With the NHL trade deadline just a few weeks away, rumors are beginning to heat up as the contenders continue to distance themselves from the pretenders. While there are some teams stuck in the middle, there are also several obvious buyers and sellers as the deadline approaches.
There are tons of rumors leading up to the deadline every year, and much of the time nothing comes of it as far as the big-name players go. At the same time, though, there are some very bad teams with high-profile players who may be willing to let them go for the right price.
It's obviously going to take some competitive offers to land such players, but with so many teams seemingly in the running, we could see some bidding wars for the top available players. Here are five stars who absolutely must be moved by their scuffling teams.
Perhaps no player in the NHL has been bandied about in trade rumors more to this point than Carolina Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu. The rough-and-tumble Finn is having a solid season with 16 goals and he brings plenty of physicality to the table as well. Because of that, there is a wide array of teams in the market for his services.
According to Chip Alexander of the Charlotte Observer, the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs have all shown interest. Ruutu has even said that he has heard rumors that he is "going to every team in the NHL." While that may be a bit of stretch, his point is well-taken.
The Hurricanes are currently dead last in the Eastern Conference with 49 points, so there is little reason to hang onto Ruutu. The fact that Ruutu is an impending free agent almost makes trading him a no-brainer. The good news for Carolina is that with so many teams reportedly in the running, it should be able to squeeze some good prospects or picks out of one of those teams in a trade.
One thing that every playoff-bound team is looking for is a veteran forward who can provide leadership and put the puck in the net. There may be no better example of that than Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Smyth. The 35-year-old forward has enjoyed a renaissance season with his original team as he has racked up 16 goals and 20 assists on the year.
While Smyth wanted to come back to Edmonton and loves playing for the Oilers, there have been some indications that he might approve a trade. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, sources say that Smyth would be willing to waive his no-movement clause in order to reunite with general manager Glen Sather, who drafted Smyth in 1994 as a member of the Oilers.
Smyth has scuffled a bit in recent weeks as he has just 10 points in his past 27 games, but a deal to the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers might revitalize his game. The Oilers are second to last in the Western Conference and continue to try to rebuild. With Smyth scheduled to become a free agent following the season, it would be senseless to keep him.
When the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired forward Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers in an offseason trade, it looked as if Columbus' rebuild might finally be coming to an end. Carter had scored 115 goals in the previous three seasons combined after all, so combining him with winger Rick Nash figured to be a major coup for the Blue Jackets.
Things obviously haven't gone as expected, however, as Carter has missed numerous games with a shoulder injury and has been largely ineffective when he has played, netting just 12 goals in 32 contests. On top of that, the Blue Jackets are last in the league by a wide margin with a mere 36 points. All of that makes Carter a prime trade candidate.
According to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times, the scoring-starved Los Angeles Kings may be interested in reuniting him with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards. Carter has a cap hit of $5.3 million through the 2021-22 season so it would take a huge commitment from the Kings, but they seem desperate right now. Columbus doesn't need such a fat contract anchoring it down right now, so cutting bait would be the smartest move.
Prior to the weekend Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner was a hot topic in trade circles. While the skilled playmaker has always shown flashes of brilliance, he has been unable to put it all together over the course of his young NHL career. Things suddenly changed when Gagner turned in a historic eight-point performance against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Gagner went from what seemed like a very attainable player to the talk of the league. With that in mind, though, the Oilers might still be willing to deal him if they could get a stud defenseman in return, according to Darren Dreger of TSN. That may seem preposterous after what he accomplished, but if the right deal comes around then there is no reason not to pull the trigger.
While Gagner is on pace for his best statistical season with 34 points in 46 games, it took an eight-point night to put him in that position. That game could be viewed as his breakout performance, but it seems like more of an aberration than anything. Gagner has never had more than 16 goals or 49 points in a season, so Edmonton would be best off selling high and adding to its war chest of developing talent.
Forward Rick Nash has been the Columbus Blue Jackets' franchise player since they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2002. He has scored at least 27 goals in every season since his rookie year and he has two 40-goal campaigns to his credit. Despite that, now is the time for the Blue Jackets to part ways with their captain.
While Nash refuses to ask for a trade, John Shannon of SportsNet.ca says several of Nash's friends have contacted him and said that Nash isn't happy in his current situation. He reportedly believes it might take another five years for the Blue Jackets to rebuild, and seeing as they are the worst team in the league by a wide margin, that doesn't seem like such a stretch.
It may be tough to part ways with a player that has meant so much to the organization, but it is a necessary evil at this point. Nash has a massive $7.8 million cap hit through the 2017-18 season, so it would behoove Columbus to get that off its books. Not only would it give the Blue Jackets a ton of cap space to reshape their roster, but a deal would likely bring in some nice young players as well.
The Blue Jackets are a good bet to secure the No. 1 overall pick in this summer's draft and select forward Nail Yakupov, so it won't be long before Columbus brings in a new face of the franchise anyway.