The Top Players Likely to Be Available at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline
With the calendar turned to January 2016, the NHL's Feb. 29 trade deadline is within sight. Pending free agents, such as Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (pictured above), could be dealt if unsigned before deadline day. A young talent under contract on a struggling team, like Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen, could also hit the trade block.
Factors such as salary-cap space, team and player performance could determine who gets moved on deadline day. As for returns, the clubs shopping unrestricted free agents are rebuilding clubs seeking draft picks and prospects. For players like Johansen, the return could be significantly more.
Here's a look at the top players likely to be available at the NHL's 2016 trade deadline. Feel free to weigh in with your comments below.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. The subject of seemingly endless trade speculation, there's no indication he's close to a new contract. On Dec. 19, Stamkos told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times there's no truth to speculation that he wants out of Tampa Bay. He maintains both sides are still discussing a deal.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. On Dec. 17, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported the Kings could announce the re-signing of Kopitar in January. It's expected to be an eight-year deal worth around $9.75 million per season, effectively taking him out of the trade rumor mill.
Milan Lucic, Los Angeles Kings. Re-signing Kopitar will leave the Kings hard-pressed to find sufficient cap space to re-sign Lucic. That doesn't mean they won't try. Currently riding high in the Western Conference standings, they're unlikely to shop him.
David Backes, St. Louis Blues. His production is down this season compared to last. Still, the Blues will likely continue to look toward their captain leading them this season into the playoffs.
Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames. Like Backes, Hudler's offensive numbers are below last season's pace. With the Flames clawing back into playoff contention, they could hang onto Hudler for the remainder of this season.
Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets. With the Jets in danger of missing the playoffs, they could shop their captain. Given their limited depth in skilled talent at left wing, however, they'll likely try to re-sign Ladd.
Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders. When the season began, there was talk the Isles might trade Okposo. With their offense below last season's standards, however, they could hang onto him for the playoffs.
Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers. The ageless Jagr is playing a big role in the Panthers' improvement this season. He won't be available at the deadline.
Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Toronto Maple Leafs
Parenteau's enjoying a bounce-back performance this season. He could reach 20 goals and 40 points. On Dec. 29, the Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan reported the Leafs winger could draw interest from playoff contenders near the trade deadline.
Eastern Conference suitors could include the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers. Those from the Western Conference seeking scoring depth could include the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators.
Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen is in the final season of a two-year, $2.3 million contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $1.15 million. He lacks a no-trade clause. The 26-year-old netminder is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in July and is a year away from eligibility for unrestricted free agency.
Andersen began this season as the Ducks starting goalie and played well in October. However, he saw limited activity through December after getting outplayed by the promising John Gibson. With veteran backup Anton Khudobin also in the system, Andersen could become expendable. If the Ducks are in playoff contention by the deadline, they could use him as a trade chip in hopes of boosting their anemic scoring.
Possible suitors could include the Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers. However, the Ducks might be unwilling to ship Andersen to division rivals. They could instead try peddling him to an Eastern Conference team.
Radim Vrbata, Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks right wing Radim Vrbata is in the final season of a two-year, $10 million contract. His annual salary cap hit is $5 million, and he also carries a modified no-trade clause. The 34-year-old is among the Canucks' leading scorers.
Vrbata's production is down from last season's 31-goal, 62-point performance. However, he still possesses a good scoring touch that could prove enticing to teams seeking offensive depth.
The Montreal Canadiens are thin at right wing and could become a suitor. The Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers could also pursue Vrbata at the deadline.
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward is in the final season of a six-year, $37.8 million contract. His annual salary-cap hit is $6.3 million, plus he has a no-trade clause. If management is unwilling to re-sign him, the 31-year-old netminder might agree to be shipped to a playoff contender.
While Ward's had his share of consistency issues and injury woes over the years, he has five seasons with 30-plus wins and considerable experience as an NHL starter. He's also a proven playoff performer, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP after backstopping the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006.
Teams in dire need of a proven starting goalie could come calling. The Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes could express interest.
Keith Yandle, New York Rangers
New York Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle is in the final season of a five-year, $26.25 million contract. His annual salary-cap hit is $5.25 million, divided this season between the Rangers and his former club, the Arizona Coyotes. The 29-year-old leads all Rangers defensemen in points this season and ranks among their leading scorers.
Re-signing Yandle, however, could prove too expensive for the Rangers. After winning only four games in December, management could consider shaking things up if the Blueshirts' slide continues in the coming weeks.
On Dec. 26, Newsday's Steve Zipay wondered if Yandle might fetch a top-six forward from the Winnipeg Jets or Colorado Avalanche. The Jets, however, have plenty of blue-line depth. The Avs aren't likely to trade away assets for a defenseman they could pursue via free agency in July.
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal is in the final season of a seven-year, $57.75 million contract. The annual salary-cap hit is $8.25 million, with a full no-trade clause. He could waive it, however, if requested by management. The Hurricanes need a much-overdue rebuild. Staal might not be part of their future plans.
Despite the ongoing decline in his offensive production, Staal remains a well-respected player around the league. A playoff contender could take a chance on the 31-year-old regaining his scoring touch on a deeper roster.
Teams in need of scoring depth could come calling. On Dec. 30, the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson wondered if the Anaheim Ducks might pursue him. On Dec. 23, ESPN.com's Craig Custance suggested the Montreal Canadiens as a destination. Back on Dec. 11, Sportsnet's Daniel Goffenberg cited colleague Elliotte Friedman's belief the Nashville Predators could express interest.
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is in the final season of a five-year, $26 million contract. He carries a $5.2 million annual salary-cap hit with a modified no-trade clause. The 30-year-old blueliner ranks among this season's leading scorers for defensemen.
Re-signing Byfuglien could cost over $7 million per season. For a budget-conscious club like the Jets, that could prove too expensive, especially when they also have to re-sign captain Andrew Ladd. If they fall further out of playoff contention, Big Buff could be dealt by the trade deadline. Given his size, physical style and offensive skills, he will certainly attract considerable attention.
On Dec. 10, the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson speculated the Florida Panthers could be interested in Byfuglien. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers could use him, but they lack sufficient cap space for such an expensive rental player.
Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen is in the second season of a three-year, $12 million contract. His annual salary cap hit is $4 million and he lacks a no-trade clause. He is slated to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in July 2017.
Combine Johansen's subpar performance this season with the Blue Jackets' ongoing struggles, and it's no wonder he's appeared in trade rumors for weeks. On Dec. 18, Jackets president John Davidson told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch (via NHL.com) no one, not even Johansen, was untradeable. Given his skills and youth, the Jackets could seek a good young player, a high draft pick and a top prospect in return.
Trading a 23-year-old first-line center seems a move best suited for the offseason. However, last season's Evander Kane trade between Winnipeg and Buffalo proves that moving young talent can still happen near the trad deadline. Teams in need of depth at center could certainly use Johansen. On Dec. 22, ESPN.com's Craig Custance listed the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators as possible destinations.