The deadline shapes up to be an unpredictable one, with more non-rental chips in play than in most years.
The all-star break sits in the rearview mirror now, and the Olympics will soon play out sans-NHLers, which means the league can focus on the playoff push and the battle to make roster upgrades.
“Once you come out of this break, people start looking at the standings,” said Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper Sunday, after the All-Star Game ended and reality set in. “Where are they sitting? Are they on top? Are they on the cusp? The general manager is looking. Are they making moves? Are they not? So this is a big busy time for us as teams but also for general managers, and the hockey picks up now.”
Who are the most prominent pieces available via trade, then? More so than in recent years, non-rental options have popped up in rumors – players with one or more years left on their contracts. If they do get shipped, they’ll be upgrading their new teams this season and beyond – and they’ll bring their old teams massive returns, as Matt Duchene did for Colorado earlier this year.
Here are 10 names to watch over the next month approaching the Feb. 26 trade deadline. They’re ranked in order of impact – but I’ve only included players with reasonable chances of being moved this season. Erik Karlsson, for example, would be the biggest name to get, but the odds of Ottawa actually dealing its captain in the next month are extremely slim. He thus doesn’t make this list. Nor do Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Not only have they repeatedly expressed their desire not to go anywhere, but they would only be acquirable as a tandem. Since the Canucks retain salary on two players already (Roberto Luongo, Jannik Hansen), they could only do so on one more player, and only for up to 50 percent. So in pro-rated cap space, that means the best they could eat is $3.5 million of the twins’ $14 million in total cap hit. A Sedin trade therefore isn’t realistic enough to qualify it for this list.
1. RYAN MCDONAGH, D, NEW YORK RANGERS
Cap hit: $4.7 million through 2018-19
The Rangers and GM Jeff Gorton are in a strange spot, still very much in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt on paper but stuck in a deep Metro division and rumored to be entertaining the idea of selling. For all the talk of Mike Green being an exciting rental option on the ‘D’ market, there would be no comparison if the scuttlebutt is true and Gorton really does make McDonagh available. He’s still youngish at 28 and brings an enviable blend of shutdown ability, smooth skating and stamina. A contender could land McDonagh and comfortably ask him to play 25 minutes a night – even close to 30 in the playoffs. Don’t believe those Toronto Maple Leafs rumors, but that doesn’t mean McDonagh won’t have many suitors.
2. MAX PACIORETTY, LW, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Cap hit: $4.5 million through 2018-19
Pacioretty is by far the class of the forward group rumored to be available over the next month. Duchene fetched a king’s ransom of three good prospects, a first-round pick and a second round pick. Like Duchene, Pacioretty has a year left on his deal, making him more than a rental, and Pacioretty is cheaper and better. Only three players have more goals over the past five seasons. He would seriously increase his new team’s Stanley Cup chances, adding strength, speed and raw goal scoring in a top-six role. He’s also shaken off his slump, with eight goals in his past 10 games. The St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins have been mentioned repeatedly as possible landing spots for ‘Patches.’
3. MIKE GREEN, D, DETROIT RED WINGS
Cap hit: $6 million, UFA in 2018
Green is the consensus top UFA rental at this point. He brings the package virtually every contending team wants right now: a right-handed shot, the skill and mobility to play in the fop four and veteran experience. The ‘D’ market looks fairly thin approaching the deadline, especially because it’s not like the Rangers have to move McDonagh this year, so Red Wings GM Ken Holland could enjoy a nice bidding war for Green’s services. There’s been a ton of talk about a Washington reunion, and Tampa coach Cooper was quite complimentary about Green’s game after coaching him in the All-Star Game. Hint, hint.
4. MIKE HOFFMAN, LW, OTTAWA SENATORS
Cap hit: $5.19 million through 2019-20
Hoffman does many of the things Pacioretty does well, armed with good speed, a nice goal-scorer’s release and strong two-way sensibilities. Hoffman is a year younger at 28 but is also more expensive and under control for an extra season. That’s a pro or a con depending on which team’s buying him and how much salary-cap elasticity it has. It’s a bit surprising to even hear Hoffman is on the block considering his age – isn’t he part of the solution and not the problem in Ottawa? – but he’s nevertheless been mentioned by insiders as often as any player in trade rumors this year.
5. EVANDER KANE, LW, BUFFALO SABRES
Cap hit: $5.25 million, UFA in 2018
Kane has spent most of this year labelled the top UFA forward, but his stock has slipped the past couple months. He’s talked openly about looking forward to playing on a contender, he feuded with teammate Justin Falk in practice, and Kane hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. Will he still fetch GM Jason Botterill a first-round pick and/or top prospect? It’s no longer a safe bet. Kane brings strength, snarl, scoring touch and upside but also major risk. The best fits for him may be teams that have already built a winning culture – like Pittsburgh and Boston.
6. RICK NASH, LW, NEW YORK RANGERS
Cap hit: $7.8 million, UFA in 2018
Nash is shaping up as one of the deadline’s sneakiest rentals. His game has declined significantly on the Broadway Blueshirts, but he’s still big, strong and athletic. He wouldn’t necessarily slide onto a contender’s first line anymore, but he’d upgrade most teams' second lines significantly. If a buyer team can figure out how to handle his pro-rated cap hit for a few months, maybe with the Rangers eating some salary, Nash could be a nice piece that comes cheaper than other high-end scoring forwards, not in terms of money but in terms of the assets he’d cost.
7. ALEX GALCHENYUK, LW, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Cap hit: $4.9 million through 2019-20
Galchenyuk is a real wild card approaching the deadline. There’s no urgency for the Habs to deal him at first glance…but what if his value continues plummeting, even if that's not his fault? Teams might be scared of by that $4.9-million price tag if he’s no longer meeting its standard. Might Habs GM Marc Bergevin entertain offers for Galchenyuk now, then, while he’s still perceived to be merely misused and possessing monster upside? Galchenyuk wouldn’t just attract buyer teams. Some bubble or seller teams might want to take a chance on his redemption story.
8. DERICK BRASSARD, C, OTTAWA SENATORS
Cap hit: $5 million through 2018-19
Brassard isn’t the flashiest option on the market, but 2018’s deadline push doesn’t shape up as a great one for centers, so Brassard is one of the best available. He has a sneaky amount of post-season experience, as only two NHLers have more playoff games over the past five years. He doesn’t feel like a $5-million player at this point, however, so the Senators may have to eat a bit of his salary to successfully move him.
9. PATRICK MAROON, LW, EDMONTON OILERS
Cap hit: $1.5 million, UFA in 2018
It’s become clear the Oilers need to surround Connor McDavid with more speed, so the decision to keep or deal Maroon seems much easier now than it was a year ago. He’s a 25-goal scorer in the body of an enforcer, which makes him a rare commodity and built for playoff wars.
10. THOMAS VANEK, LW, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Cap hit: $2 million, UFA in 2018
Vanek is available as a yearly gun for hire now. The cost to acquire him the three times he’s been traded since 2013 has gradually declined, with the pick element shrinking from a first- to a second- to a third-rounder when the Florida Panthers acquired him last year. Vanek will never be confused with Butch Goring as a stretch-run addition, but Vanek has good hands and can still help a power play with his finishing ability.