Unfortunately for hockey fans, the National Hockey League (NHL) isn't the National Basketball Association (NBA). Hardcore hockey fans might say that's a good thing and if we're simply comparing the sports it's an easy argument to say that hockey is the better, more entertaining sport. However, when it comes to player movement, trade discussion, and rumors, there's no better league at generating excitement than the NBA. This off-season alone numerous Superstars have switched teams, while others have surprisingly expressed a desire to be traded. You might be satisfied with the shockingly-high level of player loyalty to his team in the NHL, but try thinking back to June 28, 2016.
That day - in fact, a 23-minute portion of that day - was the single most exciting day to be a hockey fan, especially one who enjoys listening to sports talk radio. Steven Stamkos, on the verge of becoming the first big-name free agent in recent history, decided to stay in Tampa Bay; Taylor Hall was traded to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson; and P.K. Subban, a beloved Superstar in Montreal, was sent packing to Nashville in exchange for Shea Weber. The trades that took place in the past year haven't really come close to matching the excitement of that day, but there has been some interesting moves. Perhaps General Managers are beginning to take more risks and get more comfortable in the salary cap world. One can only hope. If that's the case, you can expect at least a handful, if not more, of these players to find a new home during the 2017-18 season.
15 Jaroslav Halak
The New York Islanders is an organization without much of a plan, which might end up hurting the team's chances of keeping its franchise player, John Tavares. They have decent young players in Josh Ho-Sang, Brock Nelson, and Anthony Beauvillier, and they brought in Jordan Eberle through trade this season, but there's very little top-end talent aside from Tavares.
The Islanders might push for a playoff spot in 2017-18, but we see them falling short and, if they're out of the race by the deadline, the team might opt to sell off some of its assets. Given its prospect depth, it could certainly trade away veterans and perhaps compete again as early as two years down the line. And it would certainly make little sense to keep Jaroslav Halak, who only played 28 games last season and will be in the final year of a four-year contract. The problem is there might not be much of a market for the Slovakian, although a playoff-bound team could see him as insurance.
Projected Landing Destination: Chicago Blackhawks
14 Mike Green
Another player entering the final year of his contract is Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Green. Although it's hard to believe since he peaked at such a young age with the Capitals, Green is still only 31 years old, and should be in the prime of his career. Instead, he's nowhere near the power-play stud he was when he put up back-to-back 70-point seasons with the Capitals. In fact, in his two years with Detroit, Green has only 71 points, although he did score 14 goals last year, which was his highest mark since he notched 19 in 2009-10.
By no means is Green a shutdown defender, but he's still an agile rearguard with a booming shot from the point and ability to quarterback a second-unit power play. He would be a great deadline add for a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs or Pittsburgh Penguins. Detroit doesn't appear to be a team poised for the playoffs, so it would be absurd for the team to hold onto Green.
Projected Landing Destination: Pittsburgh Penguins
13 Connor Brown
Beyond Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs actually have incredible depth at forward, which is rare for the historically-inept franchise. One of the team's better secondary forwards is Connor Brown, a former sixth-round pick from Toronto who scored 20 goals as a rookie last season. Typically, that sort of season would have been celebrated in Leaf Nation, but Brown's play may have priced him out of Toronto's budget, especially with the aforementioned three budding Superstars needing to be re-signed.
Brown is currently a restricted free agent and is open to receiving offer sheets from other teams in the league, although that seems unlikely. What seems more likely is the Leafs signing him to a bridge contract for two seasons and dealing him at the deadline for defensive help. He may even be dealt prior to the start of the season.
Projected Landing Destination: Minnesota Wild
12 Jason Garrison
Another expiring contract - we'll get to the juicy stuff further down the list. Still, that isn't to say Jason Garrison isn't capable of helping out a team, especially as a trade deadline acquisition. The hard-shooting blueliner scored a career-high 16 goals in 2011-12 and, although his goal scoring has dried up, he's still an effective bottom-pairing defenseman who can also provide veteran leadership to a young team.
That reason alone is why he was an attractive piece to George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights, which selected him in the Expansion Draft. The team has also shown a willingness to stockpile draft picks and young players in building for the future, so it would make sense for them to deal Garrison at the deadline, unless by some miracle they find themselves in a playoff position.
Projected Landing Destination: Toronto Maple Leafs
11 Tomas Plekanec
If we're going by cap hit and last season's point totals alone, Tomas Plekanec might be one of the worst value deals on this list. The Czech Republic center had just 28 points in 78 games, which was the lowest total of his career, including his 67-game rookie season in which he had 29 points and the 47-game lockout-shortened season in which he had 33 points. He was so poor offensively that it's a surprise to many that he's still in Montreal at this point in the off-season.
However, you can see why the team would value him for the final year of his contract. He has spent all 921 of his career games in the league with the Habs, is a leader in the locker room, and can kill penalties. It's also for those reasons why he might be an attractive trade deadline acquisition. The Canadiens have several question marks heading into the 2017-18 season and, if they're out of the playoff race, Plekanec will almost certainly be moved.
Projected Landing Destination: Calgary Flames
10 Paul Stastny
Once part of a building core in Colorado, Paul Stastny has become no more than a complimentary player in St. Louis. Sure, he has been relatively effective in his three seasons with the team, posting three consecutive 40-point seasons, but back in Colorado he had three 70-point seasons, including one in his rookie campaign. He's certainly a player who hit his peak early, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have plenty left to give.
However, it may not be in St. Louis where he continues his career. The 31 year old has just one more year left on a four-year, $28 million contract and an average annual salary of $7 million is far too much for a 40-point player, especially when the Blues just gave a pricey extension to defenseman Colton Parayko and need to find money to re-sign Robby Fabbri, Magnus Paajarvi, and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Projected Landing Destination: Carolina Hurricanes
9 Evander Kane
The Winnipeg fiasco wasn't an anomaly. A few years ago, Kane was repeatedly late to team meetings, which caused a rift between he and his teammates. Following one such instance, his clothes were reportedly thrown in the shower by Dustin Byfuglien. He was unsurprisingly traded midway through the season to Buffalo, despite being injured and unable to make his debut with the Sabres until the start of the 2015-16 season.
He was a valuable asset for the Sabres last season and scored 28 goals, his second highest mark of his career, but was arrested in the 2016 off-season and was the subject of a harassment case which was eventually dismissed. The Sabres are trying to turn the corner and, as effective as Kane can be, it might make sense for the team to trade him, even if it's for pennies on the dollar.
Projected Landing Destination: Vegas Golden Knights
8 James Neal
Getting back to Vegas, it would seem as though, through the Expansion Draft, the team set itself up to at least be relatively competitive in its first season while also allowing for the opportunity to build toward a promising future. In addition to trading a lot of its players for draft picks and making side deals to not select players for draft picks, the Golden Knights selected plenty of players entering the final year of their contract.
That flexibility allows Vegas to re-sign those players if they feel like they're part of the team's core moving forward. The more likely scenario, however, is that they deal most of those players at the deadline. James Neal is an intriguing option because he's a proven goal scorer who has topped 20 goals in all of his nine seasons in the league. He could net the Golden Knights a decent package at the deadline.
Projected Landing Destination: Nashville Predators
7 Marc Staal
It's not hard to believe the New York Rangers mismanaged their salary cap flexibility in the past few seasons given that the team, in the pre-cap world, threw boat loads of cash at prime free agents. Buying out defenseman Dan Girardi and dealing Derek Stepan helped alleviate some of the cap concerns in New York, but there's still more work to be done, especially if the team hopes to remain competitive, while building toward future success.
Instead of using the cap space it created to help with future issues, the Rangers signed Kevin Shattenkirk to the biggest free-agent deal this off-season, which will likely blow up in the organization's collective face within two or three years. Meanwhile, Marc Staal holds an annual cap hit of $5.7 million until the end of the 2021 season - he had just ten points and declining possession numbers last season, if you were wondering. He has a modified no-trade clause this coming season, whereas he had a full no-movement clause last year. The Rangers should act fast and find a new home for the 30-year old blueliner.
Projected Landing Destination: Tampa Bay Lightning
6 Matt Dumba
Whereas the Rangers would want to move Staal because he's a cap and on-ice liability, the Minnesota Wild, in a perfect world, would love to keep Mathew Dumba. However, that seems unlikely given the team's salary cap structure. Dumba is just 23 years old and has been improving with every game since he came into the league - he had a career-high 11 goals and 34 points last season - but Minnesota would have to get creative to find a way to re-sign Dumba long-term. He's in the final year of a team-friendly two-year, $5.1 million contract.
The Wild still have $10 million in cap space, but they need to re-sign Mikael Granlund for this upcoming season and that should eat up at least five or six million. Meanwhile, prominent players such as Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker will become free agents after this season.
Projected Landing Destination: Toronto Maple Leafs
5 Jason Spezza
The Dallas Stars are loading up for the 2017-18 season and it's a smart move. The team has a pair of young superstars in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn locked up for the foreseeable future and now finally has what seems to be a viable option in goal with Ben Bishop. They also added Alex Radulov, Martin Hanzal, and Brian Flynn.
However, the team is now right up against the cap and still has veteran Jason Spezza signed through the 2018-19 season for a cap hit of $7.5 million. They'll also need to re-sign Antoine Roussel, Devin Shore, Dan Hamhuis, as well as potential breakthrough rookies Jason Dickinson, Dillon Heatherington, and Elie Remi following this season. Beyond that, the 2018 NHL Draft is in Dallas and you can bet the team would want to make a splash there for its fans. Depending on how the season plays out, Spezza could find himself playing elsewhere by the trade deadline.
Projected Landing Destination: Montreal Canadiens
4 Max Pacioretty
This might be the first player on this list completely out of left field, but hear us out. The Montreal Canadiens are in surprisingly decent cap shape after not signing Alex Radulov and giving way too much money to Karl Alzner, but outside of Carey Price, there's little reason to believe the team can compete for the Stanley Cup in 2017-18. Shea Weber is a top defenseman but he's on the decline, while Jonathan Drouin should become a star in Montreal, but he's not a center and that's the team's greatest need. Alex Galchenyuk isn't the answer at center either as neither Michel Therrien and Claude Julien couldn't trust him at the position.
The only answer to Montreal's woes at center is through trade. And no player has more value in a trade than Max Pacioretty (Drouin and Galchenyuk might, but you're not trading those players at their age). Pacioretty is a 28 year old winger who scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons. He alone could net a bottom-tier number one center in a trade, while the Habs could package him to land one of the top three players on this list - keep scrolling.
Projected Landing Destination: Washington Capitals
3 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
If we're sticking with the Pacioretty for a center trade, you probably don't make this swap if you're Montreal, unless the Oilers are adding something significant to sweeten the deal. Nonetheless, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is far from a third-line center, which is where he plays in Edmonton, primarily because he's behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Sure, the former first overall pick hasn't met career expectations, especially after a 52-point rookie season (in 62 games), but he's still a top-six center in the league.
In less playing time last year, Nugent-Hopkins recorded 43 points in 82 games. He's the type of player that could actually thrive playing alongside Jonathan Drouin in Montreal as both are shifty and speedy with great playmaking abilities. Nonetheless, he may need to get dealt somewhere, especially if the Oilers plan on committing over $20 million to their top two centers, which seems like it might be the case.
Projected Landing Destination: Vancouver Canucks
2 Matt Duchene
Matt Duchene has been linked to the Montreal Canadiens for quite some time, which only makes sense because the Habs need a center and Duchene has a French-sounding name, despite the fact he's from Ontario. However, it's not just Montreal that he's been linked to; the 26 year old has been on the market for the better part of the past year given Colorado's horribly-run franchise and its regular season failures over the past few seasons.
To put it simply, the Avalanche is such a mess that it's depreciating the value of Duchene the longer it waits to move him. Three seasons ago he had 70 points in 71 games and was a frequent selection for the Canadian National Team. This past season, he recorded 41 points in 77 games playing alongside rookies and unmotivated players. He needs to get out and the Avalanche need to move on.
Projected Landing Destination: Montreal Canadiens
1 John Tavares
Although his free agency status in 2018 has been the subject of sports talk radio shows throughout the league's markets, especially in Toronto where he calls home (although that has died a little since Auston Matthews arrived), John Tavares has said all the right things that lead to suggest he wants to stay in Long Island. We can't be sure why, as the team has been poorly-managed for the better part of a decade and it plays out of one of the worst rinks in the league, but Tavares is apparently a loyal dude.
Yet, if the Islanders get off to a sluggish start in 2017-18 after once again retooling, it might be the last straw for the former number one overall pick. Tavares is a top-five center in the league and it's painful to watch him stuck in New York, where he has only played 24 playoff games in eight seasons. Surely, the Islanders would try to keep him for the duration of the season and hope to re-sign him long-term before July 1st, but a deadline-day deal might be the only way to ensure they don't lose him for nothing.
Projected Landing Destination: San Jose Sharks