NHL trade candidate tiers: Names to pay attention to ahead of the deadline

Chris Johnston and Elliotte Friedman discuss all the news and rumours around the NHL, including the Buffalo Sabres taking calls for Taylor Hall.

We’re now two weeks out from the NHL’s April 12 trade deadline and the divide between buyers and sellers doesn’t appear to be getting any wider.

Columbus and Nashville were two teams in particular that were on track to be hard sellers, with the potential for blockbuster action, but they’ve both been pulled back into the race in recent weeks and that leaves some question as to what they’ll do now, and what they’ll save for the summer.

The North Division, however, could be splitting up a little easier. The Canucks haven’t wanted to admit to being sellers, because it’s becoming clear that has to be the case even after a good stretch. Calgary may be falling back into that category as well after a bad run put them much closer to the Canucks than the Canadiens.

The potential for big moves is seemingly becoming less likely. Jack Eichel was on our list last month, but an injury has complicated the potential for that. The Penguins have also pulled themselves back into more of a buying position, so the possibility of something crazy like an Evgeni Malkin deal just doesn’t seem to be there anymore.

All that said, the goalie market has plenty of options and teams may want to improve on their backup, or even improve their situation for the third string. The rental market is rather large as well, and that’s where we’d expect most of the moves to come from this season with the cap situation being what it is for 2021-22, and Seattle expansion coming up in July.

Fourteen days out from the deadline, here are our updated trade tiers and the candidates to move.

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THE RENTAL MARKET

Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators: The Preds have won five in a row and seven of eight to get themselves back into the playoff race, tied with Chicago for fourth in the division. That could impact their bigger trade ideas, but there’s still a clear need to refresh so trading Granlund as a rental is likely.

Taylor Hall, Buffalo Sabres: After saying he was open to staying in Buffalo, Hall did acknowledge last week that he’d entertain waiving his no-trade clause by April 12. It seems all but certain he will get traded to a team looking to add an intriguing secondary support scorer, even though Hall is struggling through a terrible season like every other Sabre.

Ryan Dzingel, Ottawa Senators: Struggled in Carolina before being swapped back to Ottawa, where he has five goals in 11 games. Dzingel should be one of the many rentals traded by April 12. When the Sens traded him away in 2019 he returned Anthony Duclair and a second-round pick.

Brandon Sutter, Vancouver Canucks: Though just two points out of a playoff spot the Canucks have played six more games than Montreal so they should settle as sellers before long. And when they do, pending UFA Brandon Sutter could be a target for teams seeking centre depth and someone strong on the draw. Vancouver could retain salary to make it work.

Brandon Montour, Buffalo Sabres: On offensive upside blue liner struggling in Buffalo on the last season of his deal. The pending UFA brings the precise type of puck-moving ability teams generally seek this time of year.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, Arizona Coyotes: Missed three games last week and is day-to-day with an injury, but if the Coyotes sell then Hjalmarsson could have suitors and not necessarily as a top-four addition. At 33, Hjalmarsson is a veteran who could give you shorthanded minutes. He has a full no-move clause so is in control here.

Alex Goligoski, Arizona: Similar to Hjalmarsson, Goligoski is a pending UFA but he only has a modified no-trade clause that he can list just eight teams to which he won’t accept a move. He’s 35 and past what the Coyotes are trying to do, so even if they hang around the playoffs it will be in their interest to shop him.

Patrick Marleau, San Jose: Just 12 games away from breaking Gordie Howe’s all-time games played record, the question is whether or not he’ll do it with the Sharks. Marleau discussed being open to another deadline deal a year after he was moved to Pittsburgh at the 2020 deadline. He’d be good for veteran depth and is as hungry as ever to win his first Stanley Cup, but with just six points in 33 games it’s not clear what the market will be. The good news is that his $700,000 cap hit is easily manageable.

David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus is just three points out of a playoff spot now, but since 30-year-old Savard is a pending UFA who is believed ready to move on this summer, GM Jarmo Kekalainen could look to trade him anyway. If Nashville decided to hold their big defence trade chips, Savard would become one of the top available at the position.

Bobby Ryan, Detroit Red Wings: Has just three goals his past 30 games, but in Ryan you get an experienced winger with big-game upside. He’s come through in the past and adding that potential could be cheap.

Luke Glendening, Detroit Red Wings: There’s always a market for a bottom-six centre who wins draws as frequently as Glendening and can be counted on for the penalty kill. Could be more valuable at this specific deadline because he brings those skills on a $1.8 million cap hit.

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils: One of the top goal scoring additions you could make this trade season. Those goals were a little slower coming this season, but now he’s scored three times in six games and increasing his value again. Still a chance the Devils re-sign him.

Marc Staal, Detroit Red Wings: He’ll have final say in any trade with his no-move clause, but Staal could bring the Wings at least a minor return. We can’t underestimate how valued blue line depth is post-deadline.

Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks: It’s believed he’d rather sign an extension with the Canucks but, of course, Seattle expansion could complicate matters to do that ahead of time. Edler would be a nice get for contenders, but he has a full no-move clause and so has final say on anything. He’s used that clause in the past, but if he feels the Canucks are out, will he be open to going to a playoff team for a run?

Tanner Pearson, Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have talked about wanting to possibly re-sign Pearson, but as Chris Johnston reported on Saturday Headlines, those contract talks haven’t really started yet. Pearson is hurt right now, but hopes to resume skating this week, which could create a market again for a 20-goal upside complementary winger.

BLOCKBUSTER POTENTIAL

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres: We’re not saying this is happening and we’re not saying this is even likely to happen, but since Jack Eichel is out injured the best healthy player Buffalo could put out there is Dahlin. It would take a haul to pry him away, but despite his struggles this season, teams would be lining up to pitch for him if there’s any chance of a move at all.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames: Gaudreau trade speculation is nothing new and though it hasn’t happened yet, the fact is those rumours were always leading up to this off-season. Gaudreau has one year remaining on his deal, coach Darryl Sutter called him out this past weekend, and the Flames are barely holding on in the playoff race. This core seems to have stalled. Could GM Brad Treliving surprise us and make this move now? On that note, we should mention Mark Giordano here, too.

Mattias Ekholm/Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators: The Preds have been surging of late and now may not be hard sellers any more. Sure, they could still trade pending UFAs, but Ekholm (who has one more year on his contract) or Ellis (six more) may end up staying for this season now. That said, the Predators have two games against Dallas and one against Chicago this week, teams they’re competing for a playoff spot against, and a bad run there could make them a seller again.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

THE GOALIE MARKET

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: The biggest hurdles to a Quick trade is that he’s prone to injury and has a $5.8 million cap hit for another two seasons, but if the Kings retain a portion of that perhaps he’d become more of a target. Quick is actually owed only $2.5 million and $3 million in those last two seasons. It’s Cal Petersen’s crease now, but Quick has put up a couple good games recently, and that may give those seeking depth in net pause.

Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks: Colorado is one team that could make sense for Miller after injuries devastated them at the position in last summer’s bubble. Miller doesn’t have trade protection and his .880 save percentage is concerning, but he’s a decent backup still.

David Rittich, Calgary Flames: The Flames could become bigger sellers than we originally thought and, if they do, putting pending UFA Rittich out there would create an interesting market. He’s actually been a NHL starter recently and might seek out greater opportunity as a UFA this summer, so why not explore moving him now? For teams seeking a backup, Rittich could be the best available.

Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers: The pending UFA has been one of the better underdog goalie stories of the year. Sergei Bobrovsky has taken back the Panthers crease now, but Driedger hasn’t slowed from a fast start and, by the numbers, he has been the best potentially available net minder this season.

Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings: Has been good enough in three years with the Red Wings and would be a good second stringer in the final season of his contract.

Devan Dubnyk, San Jose Sharks: If you’re going to go fishing for a San Jose goalie Dubnyk is your guy because he’s a pending UFA. Like Martin Jones, Dubnyk has struggled this season, but he’s also rebounded before from nearly being out of the league.

Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes: It’s hard to tell what the Coyotes will do. On one hand, they’re just a point out of the playoffs. On the other, they need picks and prospects and to shed some salary. Kuemper is injured right now, under contract for next season and, presumably, the guy they’d prefer to move forward with. But with Antti Raanta also injured Arizona might not have another goalie to trade right now — and Kuemper would an appealing No. 1 option to many.

Alex Nedeljkovic/James Reimer, Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes GM Don Waddell mentioned to The Athletic’s Sara Civian the potential to move a goalie this season. “We don’t have a lot of cap space. If we’re gonna do something at the trade deadline, maybe one of the chips is one of our goalies. I can’t say which one. It depends,” Waddell said. The 25-year-old Nedeljkovic has been a heck of a story and has a .929 save percentage with an 8-2-2 record this season. He’s an RFA this off-season. Reimer is a UFA, but has been a good soldier for the team and a decent performer again.

Elvis Merzlikins/Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets: Eventually the Jackets will have to choose which of their two youngsters to move forward with, and which to deal. That could come as soon as this deadline, though since Merzlikins doesn’t need to be protected from Seattle that’s not a deadline. Both are under 27, with great upside as a starter and signed through next season. The goalie market is generally soft, but either of these could be a solution to someone.

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THE DEPTH

Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames: We know he’s asked for a trade and that he’s been a valued playoff performer in recent years for Calgary. The Flames appear set to sell and Bennett is the surest bet of all to move.

Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks: He’s already passed through waivers, which tells you something about his $5.825 million cap hit of a contract. The Ducks would need to retain a fair amount of salary to find a taker, but if you suddenly shave a couple million off his price tag, having Henrique as, say, a third-line centre would be a nice fit.

Danton Heinen, Anaheim Ducks: Heinen will be an RFA this summer who may even be a candidate to be left unqualified, but in the meantime he’s a — as Anthony Stewart might say — tertiary offensive option.

Matt Nieto, San Jose Sharks: Not the most well-known name out there but Nieto can put up some PK time and his $700,000 cap hit is something just about any team can add. He’s a pending UFA, too.

THE HEAD TURNERS

Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres: Of all the Sabres who’ve struggled this season, there’s something to be said for how Reinhart battled through. He has gone cold lately, but he’s been the team’s best player on a lot of nights. He’s an RFA this summer and makes $5.2 million this season.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres: We’ve been waiting on a Ristolainen trade for what feels like years, but the Sabres may act now. He has one year left on his deal before becoming UFA so they’d be wise to consider moving him before his value depreciates on his final contract season.

Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings: The Wings are one of those teams considering all of its options and while we’d assume it’d be extremely hard, if not impossible, to pry Dylan Larkin out of there, Mantha could be a different story. Here you have a goal scorer who is maybe better used as a complementary producer so he’s not taking a step to another level in Detroit. He’s in his prime at 26, has 30-goal upside (though hasn’t hit that mark yet in his career) and has a $5.7 million contract that runs another three years.

Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes: His name would be better known if he played in a bigger market and perhaps that will happen soon. The Coyotes would prefer to keep one of their higher scoring players, but he’s cheap at a $775,000 cap hit right now before becoming an arbitration-eligible RFA in the off-season. Garland is an exciting and fast player and that contract could be the key to moving him now for a haul of futures when every buyer is feeling the pinch of the cap.

P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils: Just one to keep an eye on, with the caveat that the Devils would have to retain a hefty portion of his $9 million cap hit. But New Jersey got him for pennies, Subban has one year left on his contract, and he still plays tons of minutes. His role could be diminished on a contender, which could be a good thing for him. His name value is still there and as long as the Devils get more for him than they gave up (which wasn’t much) we have to consider this possibility since he hasn’t got trade protection.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings: It’s been a comeback season for Brown, who joins a couple Kings in that regard, and we know he is built for playoff hockey. Brown has 14 goals in 30 games and his heavy style of play is exactly what some teams seek out for the post-season. He makes a little less than $6 million against the cap for this season and next, so the Kings likely would need to retain some of that — and we imagine that’s doable if the return of futures is good enough.

Jake Debrusk, Boston Bruins: As ever, Boston needs to find some secondary scoring. DeBrusk was a hopeful solution there — and he did score 27 times two years ago — but the window is shrinking so they have to act fast. He’s scored only three times this season and makes $3.675 million against the cap this season and next. Some team will see his long-term potential which Boston could perhaps use to upgrade their immediate needs.

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