Restricted Free Agents Who May Be Trade Bait at the NHL Trade Deadline
The NHL trade deadline is mostly an exchange of expiring contracts, with a few one-for-one trades thrown in. Teams are looking to upgrade in areas of weakness and add depth while taking on minimal salaries and cap.
Some teams are looking to get an early start on the summer work, and that can involve restricted free agents. Teams that know they are going to face a cap issue and will not be able to afford arbitration with their emerging talent can sometimes look to offload talented players.
Here are nine restricted free agents who could be moved as part of the 2016 trade deadline on Feb. 29.
Anaheim Ducks: D Sami Vatanen
What Role Does He Fill? Sami Vatanen is a mobile two-way defender for the Anaheim Ducks. His substantial offensive value makes him an attractive player.
What Are His Flaws? Although he is a smaller player (5'10", 183 lbs), the only real issue with Vatanen is his next contract. The Ducks are producing effective defenders at a rapid clip, so they can trade one of their youngsters and help their cap at the same time. That player could be Vatanen.
Will They Trade or Sign? The Ducks are probably going to be adding at the deadline, but a rental winger wouldn't cost Vatanen. If the club decides to trade for a sniper with term, Vatanen or one of those young defensemen could be in the mix. The biggest drivers in his future with the Ducks will be contract and cap.
Boston Bruins: D Torey Krug
What Are His Flaws? Krug's offense pushes his price tag, but he isn't a difference-maker at even strength—and that is the big part of the game. Per HockeyAnalysis.com, the men he plays with in Boston at even strength are not the difference-makers among the Bruins.
Will They Trade or Sign? Boston has to decide on Loui Eriksson (who is unrestricted) before the deadline. If the Bruins choose to retain him, it is possible that management decides to offload Krug ahead of what is going to be a substantial raise in the summer.
Chicago Blackhawks: RW Jiri Sekac
What Role Does He Fill? Jiri Sekac is a promising offensive winger for the Chicago Blackhawks.
What Are His Flaws? Sekac is on his third organization in the last two seasons, which means he has both value and is expendable—owing mostly to inconsistent offense.
Will They Trade or Sign? The Blackhawks have a real chance to win the Stanley Cup while also owning a large number of restricted free-agent contracts, including forwards Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Phillip Danault, Richard Panik and Dennis Rasmussen. A player like Sekac offers value to another team while also being easy to replace.
Dallas Stars: RW Valeri Nichushkin
What Role Does He Fill? Valeri Nichushkin is a power winger for the Dallas Stars. He has had some injury issues but is effective when in the lineup.
What Are His Flaws? Like any young player—he is 20—Nichushkin continues to develop as a consistent contributor to team success. He has certainly retained his value from draft day.
Will They Trade or Sign? Larry Brooks in the New York Post mentioned Nichushkin as a discussion point around Keith Yandle's future with the New York Rangers. It was not a rumor, but Mike Heika of DallasNews.com picked up on it and added some nuance to the idea. Although it's not an actual possibility, both men discussed why at least discussing the idea of trading Nichushkin has merit. All of that said, it is likely he signs with Dallas as a restricted free agent.
Edmonton Oilers: D Justin Schultz
What Role Does He Fill? Justin Schultz is a puck-moving defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers. He has posted 33 points per 82 games during his NHL career.
What Are His Flaws? Schultz has terrific speed but lacks other skills we generally associate with puck-movers. His passing sometimes lacks accuracy, and he does not possess an impact shot from the point, which decreases his power-play value.
Will They Trade or Sign? The Oilers are likely to overhaul their defense, and it is likely Schultz will not return next season. There is a chance he passes through the deadline without a deal, but his time in Edmonton is coming to an end.
Florida Panthers: C Brandon Pirri
What Role Does He Fill? Brandon Pirri is a skill center for the Florida Panthers. He posted one of the most bizarre scoring lines in NHL history last season, scoring 22 goals with only two assists.
What Are His Flaws? Pirri is not a big player (6'0", 183 lbs) and is prone to bouts of inconsistency.
Will They Trade or Sign? Pirri won't break the bank as a restricted free agent, but there is the potential for a trade. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet posted on rumored interest from the Edmonton Oilers in a recent edition of his 30 Thoughts, possibly indicating Pirri is in play.
New York Islanders: RW Ryan Strome
What Role Does He Fill? Ryan Strome is a top-drawer offensive talent who has not been able to establish himself as an upper-echelon NHL player. He spent part of this season in the AHL.
What Are His Flaws? Strome—like a lot of young players (he's 22)—has lapses in attention and has been slow to develop his play away from the puck.
Will They Trade or Sign? The Islanders are entering the window of opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. They need Strome to be a big piece of the puzzle, or they need to trade out and find a suitable replacement. Based on his performance this season, it could go either way.
Ottawa Senators: D Patrick Wiercioch
What Role Does He Fill? Patrick Wiercioch of the Ottawa Senators has been part of the defense for four seasons. Despite the four years, he has never played as many as 60 games in any of those years.
What Are His Flaws? He is a big defenseman (6'5", 202 lbs) but is not an especially difficult defenseman to play against. Also, he has offensive potential, but very little has made its way to the scoresheet.
Will They Trade or Sign? The Senators are a budget team, and Wiercioch is making $2.7 million this season. There is a real chance the club feels it is not getting value on the investment, which means he could be in play at the deadline.
Toronto Maple Leafs: C Nazem Kadri
What Role Does He Fill? Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a strong two-way player with a bright future in the NHL. Despite lower scoring totals this year, he has a complete skill set.
What Are His Flaws? He is still working toward the player he should become, and there is some impatience to see him blossom offensively. There seems to be a sense he should be impacting the game in a bigger way, despite posting impressive possession stats, via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.
Will They Trade or Sign? The Maple Leafs win either way, but it is fun speculation. Paul Taylor of Fansided picked up on an Elliotte Friedman Reddit AMA chat speculating on Kadri's possible availability. It is important to note this is not a rumor but rather a discussion of possibilities. Toronto would have a strong young center if it signs him, and that is the most likely scenario.