Top 10 off-season trade candidates, from Ryan Kesler to Evander Kane

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If you judge the potential of this off-season by the trade rumors ramping it up, summer has all the makings of blockbuster heaven.

First, you have a combination of teams that failed to meet expectations, or completely fell apart and are desperate for change. The Pittsburgh Penguins will surely make changes to their lineup this off-season, but with an eye on the present. This will be a team looking to add to improve their chances, rather than dress down with draft picks. San Jose, Washington and Vancouver each had their own kind of implosion and we can expect all sorts of movement in those cities.

Second, you have a few players in an individual situation that puts them on the block. Ottawa’s Jason Spezza finds himself in RumorLand thanks to his expiring contract, while Kesler finds himself there because he demanded it. And what about Evander Kane – is this the summer his tumultuous relationship with the Jets ends?

With so many players to keep an eye on this summer, we take a look at the top 10 trade candidates. Players who will become a UFA on July 1 (whose rights can be traded) do not qualify. Honorable mentions go to Kris Letang, Nail Yakupov, Brent Burns, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner.

1. Ryan Kesler
Kesler reportedly first mentioned wanting a trade out of Vancouver at the Sochi Olympics, but we thought a new GM and a new coach might change the center’s mind. No so. Kesler apparently still wants to be traded out of Vancouver this summer and since the Canucks need change anyway, it’s a good opportunity to inject something new. The question is, will the Canucks want to acquire contributing NHLers, or promising futures? Simply losing a No. 2 center on the level of Kesler could have devastating effects. There will be no shortage of teams interested, from Anaheim to Pittsburgh, but this summer’s trade market is also unusually busy with solid pivots.

2. Jason Spezza
With one season left on his contract at a cap hit of $7 million, the Senators are seeing if they can move Spezza by the June 27 NHL draft. And why not? The draft has become a busy place for big trades and since Ottawa doesn’t hold a first round pick this year, it’s a good time for them to make a transition. The Anaheim Ducks appear to be a contender for Spezza’s services, who becomes affordable for them because he’s only owed $4 million in actual salary in 2014-15. The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek writes about using “trade backs” in a move like this. Could the Sens get a similar return out of Anaheim as they gave up for Bobby Ryan?

3. The No. 1 overall pick
Speaking of the draft, it’s no secret the top pick is in play.

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In fact, Florida has traded away the top pick three times before: twice at the draft and once well before they knew the pick was No. 1 overall. The difference between this year’s group of prospects and recent years is that there is no one who has set himself apart from the pack. Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart could all go No. 1 and the feeling is you could do just as well picking eighth or ninth this year. But if there is a team out there who sees more in any of these players than has been reported, they could give Florida a productive young player and the opportunity to pick a little later in the first round. The Panthers have never been shy to trade the top pick and aren’t likely going to give up a generational player by moving this one.

4. Dion Phaneuf
If you’re in Toronto, you’re involved in jut about every trade rumour there is. Joe Thornton on the block? He’s going to Toronto. P.K. Subban has an expiring contract? Maybe Toronto can get him. Joe Sakic coming out of retirement? He’s signing in Toronto.

Miss the playoffs? Toronto should trade it’s top defenseman.

Phaneuf didn’t have his strongest season in 2014-15, but he averaged about 2:30 more ice time than any other member of the team. Like him or not, the Leafs lean on Phaneuf and need him to be better next year rather than get rid of him. He’s the only Leafs defenseman signed beyond 2015-16 and one of only four currently signed for next season. The Leafs need to improve around Phaneuf and let him be a No. 2 defender instead of a No. 1. He makes $7 million against the cap, which would make his trade more about cap relief than getting a solid return. If cap relief is what you want, go buy out David Clarkson and leave your best defenseman alone.

5. Sam Gagner
The Oilers have so much young talent, they may move on from Gagner to replace him with better size down the middle. Like Ales Hemsky was, Gagner is a regular in the Edmonton rumor mill, but with two years left on his contract and a $4.8 million cap hit, the time is right. Gagner has a no-movement clause that kicks in for the 2014-15 season and Edmonton waited too long to get anything useful for Hemsky. They won’t wait too long on Gagner, especially since this team isn’t getting enough improvement out of the current lineup anyway.

6. Mike Green
They have a new GM. They have a new coach. Now the Washington Capitals have to start working on getting a new team. The current model built by the outgoing George McPhee is broken, with splinters of the Excitement Era mixed with the sludge of modern ways. Green has had durability issues, but he’s a strong puck-mover and goal scorer who would be a nice pickup for any team looking to get offensive help on the blueline and more bang from the power play. But with only one season left on his contract with a cap hit at $6 million and an actual salary of $6.25 million, his move may be made for the sake of change.

7. Joe Thornton
Since the GM and the coach are staying in place, something is going to change in San Jose beyond UFA Dan Boyle leaving and Martin Havlat being bought out or traded. Logan Couture seems set to be the leader of the next core of Sharks stars, Tomas Hertl will be right there with him and Joe Pavelski is a 40-goal scorer signed through 2018-19. On forward, that leaves you with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who both signed three-year extensions this season with no-movement clauses. But both will be 35 at the start of next season and with the Sharks needing some new direction, they will top the trade rumors until something happens.

Thornton, and his perceived playoff ineptitude, appears the more likely of the two to go. If that’s true, he will have control over the final destination and you’d have to assume he wouldn’t move further away from a shot at the Cup. But who wouldn’t want a 65-assist man? Who wouldn’t want a 6-foot-4, 230-pound center? Trading Thornton would be a game-changer – and a real panic move by San Jose.

8. Brad Marchand
The Bruins’ season was cut short by their most hated rivals in the second round and while that’s no reason to make sweeping changes, you might see some adjustments by Peter Chiarelli this summer. One report claimed the Bruins were exploring the trade market for Marchand, who has only 20 points in his past 41 playoff games.

He’s certainly a compelling player, with a propensity for getting on the nerves of his opponents. But he’s also a fairly productive player. Marchand scored 25 goals and 53 points this season, the third time he hit the 20-goal mark in his career. Marchand is signed through the next three seasons with a cap hit of $4.5 million, a fair price that will get fairer as the salary cap rises.

9. James Reimer
There doesn’t appear to be any way Reimer will return to the Maple Leafs next October, but the tricky part is finding a home for him. The Leafs, and their fans, should be prepared to receive only pennies for their one-time No. 1 since the goalie market is flooded with all kinds of goalies. The Calgary Flames are a potential destination and a few more are viable if they feel prepared to acquire Reimer as a backup (Tampa Bay, New Jersey). The goalie wants to be a starter in the NHL, but there don’t appear to be any fits for him in that role.

10. Evander Kane
I’m going to say it, even if I think this would be the most ridiculous move for the Winnipeg Jets to make. Kane has long been a part of all Winnipeg rumors, on account of money-stack phone mimes and allegations of skipping out on a restaurant bill. He clashed with former coach Claude Noel earlier last winter over a scratch/healthy scratch decision and was benched for an April game by Paul Maurice for breaking a team rule. More importantly, Kane had his worst season since his rookie year, scoring 19 goals and 41 points in 63 games, while the Jets again missed the playoffs. Kane, however, will only be 23 at the start of next season and is signed for four more years. Any team would jump at the chance to acquire Kane. Winnipeg better be careful with this one.

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