The Most Notable 2017 NHL Free Agents Likely to Be Traded This Season
Though the NHL's 2017 free-agent market doesn't begin until July 1, several players eligible for unrestricted free agency—such as St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop—could become subjects of trade speculation by the March 1 deadline.
Some of these players could exit in a deal because they no longer fit into their current club's future plans, and some could shift because they'll be too expensive to re-sign.
Here are the most notable impending free agents who could find a new home during 2016-17. You can weigh in with your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.
Brooks Laich, Toronto Maple Leafs
A hardworking, versatile forward who can also skate at left wing, Laich brought veteran experience and leadership that the rebuilding Leafs craved. Age and injuries, however, have hampered his offensive game, and his best seasons are behind him. He's starting this year in the minors.
It's apparent Laich doesn't have a future in Toronto. He's in the final season of a six-year, $27 million contract. Given Laich's $4.5 million annual cap hit and declining play, he'll be difficult to trade this early in the season. Playoff contenders seeking veteran depth could come calling near the deadline.
Bryan Bickell, Carolina Hurricanes
On June 15, the Carolina Hurricanes shipped two draft picks to the Chicago Blackhawks for forwards Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen. Teravainen, 22, has a future with the Hurricanes. Bickell, eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, could be on the move again before this season is over.
Bickell's nine-goal, 17-point performance in the 2013 playoffs helped the Blackhawks march to the Stanley Cup. It also earned him a four-year, $16 million contract. However, the 6'4", 223-pounder failed to play up to expectations with just 45 points over the last three years. It's unlikely the 30-year-old winger will significantly improve on the rebuilding Hurricanes.
A contender seeking a big-bodied winger with postseason experience could take a chance on him if the Hurricanes are out of contention near the trade deadline.
Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames
Last season was difficult for Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman. Calgary reduced his role as Dougie Hamilton moved into the Flames' top-four defensemen. Wideman also received a 20-game suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson, though it was later reduced on appeal by 10 games.
Wideman, 33, is in the final season of a five-year, $26.25 million contract with a full no-movement clause. With the Flames looking at re-signing key players such as goalie Brian Elliott and forward Sam Bennett, they could part ways with Wideman later this season.
If the Flames are out of playoff contention by the trade deadline, they could ask Wideman to waive his no-movement clause. As an experienced puck-moving defenseman with a right-handed shot, Wideman could prove an attractive commodity in the trade market.
Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets
Throughout his seven seasons as an NHL starter, Pavelec has struggled with consistency. During that period, his save percentage only exceeded .906 twice. Pavelec is in the final campaign of a five-year, $19.5 million contract. With Pavelec toiling with the Manitoba Moose, it wouldn't be surprising if the Jets try to trade him.
Pavelec's inconsistency and $3.9 million salary-cap hit could prove difficult to move. However, if he plays well in the minors, he could interest another NHL team desperate for goaltending.
Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes
Now in his 10th NHL season, center Martin Hanzal has played his entire NHL career with the Arizona Coyotes. Depending upon his asking price for a new contract and the pace of the club's development, the 29-year-old could be skating with another club before season's end.
At 6'6" and 226 pounds, Hanzal is a big center with solid two-way skills. Last season, he reached a career high in points with 41. A significant downside, however, is his long injury history. The last time he played more than 65 games in a season was 2009-10.
Hanzal's in the final season of a five-year, $15.5 million contract and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency. It would make sense for him to seek around $5 million per season on a new deal. If Hanzal's still unsigned by the trade deadline, the rebuilding Coyotes could deal him if they're out of playoff contention by then.
Ryan Miller, Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller is in the final season of his three-year, $18 million contract. At some point in this campaign, the 36-year-old impending free agent is likely to become a trade candidate.
The Canucks entered 2016-17 as a team in transition. Key veterans such as Miller, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Alexander Edler are now past their prime. Younger Canucks, such as Miller's 26-year-old backup Jacob Markstrom, could see more playing time this season.
If the Canucks are outside the playoff picture by late February, Miller could become trade bait. Postseason contenders seeking experienced goaltending depth could consider him a reasonable rental player.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
A finalist for the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy, Ben Bishop seems an unlikely trade candidate. However, he's in the final season of a two-year, $11.9 million contract and in line for a considerable raise over his current $5.95 million annual salary.
The Lightning's limited salary-cap space could contribute to Bishop's departure. They have $59.9 million invested in 14 players for 2017-18. With young forwards Tyler Johnson (26), Ondrej Palat (25) and Jonathan Drouin (21) to re-sign, the Bolts can't afford to retain Bishop.
The NHL expansion draft in June 2017 is another factor that could force the Lightning to trade Bishop. Teams can only protect one goaltender. Starting next season, promising Andrei Vasilevskiy carries a more affordable $3.5 million cap hit.
Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues
Kevin Shattenkirk is in the final season of his four-year, $17 million contract with the Blues. Not only is he likely to be dealt this season, but he could also become the most valuable player on the trade market.
On Oct. 14, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch speculated Shattenkirk could receive $6 million per season on his next contract. However, he doubted the 27-year-old will get it from the Blues. Re-signing Shattenkirk could take away playing time from Colton Parayko and keep a promising blueliner, such as Jordan Schmaltz, in the minors longer than necessary.
As a right-handed puck-moving defenseman with three straight 40-plus-point seasons, Shattenkirk will attract considerable interest. Depending on their roster needs, the Blues could use him as a trade chip to bolster their depth at forward.