The offseason always provides exciting trade news for NHL fans, and this year it could be extra-busy thanks to the pending expansion draft. Each team is going to lose a player for nothing to Las Vegas (well, technically for a hefty expansion fee, but you get what I mean), so some teams are scrambling to shed themselves of assets they can’t protect yet feel are too valuable to give away for free.
Sometimes trades come out of nowhere, but other times you can see them coming from miles away. I can recall one fateful day in late June 2016. Within an hour of each other, two of the biggest offseason blockbusters occurred: Taylor Hall was dealt to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson, and Shea Weber was acquired by the Canadiens for P.K. Subban.
Subban’s name had popped up in trade rumors prior to that trade, so you could sort of see that coming (although not a lot of people saw Weber being the piece going the other way). The Hall trade came out of nowhere, as neither of those names had showed up in any legitimate trade rumors prior. It goes to show you that expecting the unexpected is usually the way to go in the offseason.
Today’s list highlights 15 players who are most likely to be dealt this summer. Now, there are no guarantees here, but it’s safe to say that these players are, at the very least, available. Enjoy:
15 Alexei Emelin
A few years ago Alexei Emelin was almost untouchable in Montreal. He made the move to North America from Russia in 2011, and quickly established himself as a key member in Montreal’s top-four. His play has taken a minor step back since then, and it’s entirely possible that the Canadiens deal him this June before he loses all value.
The Habs have a wealth of NHL defensemen in the system now, as they beefed up at the deadline by adding Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson. They’ll almost surely be losing a defenseman at the expansion draft because of this, and perhaps they’d rather get an asset for Emelin rather than to see him get plucked for nothing. Either way, I’d say the likelihood of Emelin remaining a Hab in 2017-18 is low.
14 Michael Neuvirth
Teams can of course protect just one netminder ahead of this June’s expansion draft, so I expect a lot of goalies to be on the move prior to June 17. It’s entirely possible that the Flyers choose to re-sign Steve Mason and trade what’s left of Michael Neuvirth’s contract, as Mason likely has a higher ceiling (though their ages and performances are both close to date).
It is possible that the Golden Knights themselves actually trade for a goaltender, as it is unlikely they will find a quality starter in the expansion draft. I’m not making the outlandish prediction that it will be Neuvirth heading to the desert to join Reid Duke as a member of the Golden Knights in Vegas, but I’m not not saying that, either.
13 Marco Scandella
The Minnesota Wild have one of the deeper rosters in the NHL, and as such they are likely to leave some of the better players available to Vegas. With a wealth of young forwards and at least five quality NHL defensemen, it could be tough times for Minnesota come June. They’ll likely choose to protect seven forwards and three defensemen (as opposed to any eight skaters), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to deal a D-man before the draft.
Marco Scandella could be the odd man out. They’ll only be able to protect two more defensemen in addition to Ryan Suter, whose contract has a full no-move clause built into it. That leaves two of Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba exposed. If they could get assets back for Scandella that don’t require protection, I don’t doubt they’d pull the trigger.
12 Jaroslav Halak
Another goaltender finds his way onto our list, and that’s of course the Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak. Halak is having arguably his worst NHL season to date, and he’s even spent substantial time in the AHL this year (where his numbers are actually very good, for the record). The relationship between goalie and team has turned sour, and both sides are looking for a fresh start.
Now, it might be tough to find a taker for Halak, who has one year remaining on his contract that pays him a hair over $3.5 million/year. That’s one perspective; from another you can see a goalie with a fairly long history of solid play in the NHL and only one year left on his deal. From that viewpoint, it’s entirely plausible that the Isles find a taker for Halak, so I guess we’ll wait and see.
11 Ryan Murray
Add Columbus to the list of teams who are starting to have some expansion concerns. With an ugly list of contracts that come with NMCs, the Jackets will almost certainly be forced to leave some quality hockey players unprotected. Defenseman Ryan Murray is still developing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Columbus dealt the blueliner so they don’t lose the former number two overall pick for nothing.
Murray was a highly touted prospect before he was drafted, but he hasn’t yet developed into the stud he was once projected to become. That being said, he’s still a quality NHLer, but it’s fair to say he’s been passed by fellow Columbus blueline youngsters Zach Werenski and David Savard. The Jackets will be losing a defenseman to expansion, but whether it is Murray or not depends on if they’re able to trade him prior to the draft.
10 Matt Beleskey
Matt Beleskey signed in Boston as a UFA prior to 2015-16, and like most UFAs, he’s a little too expensive for what he brings to the table. This is why I believe that Boston will try to find a trade involving the winger, as cap space continues to be a problem in Beantown and Brad Marchand’s expensive extension kicks in next season.
This is another guy I could actually see Vegas maybe not selecting in the expansion draft, but trading for. It’s really just Beleskey’s contract that might stop this deal from happening. However, the fact that he’s fallen out of favor with new head coach Bruce Cassidy coupled with the fact that his name was popping up in trade rumors prior to the deadline tells you all you need to know.
9 Jordan Eberle
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli has been at the helm in Edmonton for almost two years now, and he’s slowly but surely built it into a “Chiarelli” team—that is to say, big, tough, and skilled. There are a few remnants left of the Oilers of old, and Jordan Eberle is the poster boy of that. He’s had a poor season by his standards, and his inability to consistently produce with Connor McDavid might punch his ticket out of town this summer.
Eberle gets a bad rap from fans in Edmonton, although it’s tough to say just how much of that is deserved. He’s consistently put up around 65 points a season, and he sits 25th in the NHL in cumulative points since 2011-12. That type of production is a decent return on a $6M AAV contract, despite the fact that many believe him to be grossly overpaid.
8 Erik Gudbranson
The Canucks received a bit of flak from fans when they made a trade for Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson last offseason. He already had a reputation of being pretty slow, and GM Jim Benning traded away some valuable assets to acquire him. So far, Gudbranson’s time in Vancouver has been held to a minimum thanks to an injury-riddled 2016-17.
Despite the tough season in Vancouver, the Canucks have had a few bright spots crop up on the back end. The emergence of Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin, specifically, have perhaps made Gudbranson expendable. I’m not exactly sure where the Canucks might be able to find a dance partner in a trade involving Gudbranson, but I have little doubt that they will be looking. Will they find someone? We'll see.
7 Vladimir Sobotka
This entry is a little off the board, as Vladimir Sobotka hasn’t played in the NHL since 2013-14. Sobotka made the move to the KHL, where he has spent the last three seasons of his pro career. He still owes one more season to the St. Louis Blues, and I’d imagine there is a belief on both sides that a change of scenery once Sobotka returns to North America would be for the best.
There were reports prior to 2016-17 that Sobotka actually wanted to make the move back to the NHL for this season, but he’d signed a three-year contract with the KHL’s Omsk Avangard when he made the move and was unable to find a way out of the final season of commitment. The Trebic, Czech Republic native would help pretty much any team he ends up on as a depth center, so it will be interesting to see what he decided this summer.
6 Sami Vatanen
The Ducks have a wealth of great, young defensemen, and come expansion they’re at risk of losing one of them for nothing. With the NMC attached to Kevin Bieksa’s contract (something I’m certain GM Bob Murray is regretting and probably wouldn’t have done had he known of the upcoming expansion draft), and four forwards with the same distinction, they might be forced to choose to protect just two of Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler.
Last offseason the obvious choice to leave exposed was Fowler, but his strong performance in 2016-17 has added some doubts to that. Perhaps the club’s best move is to send Vatanen elsewhere and bring in some assets so that they don’t lose him to Vegas. He’s slightly underperformed this season, but I see a lot of NHL teams that could use him.
5 Marc-Andre Fleury
This trade was already supposed to have happened. With the emergence of Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury has become expendable as the older and—in 2016-17, at least—less effective netminder. Murray continues to get the bulk of the starts, as head coach Mike Sullivan has been impressed with Murray’s performance ever since taking over late in 2015-16 for an injured Fleury.
There’s no reason to think that Fleury is near the end of his career. At 32 years old he’s got a lot of productive years left, and any team looking to shake things up in the crease would probably jump at the opportunity to take on Fleury and his $5.75M cap hit through 2018-19. Of course Fleury would have to waive his NMC for any deal to go through, but he’s already said on record he’d be willing to do that.
4 Jacob Trouba
At the beginning of the 2016-17 NHL season, Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets reached a contractual impasse. The season got underway and the Jets started the year without Trouba, who eventually demanded a trade out of town. The two sides eventually reconciled their differences, and Trouba signed a two-year extension and his season got underway.
The Jets could of course protect Trouba in expansion, and if they’re not able to find a trade for him beforehand I expect they do. However, that would mean they’re leaving Tyler Myers exposed, so a Trouba trade is probably the best course of action for this club. Either that or a Myers trade, but since Trouba has already gone on record requesting a trade, it is more likely to be him.
3 Eddie Lack
The Carolina Hurricanes were hoping they were getting the goalie of their future when they acquired Eddie Lack from the Vancouver Canucks a few years back. Things haven’t gone as planned for Lack since his arrival in Raleigh, and it might be time for the sides to part ways. Head coach Bill Peters ripped into Lack to the media a few weeks ago for his lackluster play so far this season, and that’s usually a good indication that a relationship is nearing its expiration date.
Lack is under contract for one more season at a reasonable cap hit of $2.75M, so there would probably be a handful of teams interested should Lack be shopped this summer. The only thing that might scare buyers away is that nasty .886 save percentage for the 2016-17 season.
2 Gabriel Landeskog
The top two spots on the list belong to the Colorado Avalanche, as they are the worst team in the league and it’s no secret they’re looking for ways to shake things up. What better way to send a message to your club than dealing your team captain? Gabriel Landeskog hasn’t come as far as the Avs were probably hoping he would have by now (six years beyond his draft year), so they may look to deal him.
The 24-year-old is still under contract for another four seasons after this one, and he comes with a cap hit of just more than $5.7M. That could be the one thing standing in the way of a Landeskog trade, as his offensive game has seen a regression since posting a career high 65 points in 2013-14.
1 Matt Duchene
We ranked Matt Duchene as the most likely player to get traded this summer, and although it’s not a guarantee, I can’t imagine it not happening. Duchene’s offensive game has taken a hit as the Avalanche have fallen out of relevancy, and a change of scenery is probably exactly what he needs (just ask Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz how well it’s worked for him).
Duchene’s name was all over the rumor mill prior to the March 1 trade deadline, but obviously GM Joe Sakic was unable to find a sufficient return. Big blockbusters are always more difficult to make mid-season, as teams are often already up against the cap and can’t afford to take on the expensive contracts without money going the other way. That’s not a huge issue in the offseason, as GMs have the time to tinker with their rosters and become cap compliant before the season rolls around.