As the slow days of the NHL offseason wind on, the focus of the offseason should gradually shift from a diminished free-agent crop to an accelerating trade market.
Salary cap restrictions, troubled negotiations and new player additions force teams to make changes—and, in some cases, execute trades—prior to this autumn's beginning of the new 2013-14 season.
Which players stand the highest chance of moving to a new franchise in the remainder of the offseason? A breakdown of six particularly likely-to-be-dealt assets fall on the coming slides.
The Winnipeg Jets will be tested in court quite a lot over the next month, with RFAs Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler and Paul Postma all seeking arbitration.
Speculation of a divisive disagreement between the Jets and Little in particular has grown significantly since the arbitration announcement. The 25-year-old served as the Jets' first-line center in 2013, registering seven goals, 25 assists and a plus-eight rating.
If the difference between Winnipeg's and Little's expectations for his future is indeed large, a trade could at least be considered, and the former 12th overall pick would garner quite a hefty return on the market.
However, NHL.com's Patrick Williams noted Wednesday that losing Little might make a bigger impact than some fans expect, especially considering the loss of Alexander Burmistrov to Russia earlier this summer:
I'm amazed by how many people think that losing Burmistrov and Little would be no big deal. Filling holes is *not* easy in the NHL.— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) July 17, 2013
Reports earlier this month about the potential availability of Bruins' cornerstones Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly caused quite a buzz around Boston.
Also would not be surprised to see Marchand and/or Kelly traded.— Kevin Paul Dupont (@GlobeKPD) July 8, 2013
We personally would expect a Kelly trade to be much more likely than a Marchand one, though.
Kelly, 32, had a bit of a disappointing 2013 campaign, registering just nine points and a minus-eight in 34 regular-season appearances after a career-high 20 goals, 39 points and a whopping plus-33 rating in 2011-12. Nonetheless, many teams would surely be eager to add the veteran two-way center and penalty-killer.
If Boston GM Peter Chiarelli is shopping Kelly this July, he could find some very interested customers.
The Hurricanes and GM Jim Rutherford have long been targeting a mysterious high-profile free agent (perhaps Ron Hainsey), but Rutherford has mentioned repeatedly that, in order to make the signing, he'll first "have to move a player out."
That player could be injury-prone offensive defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who has missed more games than he's actually played over the past two seasons thanks to a startling variety of health issues.
Pitkanen, 29, carries a blatantly overpriced $4.5 million cap hit with one year left on his contract. He's a four-time 30-assist producer yet has failed to improve his play in his own zone that wasn't too stellar to begin with.
Pitkanen is a top-tier puck-moving blueliner, conversely, who could easily get a few teams to bite on his star potential. The 'Canes might be interested in getting a nice return on the Finnish rearguard before swiftly filling his roster spot with a free agent.
Sam Gagner has never lived up to the expectations that came with being the sixth-overall selection in 2007, but the flashes of greatness shown by the 23-year-old center have shown there's more to his game than stats indicate.
Coming off of a 2013 in which he produced at the highest rate (38 points in 48 appearances) of his career, Gagner is scheduled to take the Oilers to arbitration in the coming weeks. He's seeking a raise over his $3.2 salary from last season—perhaps as high as the $5 million range.
It's unlikely that Edmonton would be too happy about giving away one of their offense's young, focal stars, but Gagner's seemingly endless trade rumors stand a better chance of being fulfilled this summer than ever before.
Kyle Clifford's name has quickly risen to the top of the NHL rumor mill this week.
Per The Fourth Period's Dennis Bernstein:
Funny how things change from one phone call. Reliable league source now says Kings actively shopping Kyle Clifford.— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) July 17, 2013
The Kings have less than $2.3 million in cap space at the moment and may be struggling to fit in 22-year-old Clifford, a RFA.
The 6'2" left winger has only 47 points in 228 career NHL appearances yet packs quite a punch with both the hips (542 career hits) and fisticuffs (332 career penalty minutes). The bottom-six grinder is still plenty young, has a Cup ring on his finger and could develop into an elite defensive forward with more playing time elsewhere.
Watch for the Edmonton Oilers, perhaps among other teams, to make a strong push for Clifford.
For those who thought the Ryan Miller trade rumors were finally dying down, the next few months could be rather disappointing.
Old rumors are often revived in the days of the late offseason, and Buffalo's two favorite rumor-mongers—Miller and Thomas Vanek—will probably be among the most heavily discussed.
The Maple Leafs reportedly inquired about Miller before acquiring Jonathan Bernier from L.A. last month, but were shot down because Buffalo wasn't willing to trade within in their division. GM Darcy Regier also recently went on the record saying that both would probably still be around come training camp.
Neither of those have dampened rumors much, though, and perhaps reasonably so. April's Jason Pominville deal certainly indicated that the Sabres were entering a rebuilding period, and dealing a star like Miller would definitely collect quite a stash of prospects.
Pending trade or not, Miller's name should produce a hum of chatter over the rest of the offseason.