Pending NHL Free Agents Most Likely to Be Traded During the 2014-15 Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistNovember 20, 2014

Pending NHL Free Agents Most Likely to Be Traded During the 2014-15 Season

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    In the modern salary-cap era, the days when an NHL team could make a trade to shake off a slump are long gone.

    These days, every dollar needs to be carefully managed, especially for teams that are already flirting with the league's cap ceiling. Personnel moves are few and far between.

    As the year wears on, however, salary commitments start to diminish. If a player on an expiring contract is acquired by trade, a team is only on the hook from the date that he joins their roster. That's one of the reasons why trade deadline deals are so popular—contenders can get a big bang for minimal bucks, like the Los Angeles Kings did with Marian Gaborik last season on their way to the Stanley Cup.

    This summer, Jason Spezza is the biggest name that's scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency. Though his Dallas Stars are currently underachieving, Spezza's contract includes a limited no-trade clause, so it's unlikely that he'll get dealt this season.

    The main market at the moment is for defensemen—especially right-handers.

    Here's a look at six potential unrestricted free agents who are most likely to move to new homes on or before the March 2, 2015 trade deadline.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com. Salary cap information courtesy of CapGeek.com.

Mike Green: Washington Capitals

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Current Contract: 3 years, $18.25 million; 2014-15 cap hit of $6,083,333

    2014-15 Stats: 17 GP, 3-9-12

    Why is He Expendable? 

    Green's play had fallen off dramatically from his career high of 31 goals when the Washington Capitals signed free agent defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen during the summer of 2014.

    He's looking better this year, tied with Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban for 10th in scoring among blueliners. But Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports that Green's success is coming in a third-pairing role, where he's playing less and facing weaker opposition. It's hardly what Washington would have expected when it signed him to a contract in 2012 that makes him the NHL's 11th highest-paid defenseman.

    Most Likely Suitors

    The Caps are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference, just outside the playoff picture. TSN's Bob McKenzie says that if Washington fails to advance to the postseason, Green could move to a team that's looking for help on the power play, per Nichols on Hockey:

    He would definitely be an interesting rental for a team that thinks, if they have the cap room to add that much money for the balance of the season, he could really make a huge difference on a power play. And especially on a team where their defense is engrained enough that he has to elevate his play to that level, as opposed to being asked to carry the load.

    Montreal could be an interesting fit. The league's No. 1 team just acquired Sergei Gonchar in an effort to boost its 27th-ranked power play.

    If 40-year-old Gonchar gets injured or runs out of gas, Green could be an upgrade closer to the deadline—when a team wouldn't need to absorb so much of his cap hit.

    The Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators are other teams in or near playoff contention who could use a boost with the man advantage.

    Odds He'll be Traded: 40-60

Christian Ehrhoff: Pittsburgh Penguins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 32

    Current Contract: 1 year, $4 million; 2014-15 cap hit of $4 million

    2014-15 Stats: 17 GP, 0-5-5

    Why is He Expendable? 

    At $4 million for one year, Christian Ehrhoff was a nice value signing by the Pittsburgh Penguins after he was bought out of his 10-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres.

    Despite being known as a power-play specialist, Ehrhoff has turned into a defensive stud in Pittsburgh, leading the team with a plus-10 rating but posting just one assist with the man advantage.

    If the Penguins are contending as a possible front-runner when the team heads into the playoffs, they might keep all hands on deck. If they do make a move, trading Ehrhoff for a nice asset could enable them to re-sign Paul Martin to a new deal next summer.

    Most Likely Suitors

    As a left-shooting defenseman, Ehrhoff doesn't fit Detroit's needs, but he could be a nice fit in Anaheim. Sami Vatanen is having great success running the power play from the right side; a left-shooting specialist could be just what the Ducks need to take their threat level up another notch.

    Odds He'll be Traded: 50-50

Tomas Fleischmann: Florida Panthers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 30

    Current Contract: 4 years, $18 million; 2014-15 cap hit of $4.5 million

    2014-15 Stats: 15 GP, 1-1-2

    Why is He Expendable?

    You're the second-highest paid forward on the Florida Panthers. You're being made a healthy scratch, as Fleischmann was on November 8 in Florida's 6-4 loss to the Calgary Flames. Something's gotta give. 

    Fleischmann scored 27 goals and 61 points in his first of four years with the Panthers but dropped to just 28 points in 2013-14. This season's not going any better.

    Fleischmann could use a change of scenery for a chance to find his game before he hits the free-agent market next summer.

    Most Likely Suitors

    An offensively challenged team like the Winnipeg Jets could benefit from a productive Fleischmann as they work to pursue their first playoff spot since relocating from Atlanta to Canada. Fleischmann's puck-handling finesse could help the Jets score more goals, and the team has the cap space to absorb Fleischmann's salary.

    Odds He'll be Traded: 60-40

Jeff Petry: Edmonton Oilers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26

    Current Contract: 1 year, $3.075 million; 2014-15 cap hit of $3.075 million

    2014-15 Stats: 18 GP, 1-1-2

    Why is He Expendable? 

    Petry and the Oilers agreed to sign just a one-year deal for this season, at a significant raise from his $1.75 million cap hit from the previous two seasons.

    Edmonton continues to struggle defensively—ranked 27th in the league in goals allowed per game so far in 2014-15. But Petry's a right-shooting defenseman with good size—a valuable commodity on the free-agent market. 

    The Oilers already look like they're out of the playoff picture again this season. Better to move Petry in exchange for some assets than lose him for nothing next July.

    Most Likely Suitors

    In late October, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet suggested that the teams most interested in Petry are the Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and possibly the Anaheim Ducks. Since they're right at the salary-cap ceiling, the Flyers would need to clear some cap space before they could even begin to think about trying to add defensive help.

    Odds He'll be Traded: 70-30

Cody Franson: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Graig Abel/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Current Contract: 1 year, $3.3 million; 2014-15 cap hit of $3.3 million

    2014-15 Stats: 17 GP, 3-10-13

    Why is He Expendable? 

    After their 9-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs need to do something to shake up their team. Because the Leafs are still hanging within reach of the playoffs despite a three-game losing streak, fans want to see the team get shifted back into the right direction before it drops into a swoon that removes all postseason possibilities.

    Cody Franson is playing on his third consecutive one-year contract and will almost certainly depart for different shores at season's end. He's tied for seventh in scoring among all NHL defensemen and boasts a reasonable plus-four rating. He's also a mountain at 6'5"—and shoots right—so he should command a decent price on the trade market.

    Most Likely Suitors

    According to Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star, Franson was the player who was supposed to be shipped to the Montreal Canadiens last summer in the deal that was vetoed by Montreal's Josh Gorges. The Habs would likely still be interested in Franson, as would the Detroit Red Wings. 

    Odds He'll be Traded: 80-20

Marc Methot: Ottawa Senators

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Current Contract: 4 years, $12 million; 2014-15 cap hit of $3 million

    2014-15 Stats: none; on injured reserve with back and hip problems

    Why is He Expendable? 

    The Senators have gotten by nicely without Methot so far this season. They're ranked a comfortable 12th in goals against per game and have seen Cody Ceci blossom into a solid top-four blueliner in just his second full NHL season.

    Most Likely Suitors

    Darren Dreger of TSN says, "the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers are believed to be among the teams interested" in taking a look at Methot when he's healthy. 

    Dreger also says, "There's been no progress made on his contract negotiations with the Senators - and virtually no discussions over the past three weeks - which continues to fuel trade speculation."

    Methot's current cap hit is reasonable, which means a financially prudent team wouldn't have to wait until the trade deadline to acquire him. Expect a deal soon after he's medically cleared to play.

    Odds He'll be Traded: 85-15