Erik Karlsson. Image by: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images
Big names move every single year at the draft. Which star players are most likely to change teams this month?
With the Stanley Cup still going, it’s easy to forget the NHL draft is just a few weeks away. And while the stars of tomorrow deserve the biggest headlines there, the draft also yields significant trades pretty much every year – often of greater magnitude than what we get on deadline day since we’re not just seeing contending teams renting players with expiring contracts.
In the past three drafts, names changing teams include Brayden Schenn, Derek Stepan, Lars Eller, Ryan O’Reilly, Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton. Which players might we see moved in blockbuster deals later this month in Dallas?
1. ERIK KARLSSON, D, OTTAWA SENATORS
Karlsson is the obvious top trade candidate for multiple reasons. First off, he’s the most coveted commodity on the market by a mile, meaning he’ll attract many suitors, potentially creating a bidding war and upping the chances Senators GM Pierre Dorion gets an offer he likes. Karlsson almost got moved to Vegas at the 2018 deadline, but the terms weren’t quite right, and Golden Knights GM George McPhee pivoted to a last-minute Tomas Tatar trade.
Now the Senators have more time to hammer out a trade – they can start talking to teams any time now if they haven’t already – and they’ll have a broader range of options considering any team, not just a go-for-broke contender, could use Karlsson. That said, it’s still more likely a powerhouse team gets him since he has just one year left on his contract. A deal with an handshake agreement that Karlsson signs an extension July 1 would make him far easier to move – and would guarantee Ottawa a much better return. Either way, Karlsson will command a gargantuan bounty of picks, prospects and NHL roster players.
He’s not an absolute shoo-in to move, as there’s no such thing, but given Ottawa’s bleak ownership outlook and Karlsson’s reportedly frayed relationship with the franchise, it might be best for all parties to turn the page.
2. ALL THE CAROLINA HURRICANES
Take your pick. Justin Faulk. Noah Hanifin. Jeff Skinner. Under new owner Tom Dundon, new GM Don Waddell and new head coach Rod Brind’Amour, no player is safe, as the brain trust has spoken openly about wanting to change the culture of a team riding a nine-season playoff drought. It wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see the Canes deal multiple players as part of an overhaul. Faulk is the most logical trade candidate given he’s a mobile, right-shot blueliner, but Hanifin, an RFA, seems to be the one generating more buzz, reminiscent of Hamilton when he got dealt at the draft in his RFA year. As TSN’s Bob McKenzie suggests, it’s Hanifin or Faulk going but not both. Skinner’s speed would fit nicely on many teams looking for offense on the wings. The Edmonton Oilers sure seem like a good fit, as do the Los Angeles Kings.
3. RYAN O’REILLY, C, BUFFALO SABRES
O’Reilly seems to want out. His depressing end-of-season rants are becoming somewhat of a trademark in Buffalo. If right-shot defensemen come at the biggest premium nowadays, big-minute centers like O’Reilly are a close second. Many teams could use his services, most notably the Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens. O’Reilly chips in good offense but is a two-way force who takes a ton of defensive-zone draws. He won an incredible 60 percent of his faceoffs this year.
A potential fly in the ointment: Sabres GM Jason Botterill is enamored with the idea of O’Reilly, Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt as a triple threat up the middle. At least, he was when we last spoke a couple months ago.
“I came from an organization in Pittsburgh that was very successful because of strength down the middle,” Botterill said at the time. “It’s not just one or two. You have to have three or four. And that’s what really excites us. We’re excited about Casey’s versatility, too, because we’ve seen him at center and on the wing playing different roles.”
Dealing O’Reilly would (a) rob Buffalo of that depth, especially considering they have no other elite prospects at center right now, with all due respect to Rasmus Asplund, and (b) put a ton of pressure on Eichel and Mittelstadt to play tough minutes against the opposition’s best scoring forwards. O’Reilly is your Dark Knight in that lineup, the guy who does the dirty work and frees up the younger guys to focus on scoring, so dealing him would create a void that needs filling.
4. PHILIPP GRUBAUER, G, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
A Grubauer trade feels like a no-brainer. If Grubauer had flourished in these playoffs and pseudo-permanently wrested the starting job from Braden Holtby, maybe Capitals GM Brian MacLellan would be fielding calls on Holtby instead, but Holtby is obviously back in the saddle. Grubauer is an RFA due a pretty significant raise. In 59 games over the past two seasons, he has a 2.22 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and six shutouts. He and Juuse Saros are arguably the game’s top backup netminders right now. The Capitals probably don’t want to spend the money on Grubauer if they want any hope of re-signing UFA and top blueliner John Carlson, not to mention RFA Tom Wilson and defensive specialist center Jay Beagle.
A trade makes too much sense, and Grubauer is an appealing goalie for someone else to take a chance on. He’s just 26, with plenty of plausible upside left, and the 2018 UFA market is quite weak in goal, led by out-of-nowhere success story Carter Hutton, 32. Grubauer would be a lovely fit for a team like the New York Islanders, wouldn’t he? Their GM, Lou Lamoriello, made a trade for a too-good-not-to-start-anymore RFA goalie two years ago as Leafs GM, landing Frederik Andersen. A Grubauer deal would replicate that highly successful move.
5. MAX DOMI, LW, ARIZONA COYOTES
What a strange career trajectory it’s been for Domi, who looked like a star in the making as a rookie and has seen his career derail since, largely because of injuries. His situation screams for a “change of scenery” type of trade, especially since the Coyotes are building up a pretty good group of young forwards with or without Domi. At 23, he’s young enough to turn his career around in the right situation, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman previously reported he believes the Coyotes might deal Domi if they find a team “who feels a fresh start will help him.” That’s cause to put Domi among the top five trade candidates, as it doesn’t seem like GM John Chayka would resist much if given a fair offer for Domi.
Other trade candidates to watch at the draft: Max Pacioretty, Phil Kessel, Nino Niederreiter, Alex Galchenyuk, Jake Gardiner, Rasmus Ristolainen, Oscar Klefbom, Jake Muzzin