1 Trade/Free-Agent Target for Teams Not Playing in the 2020 NHL Playoffs

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2020

1 Trade/Free-Agent Target for Teams Not Playing in the 2020 NHL Playoffs

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    When the NHL's return-to-play plan began, only seven of the 31 clubs were out of the playoff picture. That number grew to 15 as eight clubs were eliminated from the qualifying round. Those ranks will swell as the playoff rounds progress.

    The general managers of these clubs face a hectic offseason with respective roster needs to address. They could get busy in the trade market among themselves or wait until the playoffs end to increase the number of clubs they can deal with. Some could look toward the free-agent market for help.

    Trade candidates could include Montreal Canadiens center Max Domi and Toronto Maple Leafs winger Kasperi Kapanen. Free-agent targets could include Florida Panthers winger Mike Hoffman and Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (pictured above).

    Here's a look at one trade or free-agent target for each of the 15 teams that failed to reach the 2020 NHL playoffs. Roster need and salary-cap room factored into these selections.

Anaheim Ducks: Kasperi Kapanen

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    A popgun offense doomed the Anaheim Ducks this season, finishing 29th with a 2.56 goals-per-game average. They need a young, speedy scoring forward who won't blow up their budget. Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Kasperi Kapanen could fit the bill.       

    The 24-year-old Kapanen netted 44 points in 2018-19 and 36 points in 69 games this season. He's a fleet-footed skater with a good shot carrying an affordable $3.2 million annual average salary through 2021-22. 

    With $76.9 million invested in 17 players next season, the Leafs need to shed some salary to fill out the rest of their roster. The Ducks have more than $78.6 million committed to 18 players but could get some cap flexibility if center Ryan Kesler ($6.9 million annual average value) and his ailing hips land on long-term injury reserve again next season.

    The Leafs could attempt to use Kapanen as trade bait for a defenseman, perhaps asking the Ducks for Josh Manson in return. Perhaps they'll accept a couple of draft picks to dump Kapanen's salary if they have their eye on another blue-line option elsewhere.

Buffalo Sabres: Dylan Strome

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Sabres need help throughout their roster, but their most pressing requirement is a second-line center. Dylan Strome of the Chicago Blackhawks could be a worthwhile target.

    With $47 million committed to 10 players next season, they have the salary-cap room to go shopping. Having made expensive additions in the past that failed to pan out such as Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo, Sabres ownership might prefer younger, affordable options via the trade market. That's where Strome comes in.

    The 6'3, 200-pound 23-year-old is a big-bodied center with good offensive skills. He's a restricted free agent completing his entry-level contract. He had a 51-point effort in 58 games after being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in 2018-19.

    With $74.1 million tied up in 19 players, the Blackhawks face a cap crunch as they attempt to re-sign goalie Corey Crawford and Calder Memorial Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik. With rookie Kirby Dach moving up into the second-line center position, perhaps they will ship out Strome for a quality draft pick or prospect.

Detroit Red Wings: Robin Lehner

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The Detroit Red Wings allowed the most goals per game (3.73) this season. Longtime starter Jimmy Howard is expected to depart via free agency, leaving them in need of an experienced starting goalie. Their best option could be Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Lehner played well over the past two seasons. He won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy last season and was also a Vezina Trophy finalist. The 29-year-old netminder is completing a one-year, $5 million contract.

    After spending the past three seasons with four teams, Lehner could seek an opportunity for long-term stability as a starting goaltender. The rebuilding Wings could give him that chance if the Golden Knights can't re-sign him.

    With $44.6 million invested in 10 players next season, general manager Steve Yzerman has the cap room to make a competitive bid. Maybe Lehner could be tempted by a five-year deal worth between $6.5 million and $7 million annually.

Edmonton Oilers: Thomas Greiss

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    Jim McIsaac/Associated Press

    The Edmonton Oilers' elimination from the qualifying round underscored their need for additional depth. Among their needs is goaltending stability. New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss could help them in that department.

    Greiss is a reliable backup goalie with 137 career regular-season wins, a 2.63 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. The 34-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He could become the odd man out with Semyon Varlamov entrenched as the Isles' starting goalie and the promising Ilya Sorokin joining the lineup next season.

    Oilers starter Mikko Koskinen is signed through 2021-22 with an annual average value of $4.5 million. With the aging Mike Smith unlikely to be re-signed, they're in need of an affordable backup capable of playing at least 30 games a season.

    The Oilers have $71.4 million invested in 17 players. Greiss could fill their need for a short-term addition who can fit within their cap constraints. He's completing a three-year deal with an average annual salary (AAV) of $3.33 million, but his age and a salary cap remaining flat at $81.5 million could force him to accept a lesser salary of just under $3 million on a one-year deal.

Florida Panthers: Joel Edmundson

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Florida Panthers' elimination from the qualifying round led to the club parting ways with general manager Dale Tallon. His replacement must address the Panthers' woeful defensive play. One option could be adding Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joel Edmundson through the free-agent market.

    A lack of skilled blue-line depth hampered the Panthers throughout the season. They had the third-highest goals-against per game (3.25) in the regular season. They don't have a big, physical shutdown defenseman who blocks shots and plays with an edge.

    The 6'4", 215-pound Edmundson possesses all those attributes. He finished first among the Hurricanes in hits (118), tied for second in blocked shots with 91 and third in short-handed time on ice per game, averaging two minutes and 48 seconds. Edmundson also has plenty of playoff experience, winning a Stanley Cup last season with the St. Louis Blues.

    Having invested heavily in last summer's free-agent market by signing Sergei Bobrovsky, Anton Stralman and Brett Connolly, Panthers ownership could be reluctant to make another big signing. Edmundson, however, is completing a one-year, $3.1 million deal. Perhaps the Panthers could tempt him with a two-year contract for a similar annual salary.

Los Angeles Kings: Mikael Granlund

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Kings general manager Rob Blake spent the past two seasons rebuilding his roster, trading veterans for draft picks and prospects. Thanks to his efforts, the Kings topped The Athletic's annual prospect ranking. Nevertheless, the Kings could use some short-term veteran depth until those kids are NHL-ready. 

    The Kings finished 30th with 2.53 goals per game. With $60.8 million invested in 16 players, Blake has the cap room to add a cost-effective short-term veteran if he wants to. Adding someone like Nashville Predators winger Mikael Granlund could give their offense a much-needed boost.

    Granlund, 28, becomes an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He's completing a three-year contract with an annual average value of $5.8 million. From 2013-14 to 2018-19 (most of which was spent with the Minnesota Wild), he had at least 39 points every season. He struggled at times during his brief tenure with the Predators but finished this season with 17 goals and 30 points in 63 games.

    Despite Granlund's inconsistency with the Predators, he might bounce back with a new team. Given his recent struggles and the flat salary cap for next season, he could be an affordable addition to the Kings on a one- or two-year deal.

Minnesota Wild: Tyler Johnson

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    With Eric Staal now 35 and Alex Galchenyuk and 38-year-old team captain Mikko Koivu due to become unrestricted free agents, the Minnesota Wild need some skilled depth at center. A possible trade target could be Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson.  

    The Lightning have $76.2 million tied up in 15 players for 2020-21, with restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev set for pay raises. They must shed salary to clear cap space to re-sign them.

    Johnson, 30, has four years remaining on his contract with an annual average value of $5 million. The 5'8", 180-pound forward is fast, possesses good offensive skills and has an all-around hockey sense. He can also skate on the wing if required. He's reached or exceeded 45 points in five of the past seven seasons. 

    A sticking point would be Johnson's no-trade clause. If he's willing to waive it for the Wild, however, he could become a solid fit on their second line. Given the Lightning's need to shed salary, the asking price could be a low-cost player or a draft pick.

Nashville Predators: Jesper Fast

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Nashville Predators have little salary-cap wiggle room for next season with $72.2 million invested in 17 players. With Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith unrestricted free agents, general manager David Poile could seek affordable replacements. One possibility is New York Rangers winger Jesper Fast.

    Poile could promote young forwards such as Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino. Nevertheless, he could consider bringing in an affordable depth winger to provide some stability in case those kids take longer than expected to adjust at the NHL level.

    A fleet-footed checking-line winger, the 28-year-old Fast doesn't put up a lot of points. However, his speed and defensive abilities would make him a good addition to the Predators' third line.

    Unless Poile can find a taker for center Kyle Turris and his $6 million-per-season contract through 2023-24, he'll have to budget carefully for next season. Fast is completing a three-year contract worth an annual average value of $1.9 million. Maybe he'll be receptive to a two- or three-year deal for around $2.5 million annually.

New Jersey Devils: Mike Hoffman

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The New Jersey Devils offense suffered after they shipped out Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes in December and Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning in February. The Devils ranked 24th with 2.68 goals per game. They need a top-six winger to skate alongside center Nico Hischier on the first line or young Jack Hughes on the second line. Florida Panthers winger Mike Hoffman could be a good fit here.      

    Hoffman, 30, has been a model of offensive consistency since 2014-15 with the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers. He's tallied 22 or more goals and 48-plus points in six straight seasons. An unrestricted free agent after this season, he's completing a four-year contract with an annual average value of more than $5.2 million. 

    The Devils have $56.2 million invested in 14 players for 2020-21 with restricted free agents Mackenzie Blackwood, Jesper Bratt and Mirco Mueller to re-sign. That should give them sufficient room to bring in a scoring forward.

    Hoffman could seek more than $6 million annually on a long-term deal. With the salary-cap remaining at $81.5 million for next season, he might have to accept a two- or three-year deal if he wants a significant raise. That could work to the Devils' advantage. 

New York Rangers: Anthony Cirelli

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The New York Rangers made significant strides in their rebuilding this season, but they need a good second-line center who fits into their long-term plans. It might be worthwhile for GM Jeff Gorton to monitor Anthony Cirelli's situation with the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

    Cirelli, 23, has quickly blossomed into a strong two-way, second-line center. He followed up a solid 39-point rookie campaign in 2018-19 with 44 points in 68 games this season. The youngster should have a long, bright future with the Lightning, but he's a restricted free agent on a cap-strapped team

    Because Cirelli is completing an entry-level contract, the Lightning could attempt to sign him to an affordable short-term bridge deal. However, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is in the same boat, meaning even bridge deals could be difficult for those two.

    The Lightning could be forced to shop Cirelli if he seeks far more than they can afford. They have a trade history with the Rangers. Maybe Gorton would be interested if the asking price involves prospects or draft picks other than their first-rounder for this season. If Henrik Lundqvist retires, that would free up an additional $8.5 million to invest in a lucrative deal for Cirelli.

Ottawa Senators: Cam Talbot

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The rebuilding Ottawa Senators have a roster filled with promising young talent and more on the way through their system. However, they're in need of a reliable starting goaltender, with Craig Anderson unsigned for next season. One possibility could be signing the Calgary Flames' Cam Talbot via the free-agent market. 

    Talbot, 33, is completing a one-year contract worth $2.8 million. He resurrected his NHL career in 2019-20 after two difficult seasons in Edmonton and Philadelphia. He put up good numbers in the regular season, with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Entering Thursday, his stats in this year's playoffs were an impressive 2.17 GAA and .934 SV%.

    With the Flames carrying $64.6 million committed to 13 players next season, there's no certainty they'll re-sign Talbot. He could test the market if they remain committed to David Rittich as their starting goalie. 

    The Senators have plenty of salary-cap space, with just $41.9 million invested in nine players. While they could spend near the league minimum ($60.2 million), they have room for a veteran goaltender on a reasonable short-term deal. Depending on how the market shakes out, perhaps they could tempt Talbot with a two-year deal worth $5 million annually.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Max Domi

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Changes could be coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins after getting bounced from this year's qualifying. General manager Jim Rutherford could attempt to ship out one or two veterans in favor of younger talent. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman suggested the Montreal Canadiens' Max Domi as someone who could be a Penguin next year (h/t SB Nation's "Pensburgh").

    Acquired from the Arizona Coyotes two years ago, Domi enjoyed a career-best 72-point campaign with the Canadiens in 2018-19. His stats slid to 44 points in 71 games as the Habs struggled through 2019-20. He also saw fourth-line duty during the qualifying round but worked his way up through the lineup. 

    A skilled, creative playmaker, the 25-year-old Domi is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights completing a two-year contract worth $3.2 million per season. Given his struggles this season, he might need another change of scenery, perhaps with a deeper club for whom he could play his natural position at left wing.

    The Penguins have $68.3 million invested in 15 players, so they'll have to shed some salary to take on Domi. It could take some creativity on Rutherford's part, but he has a reputation as a wheeler-dealer. He could perhaps sign Domi to a one-year, "show-me" contract worth $3.5 million.

San Jose Sharks: Anton Khudobin

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    After reaching the 2019 Western Conference Final, the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs this season. They struggled through injuries, a coaching change and inconsistent play. Their biggest weakness, however, was between the pipes, which could send GM Doug Wilson into the free-agent market for a skilled backup like the Dallas Stars' Anton Khudobin

    The 3.21 goals-against per game of Sharks goalies Martin Jones and Aaron Dell was the league's fifth-highest. Jones, 30, has four years remaining on his contract with an annual cap hit of $5.8 million and a three-team trade list, making him almost impossible to move. Dell is an unrestricted free agent and isn't expected to return.

    The Sharks are stuck with Jones as their starter, but an experienced veteran could ease his workload and perhaps push him to elevate his game. The 34-year-old Khudobin's career stats (2.46 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage) speak to his skills as a reliable backup.

    With $66.6 million tied up in 13 players, Wilson doesn't have much money to toss around in the free-agent market. Khudobin could seek a raise over his current $2.5 million annual average value on the open market. With the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million, however, maybe Wilson could bring him in for close to the same money on a one-year deal.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Adam Larsson

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    A lack of a skilled shutdown defenseman was among the reasons behind the Toronto Maple Leafs' qualifying-round exit at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Edmonton Journal's David Staples cited Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke's suggestion that Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson could be a good fit with the Leafs during an Aug. 14 interview with Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer.

    This isn't the first time this season Larsson has been linked to the Leafs in the rumor mill. On Feb. 18, Oilersnation cited Burke's colleague Chris Johnston speculating the Leafs inquired about the Oilers' blueliner as they considered their options on right defense.

    Larsson, 27, is a nine-year NHL veteran. The 6'3", 208-pound rearguard has good size, plays a solid defensive game, can log big minutes and can chip in offensively with his point shot. He has a year left on his contract with an average annual value of $4.2 million.

    The Oilers and Leafs have limited salary-cap space for next season. With the Oilers in need of a speedy top-six right-winger, perhaps a swap of Kasperi Kapanen for Larsson could work.

Winnipeg Jets: Brandon Montour

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Winnipeg Jets blueliners were depleted last summer by the departures of Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot. It proved to be their Achilles' heel throughout the season and factored into their elimination from the qualifying round by the Calgary Flames.

    Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff must shore up the defense corps. They could target Buffalo Sabres rearguard Brandon Montour, who struggled this season under Sabres coach Ralph Krueger.

    A mobile puck-moving defenseman, Montour is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. The 26-year-old might not fit into new Sabres GM Kevyn Adams' long-term plans. He could fill the right-side role among the Jets' top four.

    Completing a two-year contract worth an annual average value of $3.4 million, Montour could prove a reasonable fit within the Jets' cap payroll. With $65.9 million invested in 13 players, the Jets could afford to pay him a modest raise on a short-term deal (assuming they can trade for him).