The weeks leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline are so much fun for hockey fans. Gossip circulates about who could move where and teams are solidified for their respective runs to the Cup or to the golf course. Some trades are beneficial long-term as all involved remain with their new clubs for a number of seasons. More often, though, deadline deals involve pending Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) whom contenders want to add as rentals for their playoff pushes.

Either way, Monday, February 26th, 2018 will be a day circled on the calendars of many fans. Heck, and the crazy people at TSN even run a 10-hour “Tradecenter” special which consists mostly of them sitting around waiting for stuff to happen even though the majority of trades occur in the days leading up to that date. Either way, speculation is what fuels the fire for armchair GMs and casual fans alike, so it is always fun to take a guess at who will be on the move to a new team by the time the trading door closes. Listed below are 15 of the players that I believe will fit that bill. Enjoy!

15. James Neal – Ottawa Senators

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If Vegas is still defying expectations by holding down a top playoff spot come February, they could very well hold on to their top sniper. If not, it makes all-too-much sense to trade the pending UFA in order to add to the stockpile of draft picks that GM George McPhee has expertly put together over the last five months.

Ottawa, who surprised everyone by taking the Penguins to double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, has come back with its roster largely intact (plus the addition of Matt Duchene). There is no reason why the Sens can’t take it one step further this year and go all the way, and the addition of Neal as a scoring winger would likely only cost the team an early draft pick and a prospect. This deal is a win-win.

14. Justin Faulk – Dallas Stars

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The Hurricanes are loaded on the back-end. With Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin, and Haydn Fleury all set to earn big raises in the coming years, Faulk’s $4.83M cap hit is just too much to handle. The ‘Canes will look to get out from under Faulk’s deal sooner than later, leading to a move being made this coming February. With a need for some reliable forwards to compliment their up-and-coming youngsters, Carolina can look to the Stars as a trade partner.

Dallas has been the most frustrating team in hockey for the past few years. On paper, they are Cup contenders, but they seem to consistently finish in the bottom-10 of the NHL. The simple reason is that their high-powered offence just can’t make up for their porous defense and goaltending. Faulk’s shut-down reliability can seriously aid this issue, and the Stars have enough forward depth to give up a piece or two without losing too much. With Faulk in the picture, the Stars immediately change the identity of their franchise.

13. Jaromir Jagr – Tampa Bay Lightning

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Jaromir Jagr has already admitted to the media that this is likely his last season in the NHL. The perfect way to cap off the 45-year-old’s 24-season NHL career would be by raising the Stanley Cup. The only problem with that is that his Calgary Flames are more of a bubble playoff team than a legitimate Cup contender. Come February, Jagr will request a trade to the dominant Lightning and Calgary will oblige the luscious-locked legend.

The pending UFA may not fetch much more than a mid-round draft pick from Tampa, but Calgary really isn’t giving up much so the deal does make sense. Tampa adds a reliable depth winger with unfathomable locker room value for their deep playoff run and Jaromir gets to ride into the sunset with one more ring on his hand.

12. Joonas Korpisalo – Arizona Coyotes

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have a problem that any NHL team would love to have: a logjam of good, young goaltenders. Sergei Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, is still just 29, meaning he has a good five to seven years left in him as the Jackets’ #1 man. Stuck behind him are 23-year-old Korpisalo, 23-year-old Swiss League All-Star Elvis Merzlikins, and 20-year-old reigning USHL Goalie of the Year Matiss Kivlenieks.

Korpisalo is simply too valuable to be sitting on the bench for the next seven years, so now is as good a time as ever to move him. As Columbus emerges as a top Cup contender come February, a deal to acquire one of Arizona’s early-20s young guns could very well materialize. The Coyotes need a goalie-of-the-future so the trade makes sense for both sides.

11. Mike Green – Washington Capitals

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While the Red Wings aren’t quite as bad as everyone expected them to be, they likely aren’t going to be playing very meaningful hockey come late February. Their top trade chip in order to acquire some draft picks which will help their ongoing rebuild is UFA defenseman Mike Green.

The Caps, on the other hand, will likely be fighting for a division title come late February, and will be looking to plug the holes left on the blue line by the departures of Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Kevin Shattenkirk. Why not bring back former 70-point producer Green in exchange for a couple mid-round draft picks to do the job? Green is 32 now, but still has the ability to be a top-pair defenceman if need be.

10. Alex Galchenyuk – New York Islanders

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Alex Galchenyuk’s name has been at the top of the trade bait list for the better part of the last year. The once-promising young winger has lost his way with the Habs and finds himself stranded on the club’s third or fourth line most nights. Montreal needs to deal Galchenyuk before his trade value drops any lower than it already has.

The New York Islanders are the perfect suitor for Galchenyuk, simply because they have the perfect player to swap for him: Nick Leddy. The Canadiens need defensive help and the Islanders need top-six wingers. It’s a match made in heaven and would be a very even one-for-one deal.

9. Jaroslav Halak – Pittsburgh Penguins

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Marc-Andre Fleury packed up for Vegas. The Antti Niemi experiment was a disaster. Matt Murray’s injury made things ten times worse. While not terrible, Tristan Jarry just isn’t ready for the NHL yet and having Casey DeSmith (who?!) as his backup is unacceptable. The goaltending situation in Pittsburgh needs to be ironed out quickly and veteran stopper Jaroslav Halak is the man for the job.

The New York Islander is a pending UFA and his club’s three-goaltending rotation has drawn criticism from Halak’s agent, so this deal would help both parties. New York will be fine for the remainder of what will likely be a non-playoff year with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube between the pipes and the 32-year-old Halak can enjoy a deep playoff run as a solid backup to Matt Murray.

8. Gabriel Landeskog – Anaheim Ducks

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The Colorado Avalanche need an overhaul. After finishing last season with the worst points total in seventeen years, the Avs have gotten off to another division-basement-dwelling start this year. They got back a great return for Matt Duchene and would likely be able to do the same for Landeskog.

As mentioned earlier, the Ducks have a glut of young defensemen and a need for forwards to combat their ever-present injury woes. The deal makes sense for both sides, as the Avs could build for the future with a young D-man (a position they are sorely lacking in) and a draft pick or two thrown in, while the Ducks get a top-six forward just entering his prime.

7. Eddie Lack – Los Angeles Kings

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Lack has had a rollercoaster of a career thus far. From outduelling the legendary Roberto Luongo for the starting job in Vancouver to earning an undisputed starter’s role in Carolina, to blowing that and almost every opportunity since, Lack has certainly lost his way as of late. By February, the Flames will likely have no use for the Swede, who is currently playing for AHL Stockton. Despite his struggles, though, Lack has never had a lack of suitors, and this time around it will be the L.A. Kings who come knocking.

The Kings look weak behind Jonathan Quick, with career backup/AHLer Jeff Zatkoff as their next line of defense. In an effort to make a run at the playoffs, the Kings will trade for pending UFA Lack as a slight upgrade over Zatkoff. They will probably be able to acquire him for a late-round draft pick at that point so this deal will really do no harm to either side.

6. Alec Martinez – Boston Bruins

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The L.A. Kings have one of the worst salary cap situations in the NHL right now. Thanks to former GM Dean Lombardi’s terrible decisions of locking up many of the club’s Cup-winning core to expensive, long-term deals, the team is now full of aging players making more than they should be. One way to eradicate this problem is to rid themselves of Martinez’s $4M cap hit over the next four years.

Boston has the cap space to take on Martinez’s salary and the roster space to make him a top-four defenseman –  a spot where he belongs. The Bruins are in somewhat of a re-tooling stage and their biggest weakness is on the blue line. Martinez could plug the hole that will be left by Zdeno Chara and compliment the club’s strong, young forward group and solid goaltending tandem for years to come.

5. Tyson Barrie – Toronto Maple Leafs

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Another casualty of the rebuild in Colorado, Barrie has been rumoured to be on the trade market recently. Though it would be crazy to deal away such a solid defenseman who is just 26, the rumours are floating around and anything is possible with the current state of the team.

The Leafs are sorely in need of another top-pairing defenseman to play alongside Morgan Rielly. They have an overload of talented young wingers and draft picks piled up over the past couple years. This final deal could put the Leafs over the top and make them the true contenders that most Toronto sports fans have been waiting for their entire lives.

4. Rick Nash – Columbus Blue Jackets

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It seems as if the Rangers’ window is finally closing after so many deep playoff runs over the past few years. Lundqvist is showing signs of regression and GM Jeff Gorton has begun to trade away the depth pieces that made the Rangers so dangerous. As an upcoming UFA, Nash becomes expendable as well. The former superstar is regressing quickly as he enters his mid-30s but he could be very useful to a team looking to make a playoff push.

The Blue Jackets are just the team to fit that bill. They have an awesome defensive group and solid goaltending, but lack in terms of goal-scoring forwards. The team has plenty of young talent that could be traded in exchange and likely wouldn’t mind giving up a draft pick or two either. Having Nash back in Columbus with an actual functioning team around him this time would be an awesome sight to see.

3. Ian Cole – Montreal Canadiens

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Habs GM Marc Bergevin proved at last year’s deadline that he likes collecting depth players who bring more physicality than scoring to the club, so Ian Cole fits the bill perfectly. It makes even more sense this year than last to bring in the 28-year-old because the team lost two of its top-four defensemen over the summer.

Ian Cole has apparently been actively shopped by the Penguins recently, as the shot-blocking machine has routinely been a healthy scratch as of late. The Habs need Ian Cole much more than the Pens do, and a mid-round draft pick would likely be all it would take to acquire him.

2. Drew Stafford – Minnesota Wild

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It remains to be seen whether or not the Devils can keep up their unprecedented run to begin this season, but more than likely they will soon fizzle out. When that happens, look for UFA Stafford to be dealt at the deadline for a late-rounds draft pick. The 32-year-old has turned into a player in the ilk of Lee Stempniak who can be signed to a cheap, one-year deal and then be dealt at the deadline for a pick or prospect.

The Wild have followed up solid regular seasons with disappointing early playoff exits all to often over the past five years. Adding Stafford will not make them immediate Cup favourites by any means but his experience, reliability, and penalty killing would be huge for the Wild’s forward group.

1. Evander Kane – Chicago Blackhawks

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The pending UFA with the most upside not named John Tavares, 26-year-old Kane could net a big return for the rebuilding Sabres. Kane has had a streaky career, at some point being one of the best scorers in the league and at other being utterly invisible. If the big winger could figure out his off-ice issues and remain consistent, he would become a a legitimate top-line threat. Until then, he has no use to the basement-dwelling Sabres as he nears free agency.

The Blackhawks, however, could use him in their annual playoff run. They may not be what they once were, but you can never doubt a team that boasts (Patrick) Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and the criminally underrated Corey Crawford. Hawks GM Stan Bowman has never shied away from giving up a first or second round pick at the deadline and that is likely what Evander Kane is worth. If nothing else, a Kane-Kane connection on the Blackhawks’ top line would be a marketing sensation.

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