Buy or Sell NHL Unrestricted Free Agents Getting Dealt at the Trade Deadline
We're nearly at the end of January, and with February comes the real countdown to the NHL trade deadline on March 3. And when it's deadline time, the players most likely to be moved are those at the end of their contracts and staring unrestricted free agency right in the face come summertime.
Sometimes that isn't very spicy, and there aren't many fun names out there for contenders to rent for a run at the Stanley Cup. Take a look at this list of pending free agents from CapFriendly. You could cobble together a pretty decent All-Star roster out of the players who could be available to sign come July. But why wait when you can trade for them now?
Of course, not everyone gets traded because NHL GMs are always eager to trade, but somehow none of the other GMs want to trade with them. That's quite the paradox, but eventually the desire for a Cup (or to save one's job) forces hands, and when it's a staring contest, someone will blink. Usually.
But which free agents who could move are most likely to move, and which ones are a pipe dream? That's why I'm here, friends, to buy or sell who will get dealt and who will wind up sticking around at their current address.
Don't agree? That's OK; you can tell me all about it in the comments!
Sell: John Klingberg, Anaheim Ducks
It's been a fascinating turn of events for John Klingberg the past few seasons. At one point with the Dallas Stars, he was turning heads all over the league as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.
In 2017-18, he tied with Brent Burns for second in scoring among defensemen with 67 points, one point behind John Carlson. When he headed into free agency last summer, his hope was he would cash in on having been a consistent point producer with the ability to set up teammates well. But his defensive abilities were heavily questioned, and with good reason.
Klingberg's possession numbers worsened last season, and he had a team-worst minus-28 rating in plus-minus (I know, I know...it's a bad stat for judgment), and that was after seasons with a minus-10 and minus-15 before that, albeit with better possession numbers.
Because of that and the lessened offense, the calls with long-term offers never came, and he took a one-year deal with the Ducks to show that he's still got it.
Unfortunately, the Ducks are one of the worst teams in the NHL, and Klingberg's numbers are taking a further hit because of that. Through 40 games, he's a minus-26, and his possession numbers are the worst in his career.
Could a team view this and say, "We're better than the Ducks, so there's no way he'll be that bad with us," and pull the trigger on a trade? Absolutely! And there aren't many good puck-moving defensemen out there in a similar situation, which could make him an attractive add. But...
After the way his offseason went with a dearth of offers for his services, and with how gnarly his total numbers look this season, it's hard to see a team coughing up what the Ducks may want for him to add a player who might not actually help out in the end.
He has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to somewhat control where he goes (he's got a 10-team list of where he won't go), but if he's asked about it now, it would be a surprise.
Buy: Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks
We've written a lot about Bo Horvat lately, and with how awful the situation has been in Vancouver, any hopes Canucks GM Patrik Allvin and team president Jim Rutherford had of re-signing their captain had to have flown out the window. After all, who wants to stick around after what the team did with now-former head coach Bruce Boudreau?
The Canucks are a sinking ship, and everyone should be on a lifeboat away from them...and Horvat should absolutely be the first one off the boat. If you're not buying the Canucks trading him, I want to know what kind of stuff you're on because I want to try it out for fun.
Horvat's $5.5 million cap hit is no big deal when it's deadline time, so that's easy enough to move. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Vancouver reportedly wants three players, including a top prospect.
That's a fair enough price, but if I'm an interested team, I'd like to get a contract extension worked out first before I make that deal. Assurances are good, after all.
Horvat is having the best season of his career, with 30 goals at the mid-season point and is on pace to set career highs in goals and points. Any contender adding Horvat would be getting a huge boost to its chances of winning the Stanley Cup, and if it can retain him beyond this season, it's a heck of a pick-up moving forward.
Buy: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
The dynasty days in Chicago have been over for a few seasons, and now that Patrick Kane's eight-year, $84 million contract is nearing its end, the 34-year-old scorer is destined to help someone else win the Stanley Cup this season.
Kane will be traded without a doubt, so buy that in a big way. It's been a fait accompli since before the season started that he and Jonathan Toews would likely end up in different uniforms before the end of the season, and with Chicago mired in a rock fight for the bottom of the standings for the best shot at Connor Bedard in the 2023 NHL draft, it's time.
Kane's offensive numbers have taken a hit this season, but find me a Blackhawks player whose hasn't. Any team acquiring Kane knows exactly the kind of player they're getting and what his strengths and weaknesses are.
Patrick Kane will: Help you score goals at even strength and on the power play.
Patrick Kane will not: Be on the ice for a defensive stand to maintain a one-goal lead, nor will he lead your penalty kill.
What Chicago asks for one of its all-time greatest players who's clearly on the back-nine of his career will be interesting. That much is still up in the air, according to Sportsnet's Jeff Marek.
Kane has a no-move clause, so where he goes will ultimately be up to him, which at least adds some intrigue to the situation. However, there's no doubt he'll be somewhere else at season's end.
Sell: Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Ryan O'Reilly would be an ideal player for a contending team to add at the deadline. He's a proven winner and comes up big when the moments call for it, as proven by the Blues' 2019 Stanley Cup. He defends well, wins faceoffs, and can score consistently. But I'm selling he'll be traded for a few reasons.
First off, the Blues are still very much in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, and as of this writing, they're four points out of the second wild-card spot and five back of the Minnesota Wild for third in the Central Division. If the Blues feel like they're going to be a playoff team and one that can make noise once there, there's zero reason to trade anyone, least of all O'Reilly.
There's also the fact he's injured right now. O'Reilly broke his foot on Dec. 31, which will keep him out of action for six weeks. Last week, he was seen on crutches, roughly two weeks after the injury and with four weeks to go before he's evaluated.
That's pushing the timetable for teams that might have interest in him to mid-February. Teams will want to know he's recovered and good to go before paying up what the Blues' price might be.
When a situation calls for GMs to take a risk or find a safer solution, nine out of 10 times, the safe way is how it'll go. O'Reilly doesn't have trade protection, so anyone could go for him and get him if they want him. The question is whether they will take a chance or not.
Sell: David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Consider this more of a courtesy slide than anything else.
Yes, David Pastrnak is due to become a free agent this summer. Yes, Pasta is having an incredible season and will deserve whatever gaudy amount a team will want to pay him. However, that team will be the Boston Bruins because there is no way the Bruins don't get an extension done.
Sell. Sell. Sell. The Boston Bruins are not trading David Pastrnak.
The reason to mention Pastrnak here is that an extension hasn't been finalized, and whenever there's a void of a solution, you have to keep that 0.000001 percent of thought in the back of your mind about what a Pastrnak trade market would look like. CapFriendly tells us Pastrnak has a 10-team modified no-trade clause with a no-move clause.
Essentially, any efforts to trade him would be a virtual non-starter, to begin with. If Boston was trying to deal him, basically every team in the NHL would be burning up Bruins GM Don Sweeney's phone with offers.
The Bruins are the best team in the NHL, and Pastrnak is a major reason why. If they traded him, there would be another Boston Tea Party.
Even if Pastrnak wanted to take it to July 1 just to see what some of the other offers would look like, the Bruins would not trade him. They are a Stanley Cup favorite, if not the favorite, and you don't deal your top goal scorer when you're staring a championship in the face.
I'm not sure if I made myself clear here, though. I hope I did. Subtlety fails me at times.
Buy: James Reimer, San Jose Sharks
Acquiring goaltenders at the trade deadline is always an adventure. If a contending team is looking for someone to get more starts to spell its No. 1 so they're rested for the playoff run, it makes sense to get someone reliable. If a contending team is looking for someone to challenge the incumbent, then it's playing with fire.
Fortunately, when it comes to James Reimer, adding him to a contending roster means adding a guy who can win some games and not rock the boat. I realize saying this will get some Maple Leafs fans up in arms, but you can take it easy here. As an older veteran, Reimer knows what his role would be if he joined another team for a playoff push.
He is an endlessly positive and great locker room presence and can play decently in goal. The Sharks are messy this season and might be pulling things apart a little more, given the rumors swirling around Timo Meier.
His numbers this season scream "guy starting for a bad team" which is something to keep in mind if your team adds him. But throughout his career, Reimer's been as steady as it gets when it comes to goaltending.
If a team adds him to be the No. 1, it might not be a great sign for that club, but he can hold down the fort in an emergency. But if the move is to solidify a tandem and provide a solid backup in case disaster strikes, adding Reimer would be a savvy move.
Buy: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Here's an argument I'm willing to make: Any team adding Jonathan Toews by the trade deadline would push themselves to the front of the line among Stanley Cup contenders.
Toews' value to a contender would be immense. First off, he can still play. Yes, the numbers have dipped the past few seasons—aging is mean that way—but the quality of his team has also dropped during that time.
Could Toews be Superman and carry those rosters on his shoulders? I guess he could, but that's asking a lot of a player past the age of 30 in the NHL.
What is key here is that any team adding Toews isn't doing so to put him in its top six. They're not asking him to be 2010 or 2013 or 2015 Toews; they're asking him to use his smarts, know-how and ability to deepen a team for a run at the Cup.
There's the leadership part out there, too, but any team in a contending position is already set with its leadership group. Furthermore, any team adding Toews isn't asking him to be the captain. They'll be asking him to do what's made him one of the best in the league, albeit at a slower pace now.
An acquiring team won't be void of talent the way Chicago is now, which means he'll ideally have better linemates and defensemen behind him, which should mean his numbers will normalize a little bit. But whichever team adds him will get a bigger boost than his current numbers show.
Buy: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
OK, you can call me a hypocrite if you want to based on what I wrote about why I'm selling on Ryan O'Reilly. But there are a few distinct reasons why I'm buying on a Vladimir Tarasenko trade.
Tarasenko has the specific talents that teams go ga-ga for. He's a pure scorer with a hard shot who can turn a game on its head in a flash. He's an instant addition to any team's power play and is a dynamic shooter on the wing. Goals are at a premium in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Tarasenko's biggest talent is scoring them.
The big caveat here is how close the Blues stay in the race for the playoffs in the West. The closer they stick, the less likely they'll be to trade away anyone, never mind a player that can change games like Tarasenko.
Tarasenko, like O'Reilly, is also out—a hand injury in his case. However, he began skating recently and may be back on Tuesday. He'll have a lot of games to show his hand is back to normal, which means potential acquiring teams will have fully updated dossiers on the 31-year-old Russian.
It may be "easier" to move Tarasenko than O'Reilly, because there was a time during the summer of 2021 when he requested a trade, and that request never actually went away. Kevin Weekes recently reported that Carolina might have interest after Max Pacioretty went down for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon.
If there's one wrinkle in all this, it's that Tarasenko has a no-trade clause, so he can shoot down any possible deals. But if the Blues are virtually out of the playoff race by the deadline, a move to any contender would likely be approved. After all, it might be a short stay in the end.
Buy: James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers
When you look at James van Riemsdyk's raw stats from this season, you might be thinking to yourself, "Self, why is Joe buying on JVR being traded?"
I realize that when you see the veteran power forward has seven goals and 12 assists this season, it would seem like it would be hard to find a team who might want the 33-year-old from New Jersey. But when you see that those are his stats through 27 games played, it suddenly seems a lot better.
Van Riemsdyk clearly isn't the same player he was years ago in Toronto, but he had 24 goals last season with the Flyers. His offensive game has adjusted over the years, and with getting older, it's good that he has. Despite being on some tough-luck Flyers teams, he's maintained a steady rate of scoring.
To be clear, a team acquiring van Riemsdyk isn't doing so to put him on its top line. But if a team that's missing a little offensive bite from its middle six up front, adding JVR to that mix would help and provide a different type of forward.
Van Riemsdyk has always used his size (6'3", 212) to find ways to get to and around the net and clean up. His shot is decent, but it's the way he uses his frame that makes him good.
At this point in van Riemsdyk's career, it would be hard to imagine he would say no to a trade, but he doesn't have any trade protection, so he's at Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher's mercy if a deal materializes. But if there's a contender in need of some savvy veteran forward help, van Riemsdyk would be a fun choice.