Where has this NHL season gone? It seems like it was just yesterday that the first puck dropped on the 2016-17 campaign. Yet here we are, less than a week from the trade deadline. And with so many teams still in the hunt to chase down a playoff berth, how many GMs will have the brass kahunas to ship a strong player out of town, tick off the fan base and essentially throw up the white flag on this season?
Looking at the list of upcoming unrestricted free agents – T.J. Oshie, Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya and Andrei Markov to name a few – there’s certainly some veteran talent that could provide the perfect playoff rental for some team to lock up a Stanley Cup. But there are also some players out there, still under significantly lengthy contracts – Matt Duchesne, Cam Fowler and Rick Nash – that teams could be willing to part with to build for the future.
None of the aforementioned players, however, made this top-15 list.
The following docket of players, whether they’re a part-time rental or part of a playoff team’s future beyond this season, are the top players that could be moved before the March 1 trade deadline. Moreover, these are the top-15 players whose trade could determine the 2017 Stanley Cup winner.
15 THOMAS VANEK – DETROIT RED WINGS
With a reasonable annual cap hit of $2.6 million, the rejuvenated Austrian winger certainly has to be of interest to GM’s looking to bolster their power play unit for the postseason. Vanek has potted 40 percent of his career goals (regular and postseason) while on the man advantage. He’s added five PPG this season in spite of playing for the worst power play team in the NHL.
The Red Wings need a miracle to make it 26 straight visits to the postseason, but the New York Rangers (PP ranks 15th) and Chicago Blackhawks (17th) are going to be playoff-bound – yet how far can they go without a good PP? A player like Vanek could be just the special teams addition needed to put either of them over the top.
Possible Trade Destinations: Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers
14 ALEXANDER RADULOV – MONTREAL CANADIENS
The risky move to sign the former KHL standout has looked to be a smart one for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin. But exactly how long will the honeymoon last in Montreal, especially with the defensive-minded Claude Julien now holding the reins? The smartest move for Bergevin might be to use Radulov as a trading piece – possibly to bring in a player like Slavin (see below) and steal a high draft pick from Carolina in the process.
But the ’Canes aren’t a Cup contender, so where could Radulov land that might mean the difference between winning a Cup and not? Southern California, perhaps? The Ducks rank in the bottom third in goals for, but are still finding ways to win. The Rad Russian might be just the offensive answer the Ducks are looking for to make a run.
Possible Trade Destination: Anaheim Ducks
13 JAROMIR JAGR – FLORIDA PANTHERS
The Bruins made a move to add the ageless wonder during their Stanley Cup run back in 2013. While the B’s fell in six games to the Blackhawks (and Jagr didn’t score a single goal in 22 postseason games), his presence in the locker room and experience on the ice was invaluable.
Jagr loves the warm sunshine and beautiful weather that South Florida has to offer, but the opportunity to spend a few months elsewhere to help a young, inexperienced team find their way in the postseason might be enough to turn them into a viable threat for the Cup. Columbus might be the perfect fit for the 44-year-old soon-to-be UFA, whose $4 million cap hit wouldn’t be a major issue for the Blue Jackets.
Possible Trade Destination: Columbus Blue Jackets
12 JAROME IGINLA – COLORADO AVALANCHE
It would be sad to see Iggy retire without his name on the Stanley Cup. But unless the Avs deal him to a contender, this will likely be it for the veteran sniper. The 39-year-old can still fill the net (he had 30 goals just three years ago in Boston’s defense-first system) and would be a huge asset, like Jagr, inside a young locker room.
The irony of the perfect destination, however, might be a bit much for Flames fans, and the man himself, to swallow. The Edmonton Oilers have one of the best players in the world in Connor McDavid, and while they might realistically still be a few years away from a Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins showed that sometimes all you need to have is a chip and chair. Iginla might just be that chip Edmonton needs to take a seat at the final table.
Possible Trade Destination: Edmonton Oilers
11 ZDENO CHARA – BOSTON BRUINS
At just over 23 minutes per game, the 39-year-old blue liner is logging his fewest minutes since his first year in Ottawa back in 2002. If he was able to cut that to 18 minutes a night, say on a team like the Nashville Predators, he could still be very effective – especially on a defensive team like the Preds.
Nashville ranks in the middle of the pack in goals against, but has one of the top goaltenders in the world in Pekke Rinne. Chara’s near $7 million cap hit this season might be a bit too much to risk, especially with another $4 million on the back end for next season, but a fresh start and a chance at one more Lord Stanley in a wide-open West might make it worth it.
Possible Trade Destination: Nashville Predators
10 JOE THORNTON – SAN JOSE SHARKS
While he isn’t the most well-liked player in the NHL, it was tough not to root for the 2006 Hart Trophy winner to get his first Stanley Cup last June. Thornton is a UFA at the end of the season, but given he’s said he’d like to play as long as Jagr, it isn’t likely the Sharks are going to offer him more than one-year deals at this point.
If that isn’t good enough for Jumbo Joe then he’s going to have to find a playoff team that’s got some room under its cap – nearly $7 million worth. The Ottawa Senators might just be the team to take that on. Thornton could be the key veteran piece for a Sens team that will be playing with lots of emotion given what their goaltender, Craig Anderson, is going through off the ice.
Possible Trade Destination: Ottawa Senators
9 PATRICK SHARP – DALLAS STARS
The Stars are still very much alive in a wide open Western Conference, but their playoff window is closing fast. Sharp could be of interest to a few teams, particularly the Blackhawks in the Western Conference, but a move to the East certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. In particular, the Maple Leafs could benefit from a guy with Sharp’s postseason experience.
His 47 goals and 87 points in 142 career playoff games are impressive, as are his three Stanley Cup rings. The Leafs might not look like a Cup contender on paper, but with a coach like Mike Babcock behind the bench and a superstar in the making like Auston Matthews – an experienced winger like Sharp could make Toronto a legitimate threat to contend through June.
Possible Trade Destination: Toronto Maple Leafs
8 BRIAN BOYLE – TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The towering center would be a huge benefit for any contending squad. The July UFA brings leadership, playoff experience, a rugged frame and a strong face-off resume with him, as well as a very cap-friendly $2 million salary. That leaves plenty of options open for Boyle, who is on pace for one of the best seasons of his career.
While a move back to the New York Rangers isn’t out of the realm of possibility, the Columbus Blue Jackets might be the perfect spot for a player like Boyle. The Jackets could use another big body up the middle and Boyle knows how to play in John Tortorella’s system. He even showed the kind of respect he has for the former Rangers bench boss when he defended his benching by Torts in New York back in 2013.
Possible Trade Destinations: New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets
7 JUSTIN WILLIAMS – WASHINGTON CAPITALS
If the Caps get pushed to a Game 7 this postseason, they’ll wish they didn’t give “Mr. Game 7” up at the deadline. But one of the most clutch playoff performers of all-time is also getting up there in age at 35 years old, making him a viable trading piece for a Caps team that might want to bolster its defense a bit by March 1.
Williams isn’t going to play first- or even second-line minutes for any playoff-bound club at this point in his career. But his clutch play in the postseason might be enticing for a team looking for those ugly, gritty goals needed at that time of year. The Ottawa Senators, who just lost Bobby Ryan for 4-6 weeks, might be just the spot for Williams.
Possible Trade Destination: Ottawa Senators
6 KEVIN SHATTENKIRK – ST. LOUIS BLUES
One of the top right-handed defenseman in the entire league, Shattenkirk is going to make some serious coin in the offseason. But that won’t happen until July. Right now, the Blues need to try and get something for the UFA offensive-minded blue-liner. That likely means Shattenkirk might be a postseason rental for a team that’s going to have to give up a lot for the chance at the Cup.
So, who would be willing? How about the Minnesota Wild? Already one of the top defensive teams in the game, the Wild might be willing to part with a prospect AND a draft pick (or two) to help bolster an already formidable defensive corps. His 20 power-play points wouldn’t hurt the league’s second-best power play, either.
Possible Trade Destination: Minnesota Wild
5 JACCOB SLAVIN – CAROLINA HURRICANES
The Montreal Canadiens have rebounded for the power-play woes that plagued them earlier this season, but that penalty kill – yikes, it’s bad. Currently 23rd in the league, new bench boss Claude Julien will help rectify that, but Montreal still needs some help and Slavin could be just the piece it needs to right the shorthanded ship.
Slavin ranks near the top-10 among all NHL defensemen with more than three minutes of shorthanded ice time per game and he has played seven more minutes on the PK than any other player on the ’Canes. Adding Slavin for $742K and change could fill a huge special teams void for a Habs team that needs some serious help in front of Carey Price, who could single-handedly steal a series or two... or three.
Possible Trade Destination: Montreal Canadiens
4 BEN BISHOP – TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
It’s been a down season for the hulking netminder, but it’s been a down year all-around for Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa is a team that has the framework in place to make a run regardless of seeding, but with Bishop likely to seek top dollar elsewhere this offseason, the Bolts might as well try and get something for him now before he walks.
While rental goalies don’t exactly have a history of working out well, Bishop might be just the piece the St. Louis Blues are looking for. The Blues believe Jake Allen is the future, but with Shattenkirk looking as good as gone this offseason, moving the blue liner to free up space for Bishop, who has the ability to help the team win a Cup this season, might leave the rest of the Western Conference teams singing the blues.
Possible Trade Destination: St Louis Blues
3 GABRIEL LANDESKOG – COLORADO AVALANCHE
It’s been a brutal season for Landeskog and the Avalanche, but a fresh start might be just the shot in the arm the 24-year-old winger needs. But this is where it gets tricky. At $5.6 million per year through 2021, he’s going to need to go to a team with cap space. But who? How about the Boston Bruins?
Sure, it’s going to take a little maneuvering and likely cost the B’s a top draft pick and a player like Frank Vatrano. But the Bruins are playing like a team scorned right now; winning their first four games since their beloved coach was rudely “relieved” of his duties and now standing behind the bench of their most hated rival. If that isn’t motivation to win a Cup, what is? And what player would relish an opportunity to play for a motivated team right now more than Landeskog?
Possible Trade Destination: Boston Bruins
2 PATRICK EAVES – DALLAS STARS
The second Patrick from the Lone Star State to make this list, Eaves is having a career-year with the Stars. But at 32 years old and a history of injury problems, is he the kind of player that Dallas wants to risk another three years on? Not likely.
With 21 goals (11 on the power play) and 37 points, Eaves has already set a career-high in both and will likely eclipse the career-high 18 assists he racked up a decade ago in Ottawa. The Senators might be a viable option for Eaves to make a return, but it’s more likely he goes to a team looking to bolster their bottom six forwards and add another cog to the power play unit. Sounds a lot like a perfect fit for the Washington Capitals, no?
Possible Trade Destination: Washington Capitals
1 RADIM VRBATA – ARIZONA COYOTES
All things considered, this might be one of the best seasons of the Czech’s career. The sniper is on pace for a career year in assists and his 12 goals are more a product of the Coyotes’ abysmal offense (only Colorado is worse) and less about Vrbata’s age (35).
The power forward is going to be a UFA come July 1. But that $1 million price tag in late February might be too good to pass up, especially for a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have draft picks to spare and a plethora of young talent to offer the Coyotes in return. Vrbata would give the Pens another right-handed shot to work their second-line power play and give the team another threat overall on offense. Seems like a no-brainer.
Possible Trade Destination: Pittsburgh Penguins