The NHL is at the start of what might be the most exciting 20-30 days for hockey fans. With a short roster freeze coming up, the NHL Awards, the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, the NHL Entry Draft and then free agency all falling on or before July 1st, there will be 31 very busy general managers trying to navigate the waters.
Moreso this year than potentially any year in the past, there is bound to be a variety of activity when it comes to player moves and trades. The league salary cap is not expected to increase much (if at all) and as such, a handful of teams will need to offload salary. The newest team — the Vegas Golden Knights — have thrown almost everyone for a bit of a loop and teams are scrambling trying to figure out how best to keep their team together.
Some managers will make hasty decisions. Others will make sound ones. Below is a list of 15 players most expect to change teams over the next couple weeks. Eight of these trades make sense and seven will wind up being mistakes.
15 Trade Should Happen: James Neal Out of Nashville
The Nashville Predators are in a both strong position and an unenviable one. Because they are so deep on the blue line, it looks as though they'll be electing to protect four defensemen in the upcoming 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. That will leave a very valued forward exposed. That forward could be the talented scorer and veteran left-winger James Neal.
So, instead of losing a legitimate scorer for nothing, the Predators are either going to try and convince the Vegas Golden Knights (the newest NHL club) to lay off Neal by bribing them with another piece, or Vegas will try and trade Neal to Vegas for something of value. The NHL Trade Freeze came and went and Nashville didn't make any moves. They are running out of time.
14 Trade Shouldn't Happen: Matt Duchene Leaves Colorado
Matt Duchene and the Colorado Avalanche are pretty much done with each other and while there hasn't been a lot of noise so far this summer, it's only a matter of time before someone acquires the gifted center. That the Avalanche are dead-set on a trading another valuable piece of the organization just shows how badly Joe Sakic is running this organization. There are rumors Colorado is looking to move Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie as well. It makes you wonder what they're thinking over there.
The New York Islanders seem to be frontrunners for Duchene, but there are at least six or seven teams keenly interested. It goes to show that many teams (not named the Avs) seem to understand how valuable Duchene could be. He's not a small cap hit either and with this many teams wanting in, he stands to make an impact wherever he winds up.
13 Trade Should Happen: Dion Phaneuf Leaves Ottawa
There were strong rumors that the Ottawa Senators were going to try and move Dion Phaneuf before the trade freeze on Saturday. He was asked to provide a list of 12 teams for which he'd be willing to accept a move and he did. That list included the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Unfortunately for the Senators, the trade freeze came and went and Phaneuf didn't go.
Now, the Senators are likely going to lose Marc Methot from their blue line and it's not ideal. Phaneuf was a much more expensive option, getting older and wasn't going to be a huge loss for the Sens. The Senators could still make a move with the Golden Knights but it's less likely now that the Senators are forced to protect Phaneuf in the draft. Perhaps there is a deal in place between the two teams that will be announced as the expansion draft takes place.
12 Trade Shouldn't Happen: Jordan Eberle Leaves Edmonton
Jordan Eberle had a poor season by his typical standards in 2016-17. Still, his poor season was over 50 points and 20 goals. That's pretty good offense. The trouble is, Eberle makes $6 million per season and the Edmonton Oilers are going to have to spend money on some very talented forwards in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Eberle's lackluster season and his high price tag have pretty much everyone moving him out of town.
This might be a mistake by the Oilers. They don't have much depth at right wing and should they trade Eberle, have no one on the roster who can replace his production. Edmonton also isn't needing to move Eberle now. They have until next summer before the real issues with the salary cap come up and it is very likely Eberle rebounds and has a 60-70 point season.
11 Trade Should Happen: Sami Vatanen Leaves Anaheim
Sami Vatanen didn't make the trade should happen list because Vatanen is a poor player. To the contrary, this one made the list because Anaheim sees the potential in getting real value for this player and because they risk losing a good defenseman for nothing at the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, are being proactive and getting the best possible return now.
Teams are lining up to acquire Sami Vatanen and the Ducks are going to make out like bandits. Because Anaheim has a deep blue line core, this will hurt, but after the draft comes and goes, they can always try to acquire another defender and they'll have added a very nice scorer to can help make an impact right away. This is the Ducks turning a not-so-great situation into a good one.
10 Trade Shouldn't Happen: Derek Stepan Leaves New York
The New York Rangers never cease to surprise. Word has leaked that the team in looking to get out from under Derek Stepan's sizeable contract and are willing to trade him for a defenseman that can immediately help the team. The kicker here is that Stepan is a strong player. New York is known more for moving huge junk contracts.
Derek Stepan is the kind of player who can be a first-line center on a mediocre to a poor team and a very good second-line center on a good team. If someone is willing to take on his salary, they will have a very strong forward who can produce 50-plus points regularly. He makes a lot of money, but not so much that he's an albatross of a contract. Unless the Rangers get what they're asking for, this could wind up being a mistake.
9 Trade Should Happen: Jonas Brodin Leaves Minnesota
Like the situation Nashville faces with James Neal, the Minnesota Wild are looking at losing a very decent defenseman in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and their preference would be to trade the asset rather than give it away for nothing. There was real buzz that Jonas Brodin was going to be moved prior the trade freeze but that didn't materialize and now the Wild have to get creative.
Can they convince the Golden Knights to take another asset and leave Brodin alone? If I'm the Golden Knights, I don't do that unless what Minnesota is offering is quite tempting. Brodin is likely to get traded elsewhere or, the alternative is that a team like the Montreal Canadiens swoop in and get Marco Scandella. This could be one of those deals with many moving parts and one involving the Golden Knights.
8 Trade Shouldn't Happen: Mike Smith Leaves Arizona
As I write this, the Arizona Coyotes have already traded Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames. It's understandable from a Flames perspective as to why they'd want a bonafide NHL starting goaltender (their team has needed a goalie for a while), but that Arizona would so willingly move Smith seems odd.
The Coyotes received the rights to goalie Chad Johnson, defenseman Brandon Hickey and a 2018 third-round draft pick that becomes a second-rounder if the Flames make the playoffs. Basically, Arizona picked up a bunch of pieces that may not be with the organization over the next year or two.
Smith has been the team's No. 1 goalie since he joined the organization in 2011 and while his results ever since have been uneven at times, he was arguably the team's best player despite a 19-26-9 record with a 2.92 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
7 Trade Should Happen: Marcus Kruger Leaves Chicago
This trade makes all sorts of sense for the Chicago Blackhawks and it sounds like the Hawks have a deal in place with the Golden Knights to move Marcus Kruger along with Trevor van Riemsdyk in return for something that will be announced at the NHL Awards and during the announcement of the Golden Knights new roster.
Kruger is an overpaid depth forward on a Chicago team that is extremely tight against the cap. Since the Blackhawks needed to move out money, taking advantage of the Golden Kights desire to grab van Riemsdyk was smart as they offloaded a bad contract in the process. Chicago still has a lot of work to do to make their team cap strong, but moving Kruger is a good start.
6 Trade Shouldn't Happen: Nathan MacKinnon Leaves Colorado
It came up earlier that the Colorado Avalanche were running a firesale for no real reason, but if the rumors that the Avs are looking to trade Natha MacKinnon are true, any fan of the Avs should seriously think about switching allegiances. MacKinnon is Colorado's future star and it would be absolute insanity to move him before he's really come out of his shell and become a superstar in the NHL.
There are many suggesting that Montreal might be in this move, using Alex Galchenyuk as part of a larger package. If it's even remotely accurate, Montreal will have to give up some very strong assets, but would immediately have a threat on offense with Drouin and McKinnon as their one-two punch. Not even Colorado is crazy enough to make this trade are they?
5 Trade Should Happen: Marc-Andre Fleury Leaves Pittsburgh
The defending Stanley Cup Champions won the trophy in 2017 thanks to their leader Sidney Crosby, a top sniper in Evgeni Malkin and a goaltending duo of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was always rumored as the backup and as such was likely leaving Pittsburgh. That became official when he waived his no-move clause prior to the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
The Penguins will be better served to use a less expensive tandem and if Fleury isn't simply exposed, could get the Pens a return from the Golden Knights in some sort of three-team trade. Regardless of how he's moved, Fleury is going somewhere else and it's good for him to do so. He's won a ton, he wants to be a starter and he'll now get that chance.
4 Trade Shouldn't Happen: Tyson Barrie Leaves Colorado
The Colorado Avalanche are a running theme on this list. In a way, it's understandable that a team that fared so poorly in 2016-17 would want to make changes, but that the Avs are looking at moving out all their top players is not the way to go. Joe Sakic has been linked as the Avs GM to moving players like Nathan McKinnon, Matt Duchene and now Tyson Barrie.
Barrie is one of the Avs best offensive weapons from the blue line. Coming off a fresh contract extension, he underperformed with only 38 points in 74 games, but he's capable of much more. What's glaring is his plus/minus - 34 and that could mean few teams give up good value to obtain him. It's not smart asset management to move a guy who could contribute, but also to move a guy for no real return.
3 Trade Should Happen: Ilya Kovalchuk Leaves New Jersey
This trade all hinges on the New Jersey Devils working out an agreement with Ilya Kovalchuk on a move to another team upon his return to the NHL. This deal can't happen until July 1st, but it's looking like a handful of teams want to make a deal for the dynamic scorer, he wants to return to the NHL and New Jersey could badly use the assets they get as any part of that deal.
With so many teams potentially interested in Kovalchuk's services and the Devils having the first overall pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, making it work between Kovalchuk, the Devils and another team have real benefits for the organization. Should they not work things out after this season, Kovalchuk will be older, the Devils won't have as much leverage and the Russian winger's odd of staying in Russia go way up.
2 Trade Shouldn't Happen: Alex Galchenyuk Leaves Montreal
This trade has been a long time coming. Dating all the way back to last summer, it appears as though Galchenyuk — even though he's a productive forward — has soured with the organization. There were rumors he'd have been traded already, but with the Canadiens wheeling and dealing leading all the way up to the trade freeze and working on improving in a few areas, Galchenkyuk seems to be the guy inevitably on the way out.
This move could be a huge mistake on the part of the Montreal Canadiens who badly need scoring help. For some re, son the organization can't seem to figure out where Galchenyuk best fits with the team and if he could solidify a spot as either a center or winger, he could be a very productive player. That Montreal just acquired Jonathan Drouin and the team may not put these two players together seems an odd choice.
1 Trade Should Happen: Evander Kane Leaves Buffalo
Evander Kane is the forward that never seems to leave discussions when it comes to trading players. If it stays that way, the Buffalo Sabres are simply best to move on from him, let another team deal with a potential headache and try to get the best possible return for him now.
After all, Kane did have a relatively good season in Buffalo in 2016-17 and this would be the time to trade him if you have no desire to keep him. Can Buffalo convince other teams that the off-ice issues with Kane are overblown? Would another team be willing to take a chance that in a new location he'd not be nearly as big a problem? If that team can get a Kane who understands future opportunities are limited if his off-ice personality continues to play a factor, he could wise up and learn his lesson. That could be a very valuable player.