The 2017 NHL Trade Deadline was a quiet one. It wasn't because teams were convinced they already had a championship-caliber team; rather, they had their hands tied. The impending expansion draft for the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the player protection rules that come into play with the draft made trading difficult. Teams can only protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender in the draft, so would it have made sense for a bubble playoff team to trade for a player only to potentially lose him or another player they value? As evidenced by the quiet trade deadline, the simple answer is no.
That doesn't mean the upcoming offseason will be quiet, however. In fact, quite the oppositie; with contracts expiring and teams scrambling to acquire players to potentially expose to protect better players already on their roster, roster movement should be frequent. Add in teams simply trying to improve or shake things up (see, Taylor Hall and PK Subban trades last offseason) and it should be a wild offseason. The salary cap isn't expected to rise much, either, so teams will be looking to shed salary, as is often the case in the cap era. Here are 15 players likely to be moved and their possible destination.
15 Steve Mason to the Stars
Instead of prefacing every trade with an expansion warning, we'll do it once right here. It's a very real possibility the Golden Knights select Steve Mason in the expansion draft. The Ontario native is a pending free agent heading into the offseason, but the Flyers might opt to re-sign him for a number of reasons. The organization isn't particularly happy with the play of either Mason or Michal Neuvirth, but if Vegas claims Neuvirth, the Flyers would at least have a capable starting goaltender. If they claimed Mason, they would feel the same way about Neuvirth. Ideally, they would hope to upgrade between the pipes, but those options are yet to be determined.
Another team itching to get better in goal is the Dallas Stars, who, over the past few years, have proven that a tandem of mediocre starting goaltenders simply doesn't work. Though he becomes a free agent on July 1st if not signed by Philadelphia, Steve Mason could become a reliable number one in Dallas if the team learns to play defensive hockey. We're seeing more and more teams trade pending free agents for a late draft pick during the NHL Draft, and that could be a route the Flyers take with Mason.
14 Tomas Plekanec to the Coyotes
Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens have to be praying that the Golden Knights might take a chance on veteran forwards to provide leadership in their early years. If that's the case, they might be able to find some veteran guile in the turtleneck-wearing Tomas Plekanec, who has played over 900 games in the league. However, that appears to be a pipe dream, given the fact the Czech center has just 25 points in 70 games this season and is owed another $6 million in 2017-18.
Enter Arizona Coyotes General Manager John Chayka, who has shown a propensity to acquire cap hits, while building a stable of draft picks and prospects - Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Pronger are still on the Coyotes' books. No, Plekanec to Arizona wouldn't be a game-changer, but it would clear up significant space for the Habs to make a major splash, which we'll get to later.
13 Jacob Trouba to the Capitals
This might depend on how the Capitals perform in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If the team finally wins hockey's ultimate prize, there might be a reluctance to change much of anything, similar to Pittsburgh's offseason strategy a season ago. However, given that Alex Ovechkin isn't getting any younger and the team has come up short all too often, an early playoff exit might cause the organization to re-evaluate things.
They're not trading Ovechkin, so let's not even go there. They could, however, add some physicality to their defense core with the acquisition of Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. Trouba went public with a trade demand earlier this season and you'd have to believe he still wants out. The belief is he wants to play in the United States and Washington would be a perfect fit, especially with Brooks Orpik nearing the end of his career.
12 Kevin Shattenkirk to the Bruins
A lot of teams are going to be after Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason and you can almost guarantee the Capitals will look to move his rights prior to July 1st for a draft pick. Likewise, teams will have no problem paying a small price to have exclusive negotiating rights with the defenseman, especially those who are in dire need.
You can count the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs among those teams, but expect the Boston Bruins to strike first. Though he continues to lead the Bruins in ice time this season, Zdeno Chara is nearing the end of his Hall-of-Fame worthy career. He has one more year left on his contract, but his cap hit drops by nearly $3 million, which would give the Bruins flexibility in negotiating a deal with Shattenkirk.
11 David Backes to the Sabres
The Bruins might not necessarily have to shed major cap space to acquire sign someone like Kevin Shattenkirk, but it would certainly alleviate some concerns. One player they would certainly be looking to get rid of is David Backes, the power forward the team signed to a five-year, $30 million contract last July. It seemed like a decent signing at the time, but the truth is the Bruins don't need Backes with the emergence of David Pastrnak and others. He can still provide some grit and physicality, but at $6 million per season? Yikes.
Backes hasn't been awful, but his contract and style of play reeks of a David Clarkson-type situation. He has a no-movement clause which kicks in on July 1, 2019, so the Bruins would be wise to find a taker sooner rather than later. The Buffalo Sabres have the cap space and could use some protection for young Superstar Jack Eichel.
10 Tomas Hertl to the Devils
It seems every offseason there's a trade completely out of left field, one nobody saw coming. Tomas Hertl to the New Jersey Devils is our pick for sleeper trade of the 2017 offseason. A couple seasons ago the young Czech appeared to be a blossoming star in the league, but he's since cooled off, recording just eight goals in 41 games this season.
As of now, the Sharks are up against the cap and will have to find money to re-sign Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Melker Karlsson, and Joonas Donskoi next season, and Martin Jones is due for a substantial raise in 2018-19. Trading Hertl, who is owed $3 million next season, will free up necessary cap space for the team. They would prefer to trade Mikkel Boedker, but at $4 million per season, he won't have many suitors. The Devils, meanwhile, have been an offensively-stagnant team for years. Putting Hertl alongside Taylor Hall could do a lot to generate offense.
9 Matt Dumba to the Maple Leafs
We mentioned previously that the Toronto Maple Leafs need defensemen and, while the Minnesota Wild would keep Matt Dumba in an ideal world, the NHL is anything but. And because the team is locked in long-term with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, it hampers their ability to retain young players due for big raises. Dumba has had a breakthrough season this year with 30 points in 66 games, but the cap-strapped Wild have to re-sign Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, a pair of forwards who have also had breakout seasons.
It's a certainty that Minnesota trades at least one of its top five defenseman, who make a combined $24 million per season, but Dumba will be the most attractive. He would be a perfect complement to the Maple Leafs' growing core and, given the Leafs abundance of young forward prospects, the two teams could work out a deal that's beneficial for both parties. Toronto might wish to avoid trading William Nylander, but he might have to be included to make a deal work.
8 James van Riemsdyk to Las Vegas
Sure, the expansion draft rules favor Vegas more than they did back when Nashville, Minnesota, Columbus, and Atlanta entered the league, but you're kidding yourself if you think the team is going to have any shot of competing for a playoff spot in the next two seasons. They would be wise to stay patient and build through the draft, but there's always pressure in a new market. Look at what years of misery did to the Thrashers in Atlanta.
That's why it would make sense for the Golden Knights to acquire a player like James van Riemsdyk from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's a skilled, top-six forward who has 158 goals in 517 career games and is still in the prime of his career at 27 years old. He has a reasonable $4.25 million cap hit for next season, but Toronto should be willing to give him up for a package of prospects or draft picks simply to clear cap space to acquire a defenseman.
7 Dustin Brown to the Avalanche
The Los Angeles Kings built a team that could have rivaled the Chicago Blackhawks for over a decade. The problem is in the salary cap era you have to be ruthless as a General Manager. You simply can't reward an aging player with a long-term contract based on play in the past. And while the Blackhawks shipped out older players to make room young players, the Kings handed long-term deals to Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, despite both players obviously being on the decline of their careers.
Brown, for instance, hasn't topped 35 points in the previous four seasons, though he's getting close this year, but is still owed nearly $6 million per year over the next five seasons. He still brings a lot to the team, but his offensive capabilities are limited. The Colorado Avalanche are going to do some major reorganizing through the 2017 offseason, and would probably be the only team capable of taking on Brown's salary. It would be a win-win move for the Avs as Brown could provide some veteran leadership, while they would almost certainly receive high draft picks for taking on his contract.
6 Cam Fowler to the Hurricanes
Much has been made about the impressive blueline in Carolina this season. A lot of it is hyperbole simply based on the team's youth at the position, but they have been very good given their relative inexperience. Twenty-five year old Justin Faulk anchors the core, while it also consists of 22-year-old Jaccob Slavin, 21-year-old Brett Pesce, and 19-year-old Noah Hanifin. It's a d-core with a promising future, but one that needs veteran guidance.
Add in the fact that the Hurricanes have a group of promising young forwards and management might be convinced that the team can compete in the highly-competitive Metropolitan Division next season. Cam Fowler would be the perfect addition to the team's defensive core, but he wouldn't be cheap. The Canes might have to package one of their young defenseman along with a high-profile prospect, but it would be worth if it they had playoff aspirations.
5 Evander Kane to the Flyers
Given that we had Buffalo acquiring David Backes earlier, it would make little sense for the team to keep Evander Kane, who plays a similar game, albeit with more skill. That said, Kane has been wildly inconsistent with the Sabres in the past two seasons, looking like an unstoppable force one night and looking lost the next. Rightly or wrongly, his reputation isn't the greatest and the Sabres might be ready to realize it was a mistake acquiring the winger, especially with Jack Eichel presumably ready to become the team's captain.
If there was one team that would welcome Kane's physical, in-your-face style of play, it's the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers will be free of Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz's contracts next season and have a bevy of promising, young defensemen they could opt to include in a deal for Kane.
4 Jason Spezza to the Islanders
Dallas is a team that needs a shake-up in the worst way. They need a stable starting goaltender, a coaching and management change, and with that some players need a change of scenery. Jason Spezza has been fairly productive in his three seasons with the Stars, but he'll be 34-years-old at the start of next season and the team surely isn't going to move Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn.
They'll have a lot of flexibility in the off-season with the contracts of Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky due to expire, but dealing Spezza would usher in a complete rebuild based around their two Superstars. The New York Islanders, meanwhile, hoping to entice John Tavares to stay after a mediocre season with on-and-off ice issues, would be wise to take a run at Spezza, giving the team solid depth down the center of the ice. An ideal swap for both teams would see Travis Hamonic going back to Dallas.
3 Loui Eriksson to the Penguins
It might be tough for the Pittsburgh Penguins to find a way to include Loui Eriksson's $6 million cap hit in their plans for the next five seasons, but the 31-year-old would be a perfect complement to Sidney Crosby, despite the fact it doesn't seem to matter who 87 plays with.
Eriksson signed a lucrative deal with the Vancouver Canucks last off-season following a 30-goal campaign with the Boston Bruins, but it has already become clear he's not a fit in the Canucks organization. Likewise, the team seems to have finally accepted a complete rebuild, which would indicate that they would be seeking takers for Eriksson's contract in the offseason. The Penguins will be freed from the contracts of Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen, and should they lose Marc-Andre Fleury, they could find the money for Eriksson.
2 Matt Duchene to the Canadiens
Matt Duchene was tied to the Montreal Canadiens prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, but ultimately nothing happened as Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche decided to wait until the off-season to garner a greater return for the former third overall pick. Duchene has had an off year with the Avalanche, but that could be said about every player on the team. The reality is he's a proven point producer who, at 26 years old, is in the prime of his career.
The Canadiens like the development of Alex Galchenyuk, but it's clear he's not a first-line center at this stage of his career - Duchene is. Montreal would have to offer a substantial package for his services, but they have seven picks in the first two rounds of the next two drafts, as well as promising prospects Nikita Scherbak, Noah Juulsen, and Mikhail Sergachev.
1 Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the Rangers
The most underrated defenseman in the NHL simply because of the team he plays for (Arizona), Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be a consistent Norris Trophy candidate if he played elsewhere - at least that's the rhetoric that gets used when analysts describe his game. The numbers back that assertion up, however. In the past four seasons, the Swede has scored a combined 71 goals and has added 108 assists.
The New York Rangers would be the perfect destination for Ekman-Larsson to showcase his talents while in the prime of his career, especially since the team's biggest need at this point is a top-pairing defenseman. Of all the players on this list, he would definitely have the most trade value, so the Rangers would have to give up a significant amount of prospects and draft picks, or a quality young roster player like Jimmy Vesey.