NHL Players Most in Need of a Change of Scenery

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2016

NHL Players Most in Need of a Change of Scenery

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The NHL trade deadline is an opportunity for teams to load up for a championship run. These teams are usually dealing for quality players who possess expiring contracts, with the common cost for that player being a draft pick.

    There are times when we see a change of scenery at the deadline for a player who has reached a crossroads with his current club. In a clear case of "one man's junk is another man's treasure," some real gems can be found for the wise shopper.

    Here are eight NHL players in need of a change of scenery at the 2016 trade deadline.

8. Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton Oilers

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    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

    Where It Began: Nail Yakupov was the No. 1 overall selection by the Edmonton Oilers at the 2012 NHL draft. He has been in the NHL since the fall of 2012.

    What Went Wrong: Despite a promising start—he scored 17 goals to lead all rookies in 2012-13—the young winger has struggled to establish himself. Consistency and reliability away from the puck are his major issues.

    Where He Could Go: Yakupov was once part of a dynamic duo with Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk. They teamed up in junior hockey with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL and could reunite in Montreal if things break right at the deadline.

7. Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Where It Began: Justin Schultz was drafted No. 43 overall in 2008 by the Anaheim Ducks. He did not sign with the Ducks, instead using a loophole to leap into free agency and eventually signing with the Edmonton Oilers. The Canadian Press had the story in 2012 (h/t CBC Sports).

    What Went Wrong: The Oilers are not a successful organization, and part of their trouble comes from expecting too much from young players. In his four seasons with the team, Schultz has averaged over 22 minutes a night—and he could never manage those minutes successfully.

    Where He Could Go: On a team that has defensive depth but is in need of some offense, Schultz might fit well. A third-pairing role with significant power-play time might be the best solution. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet mentioned the Tampa Bay Lightning as a rumored possibility in his most recent 30 Thoughts, but there has been no clear destination established. 

6. Matt Moulson, LW, Buffalo Sabres

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Where It Began: Matt Moulson was drafted No. 263 overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003. He did not come to prominence until 2009 as a member of the New York Islanders.

    What Went Wrong: Moulson has not been as productive away from the Islanders, whether playing for the Buffalo Sabres or the Minnesota Wild. This season, he has just five goals and is a disappointment for a player with such a big contract for years to come, per General Fanager.

    Where He Could Go: Moulson is 32 years old, has a modified no-trade clause and is a scorer who is not scoring. The Sabres are going to be forced into packaging him up with something attractive if they are going to move him. He might be close to impossible to trade.

5. Thomas Vanek, RW, Minnesota Wild

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    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    Where It Began: Thomas Vanek was the No. 5 overall pick in 2003. He has posted an impressive run in the NHL, with over 300 goals in his career. 

    What Went Wrong: The veteran signed a contract with the Minnesota Wild in 2014, returning to the state where he played his junior hockey. This season has been a trying one for the entire club, and Vanek was a healthy scratch in early February, as reported by Chad Graff of the Pioneer Press

    Where He Could Go: Vanek has one more year left on his contract—$7.5 million with a $6.5 million cap hit, per NHLNumbers.com. Minnesota will have a difficult time trading him, but a team in need of offense—like the New Jersey Devils or Vancouver Canucks—may have room for him.

4. James Reimer, G, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Where It Began: James Reimer was selected No. 99 overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006. Four years later, he was playing and flourishing in the NHL.

    What Went Wrong: The Maple Leafs have used Reimer and Jonathan Bernier in recent seasons, and the team has often relegated Reimer to backup chores in most of those years. As Reimer approaches free agency and because Toronto has Bernier under contract for next season, he seems likely to bolt. 

    Where He Could Go: Reimer should be an attractive free agent, and a team like the Calgary Flames may want to bring him in at the deadline in order to have a strong backup to Jonas Hiller, who is also a free agent after this season. Reimer is 27 years old and should have many productive years ahead.

3. Jimmy Howard, G, Detroit Red Wings

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Where It Began: Jimmy Howard was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings with the No. 64 overall pick in 2003. In typical Detroit fashion, he did not emerge as a regular until 2009, but he has been a quality netminder since then. 

    What Went Wrong: The Red Wings are using the more effective Petr Mrazek this season, and he would appear to be the No. 1 goalie of the future. Detroit is paying Howard over $5 million and will save major dollars by permanently making Mrazek the starter and hiring a designated backup. 

    Where He Could Go: There are several teams that appear to be in transition with their goaltending. Among those teams are the Dallas Stars (Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen), Winnipeg Jets (Ondrej Pavelec, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson) and Arizona Coyotes (Mike Smith and Louis Domingue).

2. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Where It Began: Jonathan Drouin was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite an exceptional resume and a fantastic skill set, it has not been a good fit between player and team. 

    What Went Wrong: The Lightning and Drouin have done an unusual dance through the player's entry-level deal and are now at a crossroads. Luke Fox of Sportsnet gave some details in a February article, including some of the backstory on the dispute.

    Where He Could Go: Per TVA Sports' Louis Jean (h/t Fox), the Ottawa Senators are the front-runners, but if this goes to the summer, we could see something happen on the draft floor. There should be 29 teams interested in such a splendid young player.

1. Eric Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Where It Began: Eric Staal was drafted No. 2 overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2003 draft. He has been the face of the franchise since his arrival in the fall of that year.

    What Went Wrong: The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2006, and the future looked bright. However, Staal has played in only 18 playoff games since that spring—all of them came in 2009. 

    Where He Could Go: Staal is probably the top trade asset available at the deadline, and he could end up with a powerhouse team like the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks. The Hurricanes could still sign him, but this looks like the end of the line for a relationship that began with so much promise but faded out over a decade of losing.