The Biggest Factors Affecting the NHL Trade Market
Several NHL stars, such as Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, are appearing in recent trade rumors. So far, however, none of them have been dealt. Since the regular season began, there has yet to be any significant trade activity.
NHL general managers aren't able to make deals as frequently as they once did. Several issues, from the salary cap to parity among NHL teams, are contributing to the lack of movement in the trade market.
Here's a look at the biggest factors affecting this season's NHL trade market. As always, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.
Since last season, Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov has frequently surfaced in the rumor mill as a possible trade candidate. Currently sidelined two-to-four weeks by a sprained ankle, it's unlikely any club will pursue a deal for him until he's returned to action.
Injuries can also affect a general manager's efforts to move another player. The Edmonton Journal's Joanne Ireland reported Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and winger Jordan Eberle have been mentioned in recent trade speculation. With Yakupov and center Connor McDavid currently sidelined, however, moving Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins now only further weakens the Oilers.
It's not impossible to move an injured player via trade. However, general managers prefer to acquire healthy assets, especially those that can provide immediate help to a roster.
Parity Among NHL Teams
On Nov. 12, The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline reported Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen spent several weeks shopping for a defenseman. Since then, Kekalainen still hasn't found the blueliner he seeks.
Parity among NHL teams is partly to blame. Stuck near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the Blue Jackets seek help to address a major roster problem. Unfortunately, there are few trade partners to be found. Most of their rivals are still in playoff contention and are currently uninterested in making significant deals.
Because of how closely matched many of today's NHL teams are, it often takes months before the trade market improves. By that point, it's usually too late to help struggling early-season clubs like the Blue Jackets.
On Nov.12, it was reported the Colorado Avalanche contacted the Ottawa Senators to gauge their interest in center Matt Duchene. Subsequent reports indicated the Senators merely "kicked the tires" on Duchene and weren't willing to make a deal.
Duchene's $6 million annual salary-cap hit likely played a part in the Senators' reluctance to acquire him. While they have sufficient cap space on paper, the Senators are under a self-imposed cap ceiling. Duchene is an attractive talent, but his contract is simply too expensive to take on in the short and long term.
The rise in players' salaries, especially for star players like Duchene, has played a significant part in reducing the number of in-season NHL trades. The more expensive a player's contract, the less likely they are to be moved.
What do Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara have in common? Apart from being captains of their respective teams and being mentioned in early-season trade rumors, they cannot be dealt without their consent.
Staal has a no-trade clause, while Stamkos and Chara have no-movement clauses. They have full control over their future. If they don't want to be traded, there's nothing their respective general managers can do.
It's possible they could waive their clauses. Staal, for example, told NHL.com's Dan Rosen he wouldn't veto a trade if Hurricanes management decides to move him. However, he probably won't accept a deal to just any club. That could make it difficult for Hurricanes management to find suitable trade partners.
The Trade Deadline
Defenseman Jeff Petry was mentioned in trade rumors throughout much of last season. However, he wasn't moved until the trade deadline, when the Edmonton Oilers dealt him to his current club, the Montreal Canadiens.
NHL general managers tend to wait until the weeks leading up to the trade deadline (scheduled this season for Feb. 29) to move a valuable player. They know they'll get better returns by waiting until the deadline than they would earlier in the season. That's because playoff-bound teams are seeking roster depth around that time.
It's also rare for players carrying term on their contracts to be traded at the deadline. Most tend to be pending unrestricted free agents who their respective clubs cannot afford to re-sign.
While a number of players were dealt throughout last season, few were high-salaried stars in their playing prime. During the offseason, however, it was a different story. A number of notable deals took place involving established talents, like right wing Phil Kessel and center Ryan O'Reilly, or rising stars, like left wing Brandon Saad and defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
During the regular season, most teams lack room under the salary cap to take on expensive talent. In the offseason, teams have more cap space and willingness to make deals involving players carrying hefty contracts.
Most of those offseason deals take place in late June, usually during the NHL Draft. That's because all NHL general managers are in the same place and can often hash out trades face to face. It's a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future.
The Salary Cap
The imposition of a salary cap had the most dramatic effect upon the NHL trade market. Significant player movement tends to take place in June and July, when teams have the most salary-cap room and willingness to invest. When the season begins, most teams have little cap room to take on additional salary.
Per General Fanager, 16 NHL teams currently have less than $3 million in cap room. The remainder are under lower, self-imposed cap ceilings. As a result, teams rarely engage in early-season trades. Most player movement during the season now takes place in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
With the Canadian dollar decline in value against the American dollar, significant annual increases in the NHL salary cap are a thing of the past. That leaves NHL general managers leery of taking on significant salary beyond this season.