Feeling loose, Mike Babcock walked into the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room Tuesday with a plan and a twinkle in his eye.
“It’s quiet around here,” barked the coach, stifling a smile. “Let’s get some rumours going right now. Let’s get some s— that really doesn’t matter. What do you want to go with?”
Let’s go with some trade bait, real or make believe, for every NHL team.
We’re a third of the way into the season, the contenders and pretenders have begun to separate themselves, and we’ve already been blessed with a couple of actual hockey trades.
The three-way deal involving Kyle Turris and Matt Duchene broke the seal, then last week’s Adam Henrique–Sami Vatanen swap blindsided the insiders. The candid comments by 2019 free agents Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson only whetted our appetite for roster shakeups further.
With less than two weeks before the Dec. 19 holiday roster freeze takes effect, we look at 31 realistic pieces of trade bait who may or may not get dangled in the NHL Power Rankings: Trade Bait Edition.
Hey, it’s a business. And we’re starting stuff that really doesn’t matter.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Maybe the Lightning would like to add to defensive depth, but we don’t see much action here. Impending UFA Andrej Sustr ($1.95-million cap hit) could be parted with if Tampa messes around with the fringes.
The Predators’ greatest need — centre depth — has already been fulfilled in the Turris deal, so we’re left scrounging for trade bait in Music City. We’re grasping at straws here, but perhaps when Ryan Ellis comes back, impending UFA Alexi Emelin becomes expendable?
The Kings have made quick decisions on players that aren’t working; they already traded Michael Cammalleri and waived Brooks Laich. Los Angeles isn’t trading Doughty any time soon, but the Kings do have have extra picks in the fourth and sixth rounds plus a few million in cap space if they want to rent some depth for a playoff run.
The key to a Jets blockbuster lies with impending RFA Jacob Trouba, who wields arbitration rights after settling on a bridge deal last year. Way more likely and more boring: Winnipeg stays pat and takes its chances with the best-looking roster it’s iced since it acquired the team from Atlanta.
If Doug Armstrong wants to continue his trend of not letting quality players walk for nothing (see: Shattenkirk, Kevin), he could try to rent centre Paul Stastny — an impending UFA overpaid at $7.5 million this season. But with the Blues in the running to take top seed in the West and a contender for the Presidents’ Trophy, it’s more likely they stay pat or dip into futures and keep the core roster in tact.
Plenty to choose from here, although GM George McPhee is on record saying the Golden Knights will go for it if they’re still in contention at the end of February. Sniping winger James Neal (12 goals) leads a pack of impending UFAs who could be rented for futures.
Boone Jenner is a 30-goal scorer, but that was two seasons ago. He’s at three goals this year, and it’s a contract season.
Toronto’s three top-nine forwards on expiring deals — Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov — won’t be re-upped anytime soon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be moved in-season. If Toronto wants to add a significant piece in advance of the playoffs (presumably on defence), Lou Lamoriello’s callers will be trying to steer talks toward underused Kasperi Kapanen and, to a lesser extent, Josh Leivo.
John Tavares would be the ultimate trade chip. Problem is, the Islanders are actually good. GM Garth Snow has extra first- and second-round draft picks snagged from Calgary. With the Metropolitan up for grabs, does he push all-in and use them?
With its excellent start and cap space to burn, New Jersey must be considered a buyer. Here’s a question, though: With the addition of left-shot defenceman Vatanen and the movement of New Jersey to get younger and faster, is 35-year-old captain Andy Greene still hanging around for the end of his contract three years from now?
11. New York Rangers
A Rick Nash extension feels far from imminent, but trading a past-his-prime winger who makes $8.2 million in salary this season is no easy proposition. Nash has gradually dropped from a point per game to half a point per game. Still, he can be a game-breaker some nights, and if the Rangers hit the skids, there may be interest if New York retains salary.
12. Dallas Stars
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported hearing Jason Spezza‘s name in trade rumours last month, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that Dallas would be willing to move on from a fading star forward who will makes $7.5 million in salary this year and next. In order to move Spezza, 34, Dallas would have to take on another bad contract or retain salary.
Washington finds itself in an interesting position. The Caps are fighting for playoff placement instead of cruising at the top, so they’re likely to keep defenceman John Carlson and centre Lars Eller as long as they’re in the mix. If Brian MacLellan is at all tempted to restock some draft picks, those are the core players he could look to rent.
The Sedins aren’t going anywhere, but the Canucks do have valuable bodies to move if they wish to take the long (i.e., smart) view in the face of their impressive start to the season. Classic gun-for-hire Thomas Vanek is undervalued at $2 million, having already delivered 18 points through 28 games, and a decision must eventually be made on impending RFA Erik Gudbranson. Other teams will have interest in the tough, stay-at-home D-man.
Chicago shook things up so much in the summer and has spent its second- and fourth-round draft picks this spring, there are few cards left to play, unless GM Stan Bowman tinkers with the fringes. Perhaps a Brent Seabrook deal might be attempted at some point, but teams will be wary of taking on a 32-year-old with a $6.875-million cap hit through 2024.
16. San Jose Sharks
What happened to Jannik Hansen? In the winger’s last full season as a Canuck, he scored 22 goals. Since being moved to San Jose, he has scored a grand total of two goals and zero this season. In 2017-18, the final year of his contract, Hansen has one assist in 17 games. Yikes. Could a change of scenery rejuvenate Hansen?
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford prefers to make his moves well in advance of deadlines, and so we got ourselves an Ian Cole trade report in November. With Pittsburgh winning four straight and Cole a plus-4 in his two outings since a stretch of healthy scratches, the urgency to make a move (for, say, a backup goalie) has lessened.
But we could see teams like Colorado and Toronto circling back on Cole in January or February as an affordable addition to bolster the back end.
18. Boston Bruins
The Bruins have slipped behind Montreal in the standings, but it should be noted that Boston has four games in hand, has been decimated with man-games lost and is just now returning to full health. By no means are they a seller. Ryan Spooner has just one goal in 10 games as one of the many Bruins whose season has been rocked with injury. The 25-year-old forward had an uneasy negotiation this past summer before settling on a one-year deal. He’s up for a new deal again as an RFA.
The healthy return of Carey Price and Montreal’s subsequent winning streak have completely shifted the conversation around this team. The more a playoff spot remains real, the better chance GM Marc Bergevin looks at his $6.4 million in unused cap space as his greatest asset. If the Habs start tumbling again, however, then it’s time to rev up the Max Pacioretty rumour generator all over again.
20. Minnesota Wild
The world knows Kyle Quincey, who already cleared waivers, is available, but the Wild won’t be selling from its core as long as a wild-card spot is within reach. We’re curious if Chuck Fletcher saw what Bob Murray was able to fetch for Vatanen and wondered what kind of scoring a young, right-shot defenceman like Matt Dumba (RFA 2018) could get him in return.
21. Calgary Flames
Calgary has been a difficult squad to peg this season, and Brad Treliving — who had one of the busier summers of all GMs — has very few options to shake things up. The Flames have already spent their first-, second- and fifth-round picks in 2018, as well as their second-, third- and sixth-rounders in 2019. The path for an unlikely earth-shaker: Treliving gives up early on Sam Bennett, whom the team is still rooting for, or dangles a cooled-off T.J. Brodie, who hasn’t been quite the dream match with Travis Hamonic everyone expected.
Can the Hurricanes end their playoff drought while still remaining in the NHL’s bottom third in offence and power play? It’s a tall order. We keep waiting for Carolina to improve its forward core through trade, and that would mean dangling a young D-man like Noah Hanifin or Trevor van Riemsdyk, who will both come knocking for raises this summer.
23. Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is having too good of a year and he comes at too steep of a cost ($6-million cap hit through 2021). We see the Oilers — if they’re out of it in February — more willing to part with left wing Patrick Maroon, a big, versatile forward who could play up and down a lineup. Maroon has zero trade protection and a modest $2-million cap hit.
The rumblings around Colorado have quieted since Joe Sakic turned a disgruntled Duchene into six pieces. If the Avalanche are looking for more futures, they may decide to part with third-line winger Blake Comeau, an impending UFA who’s bounced back nicely from a soft 2016-17 and may attract mild interest as a depth option.
25. Anaheim Ducks
While it’s probably safe to assume Bob Murray has already made his big splash in the trade pool with the Vatanen-Henrique deal, the Ducks do have four draft picks in the first three rounds of 2018 and could dangle futures if the return of centres Ryan Getlaf and Ryan Kelser later this month get them back in the Pacific Division hunt.
26. Florida Panthers
Radim Vrbata has changed NHL sweaters eight times already. A ninth isn’t out of the question if Florida remains outside the playoff picture — a possibility that grows likelier with every game Roberto Luongo misses due to injury. Vrbata hasn’t exactly lit it up this season (three goals, 11 points) but may be attractive as a cheap rental for winger depth closer to the deadline.
When the Canadiens hang 10 on you, the reality of the rebuild sinks in. A veteran defenceman like Mike Green, whose chances of re-signing in Detroit rest somewhere between slim and none, is producing the kind of numbers (18 points) and can log the kind of minutes that should make him an attractive rental in two months’ time. A more meaningful acquisition long term for teams looking to pick from the Red Wings is Andreas Athanasiou, whose relationship with the front office got frosty this fall. He could be due for a round of arbitration this summer.
28. Arizona Coyotes
Doughty and Karlsson are stealing the headlines, but the other elite defenceman of 2019’s UFA class, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, is lottery-bound Arizona’s most valuable trade chip. Both the player and the team have expressed no interest publicly to part ways, but money is an issue in Phoenix, and OEL will command a truck of it in 18 months. He’s not the type of talent a budget team can afford to let go for nothing.
Wayne Simmonds is essentially the dream pickup of every playoff-bound franchise: a heart-and-soul power winger who can score, scrap, and improve your special teams. Simmonds’ cap hit is manageable (less than $4 million) and he won’t be due a raise until 2019. The forward holds a modified no-trade clause that gives him a 12-team no-trade list, and there’s no guarantee GM Ron Hextall wants to mess with his core just yet. But since Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos floated Simmonds’ name out there Saturday, Hextall will have callers.
30. Ottawa Senators
In the interest of saving Ottawa from anxiety attacks, we’ll hold off on the Karlsson trade speculation until July 2 (if he’s not re-signed for all the money on July 1). How about Cody Ceci? The young defenceman certainly has suitors; Colorado asked for Ceci in the Duchene talks. If the Senators — who have lost seven of eight — can’t claw back into the Atlantic race, does Ottawa entertain offers on a young defenceman knowing it must open its coffers for Karlsson and Mark Stone and Duchene as early as this summer? Ceci is a restricted free agent this summer. Chris Wideman is a UFA. The Sens don’t have a right-shot NHL D locked up beyond next season.
31. Buffalo Sabres
Sabres GM Jason Botterill is playing coy, but Evander Kane is the perfect rental bait for basement-dwelling Buffalo. Kane is having arguably his best season (25 points in 28 games) for the worst team in hockey. His price tag isn’t exactly cheap, but Botterill may be willing to absorb some of Kane’s $5.25-million cap hit for a better return of picks and prospects. Start with a first-rounder, then add. Kane is in his ninth season and has never made the post-season. How fired up will he be to loan his offence to a contender?