Rink Fries: 10 of the most interesting NHL trade candidates to watch

Eric Engels spoke to new Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes on his expectations of the current team, working alongside Jeff Gorton, what the biggest challenge of his new job will be, and more.

I was having a conversation with a manager a couple of weeks ago who mentioned to me that more than a few teams were looking to do deals just before the Olympic break. They were almost treating the next few weeks here as a mini trade deadline before the actual halting of trades on March 21. Teams wanted to get things done before the players split for Beijing.

And while that may no longer be a thing, there is still plenty of trade chatter around the league.

I’ll go over 10 of the more likely bigger candidates we expect to be on the move.

But before we get to the names, there’s something I’ve been thinking about the past month or so as the Florida Panthers position themselves for a Stanley Cup run.

As anyone who’s listened to the podcast or radio show knows, I’m forever fascinated by the alternative NHL universe by way of trades that never happened, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cats.

I go back to the day the fortunes of this franchise changed – June 30, 2013. The day of the NHL draft in New Jersey when the Panthers selected Aleksander Barkov second overall.

It was a great pick, it was the right pick and it set the Panthers up with an elite cornerstone player for this generation.

But they had offers from a couple of teams to switch picks.

The Flyers were picking 11th and offered the Panthers Brayden Schenn to switch positions. Philly ended up taking Samuel Morin of the Rimouski Oceanic.

Nashville was picking fourth and tried to get to the second position, but no dice (I still don’t know what they offered and the Preds ended up selecting Seth Jones from the Portland Winter Hawks).

And here’s the most interesting one ...

The Tampa Bay Lightning sat third, but had eyes for Barkov at two. They entered a discussion with Florida for a swap, but the only way the Panthers would entertain missing out on Barkov was if the Bolts sent goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa’s first-rounder from the 2012 draft, to Sunrise. That’s essentially trading a first-round pick to move up one position. No dice. Tampa kept the goalie, selected Jonathan Drouin at three (who they later traded to Montreal for Mikhail Sergachev) and the Florida Panthers got their guy.

Interesting to consider the fortunes of both Sunshine State teams if this flip happened.

On to the latest list ...

Jakob Chychrun: The most interesting player on the trade market. A first-pairing defenceman, Chychrun still has three years left on a deal after this season that pays him $4.6 million annually. That is music to any manager's ears, which is why the Coyotes are looking for a big haul and will probably get it.

We’ve reported previously that Anaheim, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Boston and the New York Islanders have all shown interest to various degrees. We can also add Florida and Columbus to that mix, with the Panthers in position to make the best offer. As Elliotte Friedman reported in this week’s 32 Thoughts blog, Florida is very much all-in on this season and is looking for a defenceman. With Chychrun in the mix, their group slots better, specifically Mackenzie Weegar and Gustav Forsling. Could the Coyotes get goalie Spencer Knight? Anton Lundell? Both? As we’ve reported, the Coyotes are looking for a good young player, a high-end prospect and a first-round pick. That’s the starting point for any deal for the talented Chychrun.

John Klingberg: We all know by now how the relationship with Klingberg and the Stars has gone, and how Dallas has subsequently stepped up their efforts to move him. Carolina still seems the likeliest destination. Also, if Dallas falls out of it by the deadline, I’d expect more players on the move.

Claude Giroux: Philadelphia’s season has spiralled, and Giroux is on an expiring contract. The conversation about waiving his no-trade clause will happen eventually and there will be a big market waiting for GM Chuck Fletcher if he agrees.

Phil Kessel: We all know he’s headed to a team in need of a top forward who can contribute. In my fantasy hockey world, Kessel returns to Boston and helps the B’s win the Stanley Cup to complete the Kessel story arc.

Ben Chiarot: Will this be the first move made by new Canadiens' GM Kent Hughes?

Tomas Hertl: Such a talent and on pace for a 40-goal season. If the Sharks can’t re-sign Hertl, they know they’ll get a haul for this skilled centre.

Mark Giordano: Still wants a shot at a Stanley Cup and is on an expiring deal with the Kraken.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Fleury remains the biggest catch at the deadline for teams expecting a long playoff run, but don’t feel completely confident in their goaltending. Colorado and Edmonton are the obvious teams to look at here.

Jake DeBrusk: Could a deal for Rangers forward Filip Chytil make sense for both sides?

Patrik Laine: OK, this is a wild card, but Elliotte Friedman did wonder about Laine’s future in the latest 32 Thoughts blog and since there’s always at least one shocker at every trade deadline, I’ll call this one my long shot.

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