NHL Players on the Trading Block to Watch During the 2014 Winter Olympics
Getting a good look at NHL players who are likely to be on the trading block is one more reason to tune into the Sochi Olympic games.
Even in the preliminary round robin games, watching how players like Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic and Marian Gaborik of Slovakia showcase their talents and interact with potential future linemates and opponents could prove very insightful for the NHL games that follow.
Who are the 10 players we'll be watching most closely?
To find the key players most likely to be moved by the March 5th trade deadline, we searched CapGeek.com for a list of all the pending unrestricted free agents playing for teams that are currently outside a playoff position, and filtered in only those who are going to Sochi. To that, we added other Olympians rumored to be coming available and then sorted them all by the potential impact they could have down the stretch.
Each of these players bring different elements to their teams and will therefore have different aspects of their games in the spotlight next month. A prominent role and a medal-winning performance from any of these players could significantly change the landscape at the trade deadline. Let's begin.
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.
10. Russia: Anton Belov, Edmonton Oilers
Why He's Being Shopped: He is a pending unrestricted free agent on one of the league's worst teams.
What He Brings: Anton Belov is a potential top-four defenseman with an offensive upside.
The 27-year-old long-time KHLer scored 26 points in 46 games for Omsk Avangard last year as one of the league's top defensemen. In stark contrast, this year the big Russian has only six points in 43 games on Edmonton's third pairing, despite ranking third on the team in power-play ice time per game.
Despite his slow start in the NHL, Belov is still thought of quite highly in Russia, where he was selected for the Olympic team ahead of established veterans like Anton Volchenkov and Sergei Gonchar.
What to Watch For: There aren't a lot of defensemen in the Olympics that could be on the trading block this March, so players like Belov, Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz and Henrik Tallinder may get more scrutiny that would normally be expected.
As for Belov, he will have the opportunity to fight his way onto the top four and to showcase his puck-moving skills on the big international ice. Any chemistry achieved with Montreal's Andrei Markov and/or Alexei Emelin might foreshadow his next move to a team with blue-line needs almost as serious as Edmonton's.
9. Czech Republic: Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators
Why He's Being Shopped: Milan Michalek is a pending unrestricted free agent. His lack of chemistry with Jason Spezza early this season ultimately got him demoted to the third line.
What He Brings: Michalek is a defensively responsible top-six goal-scoring forward.
Though he may have struggled over the past two seasons, the big Czech forward features a nifty upside of 35 goals in 2011-12. He also enjoyed three straight 55-point campaign in his final years in San Jose.
The versatile offensive-minded sniper can play either wing, and against top-line opponents. His offensive to defensive zone start ratio is second highest on the Senators (to Matt Kassian).
Despite that usage, Michalek is known to be defensively responsible and can serve as a secondary penalty-killer. Among Ottawa's forwards, only Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur have more combined special teams ice time per game.
What to Watch For: The mysterious Czech Republic roster omissions should greatly reduce Michalek's competition for a top-six spot. With that opportunity will come some pressure to prove himself capable of handling this kind of role against the world's best players.
Helping him in this challenge will be his brother Zbynek Michalek of the Coyotes. Could Phoenix be Milan Michalek's next destination?
8. U.S.A.: Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
Why He's Being Shopped: The oft-injured Rangers captain is a pending unrestricted free agent who will likely carry a cap hit that is perhaps beyond the team's reach.
What He Brings: Ryan Callahan is a classic do-it-all forward and a passionate, hard-working team leader.
It's hard to imagine a single team that couldn't make use of a veteran forward who can hit, score, shut down opponents, work the power play, kill penalties, draw penalties and practically anything else you can think of. He probably even fills the water bottles.
The only question is which team has both the cap space and the right enticement for the Rangers to part with him.
What to Watch For: The two major factors to watch out for include how effectively he takes on leadership duties in Sochi and how well he plays whichever role he is assigned.
Logic would dictate that Callahan would be used in a shutdown role, given both his own history and the presence of offensive-minded players Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane on the right side.
He could likely find himself on a highly physical third line with Dustin Brown and David Backes. How effective will that style be on international-sized ice and against the world's most skilled players?
On the other hand, the Rangers have been using Callahan in more of an offensive-minded role with Brad Richards so far this year. Plus, the American team is potentially the tournament's deepest in defensive talent up front, which could free up Callahan for more of a secondary scoring role instead, especially if one of them (most likely Kane) is moved to the left side.
The best-case scenario for Callahan is if his versatility to be showcased by being effectively used in several roles.
7. Slovakia: Marian Gaborik, Columbus Blue Jackets
Why He's Being Shopped: Marian Gaborik is a high-priced but inconsistent and oft-injured superstar, and he is a pending unrestricted free agent on a team without realistic playoff expectations.
What He Brings: Gaborik is an experienced, offence-generating forward with three 40-goal seasons and four more 30-goal seasons to his credit.
The primary concern is his health. Turning 32 while in Sochi, Gaborik has missed only a single game over the two preceding seasons, but all but 18 games so far this year. It is also fair to say that his 13-season career has had its share of injuries. Even now he is recovering from a broken collar bone that could affect both his Olympic play—and his trade value.
What to Watch For: What better test of Gaborik's remaining abilities to carry a team's offence on his back than to guide Slovakia to a medal game in Sochi?
With Marian Hossa as the team's only other leading source of offence, Gaborik, who also plays on the right side, will have to generate scoring alongside the offensively limited likes of Tomas Kopecky and Tomas Tatar.
Then again, they're not that dissimilar from his linemates in Columbus, like Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky.
While not expected to be a shutdown defensive player, the accomplished Slovakian scorer will have to at least demonstrate that he can still work his magic against top-line opponents and without the bulk of his shifts starting in the offensive zone. If he can do that for Slovakia, then he can do that for any NHL team.
6. Czech Republic: Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers
Why He's Being Shopped: Ales Hemsky is a pending unrestricted free agent on a non-playoff team unlikely to have a top-six spot available for him. As it stands, Hemsky is sixth among Edmonton's forwards in average ice time both at even strength and on the power play.
What He Brings: Hemsky is a veteran top-six playmaking forward.
In his prime, the talented Czech was one of the league's most underrated playmakers.
In fact, he registered 235 assists in 360 games from ages 22 to 27. His rate of 0.65 assists per game is better than all but nine active players through the same age range.
Hemsky has consistently scored at the 40-point pace for three straight seasons now. That could be due to reduced playing opportunities, or, at age 30, it may not.
What to Watch For: Oddly enough, Hemsky may get more offensive-minded ice time with the Czech Olympic team than he does with the Edmonton Oilers. This will be a perfect opportunity to discover if his drop in scoring is from a lack of opportunity and/or the right linemates, or whether he has truly declined as a legitimate offensive force.
An eye will also be kept on his health. Hemsky has been terribly injury prone throughout his career, and he even suffered a freak ankle injury last week. If he's 100 percent, and he gets plenty of assists, then he may change uniforms this March.
5. Finland: Olli Jokinen, Winnipeg Jets
Why He's Being Shopped: Olli Jokinen is a pending unrestricted free agent on a non-playoff team. He has only been in the postseason once in his 16-season career (which an 8-11 post-trade win-loss record almost denied him).
What He Brings: Jokinen is a 35-year-old defensive forward with top-six potential. He's not good at faceoffs and doesn't kill penalties, but he's amazingly durable, having missed just 19 games in the last 14 seasons.
The large Finn's role and style changed considerably when he became a Jet in the 2012 off-season. He no longer faced the top lines as he did in Calgary, and his previous power play wizardry faded into more of a secondary role at best.
Jokinen started hitting more in Winnipeg, and he was also shifted into more of a defensive role. His 41.7 percent offensive zone start percentage this season is the lowest among the team's forwards, well below Bryan Little's 46.8 percent, the next lowest.
He certainly doesn't shoot as much as he used to, though he still ranks 10th in career shots among active players.
What to Watch For: Finland is offence-starved, which is the perfect opportunity for Jokinen to showcase his remaining offensive talents. This is especially so with the man advantage, where he has excelled most of his career.
While Jokinen's defensive talents are rarely questioned in the NHL, it will be interesting to see if they're still applicable against top-six forwards. In this capacity, he'll be assisted by an otherwise strong defensive team and the tournament's best goaltending.
The jury is still out on whether or not Jokinen can still perform in a top-six capacity. In Sochi, court will be in session.
4: Czech Republic: Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils
Why He's Being Shopped: He is a pending unrestricted free agent on a playoff bubble team.
What He Brings: Jaromir Jagr, who will turn 42 in Sochi, is one of the greatest offensive forces in NHL history and has scored on a 25-goal, 60-point pace since his return from the KHL.
He currently leads New Jersey in scoring by 13 points and is first among the team's forwards in average ice-time at even strength and on the power play.
Jagr has the best possession numbers on the team, and he isn't doing this against soft competition, as his line with Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus is the one that gets matched up against the opposing top line.
What to Watch For: Everybody already knows that Jagr is good, but the Olympics are an opportunity to find out just how good he still is. Is he good enough to lead the Czech Republic to a medal against the best players in the world?
Sochi is also a good time for the future first ballot Hall of Famer to decide what he'd like to do next, whether that's staying in New Jersey or joining one of his Czech teammates somewhere else. He may perhaps even get inspired to agree to more than a single-year contract this time.
3. U.S.A.: Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche
Why He's Being Shopped: Paul Stastny is a pending unrestricted free agent on a team potentially without long-term plans for him.
What He Brings: Paul Stastny is a highly underrated playmaker with outstanding defensive play.
Though the son of Slovakian and franchise legend Peter Stastny isn't always used to kill penalties, he is used defensively in the toughest even-strength situations. He usually takes on the top opponents, and his line also starts the lowest percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone on the team.
Despite these tough playing conditions, Paul Stastny is virtually the only player on Colorado who has the puck more often than not. It wouldn't be entirely unexpected to see him receive some Selke recognition some day soon.
What to Watch For: With such a strong set of two-way forwards, Stastny may get the opportunity to put his offensive talents on full display. Despite the defensive nature of his assignments, he has consistently stayed close to the 20-goal, 60-point level and has the potential for so much more.
Watch for Stastny on the power play. In the NHL he consistently scores at a high rate with the man advantage, up over 5.0 points per 60 minutes every year. It will be fascinating to see what he can accomplish if he gets opportunities with Phil Kessel or Patrick Kane.
Stastny topped 70 points in three of his first four seasons, and at age 28, there's no reason he can't do it again.
2. Austria: Thomas Vanek, New York Islanders
Why He's Being Shopped: Thomas Vanek is a pending unrestricted free agent on a non-playoff team.
What He Brings: Vanek is one of the league's better goal scorers. He has two 40-goal seasons under his belt, and his career shooting percentage is fifth among active players.
To be fair, Vanek is an all-around offensive force, not just a sniper. He also has two 40-assist seasons under his belt and has 86 points in 87 games over the past two seasons combined. He has also scored over six points per 60 minutes on the power play for four seasons in a row.
What to Watch For: How well can Vanek score without John Tavares?
The 30-year-old Austrian is not accustomed to taking on top opponents, nor is he known for being a strong puck possession player. Some of the best shutdown forwards in the world will be keying in on him every single game. Will he still score?
Should Austria find themselves fortunate enough to take one of the contenders to a shootout, turn on the DVR. Vanek shines in this one-on-one competition, and could prove his value not just to his national team, but to an NHL team looking to pick up a few extra points down the stretch.
1. U.S.A.: Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Why He's Being Shopped: Ryan Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent on a non-playoff team.
What He Brings: Miller is a highly accomplished starting goalie.
While he is known for his consistently solid play as opposed to any particular peaks and valleys, he did have one huge year. Miller was the starter on the silver medal U.S. Olympic team in 2010, the same year he won the Vezina.
Overall he is 13th among active goalies in save percentage and ninth this season at .925.
What to Watch For: Can Miller win the gold for the Americans? It will require consistent play and potentially one or two game-stealing performances, both of which are among his specialties.
Nine times this season the Sabres goalie has faced at least 40 shots. Some goalies go their entire careers without being subjected to that many high-rubber games. He kept them in each and every one of those contests, allowing more than three goals only once, a 5-4 victory in San Jose.
In Sochi, Miller will not be backstopping a young and rebuilding team, but rather one of the best defensive veteran teams ever assembled. The situation is perfect for him to establish his true value, whatever that may be.
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