Five teams that could define the NHL trade market in 2023

David Amber joins the Jeff Marek Show to discuss Canadian prodigy Connor Bedard and to what extent NHL teams would be willing to go in order to draft him.

Two months from today we’ll be at the peak of rumour season, speculation will consume the discourse and trade generators will be working OT.

The NHL trade deadline lands on March 3, and though the salary cap is pinching most teams around the league, the buyers and sellers are at least beginning to be defined. And once we get closer to the final day of trading, teams can perhaps take on a little more money where LTIR allows and so some of the work may have to wait until the last minute.

Every year, though, there are a few early worms who jump the cue and get business started in January or February. Interestingly, Vancouver’s Jim Rutherford has become known as one of those, and he heads one of the more interesting teams to keep an eye on this season.

Vancouver Canucks

The situation: Everyone knows what’s been unfolding in the Vancouver market this season. A brutal start, inconsistent efforts, a coach perpetually on the hot seat, and a 16-17-3 record is putting just about every option on the table. Could Elias Pettersson really be the only truly untouchable player on the roster? Frustration is boiling over in Vancouver and the word “rebuild” has been floating in stinky air.

The management team led by Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin hasn’t yet put the franchise on a noticeably different path from previous GM Jim Benning, and it’s time something gives.

Pieces they could trade: Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Tyler Myers, J.T. Miller, Luke Schenn, Ethan Bear, Travis Dermott, Andrei Kuzmenko

Where it could go: The decision to re-sign J.T. Miller last summer has put the Canucks into a nearly impossible situation with captain Bo Horvat, who now needs a new deal. But how can you keep investing cap space in a failing team? They’d rather keep him, but until something changes Horvat is the top available Canuck. You can bet they’d be open to offloading Miller, too, before his no-movement clause kicks in next season, though it’s hard to envision a buyer for an expensive, struggling player.

But while Horvat is the big name, don’t forget about Andrei Kuzmenko. The first-year Canuck, who signed out of the KHL last summer, is also lining up to be a UFA this off-season and has 15 goals and 32 points in 35 games. He’s exceeding what was hoped from him and, at 26, is in his prime and positioned to help the Canucks forward. But, again, how much more can you invest in a losing lineup before changing course completely? Kuzmenko could bring back an interesting return.

There will be other, smaller, decisions to make in Vancouver, but it’s the many big ones that could start setting this team on a new course. And it is time. Maybe we leave this year’s trade deadline with a better understanding if the Canucks are thinking rebuild, or something they expect to rebound quicker.

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Philadelphia Flyers

The situation: This is Chuck Fletcher’s sixth season at the helm of the Flyers and the team has two playoff appearances — the last one coming in the 2020 bubble. He’s had an opportunity to turn things over once, and doubled down on his group with some tweaks in the core. The Flyers have only fallen further though, and had the NHL’s 31st-ranked points percentage in calendar year 2022. Now, they are on track to miss the playoffs three years in a row for the first time since the early-’90s. There are still promising prospects in the system, and intriguing talents on the NHL roster, but like Vancouver it feels like time for a change of course.

Whether anything big happens…we’ll see. History suggests the franchise may react differently and there have been long-term injuries to some key players. And if Fletcher’s job is on the line, would most of this work get done by his replacement in the summer? The potential is there for Philadelphia to add some flare to this year’s deadline, though.

Pieces they could trade: Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov, Morgan Frost, Rasmus Ristolainen, Justin Braun, Travis Konecny

Where it could go: The Flyers are historically loathing to go scorched earth on their roster and accept what could be a years-long rebuild. But that may be the only way out of this rut. “I do believe that this has been something that has been discussed for a while now,” Elliotte Friedman said on the 32 Thoughts Podcast, when discussing the possibility of the Flyers entering a rebuild. “And I think there always has been a worry that at very high levels they just don’t want to do it. Now I think you can’t help but look at it and say at some point in time you’re going to have to do it.”

Konecny has been on these trade blocks for a couple years, but now leads the team in scoring at 25 and is starting to realize his potential. That could also make him an interesting sell. Rasmus Ristolainen’s name will come up over the next few weeks, though his long-term contract could make that difficult. How about 25-year-old Ivan Provorov, though? He’s a little more expensive, but the upside is tantalizing for a player who could use a fresh start.

Arizona Coyotes

The situation: They are more or less who we thought they were. The Coyotes aren’t drilling to the bottom as quickly as the Blackhawks, but there’s no mistaking them as a seller and draft-pick accumulator.

The Coyotes won’t be offering up a long list of impactful names like we’re seeing in Vancouver, but they may have the defenceman who will define the market the most. Jakob Chychrun has been on the trade radar since before last deadline, but no one has yet stepped up to meet Arizona’s demands. With 17 points in 19 games and a $4.6 million cap hit through 2024-25, Chychrun is productive without the exorbitant price tag (in cap space, anyway).

Pieces they could trade: Jakob Chychrun, Karel Vejmelka, Nick Bjugstad, Shayne Gostisbehere

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Where it could go: The Coyotes are awaiting a haul for Chychrun and, really, have contractural time on their side. But this is a situation they’d rather not let linger too long. In October, Jeff Marek described the package Arizona was looking for as “essentially the equivalent of two first-round draft picks, plus.” Picks, prospects, players…some combination. And this is no rental, but a young, highly productive, physical and defensive blue liner to contribute for years to come.

An interesting name that has also recently generated some buzz is goalie Karel Vejmelka, who has a .907 save percentage, an 11-10-4 record and is top four in the league by goals saved above expected. The 26-year-old has two years left on his contract with a $2.75 million cap hit. Those may be reasons for Arizona to keep Vejmelka, but if the right deal comes along…

St. Louis Blues

The situation: The Blues are currently five points out of a playoff spot, 11th in the West by points percentage. And the weekend brought news that both Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly will be out multiple weeks to injury. They are, however, expected back by the deadline.

Armstrong has committed to his coach, who he noted works well with younger players, and has put this season on the roster. A few times the GM has talked about how a team’s record indicates what it does at the deadline — which tells you a lot about where the Blues could go from here.

Pieces they could trade: Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Binnington, Ivan Barbashev, Noel Acciari, Thomas Greiss

Where it could go: If Tarasenko and O’Reilly are added to the trade market, you might have the best centre and most dangerous sniper being offered up by one team. O’Reilly was the piece that helped the Blues over the top to their Stanley Cup win in 2019 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy — he could play a similar role for a contender in 2023. O’Reilly alone could radically shift the playoff outlooks of many teams.

And while Tarasenko has been on the block for a few years, his true value was muddied by shoulder surgeries that limited him to seven goals and 34 games combined over two years. Now he has 44 goals in his past 109 regular season games since returning to health.

Chicago Blackhawks

The situation: It could be the end of an era. Or it could not? There still remains a sliver of a chance that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews choose to stay Hawks for life and re-sign, but the much more likely outcome here is the departure of two franchise faces at a single deadline.

It’s a delicate situation to watch wind down. The Hawks have said they won’t force the issue and try to move either player unless they ask (both have no-movement clauses). And, so far, neither has reportedly asked to get dealt. But if the rebuilding Hawks have to watch both walk to the open market for nothing in return, it will be a tough pill to swallow.

Toews isn’t at his peak anymore, but as a Cup-winning, captain-material, two-way minded centre, his value would still be appealing to contenders. His $10.5 million cap hit? Not so much. Salary might have to be retained to acquire either player, but Kane at least remains an elite top-line performer. If he comes available, he’s the best player out there bar none.

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Pieces they could trade: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Andreas Athanasiou, Max Domi, Jujhar Khaira, Seth Jones

Where it could go: The Hawks will surely be retaining huge chunks of salary for either Kane or Toews to help make a deal work, and the returns for both would help along the rebuilding process. If neither chooses to go, Chicago probably becomes a much less interesting team to watch at the trade deadline, and would have to recoup assets perhaps by being a third-party salary retainer to facilitate deals between other teams.

The one real wild card here could be Seth Jones, who we’re including because it was reported teams had been calling about his availability. Jones, who the Hawks traded a massive package for and re-signed to a long-term deal, is only in the first year of that pact, though.

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