10 Trade Candidates Who Could Push Stanley Cup Contenders Over the Top
The NHL trade deadline is still a few months away, but it is not too soon to start thinking about which players could help put some of the Stanley Cup contenders over the top.
While "the big trade" might not always lead to a championship for every team that makes one, most Stanley Cup winners tend to add somebody to their roster to help out.
Colorado added Artturi Lehkonen last year. Tampa Bay traded for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow before that. The Capitals nabbed Michal Kempný in 2018, while Pittsburgh acquired players like Carl Hagelin, Ron Hainsey and Trevor Daley to its back-to-back winners in 2016 and 2017. There is always somebody a team can add to make an impact.
With that in mind, let's take a look at 10 potential Stanley Cup contenders that are in most need of adding somebody that can put them over the top.
A few potential contenders did not make our list just because, at this point, they may not need anything or may already have help on the way from within.
The Lightning, for example, have spent most of the season playing without Anthony Cirelli and just saw him return earlier this month. Florida has been without Aaron Ekblad for a handful of games and has an Anthony Duclair return on the horizon. Carolina hopes it can get Max Pacioretty back in time for the playoff push. The Penguins should be getting a top defender in Kris Letang back relatively soon.
But as for some other potential contenders? Let's take a look at what they might need.
Colorado Avalanche: Jonathan Toews
Colorado's big issue right now is that its roster has been decimated by injuries, putting its depth to the test. Even when fully healthy, the Avalanche could use an upgrade at center following the offseason departure of Nazem Kadri in free agency.
Players like J.T. Compher and Evan Rodrigues are fine depth players, but they are not who you want centering your second line on a potential Stanley Cup run.
Jonathan Toews, on the other hand, might still have something left in the tank to help a contender.
Chicago's management would be derelict in its duty if it does not explore trades for Toews and Patrick Kane, and the players would have to least consider the chance to play for a contender again.
The Blackhawks are not going anywhere this season, and given the long-term nature of their rebuild, there is zero reason for either side to seek out a contract extension beyond sentimental reasons. A trade makes the most sense, and Colorado would be an ideal fit for the former.
Toews is not anywhere near the player he was in his prime, but with eight goals and 14 points through 24 games, he is still close to a 30-goal pace over 82 games and would probably get a little boost being surrounded by Stanley Cup talent on his wings.
When healthy, Colorado still has the talent to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, but it just needs a little help down the middle. Toews can still provide that.
New Jersey Devils: Bo Horvat
The Devils have been the biggest surprise in the NHL this season and have come out of nowhere to emerge as a top Stanley Cup contender. And there is not much to indicate this start is a fluke.
They have some of the league's most dominant possession and scoring chance numbers at even-strength (via Natural Stat Trick), generating more than 60 percent of the expected goals and 59 percent of scoring chances.
Their young talent has really taken off with Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier leading the way, while their no-name defense has taken a huge step forward thanks to their offseason addition of John Marino, the emergence of Jonas Siegenthaler and a healthy Dougie Hamilton.
So what do they need?
A legit third-line center to play behind Hischier, and Bo Horvat would be an absolute dream.
He has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise underwhelming Vancouver Canucks team, and as a pending unrestricted free agent after this season, he seems like an obvious trade candidate.
At some point, the Canucks have to start making significant changes to a roster that has produced nothing in recent years, and their salary cap situation makes a new Horvat contract seem problematic despite his production (and captaincy).
Horvat has scored at a 30-plus-goal pace the past two years and is on pace for a career-best performance this season with 20 goals in his first 31 games. He would make an already powerful Devils lineup even better and give them a shot to really make some noise in the East.
Dallas Stars: Ryan O'Reilly
B/R's Joe Yerdon recently mentioned the Stars as a potential landing spot for Ryan O'Reilly, and it really would be a great fit, not only in terms of need but also style.
O'Reilly is still one of the best two-way centers in the league and would give the Stars a trio of Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin, and O'Reilly down the middle. Not many teams in the NHL would be able to match up with that group.
The Stars have a lot going for them this season and have some serious high-level talent. The top line of Pavelski, Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz is one of the league's best, they have a bonafide No. 1 defender in Miro Heiskanen, and they also boast an emerging star in goal in Jake Oettinger. The one big question they have had the past couple of years has been scoring depth.
The idea of the Blues being a potential seller at the start of the season would have been crazy, but nothing about their start is inspiring much confidence in their ability to compete this season, and with O'Reilly set to be a free agent after this season, it would probably be best to get something for him while they can.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Jacob Chychrun
At the start of the season, one might have figured that Toronto needs to explore its goaltending options, but Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov have been shockingly good and have given the Maple Leafs one of the best goaltending duos in the league.
Combined with their big four at forward, the Maple Leafs are on pace to match their regular season record from a year ago when they set a franchise record in points.
While all of that is fun to hear, this team is still going to be measured by what it does in the playoffs. If they are going to finally break through that first-round ceiling and make a run, it is going to have to happen this season, and adding more depth to their blue line might be the way to go about it.
Jacob Chychrun's name has been mentioned in trade speculation for a couple of years now, and Toronto has been connected to his name on occasion.
Chychrun is an interesting case because a lot of his value is tied to the fact he has such a team-friendly contract. He is not a star, nor is he the type of player who is going to play 26 minutes a night in every situation, but the Maple Leafs do not really need that sort of player. They need a good No. 2-3 guy who can balance out the defensive depth. That would be a perfect role for Chychrun on a contender, and his contract makes him an extremely attractive option for the Maple Leafs.
Boston Bruins: Gustav Nyquist
The Bruins do not need much right now as they have put together one of the most complete teams in the league and their championship window is still wide open. At least for this season.
They managed to get Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci back on one-year deals, but they are not going to play forever, and with David Pastrnak set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, his future with the team remains in some doubt. So there should be a ton of pressure and incentive to win this season.
So what do they need?
How about some middle-six scoring depth on the wings.
Gustav Nyquist would be a really solid fit because he would not cost a ton, and when healthy, he is still a productive player who can score at a 20-goal pace. Secondary scoring has been the Achilles' heel for Boston in recent years, and that is probably the one spot they could use a little help.
Los Angeles Kings: Any Goalie
There is every reason to believe that the Kings are ready to be a Stanley Cup contender this season.
They have a balanced lineup with strong scoring depth, a healthy cupboard of prospects, and they have spent big resources the past two years adding veterans like Viktor Arvidsson, Phillip Danault and Kevin Fiala to their lineup.
The one thing they are lacking that is going to hold them back from reaching the next level? Goaltending.
Goaltending is absolutely crushing them so far this season, and it has to be addressed. No team has a worse all-situations save percentage this season than the Kings (via Natural Stat Trick) while they are also bottom-five in terms of 5-on-5 save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick).
Jonathan Quick and Calvin Petersen both own save percentages under .890 on the season, while the team has turned to Pheonix Copley to back up Quick.
Neither player is the answer.
Goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey. Great goaltending turns bad teams into good teams and good teams into championship teams. Bad goaltending can single-handedly ruin a contender. The Kings might be in danger of finding that out if they do not make an addition here.
The problem is that the list of potential rentals is bleak. Cam Talbot might be the best option, but the Kings might even want to consider going after somebody to be more of a long-term answer. No matter who it is, they have to do something because they have the talent to win now, and the division and conference are wide open for the taking.
Vegas Golden Knights: Shayne Gostisbehere
With a new head coach in Bruce Cassidy, a healthy Jack Eichel looking like a superstar again and Logan Thompson solidifying their goaltending position, the Vegas Golden Knights are looking like a Stanley Cup contender after last year's disappointment.
Vegas has never met a blockbuster trade or move that it did not like, and while it would be tempting to suggest somebody like Jacob Chychrun, Erik Karlsson or Patrick Kane for them, I think a more reasonable move like Shayne Gostisbehere would bring a lot to not only improve their defense depth, but to also give an average power play a potential lift.
Gostisbehere has done a great job turning his career around in Arizona, and the Coyotes' decision to take on his contract from Philadelphia has looked like a brilliant move. They got a draft pick from Philadelphia for taking on the contract, got a good player for a couple of years and will be able to flip him for another asset as part of their rebuild. Gostisbehere, meanwhile, would end up with a chance to play for a contender.
New York Rangers: Vladimir Tarasenko
Even though the Rangers seem to have taken a small step backwards at the start of the season, there is still every reason to believe they can turn things around. Especially with the top-end talent on the roster.
The one thing they are lacking is depth scoring during 5-on-5 play.
Vladimir Tarasenko could help fix that in a big way, and the Rangers have been connected to him in trade speculation before.
While Tarasenko seemingly backed off from the trade request he made more than a year ago, he remains a pending unrestricted free agent after this season, and the Blues seem like they are a team on the downswing this season.
Tarasenko has a history with Rangers superstar winger Artemi Panarin, and it would be fascinating to see them play together in the NHL.
Tararsenko's career seemed to be trending in the wrong direction during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons when he was derailed by injuries, but the past two years have shown he can still be a top-line performer. Entering play on Saturday he has scored 41 goals in the past 100 regular season games since the start of the 2021-22 season. The Rangers could use another impact scorer like that to really balance out the lineup.
Seattle Kraken: Erik Karlsson
Let's get wild!
After a disappointing debut season, the Kraken are starting to put things together and look like a team that might be able to do some damage. They had a strong offseason with the addition of André Burakovsky, Matty Beniers is starting to emerge as a franchise player and their goaltending has been significantly better than it was a year ago when the position completely tanked their chances.
So what could they really use to really cause some chaos? A front-line defenseman who can help control the game.
Erik Karlsson is going through a resurgence this season in San Jose and playing like his prime-level self, which is a thing of beauty to watch.
His contract would be problematic, and he would have to approve the move, but even though he has had some health issues and seems to have been around forever, he is still of an age that he could theoretically have some big years ahead of him.
The Western Conference is wide open this season, and Seattle could have just as good of a chance as anybody to make a run.
Adding a superstar, impact player like Karlsson could really make them interesting.
New York Islanders: Patrick Kane
The Islanders are a fascinating team because there is nothing overly impressive about them on paper or in the way they play.
What they do have is two outstanding goalies in Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov who are able to mask flaws, steal games and turn them into a potential playoff team. They took a big bet this offseason that all they needed was a coaching change and a fresh start after the 2021-22 season was crushed by an early season road trip that kept them away from home for nearly two months, and a roster that was hurt by COVID-19 and injuries. So far, that bet is paying off.
But even when they were going to the Eastern Conference Finals a couple of years ago, they still lacked impact difference-makers at forward to complement Mathew Barzal.
They are still lacking that.
Kane might not totally fit the way the Islanders play defensively, but he is still a top playmaker and would give the Islanders some much needed scoring punch on their top line.