With the NHL draft and free agency on the horizon, it is only natural that the trade market has started to heat up as teams explore every avenue possible to improve.
Many players who were considered potential candidates to move at the trade deadline stayed put knowing that an offseason deal was possible. With more flexibility and time to make other moves, trade activity figures to reach a fever pitch over the next few weeks.
Some trades have already occurred, but fans are waiting for the big-name chips to fall. There are no guarantees that they ultimately will; however, several well-known players are very much up for grabs.
Here is the latest buzz surrounding some of top pieces that could find themselves in new locations very soon.
Over the course of his 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Jason Spezza has been one of the NHL's most productive centers. It can be argued that injuries have prevented him from reaching his fullest potential, but Spezza is an unquestioned top-line guy when he is healthy and in good form.
On the heels of Ottawa's nightmarish 2013-14 season, though, big changes could be on the horizon. Trading Spezza is a major possibility, and it would undoubtedly shake up the organization in a big way. According to Kevin Allen of USA Today, Senators general manager Bryan Murray is willing to ship Spezza out of Ottawa if the right deal comes along.
There are a few teams that have asked me about him – what the cost is. ... But I think Jason feels this is a change he would like to have happen. And if that is the case, we will try to do what we can. ... Obviously I'd like to win a hockey game next year, so getting a player back that can play in the league, that has played in the league, would be important.
If the Sens are going to deal Spezza, though, there are some limitations in place. As the owner of a partial no-trade clause, Spezza can pick and choose his desired destinations. Per Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch via TSN's Darren Dreger, there are 10 teams that Spezza would not approve a trade to:
That limits Ottawa's options to some degree, but it certainly shouldn't prevent the Senators from getting a trade done. Spezza isn't coming off his best season with 66 points in 75 games, but every team in the league is looking for a big-time playmaker who can make those around him better.
When the 31-year-old Spezza is banging on all cylinders, that is exactly what he is capable of. Dealing Spezza would signal the end of an era in Ottawa in many ways. As sad as that might be, all parties involved would benefit from a change at this point.
Although his skill set differs from that of Spezza's, Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler is another highly touted player who will garner plenty of interest throughout the offseason. Kesler's offensive production has been up and down over the course of his career, but his physicality, defensive acumen and faceoff skills make him an extremely attractive option to many teams.
There was a very real belief that Kesler might be moved at last season's trade deadline with the Vancouver Canucks scuffling, but it never came to fruition. That is partly due to the fact that Kesler provided an incredibly limited list of desired trade destinations that included only the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, according to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun.
Moving Kesler could be problematic if he holds steady in his desire to be traded to only Chicago or Pittsburgh. Because of that, the Canucks are hopeful that he lessens his demands during the offseason, per former Sportsnet writer Chris Nichols via TSN's Aaron Ward:
If Kesler does broaden his horizons, then there are plenty of teams who would love to have him. He scored 41 goals just a few years ago, and even though he had just 43 points this past season, he does so many things that contribute to a winning effort.
One intriguing trade candidate that may be in the mix depending upon Kesler's wishes is the Anaheim Ducks, according to Nichols via TSN's Elliotte Friedman:
Even if Anaheim isn't Kesler's ideal destination, that could ultimately be a great fit. The Ducks need a center to play behind Ryan Getzlaf, and they are a team that is equipped to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Kesler may be the missing piece, so it is definitely something he should consider.
It isn't often that Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goaltenders become available, but that is the case regarding Carolina Hurricanes backstop Cam Ward. The 30-year-old netminder has been one of the faces of the franchise for nearly a decade, but his run may be coming to an end.
According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the Canes are very much ready and willing to trade Ward elsewhere:
CAR G Cam Ward has full NTC but under right circumstances it's believed he'll waive. In any case, consider him available/expendable in CAR.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 16, 2014
That shouldn't come as much of a surprise since Ward is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. He posted a record of just 10-12-6 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. Those numbers are barely acceptable for a backup in the NHL, so it remains to be seen if anyone would even be interested in Ward.
Which player is most likely to be traded this offseason?
He hasn't had a truly productive season since 2010-11, and there is reason to believe that his best days are behind him. Even if a team does want to take a chance on him, his $6.3 million cap hit through the 2015-16 season doesn't help. In reality, the Canes would probably have to eat a sizable chunk of that contract.
Anton Khudobin seems ready to take over the starting job in Carolina in a full-time basis, and one can only assume that the Canes are willing to give it to him. Ward presents somewhat of a roadblock, so expect the Hurricanes to do everything within their power to make a deal happen.
If nothing comes to fruition, though, the Canes will be stuck with Ward unless they decide to waive him or buy him out and eat his salary in that manner.
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