Over the past couple of years, the NHL landscape has been shocked to see a number of trades take place. Nobody thought the Toronto Maple Leafs would find takers for the albatross contracts of Dion Phaneuf, David Clarkson and Phil Kessel. But guess what? None of them are wearing Leafs uniforms anymore. Some players are sad to leave their teams, but others are just waiting for a way out in order to win and build a legacy.
The world was shocked to see the Edmonton Oilers swap 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall for defenceman Adam Larsson, and nobody saw a P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade happening. Sure enough, it did last offseason. Even a 10 million dollar donation to a local children's hospital is not enough to save some star players with huge contracts. In case you didn't think some of these moves were crazy enough, there are more superstars that will soon be changing their teams. Some of them are pending free agents, others want to chase championships and many more just aren't content with where they are.
So don't be surprised if and when these 15 NHL players are changing jerseys in the next couple of years.
15 Rick Nash
Nash was once among the NHL's purest goal-scorers, and 30-40 a year was basically a guarantee for the 6-foot-4 power forward. However, Nash is on the wrong side of 30 and now struggles to reach the 20-goal mark. Despite a successful tenure with the New York Rangers thus far, Nash is likely playing his final season in the Big Apple.
Despite injuries and his age (33), Nash could still get a big contract from another team next year. The Rangers are already loaded with scoring forwards like J.T. Miller, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner and Mika Zibanejad. There's simply no reason to give so much money to Nash. So regardless of how he plays this year, Nash will enter his final year in a Blueshirts uniform. There's no reason for the Rangers to hold onto him.
14 James van Riemsdyk
JVR has been everything the Toronto Maple Leafs could have hoped for when they dealt away young blueliner Luke Schenn for his services back in 2012. Van Riemsdyk has surpassed the 25-goal mark three times with the Leafs, and is on his way to being one of the top-paid free agents in 2018.
Van Riemsdyk would love to remain a Maple Leaf, where he's erased his disappointing label as the second overall pick in 2007 after disappointing with the Philadelphia Flyers. But the fact is, Toronto has to be smart with their money management. As said in the Bozak section, guys like Marner, Matthews and Nylander soon need extensions. Toronto has so many scoring forwards and can't feel obligated to give JVR $6-7 million a year. Expect van Riemsdyk to chase the big money next year, and the Maple Leafs will bid adieu to a fan favorite. It's just the harsh reality of the salary cap era.
13 Tobias Enstrom
Enstrom has been one of the NHL's most underrated defencemen for a while now. He's a solid second-pairing defenceman for the Winnipeg Jets, but probably won't be a Jet after the 2017-18 season. The Jets are already loaded on defence with Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba, and Enstrom will be due for a nice payday next summer when he's a free agent.
The Jets are going to have to save valuable cap space in order to ensure they're able to re-sign Patrik Laine and Nikola Ehlers when they're due for extensions. Re-signing a fading and past-his-prime Enstrom doesn't do a lot to help the Jets win beyond next year. So expect Enstrom to be out of Winnipeg after next season, as another team comes with an offer in free agency he can't refuse.
12 Paul Stastny
Stastny was once among the NHL's top centres, posting six 50-point seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets and twice reaching the 70-point plateau. The St. Louis Blues loathed Stastny and gave him a four-year contract worth $28 million during the 2014 offseason, hoping he could be the final piece in a championship puzzle.
However, Stastny's tenure in St. Louis has been marred by injuries and inconsistency. He hasn't topped 49 points in his three years there, and the pending free agent hasn't shown that he's worthy of an extension. Stastny will be 32 years of age when he hits free agency, and the cap-strained Blues probably don't have the room to extend him long-term. Expect this season to be Stastny's last in a St. Louis uniform, before he signs elsewhere.
11 Tyler Bozak
Bozak has been one of the most humble players in Toronto Maple Leafs history. He's been dedicated to helping this team come out of a miserable 2010s decade, and Bozak has been a terrific leader for young players like Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner.
However, the Maple Leafs are soon going to have to give Matthews a $100 million contract, and extensions for players like Nylander and Marner will eat into their cap situation too. That means the 31-year-old Bozak probably doesn't fit into Toronto's long-term plans, given a cap crunch that will soon loom over them. Bozak is an ideal number two centre who can score 20 goals and 50-60 points a season, so another team will gladly pay him when he hits free agency in 2018. Unless he's willing to take a massive hometown discount, don't expect him to stay in Toronto.
10 Evander Kane
After wearing out his welcome in Winnipeg, Kane was part of a massive trade that sent him to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015. Kane has done ok with his new team, having scored 28 goals and 43 points in 2016-17. But Kane's tenure in Buffalo has also been overshadowed by his off-ice issues, and the Sabres may be reluctant to keep a troubled star on the roster.
Also, the Sabres only have around $5.9 million in cap space. Consider that superstar Jack Eichel could be on the verge of an $80-$100 million extension and goalie Robin Lehner needs to be re-signed, and you can see where the Sabres will struggle to keep Kane in Buffalo long-term. If the Sabres are struggling up to the 2018 trade deadline, expect them to trade Kane, who will then sign elsewhere in free agency.
9 James Neal
Despite playing an integral role in helping the Nashville Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, Neal was left exposed in the Vegas expansion draft and was plucked up by the Golden Knights. Neal has scored 20-plus goals every year since breaking into the NHL as a rookie in 2008-09, but probably doesn't have a long-term future in Vegas.
For one, he's a pending free agent and will cash in big next summer. For another, he could be one of the prime trade chips at the deadline, and the rebuilding Golden Knights could easily get one or two big assets if GM George McPhee is willing to trade Neal. If the Golden Knights decide to keep Neal around for the entire season, it's still unlikely that he willingly extends with them. 2017-18 will be Neal's first and only season with the 31st NHL team.
8 Patric Hornqvist
Hornqvist has been a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins offence, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017. He even scored the Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 of this year's finals, helping Pittsburgh become the first team to repeat in 19 years. But the seven-time 20-goal scorer is likely playing out his final season with the Penguins, due to their pending salary cap woes.
The Penguins have just $2.48 million in cap space, and still have holes to fill all over their roster. Hornqvist is due for a nice contract that'll net around $5-6 million a year, but the Pens certainly won't be the team that can give it to him. Hornqvist will try to help Pittsburgh three-peat, but expect him to leave for a big payday elsewhere.
7 Gabriel Landeskog
Landeskog was drafted second overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, and was expected to form quite the dynamic duo with Matt Duchene. Though both players have been consistent 20-goal and 50-point men, the Avalanche have made the playoffs just once under Landeskog's leadership (in 2014).
It's expected that general manager Joe Sakic will soon blow things up by trading away his captain, who hasn't lived up to full expectations as a scorer nor as a leader in the Mile High City. The rebuilding Avalanche could use three mega assets in a possible Landeskog trade. The Boston Bruins have been linked to Landeskog, and they have plenty of young defencemen that could be had in a trade. No matter where he goes, Landeskog and the Avalanche simply need to work out a trade. It's long overdue.
6 Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The Sedin twins will go down as the greatest players in Vancouver Canucks history. Having said that, a trade has been long overdue for the 37-year-old twins, considering their club is trying to undergo a rebuild.
Vancouver has missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, but they have plenty of franchise building blocks in youngsters Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Markus Granlund, Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher and others. Keeping a pair of past-their-prime twins doesn't make any sense. Daniel and Henrik are entering their contract years, so they could be dealt at the trade deadline. If not, the Canucks may have to make a tough decision and not re-sign them beyond 2018. It only makes sense for both sides to part ways at this point.
5 Matt Duchene
As is the case with Landeskog, Duchene is one of the few talented players on an otherwise miserable Avalanche team. No player has heard his name in the trade rumor mill more than Duchene, which suggests a trade will take place sooner rather than later.
Duchene has been a stud for the Avalanche, posting five seasons where he scored at least 20 goals and 50 points. But with the Avalanche in rebuilding mode, there's no reason to keep Duchene around. He could easily net them three or four major pieces that would include young roster players, prospects and draft picks. Duchene has been linked to teams like Nashville, Pittsburgh and the Ottawa Senators. It won't be long until Duchene finally receives a trade, which probably should already have happened by now.
4 Josh Anderson
A fourth round draft choice of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012, Anderson finally came into the light in 2016-17. He scored 17 goals and 29 points, leading the Jackets to the third seed in the Metropolitan Division. Anderson, a 6-foot-3 and 221-pound winger, is just getting his NHL career started after a breakout season.
But according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, Anderson recently requested a trade as the two sides haven't been able to reach a deal. The Blue Jackets have to re-sign pending UFA Cam Atkinson and Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky (a free agent in 2019), to long-term deals, so extending Anderson could complicate their salary cap situation. Anderson probably doesn't fit into the Jackets long-term plans, and they already have enough depth at forward. If Anderson can net them another young player and first or second round pick, then a trade would be worth it for both parties.
3 Joe Thornton
Thornton has been a franchise-changing superstar for the San Jose Sharks, since they traded for him during the 2005-06 season. Thornton has taken the Sharks to the playoffs every year except 2015. That includes a Presidents' Trophy in 2009 plus a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.
Despite early signs that he would leave the Sharks in the offseason, Thornton re-upped in San Jose for one-year at $8 million. But considering teammate Patrick Marleau jumped ship to join the Maple Leafs -- as well as the Sharks getting much older -- Thornton is probably playing out his final year in San Jose. As things stand, the Sharks will be fortunate enough if they squeak into the postseason. Another disappointing playoff exit will surely cause Thornton to sign with a legitimate Cup contender in 2018.
2 Drew Doughty
Doughty is one of the most accomplished defencemen in the NHL today. He led the Los Angeles Kings to Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014, won Olympic gold with Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 and won his first Norris Trophy in 2016. All told, Doughty may be the top defenceman of his era.
However, the Kings appear to be on the cusp of a rebuild, as former GM Dean Lombardi handed out far too many expensive contracts to aging veterans. Doughty recently spoke with The Hockey News and said this: "I want to win Cups. I don’t give a s--- where I play. I just want to win Cups, and that’s the bottom line.” That doesn't bode well for the Kings, who are unlikely to contend when Doughty hits free agency in 2019. Expect the superstar blueliner to chase a Stanley Cup with another team when he's a free agent. Toronto Maple Leafs, anyone?
1 John Tavares
Drafted first overall by the New York Islanders in 2009, Tavares has become the franchise superstar that the team envisioned. Tavares has led the Islanders to the playoffs three times, in 2013, 2015 and 2016. However, the Islanders haven't transformed into a legitimate Cup contender, and they haven't built a roster around Tavares really well.
Throw in that this team doesn't have an arena deal for the long-term future, and Tavares may feel inclined to leave Long Island. He's a free agent in 2018 and will basically get to choose his new home. He's already been linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, who could find a way to sign him to a lengthy deal. But it's hard to see why Tavares would want to stay with the Islanders. There's a great chance he chooses to test free agency in 2018, where he shall find a new home.
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