The NHL trade deadline isn’t until the very end of February, but the rumor mill has already been cranked into to high gear, churning out more juicy gossip than the celebrity magazine stand at your local supermarket.
Speaking of the supermarket, the New Year seems to have magically transformed the NHL into its own version of an on-ice variety store. Prospective business deals are popping up across the league, as each team jockeys to position themselves for either a looming playoff run or future long-term viability.
Who are buyers? Who are sellers? Who’s looking for a short-term rental, and who needs to bolster their porous blue line? It’s easy to get caught up in all the hubbub of the trade season with all the wild speculation in today’s world of fake news and armchair quarterbacks.
But if you take a deeper look and really break it down, you too can play a pretty accurate game of Fantasy GM. All it takes is a little time, math, research and industry wherewithal to peer through the silver ball of NHL player transactions to know who will be wearing which team’s jersey come the end of the season.
Or, you can save yourself the trouble and browse the names in the list below of who will undoubtedly find themselves in unfamiliar colors by the time it’s all said and done.
Some of these are quite obvious and come as no surprise, while others might be less evident to the casual observer.
At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding for these 15 NHL players who WILL be traded by the end of the season.
15. Gabriel Landeskog
The Colorado Avalanche are a bad team – the worst in the league, in fact. They’re top-heavy with talented forwards, but with a blue line that looks like it belongs to a Manitoba pee wee travel team, it’s hard to score goals when the forwards don’t get the puck.
That’s why their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, is on the trade block. Actually, basically everybody, save for Nate MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, is on the trade block in Denver. They need some help on the back end, and fast.
Landeskog is attractive because he has a relatively small cap hit at $5.5 million per year. Plus, he’s under contract through the 2020-21 season and will supply affordable top-end scoring support for whoever manages to land the young captain.
14. Jacob Trouba
To put it lightly, Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets have a strained relationship. Trouba held out in contract negotiations all last summer and even requested a trade right at the beginning of the 2016 preseason. The 22-year-old defenseman said he wanted an opportunity to realize his potential as a right-hand defenseman with a team that gave him a better opportunity to do so.
Then, he sat out 14 games to start the season before finally agreeing to terms and rescinding his trade request.
But don’t let that fool you. The tension between Trouba and the Jets franchise is thick enough to cut with a knife, and both parties are ready to bury the hatchet with a trade.
The rumors about potential deals and attempted trades have already been circulating, but Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to want something valuable in return for the thrifty $3 million cap hit Trouba brought. Watch for a two-for-one deal that soon sends Trouba go to a playoff-bound squad.
13. Tomas Plekanec
The Montreal Canadiens are hovering near the top of the Eastern Conference this season, and they will be serious buyers when the trading deadline approaches as they bulk up for a deep playoff run. But they’ll have to unload a guy or two in order to do so.
The man at the top of that list? Tomas Plekanec. For a $6 million cap hit this season, he’s not exactly pulling his weight. Just three goals through 40 games will tell the tale, and the Canadiens will look to offload him as they begin to get players back from injury and before the playoff push really gets underway.
Plekanec will be attractive to bubble teams who need the veteran leadership that he can provide to push them over the edge. He does have one more season left on his contract, but that’s a gamble other teams will be willing to take for a chance to play into May and even June.
12. Marc-Andre Fleury
The fiery long-term relationship between the Pittsburgh Penguins and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is on the fast-track to Splitsville.
After more than 10 successful seasons backstopping the Pens, the writing is on the wall. Following an ill-timed injury and some miserable playoff outings last season, Fleury’s protégé, young Matt Murray, proved himself more than capable of assuming the No. 1 position. He even went 15-6 in last year’s playoff run en route to helping Pittsburgh win their second Stanley Cup in eight seasons.
That left Fleury in an exposed position and Murray the defacto No. 1 backstop in Pittsburgh. And now, with the expansion draft coming up and teams only able to protect one goaltender, Fleury will waive his no-trade clause in order to be moved to a team that will want to protect him long-term.
11. Tyler Bozak
Sure, Tyler Bozak has been solid this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in their perpetual state of rebuilding, now is the best time to get the most out of him as he hits the peak of his career.
He had a bit of a down season last year with just 35 points in 57 games played, but he’s back on track to break his career-best 49 points that he had in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, and his value is maxed out for a second- or third-line centerman.
Add to it that the Leafs are focusing on developing their youngest talent like Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri, and there isn’t a whole lot of room for the replaceable Bozak. His top-6 talent and reasonable $4.2 million cap hit with one more year left on his deal will attract a lot of value that the Leafs can work with.
10. Kevin Shattenkirk
St. Louis Blues rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and he’s already getting lots of attention from teams interested in offering him a new contract. Before that happens, though, the Blues will finally find the right deal to ship him off in a late-season exchange before the trade deadline.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Shattenkirk will be too expensive for the Blues after this season, so conventional wisdom says he’ll be an “own rental” for St. Louis as they ride out the rest of his contract in 2017. But the way he’s cropped up in trade talks over the past couple of seasons, it’s more than likely the team will cut ties with him now and get a head start on their life without the talented blueliner.
He’s been one of the best two-way defenseman in the league all year, so the Blues won’t have any trouble finding an interested suitor, and they’d be smart to try to get something out of him before letting him walk away.
9. Francois Beauchemin
The Colorado Avalanche are the biggest sellers in the league this season. There’s zero hope for them as they flounder around in the league basement, and they’re already looking ahead to next year.
Defenseman Francois Beauchemin has been one of many Avs players bandied about in trade talks, but he’s probably the most prominent among their defenseman.
With a desperate need to fill holes on the blue line, Colorado will likely protect a younger defenseman over the strong yet over-the-hill blueliner as the expansion draft looms.
8. James van Riemsdyk
Once a key piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuild, James van Riemsdyk is out-growing his role in head coach Mike Babcock’s system. He’s a big forward with a deadly accurate shot offers an intimidating presence in the offensive zone, but now at 27, van Riemsdyk has been left out in the cold.
His average time on the ice has declined in each of the past three seasons as the team has focused on the new crop of young players, but van Riemsdyk still packs an offensive punch that any other team would make room for in their overall strategy.
What makes van Riemsdyk a valuable bargaining chip is his relatively inexpensive price tag. At just $4.25 million per season and one more year left, a suitor could use him in the playoffs this season, assess his overall value next year and then trade him at the 2018 trade deadline or sign him to the contract extension he deserves.
7. Ben Bishop
The stars are aligned for Ben Bishop to get a big payday, just not with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bishop is in the final year of his contract, and as an elite backstop, he will command a high price tag.
With talented “backup” goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy signed to a big deal over the summer and guys like Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin due for hefty contract extensions, there’s no room for Bishop on the cash-strapped Tampa Bay roster.
That’s why the Lightning will move him before the trade deadline. It’s no secret that GM Steve Yzerman has been formulating a plan to ship him out of town, and with a deep playoff run unlikely for the Lightning without the help of another solid D-man or one more power forward, Bishop will be gone in a flash.
6. Matt Duchene
If I hadn’t mentioned it before, there’s a fire sale going on in Denver. The Avalanche are in desperate need of a revamped blue line, and almost nobody is safe from the trade market.
Matt Duchene won’t be a cheap get for any of the other 29 teams in the league, but he’s been tossed around in trade rumors going back a couple of seasons now, and this year’s the year he’ll be moved out of town.
It’ll be tough for the Avs to let go of one of their top scorers. Duchene, after all, is Mr. Clutch. He scores important goals at the right time and is one of the few consistent forwards in their top-6, but that’s what rebuilding is all about. The Avalanche need defensemen, and there are good forwards waiting in the wings to pick up where he’ll leave off. Duchene’s days in Colorado are numbered.
5. Cam Fowler
The Anaheim Ducks are deep on defense and still sitting pretty in the Western Conference standings. That’s why they’ll have no issue forfeiting one of their many D-men to add another goal-scorer as they head down the stretch towards the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The most likely candidate to get the boot is blueliner Cam Fowler. He has two years left on his current deal worth $4 million per season, and that’s a good value for a team willing to part with a top-six forward in order to bolster their blue line.
It’s a complicated market right now, what with so many teams still in the running for the playoffs and the impending expansion trade looming later this spring, but watch for Fowler to be wearing a different uniform come the end of the season as the Ducks focus their defensive attention on some of their more expensive rearguards.
4. Ryan Spooner
Any second now, Ryan Spooner will be shipping out of Boston, bound for another team that will treat him the way he ought to be treated.
It’s public knowledge that the Bruins are actively shopping the 24-year-old forward, and it’s mostly because he’s been underperforming in a position he was never even meant to play.
A natural centerman, Spooner has been relegated to playing the wing on the Bruins’ fourth line, where his production has been largely under-average. Plus, rumors are that Boston wants a top-6 forward to alleviate their near bottom-ranked offense this season.
3. Martin Hanzal
One of the worst-kept secrets in the NHL is that forward Martin Hanzal is on his way out of Phoenix. He’s in the final year of his contract, and GM John Chayka is on record saying he could easily move him. The Coyotes have even reportedly asked him for a trade list of preferred teams.
He’s coming off a career year last season for both assists and points, and he’s having a decent campaign in 2016-17, but with extension talks drying up, both parties are prepared for life after the other.
2. Ryan Murphy
The Carolina Hurricanes are actively dangling defenseman Ryan Murphy as trade bait. That’s been the case for months and months now. Not for lack of effort, the first-round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2011 has been a gigantic, inconsistent bummer.
He’s in his fourth year in the league, and he still hasn’t turned in a full season; the injury bug and repeated demotions to AHL Charlotte have kept him from realizing his full NHL potential. Basically, he just doesn’t fit within head coach Bill Peter’s system.
This year, he’ll be gone from Carolina, bound for a fresh start and the hope of greener pastures.
Despite his disappointing numbers, Murphy’s right-handed shot on the blue line and sub-$1 million salary would be a low-risk, high-reward trade for a team that needs some size and puck-movement on both ends of the ice. Watch for him to go in exchange for draft picks or cash.
1. Jarome Iginla
Future Hall-of-Famer Jarome Iginla deserves better than the league-worst Colorado Avalanche. I know it, you know it and Avs GM Joe Sakic knows it. It’s the most obvious one on this list. He deserves one more shot at a Stanley Cup ring, and Lord knows it’s not happening in Denver any time soon.
Fortunately, he’s in the last year of his contract, and all signs point to Sakic accommodating Iginla’s desire to chase a championship as a late-season rental player. He’ll waive his no-trade clause and hope to lend his veteran experience and laser of a wrist shot to a team with a promising chance at a deep run into the playoffs.
He’s not as good as he once was – this season paints that picture pretty clearly – but he’ll be as good once as he ever was when he lands in the right spot. Watch for him to end up in Edmonton, Chicago or Los Angeles.