Sami Vatanen. Image by: Getty Images
The Maple Leafs need a right-handed defenseman, and the Ducks need some help before the expansion draft. It could be a perfect for a deal, though there will be other suitors.
During the regular season, trade rumors linked the Toronto Maple Leafs to Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton and Washington Capitals blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk. While nothing came of the speculation, the Leafs' requirement for a top-pairing blueliner with a right-hand shot remains an off-season priority.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was spotted taking in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference final between the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators. It's assumed he could be scouting for potential trade targets among their respective defense corps.
The Ducks and Predators carry considerable blueline depth. Depending on their off-season plans, both clubs could lose a quality defender for nothing to the Vegas Golden Knights in next month's expansion draft. To avoid that possibility, they could be willing to trade a rearguard before the draft.
Sportsnet's Luke Fox considers the Ducks the perfect trade partner for the Leafs. One option could be Sami Vatanen.
The 25-year-old Finnish defenseman shoots right, logs over 21 minutes per game, moves the puck well and could fit in well as the Leafs continue building with youth. He also carries a reasonable $4.8-million annual cap hit over the next three seasons.
The asking price could get tricky. In an ordinary off-season, the Ducks could request a good roster player in return, possibly a left winger such as James van Riemsdyk. The expansion draft, however, could make them unwilling to take back an established player who potentially complicates their expansion draft protection list.
Given the Leafs depth in draft picks and promising prospects, perhaps they could tempt the Ducks with package of futures that would be exempt from the expansion draft.
If the Ducks shop a defenseman, the Dallas Stars could also become a suitor. Having acquired and signed Ben Bishop as their new starting goaltender, the next priority for GM Jim Nill is bolstering his defense.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports Nill is willing to consider dealing the third-overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft. The asking price is apparently an established rearguard who can make a difference on their blueline. Friedman believes the Ducks and Minnesota Wild could become his targets.
Like the Ducks, the Wild could lose a good defender in the expansion draft. With over $61 million invested in 15 players for 2016-17 and restricted free agents Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund to re-sign, they could be receptive toward a trade offer with a high draft pick as part of the package.
If Nill can't pry a good blueliner away from the Ducks or Wild, perhaps he'll approach teams in need of shedding salary this summer. The Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders fall into that category.
The Blackhawks already have over $76 million invested in their 2017-18 salary-cap payroll. GM Stan Bowman must shed a contract or two to become cap compliant for next season. The Chicago Tribune's Chris Hine included Brent Seabrook ($6.8-million annual cap hit) and Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1 million annually) as possible trade candidates.
Seabrook's cap hit, the remaining seven years on his contract and no-movement clause could make the 32-year-old difficult to trade this summer. Hjalmarsson, 29, could be easier to move. He's three years younger, carries a more affordable cap hit and has a modified no-trade clause listing 10 preferred trade destinations.
The Islanders, meanwhile, carry over $70 million for '17-'18. They could also be forced to expose Calvin de Haan or Thomas Hickey in the expansion draft. Newsday's Arthur Staple notes Isles GM Garth Snow entertained offers last season for blueliner Travis Hamonic and wonders if he might revisit some of them.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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