Photo Courtesy: Matt Boulton
It’s that time of year again—the time when everyone is talking about buyers and sellers, and the phrase “expiring contract” takes on a borderline-ominous significance. We are now just over a month away from the NHL trade deadline, and at this point in the season most teams know what they are and what their ceiling is. Teams that were “promising” early in the year can finally feel confident in calling themselves “contenders” and begin looking for the missing piece that could put them over the top; teams that referred to themselves as “slumping” have no choice but to revert to the more honest “bad” and begin shedding salaries. And this year’s trading market brings with it an added wrinkle—with the looming expansion draft, teams are looking to get something in return for players that they might otherwise be forced to expose in the draft and lose for nothing. So as we head into the All-Star Break and a weekend devoid of any meaningful NHL action, let’s discuss the potential buyers and sellers on the NHL market, and a few deals we could see falling into place over the next few weeks.
The buyers’ market has been looking fairly crowded for most of the year, partly due to the fact that—unlike the past few seasons—there didn’t seem to be any teams going into full-on tank mode early on. However, it’s getting late in the season, and it’s getting harder and harder for consistently underachieving units like Tampa Bay and Dallas to convince themselves that they could still pull it together for a postseason run. As more teams fade from the race, the market for postseason rental help will shrink significantly—which is good news for the teams still looking to shop.
That list probably starts with the Blackhawks, who hold ten picks in the 2017 draft and will surely be looking to dangle a couple of those for some short-term help at winger. The Kings, Senators and Predators could all be on the hunt for scoring reinforcements as well, and the Canadiens will likely be in the market for help on the blue line. And while it’s still hard to believe, perennial also-rans Toronto, Edmonton and Columbus are in the thick of the playoff race—and with all three of those units built around a very young core, you can bet they will start poking around for available veterans with playoff experience.
In the sellers’ corner, the big player is the Colorado Avalanche, who have been stuck in an interminable nightmare ever since the abrupt departure of coach Patrick Roy in August. With the Avs dead last in the NHL by a full eight points (and sporting a hideous -67 goal differential), GM Joe Sakic will be listening to offers for anyone and everyone not named Nathan MacKinnon—and as bad as the Avs are, they have plenty of juicy names to dangle, starting with forwards Matt Duchene and Gabe Landeskog. The down-and-out Coyotes will be looking to unload impending free agents like Martin Hanzal and Michael Stone, and it’s not implausible to wonder if franchise mainstay Shane Doan might be given the opportunity to finish his career with a contender (By the way, here’s a fun NHL Trade Deadline drinking game: take a shot every time 27-year old Coyotes GM John Chayka trades a player older than himself). Elsewhere, look for disappointing squads like the Lightning and Red Wings to begin shedding spare parts and expiring deals, while the Canucks may finally bite the bullet and accept that it’s time for a rebuild—if so, expect Alex Burrows and goaltender Ryan Miller to be among the first to go.
With all this in mind, let’s try to pinpoint a logical landing spot for some of the players who are most likely to find new homes over the next month.
Jarome Iginla, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Best Fit: Edmonton Oilers
That certainly didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. When the Avalanche signed Iginla in 2014, they were coming off a 112-point season and were commonly thought to be a team on the rise. The Avs were surely hoping for Iginla to be a Ray Bourque redux—a veteran who could push them to the top and then ride off into the sunset after finally winning the big one. Unfortunately, Colorado’s breakout proved to be a mirage; and with the clock ticking on both Iginla’s contract and his career, the Hall of Famer’s Colorado residence is probably on the market as we speak.
While Iginla’s production has dropped off significantly—he has tallied just 12 points in 45 games this season—he will still be an attractive rental option, and NHL teams tend to place a lot of value (perhaps too much) on toughness, experience and leadership—three things that Iginla offers in spades. He’d be a logical target for a young team with lofty playoff aspirations, such as the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton could use another top-9 winger, and Iginla could get another shot at chasing a ring before his body betrays him completely. Of course, who knows how many heads would simultaneously explode in Calgary at the sight of Iginla lifting the Cup for their provincial rivals?
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
Best Fit: St. Louis Blues
While the defending champions are not exactly sellers in the traditional sense, it’s clear that they absolutely have to move Fleury. Their longtime goaltender has been outplayed by youngster Matt Murray throughout the season, and if Fleury is still on the roster come expansion draft time, the No-Movement Clause in his contract would force the Pens to expose (and likely lose) Murray. That NMC could present an obstacle in trading him as well, but Fleury would be more likely to waive the clause for a trade that presented an opportunity to start for a contender.
Fleury-to-Dallas has been the popular prediction for most of the season, but it seems more and more likely that the Stars will shift into sell-mode and start getting rid of expiring deals. If Dallas throws in the towel on their season, St. Louis would make sense for Fleury as well. The Blues are hanging around the playoff bubble right now, their goaltending has been a mess, and they will surely be tempted to go all in for a Cup in retiring coach Ken Hitchcock’s final year at the helm. Fleury’s $5.75 million cap hit would be difficult for St. Louis to fit under the salary cap, but if they could work out the money issue, the Blues would love to have a steady hand in net for their stretch run.
Patrick Sharp, LW, Dallas Stars
Best Fit: Chicago Blackhawks
I already mentioned Dallas’ trade deadline dilemma, and it’s still possible that they could elect to swing a trade for a goaltender and try to make a playoff push. But honestly, the Stars just don’t look like a very good team right now, and it seems like the most sensible course would be to unload some impending free agents and start looking ahead to next season. If so, the under-producing Sharp will be among the players to hit the market—and a return to the franchise where he won three Stanley Cups makes perfect sense for all involved.
Chicago is looking like one of the best teams in hockey once again, and they have a stockpile of draft picks to sweeten any potential trade talks. They will likely be sniffing around for a winger to play next to Jonathan Toews—and who better than Sharp, who often played that role during Chicago’s three championship seasons?
Ryan Miller, G, Vancouver Canucks
Best Fit: Philadelphia Flyers
The Canucks have unexpectedly hung tough in the playoff race this year, which is a bit of a mixed bag—with a roster full of expensive, declining veterans, a rebuild has been looming in Vancouver for years now, and it would be unwise for GM Jim Benning to chase a playoff birth (and probable first-round ouster) when he should be preparing for the inevitable teardown. If the Canucks do shift into a rebuild, they are faced with a complicated situation. Their two biggest cap hits belong to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who both possess No-Movement Clauses and have always been clear on their desire to play for the same team. Vancouver will have a hard time finding any team willing and able to take on the twins’ combined salaries, so they will probably have to focus on moving on some of their other veterans—such as goalie Ryan Miller and his expiring contract.
Enter the Philadelphia Flyers, who are one of the jumble of teams competing for the last wildcard spot in the East. GM Ron Hextall has taken a patient and level-headed approach to the rebuilding project in Philly (which is probably a strange sentence to read for those who remember Hextall’s playing career), so the Flyers aren’t expected to be aggressive buyers in this year’s market. However, one place they could clearly use an upgrade is between the pipes, where starter Steve Mason has been consistently mediocre all season. If the Flyers want to make a strong push for the postseason, it would help to have a reliable presence like Miller in net.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis Blues
Best Fit: Montreal Canadiens
While the Blues are still in the playoff race, Shattenkirk is going to be a free agent after the season, and St. Louis might balk at offering the kind of money he can expect to receive on the open market. As a workhorse top-four defenseman, Shattenkirk will fetch a steep price in any potential trade, but you can bet that a contender will talk themselves into paying a premium for his services.
My guess? The Montreal Canadiens. The once-dominant Habs have long been hoping for a return to the glory days of the late ‘70s, and they will surely be tempted to go all-in for a Cup run while superstar goalie Carey Price is still in his prime (Price is only twenty-nine, but goalie performance is notoriously unpredictable). The Canadiens could really use a big, athletic two-way defenseman (hey, what about P.K. Subb—oh, nevermind) and Shattenkirk fits the bill. The Canadiens are in position to be a serious contender this year, and a player of Shattenkirk’s caliber might be just the thing to put them over the top.