Going into the final year of a steal of a contract that has John Tavares making only $5.5 million per year, and on a team that's back on the decline, it may be time for the Islanders to move their franchise center in the hopes of helping them rebuild. With practically no one around him in his tenure, Tavares has 537 points in 587 games, scoring no less than 24 goals per season since entering the league. Still 26, the former first overall pick can elevate any team that he is traded to.
The Islanders would need quite a few pieces coming back in order to justify trading away Tavares. In all these trades, we'll assume that, in terms of picks, at least one first round pick comes the other way. Player wise, the Islanders don't need a goalie prospect since they have Ilya Sorokin, lauded as one of, if not the, top goalie prospect in the league. They have good forward prospects as well, mainly: Matthew Barzal, Ryan Strome, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, and Anthony Beauvillier. On defense is where they can probably use more insurance, with only Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews as their up and coming defensemen.
Tavares seems very loyal to the organization and the Islanders' primary hope would be to sign him longterm, but Tavares also wants to win. If the Islanders don't have him signed to an extension, they may have to consider offers for him. In order to get Tavares, apart from a first round pick, a team should be able to give three to four young players, made up of at least a potential top 2 defenseman and/or proven young forward.
15 Could: Calgary Flames
The Flames did a great job in rebuilding and locking in their core for good salaries and good term, and could shoot to the top with Tavares at center. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Dougie Hamilton are all 23 or under, and locked up until at least 2022-2023 while accounting for only about $19 million per year. T.J. Brodie, 27, is also worth noting, locked up until 2020-2021 at $4.65 million per year. Yes, they need a goalie but even when accounting for the cap space allocated to a good goalie, a move for Tavares would still be affordable.
Blue chip players like Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett would make the brunt of this offer, as well as other prospects like Hunter Shinkaruk, Oliver Kylington, and Rasmus Andersson. Their draft picks likely won't be needed as urgently anymore either since their core is extremely young.
14 Won't/Can't: Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks are going to have to rely on key efforts by their younger players if they hope to make a successful cup run again since that's all they can afford as depth right now. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane's contracts, as well as Artemi Panarin, Corey Crawford, and Duncan Keith being on almost $6 million per year contracts each, shouldn't seem too bad for price distribution in terms of contracts for their core. But an aging Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook signed for several more years at a combined cap hit of just over $12 million per year is a problem.
These contracts are essentially unmovable for a good return. The Hawks are one of the older teams in terms of age as well, so holding onto some youth would be wise. Their core is set, but the need to keep prospects as well as some bad contracts mean Tavares is staying far from the windy city.
13 Could: Minnesota Wild
The Wild are in a near perfect situation right now in terms of their roster potential and upcoming contracts, so they have a bit of flexibility to bring in someone like Tavares. Contracts belonging to Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu would be ending (combined cap hit of $12.35 million per year) just in time. Key players like Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk are also signed to relatively cheap contracts considering what they bring to the table. This extra cap space would be used not only to resign Tavares but also for a extensions to some of their younger players.
The Wild have two quality defensemen they could move with Dumba (22) and Brodin (23), as well as prospect Mike Reilly (23). Add to that their good forwards, all 25 and under like Nino Neiderreiter, Charlie Coyle, or Mikael Granlund, or prospect Joel Eriksson Ek, and both teams would do well in this trade. Their lack of a first round pick this year can be made up by proven NHLers going the other way.
12 Won't/Can't: Los Angeles Kings
Time seems to have finally caught up to the once dominant franchise. After three season of extended playoffs for the Kings, the three years since have looked like nothing but a decline for them. Their prospect pool has all but dried up, thanks to some bad trades, bust draft picks, and drafting towards the end of the first round (on the rare occasion they even had a first round pick) for so many years. The Kings' core players are signed to good contracts money wise, even with Anze Kopitar's $10 million dollar per year contract, so there shouldn't be many problems for cap space. But the contracts of Dustin Brown and Marion Gaborik at over $10 million of combined cap hit leaves little cap flexibility for the next few years. So even if they had the prospects to offer, cap space would be an issue.
11 Could: St. Louis Blues
The Blues prospects at center may not have the time to develop to fill the number one center role the Blues need to compete with in the upcoming seasons. With Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz, and Jake Allen already in or getting into their prime years, the Blues would be wise to strike for an elite center that could elevate their young Russian sniper even more.
A huge key to this trade isn't their prospects or their core being signed to good contracts, but rather how Paul Stastny's $7 million dollar per year contract would expire in time to re-sign Tavares. A plethora of good young players and prospects could go the other way in this trade, from NHL ready Colton Parayko and Robby Fabbri, to the forward prospects like Ivan Barbashev, Tage Thompson, and defense prospects like Jordan Schmaltz, and Vince Dunn.
10 Won't/Can't: Anaheim Ducks
Though the Ducks have an abundance of good, young defensemen in their organization that they could use as bargaining chips to land the franchise center, their big three forwards have contracts preventing them to do so. Already playing in the NHL are Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and even Simon Despres. While Brandon Montour, Shea Theodore, and Josh Manson are still waiting for a full time gig. These players can be dealt easily, but in order to afford Tavares now and when he needs to be re-signed, one of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, or Corey Perry would have to be moved. Unfortunately, they all have the ever present no move clause in their contracts. That would mean that almost half the cap space would go to those three players, plus Tavares, a highly improbable situation.
9 Could: Nashville Predators
Having just barely missed a Stanley Cup victory by two wins, the Preds would take a giant leap forward by getting Tavares. With a bonafied one-two punch in Ryan Johansen and Tavares, the opposition would be backed into their own zone for half the game. The Preds could use one of their top four defensemen, all on masterful contracts, as a main piece in the trade. With the need to re-sign Viktor Arvidsson, he could be part of the trade as well since the team already has the younger Filip Forsberg as a trigger man at the wing.
Prospects like Kevin Fiala, Dante Fabbro, and Pontus Aberg could also be thrown in the mix. This trade would also mean James Neal would be leaving the team in free agency in 2018-2019, if not gone to Vegas by then.
8 Won't/Can't: Red Wings
The Red Wings are in quite the decline and not just because of the loss of Pavel Datsyuk to the KHL and the presence of Father Time with Henrik Zetterberg. Some pretty ugly contracts are on, like Frans Nielsen (signed until he's 38) and Justin Abdelkader (signed until he's 35) combining for a cap hit of 9.5 million per year. Underwhelming, but once promising, players like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and Danny DeKeyser, as well as the regression of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson just add holes up and down this roster.
To add to the bad contracts and lackluster players is the fact that the Wings really only have three promising young players in the NHL with Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Petr Mrazek, and only two soon to be ready prospects with Xavier Ouellet and Andreas Athanasiou. A pyrrhic victory at best for the Red Wings if they'd blow up the roster to land Tavares.
7 Could: Philadelphia Flyers
A Tavares trade to the Flyers would undoubtedly bring with it one of the most stacked top 6 forward lines in recent history. With their core forwards Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek all signed long term, as well as Shayne Gostisbehere signed until he's 30, the main piece from the Flyers that would be going to the Islanders would be Brayden Schenn. With him would come some of Philly's defensive prospects like Ivan Provorov, Philippe Myers, Travis Sanheim, or Samuel Morin, as well as forward Travis Konecny. Valtteri Filppula's 5 million dollar per year contract expiring in 2018-19 would also help alleviate some cap space, but rookie goalies playing on cheap contracts would be the main reason this trade would work.
6 Won't/Can't: Boston Bruins
In the same boat as the Ducks here as a team that has a solid group of defensive prospects but are handcuffed by big contracts with no move clauses. The Bruins also have the unfortunate task of signing a 70 point 21-year-old David Pastrnak to a healthy extension. Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Joe Morrow, and Jakub Zboril are lining up to take over and bring glory back to a once dominant Boston defensive core. This trade would mean that David Krejci (31) would definitely need to be moved, since he's making a staggering $7.25 million per year until 2021-22.
Unfortunately, his no move clause would make it almost impossible to trade him, which means that the Bruins wouldn't be able to afford Tavares' contract. David Backes making 6 million per year until 2021-22 as well doesn't help.
5 Could: Carolina Hurricanes
A prime example of how a rebuilding team drafts properly. The Hurricanes are filled with good players 25 and under, and still have more prospects on the way. Their NHL roster is already flooded with young talent like forwards Justin Skinner, Teuvo Terevainen, Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, and Victor Rask, and defensemen Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy. Add to those potential trade pieces prospects like Haydn Fleur, Nic Roy, Jake Bean, and Julien Gauthier, the 'Canes would be a team stacked to the brim for years to come if it weren't for the salary cap.
Hopefully they can make a splash and share the rewards of good drafting with a team that sorely needs it by going after Tavares to really cement their team as a contender for the foreseeable future.
4 Won't/Can't: Tampa Bay Lightning
After a dud of a season for the Lightning, mainly due to injuries, it looks like the talented but still young team should bounce back and be dominant for years to come. A great core of Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, and Viktor Hedman, along with newcomers Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy have the Lightning looking like they're all set. A trade for Tavares is the furthest thing from their mind. All but Hedman and Stamkos are in need of long term contracts in the upcoming years. Also, with all the young players graduating to the NHL, it's only normal that their prospect pool shrunk.
Most importantly, the Lightning most don't need another talented forward. Their main need right now is on defense since it's a huge talent drop from Hedman and Anton Stralman, and their best prospect is the recently acquired Mikhail Sergachev who is still only 18.
3 Could: Arizona Coyotes
Acquiring Tavares would significantly boost the Coyotes' rebuilding speed even at the cost of several rebuilding pieces. He and Max Domi would form quite the duo in the desert that would surely carry their offense on most nights in a way that Arizona has never seen. The Islanders pulling this trade off without asking for Oliver Ekman-Larsson in return seems impossible, but the Coyotes have enough rookies and prospects they can cover any holes they may dig themselves with this trade, especially with Jacob Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo already ready for the NHL to replace OEL. Their best prospects are at center as well, so in getting Tavares they can spare one, or more, like Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller, and Christian Dvorak.
2 2. Won't/Can't: Dallas Stars
Though the Stars have the prospects they can give up, and have the cap space freeing up soon to be able to afford another franchise player, the team the Stars would ice just wouldn't be up to scratch. Jason Spezza, Antti Niemi, and Kari Lehtonen's expiring contracts within these next few years would free up $17.9 million per year in cap space, and even in resigning Tyler Seguin, the Stars would still have cap space to trade for and re-sign Tavares. So a top line of Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Tavares is possible, but not probable.
Their defense would be depleted in trading for Tavares. John Klingberg, Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell, and Julius Honka could sway the Islanders in a trade, but that would leave hardly any talent playing for them on defense. It would also mean $30 million per year in three players, a difficult task to manage that much cap allocation in so few players.
1 Could: Winnipeg Jets
By far the best prospect pool in the NHL belongs to the Jets, regardless of having top tier players aged 24 and under like Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, and Jacob Trouba in their lineup. Though the Jets would be hard pressed to give up Trouba in this deal, they would still have a relatively young Tyler Myers and a still effective Dustin Byfuglien, as well as Joshua Morrissey nearing the NHL. Kyle Connor and Nic Petan are players the Jets won't likely need, since Scheifele and Tavares would own the Jets' top two lines.
This trade would also see the Islanders with two options: continuing to shore up youth by taking someone like Ehlers, or go the veteran route to help out their own prospects by taking Blake Wheeler. Either way, it would be a win-win for both teams.