It’s January, and we’re fast approaching the point in the season in which teams make the tough decision: are they going to be buyers at the deadline, or are they sellers?
While nearly every GM in the league will state publicly that they’re still in it and believe the playoffs are realistic (Arizona notwithstanding), it’s safe to say that clubs are already shopping players who are nearing the end of their terms and have value across the league.
Over the next six months or so we’ll likely see a couple dozen trades throughout the league, with the bulk of them coming around the trade deadline (Feb. 26) or at the draft table (June 22-23). At the deadline, we can expect to see teams on the outside looking in sending away rentals, whereas at the draft tables you’ll see the more random, unpredictable deals take place.
For today’s list I took a peek at the 15 (impactful) NHL players who will likely find themselves in a new NHL city come the summer time. I will also predict where they might end up, but let’s be honest—if I nail more than one of these 15, it’ll be because of pure luck. Nonetheless, it’s fun to prognosticate!
Here are the 15 NHL players who will have a new home in a matter of months:
15 Evander Kane - Nashville Predators
The Sabres’ Evander Kane will be one hot commodity come the trade deadline this season. The talented winger is on an expiring contract, and nearly every team bound for the postseason will have some interest in Kane (okay, maybe not Vegas, as Kane has a bit of a history with that city). With Buffalo in very familiar territory again in 2017-18 (dead last in the East), they’re one of the few teams we can say will for sure be sellers at the deadline.
Kane has his flaws, but most of them thus far in his career have been based in his character rather than his play. Not that his on-ice performance is infallible, but the major concerns with Kane have to do with his maturity level (what’s with the name Kane, the city of Buffalo, and immaturity?). Nonetheless, teams will lineup because he poses a low risk thanks to his expiring deal. I say he ends up in Nashville. The Preds will want all the scoring depth they can get after ending last year's magical playoff run with two shutout losses.
14 Patrick Maroon - Pittsburgh Penguins
Things are not going well in Edmonton this season, which is the polar opposite of how things went down in E-Town last year. Patrick Maroon has been a revelation for the Oilers since arriving late in 2016, but that said he’s pacing for less than 20 goals this year after a career-high 27 goal campaign last season. Assuming Edmonton doesn’t make a run down the stretch here, Maroon will be dealt at the deadline.
There will be no shortage of teams interested in Maroon (although not as much as Kane). Depth at all positions is what teams look for in the playoffs, and Maroon is a great third line option that can slide up the lineup should injuries strike. Couple that with his modest $1.5M cap hit, and it’s safe to say that GM Peter Chiarelli will have some options on where to send Maroon at the end of February. I say he ends up in Pittsburgh as they desperately battle for a wild card slot. Besides, when have the Penguins not made a move for an impactful winger?
13 Erik Gudbranson - St. Louis Blues
Of all the players who appear on this list, Erik Gudbranson is probably the least effective. That said, he plays a position that comes highly coveted at the trade deadline, as injuries on defense can cost you your season if they happen in April. I recall the Penguins sending two 2nd-round draft picks to San Jose at the 2013 deadline for Douglas Murray, so don’t laugh when I say Gudbranson has value.
The one question that remains is this: who will take on Gudbranson? Well, the stay-at-home defenseman is on an expiring deal, so it’s really anyone’s guess. My hunch says St. Louis, but almost every NHL team is in need of useful right-shot defensemen so it really is just a hunch. I imagine he fetches a 2nd-rounder for the Canucks as well, which would be good return for Jim Benning and company (despite the price he paid for Gudbranson just a few years ago).
12 Rick Nash - Anaheim Ducks
Rick Nash is on an expiring contract and will most certainly be taking a substantial pay cut on his next deal, whether that be in New York or elsewhere. The Rangers have a big decision to make in the next month though: are they going to hang onto Nash for the playoff run, or will they ship him out at the deadline to avoid losing the sniper for nothing?
It’s no secret that Nash is happy in New York and the Rangers are happy with him (despite the fact he’s crippled their salary cap for years now). Perhaps the two sides come together on a hometown discount deal, but I’d say there’s an equally likely chance he’s dealt at the deadline for future assets. If Patrick Eaves doesn’t return soon, I could see the Ducks chasing Nash. The Ducks have been on the bubble for a playoff spot and will be looking for extra help.
11 Paul Stastny - New Jersey Devils
Okay, I’ll be honest here, it’s much more likely that Paul Stastny hits the UFA market or is traded in June, than it is he’s traded by the Blues at the deadline. He’s on an expiring contract, and it’s unlikely the Blues can’t afford to retain his services. On top of all that, he’s no longer the same player he once was, so he should expect a pay cut on his $7M cap hit.
If this trade does go down at some point, you can bet it will be at the draft table for peanuts, as a team may jump the gun to acquire negotiating rights to the player. However, the Blues did trade defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline last season, despite being a playoff team, so there is precedence for St. Louis to cut their losses on Stastny and miss out on his strong two-way play in the postseason. I say he ends up in New Jersey, who are surprisingly playoff-bound and could use a solid veteran for the run.
10 Tomas Plekanec - Pittsburgh Penguins
For the longest time, Tomas Plekanec has been a very under-appreciated player in Montreal. The team signing him to extensions prematurely and giving him bad contracts have caused Habs fans to sour on him, but with an expiring contract and the Habs seemingly in a lost season, there are plenty of playoff teams who would want Plekanec. Yes, his offensive touch has disappeared over the past few seasons, as evidenced by his point totals, but he's still a solid shutdown centre who can easily slot into another team's third or fourth line.
With the Penguins on the bubble for a playoff spot, and having lost Bonino and Cullen this past offseason, they could slot Plekanec into their bottom six. Plekanec doesn't have to worry about scoring behind Crosby and Malkin and should be able to provide the stability the Penguins need on their bottom six. The Habs could probably sweeten the deal by offering to retain the rest of Plekanec's cap hit, as they have $8 million in cap space in a lost season. That should net them a better return for the veteran centre.
9 Erik Karlsson - Toronto Maple Leafs
Okay, okay, I realize that it’s highly unlikely this happens this season, as Erik Karlsson (you know, the best defenseman in the NHL) still has another year left at this deal at the bargain price of $6.5M per season. However, the package Karlsson would fetch at this trade deadline would be even larger than what he’d fetch at next season’s deadline, and that one would be a king’s ransom on its own. Whoever gets Karlsson now has him locked in for two potential playoff runs.
If you’re of the mind that Ottawa is miles and miles away from contending (I certainly am), then doesn’t it make sense for the long-term health of the club to deal him now? It’s no secret that owner Eugene Melnyk is a cheapskate who is constantly sewering his own brand, so it’s doubtful he ponies up to sign Karlsson to market value. I say the Sens deal the Swede at the draft to… Toronto? *ducks for cover*. They have plenty of pieces to offer Ottawa and their biggest need for years has been a no.1 defenceman.
8 David Perron - St. Louis Blues
The Vegas Golden Knights are the best story going right now in hockey. Expansion teams never do well in their inaugural seasons, and historically speaking a 30-win season would have been solid for the Knights. We're halfway through the season and the Golden Knights sit atop the Pacific Division. Truly remarkable.
They’ve had players play above expected levels almost throughout their lineup, and one of those over-performing right now is David Perron. I’m interested to see how GM George McPhee handles the deadline; will he go for it in his club’s inaugural year, or will he stay the course and build assets? If he opts for the latter, Perron could find himself elsewhere at the deadline. Perhaps St. Louis would welcome him back to the fold. They've done better than expected this year and have to be feeling desperate to make a deeper run.
7 James Van Riemsdyk - Calgary Flames
Are the Toronto Maple Leafs true contenders? I would venture to say that they’re a few years short of that status just yet, but I don’t know what goes on inside the heads of Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan. If they’re with me and feel like they have a few years yet, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see James Van Riemsdyk dealt at the deadline.
The problem with Canadian hockey markets, though, is that that’s a hard sell to a fan base that is starved for playoff success (they haven’t won a series since ’04). How do you tell Leafs fans that you’re trading away one of the club’s best wingers before the playoffs? In any case, if this does happen, I could see the Flames adding JVR for the stretch drive. This could be a straight up hockey deal, rather than the Leafs merely selling JVR off for future assets.
6 Dougie Hamilton - Toronto Maple Leafs
The Calgary Flames have struggled a bit as of late, and anytime that happens (especially in a Canadian market), rumors swirl. The latest rumors have revolved around stud defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and if the Flames don’t pull it together soon I could see them sending him away at the deadline, or at the draft. The Flames are stacked on the back end, and need secondary scoring in a bad way.
The only question is, where does he go? If Toronto were willing to throw in a pick, I could see the two sides coming together on a JVR/Hamilton swap, assuming Calgary is keen to re-sign JVR (and why wouldn’t they be?). This is another deal that may be tough to sell in a Canadian market, but if both sides are dealing from positions of strength to address weaknesses, so why not?
5 Alex Galchenyuk - Washington Capitals
When listing off the teams that have disappointed their fan bases the most this season, Montreal is definitely a squad that comes to mind. GM Marc Bergevin has spent the past few seasons dismantling a promising defense corps and doesn't have a lot to show for it. As a result the Habs are floundering near the NHL’s cellar with rumors that pretty much everyone is available.
One name you’ve often heard in the rumor mill (dating back to last season, really) is Alex Galchenyuk. The enigmatic winger has been streaky thus far in his young career, but there’s no question that there’s a player somewhere in there. The Capitals wouldn't be putting any pressure on Galchenyuk to be a no.1 centre and he'd finally have a great centre feeding him the puck, whether he's placed on a line with Backstrom or Kuznetsov.
4 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens have long needed help down the middle. They acquired Jonathan Drouin in the summer to potentially be their no.1 centre, but Drouin has struggled, and Habs GM Marc Bergevin himself admitted in a recent press conference that Drouin would probably be better off on the wing. With the Oilers expected to shake things up again, Montreal seems like a good trading partner for Nuge.
The one reason I think it may not happen is because Chiarelli has not been known to trade players when their values are high, and RNH’s value is higher now than it ever has been (aside from maybe in his rookie season). If Nuge was having a bad season, I’d bet this trade would have already happened, but Oilers fans are happy to hang onto Nuge for now. If he goes somewhere, let's bet on Montreal.
3 Thomas Vanek - Los Angeles Kings
Of all players on this list, Thomas Vanek is the one who I’d almost guarantee will have a new home by the end of February. By signing the veteran sniper to a one-year deal in the offseason, the rebuilding Canucks have intended to trade him at the deadline ever since, (barring a miracle run to the postseason—and I think the ship has sailed on that one).
There will be no shortage of suitors for Vanek, who is no doubt well over the hill yet is still capable of providing solid depth scoring and even playing on a second power play unit. The return for Vancouver depends greatly on how Vanek performs over the next month or so, but I’d guess he fetches at least a 2nd-round pick. I say he ends up in Los Angeles, a team seemingly always in need of scoring help. The Kings have had trouble with scoring for years, and Vanek can be the band-aid solution to get them through this season.
2 Mike Hoffman - Edmonton Oilers
If you haven’t heard the Mike Hoffman rumors, you haven’t been listening. He’s a hot commodity these days as he’s on a reasonable contract and GM Pierre Dorion seems keen to send him out the door (for reasons unexplained). All this after just bringing in Matt Duchene, so yes, it’s really tough to say where the Senators are headed as a franchise these days and what exactly Dorion's master plan is.
Nonetheless, Hoffman may survive the trade deadline, as players with term left often fetch more at the draft table, and Hoffman’s got two years remaining. So it is likely that any Hoffman trade will involve several players/assets. I could see Hoffman as an Oiler, since the club is in desperate need of some wingers to play with all of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
1 Max Pacioretty - Edmonton Oilers
God only know why Max Pacioretty’s production has lagged so greatly in 2017-18 from previous seasons. After four straight seasons of 30+ goals and 60+ points, the winger is pacing for about 20 goals and 45 points. Some blame the lack of capable support staff, but let’s be honest: has he ever really had that in Montreal? He’s also shooting at just 6.1%, which is down from his career average of 11%.
In any case, Patches has one year left at an incredibly friendly $4.5M cap hit. If we’re to believe the rumors and he is indeed available, teams should be clamoring to get Pacioretty. If Marc Bergevin trades him now, he’d be selling off his asset at an all-time low value (the Peter Chiarelli special, I call it). Max could end up literally anywhere, but I’m going to call a blockbuster involving Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton.