $16-million pact, and he’s on pace to put up fewer than 30 points.
Good restraint here by St. Louis in terms of doling out contracts. A beneficiary of weak free agent class in 2014, Stastny, 31, 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. He’ll need to step it up to reach 45 points this season.
Callahan, 31, is a solid checking forward whose 20-goal days appear to have passed him by. A hip injury has thrown a wrench into his season, and four points through 18 games for a guy making more than Nikita Kucherov doesn’t cut it. Callahan is a $5.8-million cap hit with trade protection through 2020.
Since we’re putting aside the Robidas’ island crew — Joffrey Lupul, Nathan Horton, and Stephane Robidas — and focusing on healthy players for this exercise, the Leafs’ books have been well scrubbed. Matt Martin is probably making too much for a fourth-liner, but we think a Bozak deal could be a little tricky to pull off, considering the centre’s $4.2-million cap hit and modified no-trade clause. Bozak ranks third in average ice time among Leafs pivots, which is telling. Still, if Lou Lamoriello wants to move him, he’ll find a way.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The twins will make $7-million each for the next two seasons and have full no-move clauses. These incredible talents are beloved in the community, yet there’s no denying they’re in gradual decline. It’s unfathomable to see them split up, and what team can absorb a $14-million cap hit all at once?
The 36-year-old shutdown defenceman has tumbled out of the Capitals’ top four. Orpik cashed in huge in free agency — a 27.5-million deal in 2014 — but he’ll be 38 when he enters the final year of this contract, and the Caps need to re-sign more valuable blue liners like Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov. The saving grace here is that Orpik doesn’t hold movement protection.
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who is making a cool $4.75-million playing for the Jets’ farm team, is an immovable object. But since we’re focusing on NHL players here, we’ll go with Perreault — mostly because GM Kevin Cheveldayoff runs a tight financial ship. The 29-year-old centre’s cap hit jumps to $4.125-million next season and stays there until 2021. A 40-point contributor the past three seasons, Perrault has been battling injuries and has just three goals and 10 points at the halfway mark.
(Contract info via the excellent CapFriendly.com)