The trade is now less than a month away, and several of the players available may come as a surprise. In Colorado, Ryan O’Reilly has long been rumored to be on the market, but Toronto’s Cody Franson and San Jose’s Antti Niemi are joining him as players who could be finding new homes in March.
Trade rumors continue to swirl about the Colorado Avalanche, who entered Tuesday's game against the Dallas Stars with 53 points, just four back of a wild card berth in the Western Conference. It's believed the Avalanche, one of this season's worst defensive clubs, could be in the market for blue line help. Losing top defenseman Erik Johnson (knee injury) for three-to-eight weeks could add more urgency to their search.
Most of the Avalanche trade rumors center around 23-year-old winger Ryan O'Reilly. The 2014 Lady Byng Trophy winner will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in July 2016. O'Reilly's history of contentious contract negotiations with the Avs has many pundits considering him a top trade candidate.
TSN's Darren Dreger reports of conflicting views over when O'Reilly could hit the trade block. Some observers believe the Avalanche are close to moving him while others think they'll wait until the summer when the trade market could improve.
The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla makes note of the O'Reilly rumors. He also believes the Avalanche should evaluate the trade value of young forwards Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog. While not advocating moving any of them, Kiszla feels the Avs must consider all their options.
O'Reilly's contract status, however, makes him the most likely to be dealt. He's earning an annual cap hit of $6 million and could cost the Avalanche over $7-million annually to re-sign.
Landeskog is signed through 2020-21 and carried a modified no-trade clause. Duchene's contract runs through 2018-19. MacKinnon will be a restricted free agent in July 2016, coming off an entry-level contract with no arbitration rights. They're not going anywhere.
Veteran defenseman Jan Hejda is also being mentioned as a possible trade target. The New York Post's Larry Brooks and Newsday's Steve Zipay mention the 36-year-old blueliner among possible options for the Rangers.
With Johnson sidelined and the Avalanche battling for a playoff berth, it's unlikely they'll part with Hejda at this point. That could change, however, if the Avs are out of postseason contention by the trade deadline.
FRANSON, LEAFS TALKS NOT MOVING
Contract talks between the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Cody Franson could be taking a turn for the worst. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the two sides were unable to reach terms on a multi-year contract worth $4.6 million annually.
Franson, 27, is eligible for UFA status in July. If he's unsigned before the trade deadline it's assumed the Leafs will shop him, rather than lose him for nothing this summer. With the Leafs in free fall in the standings they could soon go into sell mode. Franson's a right-handed shot, which is a valuable commodity in this year's trade market.
It's possible the Franson camp could seek over 5-million per season on a six-to-eight year deal. The Leafs, however, have over $52 million invested in 13 players for 2015-16. Given recent concerns over the effects of the plunging Canadian dollar upon the salary cap, the Leafs must ensure they have enough space to re-sign key players like Jonathan Bernier and Nazem Kadri.
Barring a significant salary dump, the Leafs could be forced to move Franson at the deadline. Suitors could include the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings.
SHARKS SAYING GOODBYE TO NIEMI?
Trade rumors have dogged San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi throughout this season. The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons claims he keeps hearing the Sharks might move the 31-year-old netminder at the trade deadline.
An unrestricted free agent in July, Niemi's playoff record with the Sharks is largely disappointing. Earlier this season it was assumed the Sharks could promote 27-year-old backup Alex Stalock into the starter's role.
Niemi, however, continues to receive the bulk of the workload while Stalock has appeared in only eight games since Dec. 7. With the Sharks sitting fifth in the Western Conference, they're unlikely to shake up their goaltending now.
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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