The Blockbuster NHL Trades We Want to See in the Offseason
It can happen to anyone.
If sports history is indicative of anything, it's that any player—regardless of status, salary or statistics—can be traded if the conditions are correct. Babe Ruth was traded. Wilt Chamberlain was traded. Brett Favre was traded.
And yes, when it comes to the world of ice, pucks and sticks, even Wayne Gretzky was traded.
In fact, ask any long-term Edmonton Oilers fan about that last one, and it's a good bet they can tell you precisely where they were when news of No. 99's exodus to the Los Angeles Kings went public on Aug. 9, 1988.
It still smarts...even after 32 years, one month and seven days.
So it's with franchise-redefining angst in mind that the B/R hockey team assembled in front of its crystal ball to forecast the blockbuster deals we would like to see occur in the imminent offseason, which will follow a regular season and postseason unlike any other in the sport's past.
Rather than pulling random names and teams out of the ether, we've tried to compile transactions that have at least some basis in fact, featuring players who have expressed discontent with their surroundings or teams that find themselves in situations where a change of scenery might make sense.
Take a look at what we've come up with and let us know if our sphere's resolution could use an upgrade, and we apologize in advance for any Gretzky-esque palpitations we may cause along the way.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the Calgary Flames
Suffice to say, the Arizona Coyotes have some business to attend to.
The team abruptly lost its general manager when John Chayka resigned in late July, was docked a couple of draft choices—a second-rounder in 2020 and a first-rounder in 2021—in August after violating league rules on predraft testing and remains adamant on re-signing unrestricted free agent Taylor Hall.
The 2010 No. 1 overall draft pick made $6 million while splitting last season between the Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, and he's likely to at least desire a raise—if not actually get one in a new flat-cap reality. So the more Arizona can do to make that happen, the better its long-term prospects will be in the southwest.
Toward that end, we'll go ahead and forecast a deal that would send big-ticket defenseman and team captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his multiyear $8.25 million deal to the Calgary Flames.
It's a plus for the Coyotes considering their precarious salary-cap positioning, and it works for the Flames because they have five unrestricted free agents—Travis Hamonic, Derek Forbort, Michael Stone, Erik Gustafsson and TJ Brodie—on the blue line, where they're in the midst of a full-scale remodel.
Ekman-Larsson, 29, is heading into his 11th season in the league and has been a consistent point-getter along the way, scoring at least 12 goals in seven of those seasons and nine more in just 66 games in 2019-20.
William Nylander to the New Jersey Devils
Ideally, the goal of a trade is to help both teams.
Suggesting the Toronto Maple Leafs deal William Nylander to the New Jersey Devils fits that mindset perfectly.
Nylander, by multiple accounts from a hockey-mad city, is something of an enigma. He's certainly talented—as 31 goals in 68 games this season illustrate—but he's admitted that personal motivation isn't always a strength, which isn't exactly something you want to hear from a winger making nearly $7 million per year.
That figure is particularly painful for the Leafs, who have three forwards (Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner) making better than $10 million annually and three other players (defensemen Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly and goaltender Frederik Andersen) on the books for at least $5 million for 2020-21.
Firepower isn't the main concern in Toronto, so offloading Nylander and his prolific offense to the Devils, where he could complement Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, makes some sense.
Getting a right-side defenseman like Damon Severson in return would be a nice touch as well considering the six-year veteran makes a few million dollars less and has put up 30 or more points in three of the past four seasons—including 11 goals in 2018-19.
Nylander would escape the media frenzy. Severson would boost his profile. Everybody would be happy.
Marc-Andre Fleury to the Edmonton Oilers
Let's say you're the Edmonton Oilers.
You have a player who's a three-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champion and a former MVP (that's Connor McDavid, for those somehow unaware). Not to mention, you have this season's leading scorer and an MVP finalist in Leon Draisaitl.
But what you did with that bounty in the postseason after reaching the qualifiers as a surging No. 5 seed—namely, imploding over four largely impotent games to the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks—is appalling, and it's got the offseason vultures in Northern Alberta circling.
The scavengers are focusing much of their attention on the goal crease, where the tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen managed to allow 16 goals on 122 shots—that's an .869 save percentage, if you're scoring at home—and use up every bit of goodwill it had assembled while splitting 70 starts in the regular season.
It's an atrocious stat in today's NHL, but it would be forgotten if McDavid, Draisaitl and Co. were lighting the lamp with enough regularity to win every game 6-4. But when the team in front of you only manages 15 goals, it's a flashing, pulsating red light indicating that something needs to change in the net.
Toward that end, might we suggest one Marc-Andre Fleury?
The three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins has been nothing less than the face of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise since arriving in the expansion draft in 2017, but the situation changed at the trade deadline when the brass brought in Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Lehner was considered a solid backup but took the reins in the postseason and started 16 of 20 games before the Knights bowed out to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final. He's also an unrestricted free agent, and the team seems intent on at least trying to retain his services, which means holding on to Fleury at $7 million per year until he goes unrestricted in 2022 is less likely.
Acquiring Fleury would make some sense for the Oilers, who have Koskinen under wraps for two more seasons at $4.5 million apiece but have an opening now that the aforementioned Smith is unrestricted.
It'll be a hard sell to a rabid fanbase to enter next season with the status quo in the nets, so we would suggest letting Smith walk, convincing the Knights to eat some of Fleury's salary and perhaps sending Matt Benning or Alex Chiasson to the desert to even out the numbers.
Johnny Gaudreau to the Philadelphia Flyers
It was the summer of rumors in Calgary, particularly when it came to Johnny Gaudreau.
The 2011 fourth-round pick has been a productive player for the Flames since arriving as a full-timer for the 2014–15 season, including a pair of 30-goal efforts and two more years with 20 or more.
He scored 18 times in 70 games during the pandemic-snuffed regular season, but you could hear the whispers during the run-up to the playoffs suggesting that he had arrived at training camp out of shape.
At 27, he's still in the prime his career and is signed for the next two seasons at $6.75 million apiece before he goes unrestricted in 2022-23. He'll probably be due a raise at that point, but he'll also be 29, and the Flames have another standout in the stable in the form of the 22-year-old Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk will be a restricted free agent the same year Gaudreau's contract is up, so the Flames could save themselves some down-the-road headaches and address other positions if they make a move now.
We envision a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, who made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals as a No. 1 seed but were bounced by the plucky sixth-seeded New York Islanders thanks to a infuriating inability to score timely goals and produce on the power play.
The Flyers scored just 16 times in seven games against the Islanders, including shutouts in the first and seventh games and losses in Games 3 and 4, during which they managed just three combined goals. Team captain Claude Giroux was emblematic of the struggle, scoring just once on 19 shots in the series after netting 21 goals during the regular season.
Gaudreau, a native of nearby Salem, New Jersey, would surely provide a jolt on the offensive side, and given the Flames' gaping holes on the blue line—they have five unrestricted free-agent defensemen—perhaps he could be had for the likes of Shayne Gostisbehere, who's also been the subject of myriad rumors.
Score one—or two in this case—for changes of scenery.
Jack Eichel to the Carolina Hurricanes
OK, let's get this out in the open.
We don't hate Buffalo. Nor do we have ill will toward the Sabres or their fans.
But if you're looking for a trade that would shake the NHL to its core in the coming months, the idea that the best player to suit up for the Blue, White and Gold in a generation—or more—would be dealt qualifies as such.
Lest anyone forget, Jack Eichel was the wonderfully wrapped consolation prize Buffalo received after a lottery left it with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2015 entry draft that saw the Edmonton Oilers pick Connor McDavid.
Still just 23, Eichel hasn't done a thing less than asked of him in the five subsequent seasons, recording 137 goals and 200 assists—the latter good for 34th in the league and better than such stars as Steven Stamkos, Taylor Hall and Vladimir Tarasenko.
But unlike those players, Eichel hasn't seen the playoffs in his half-decade on ice—in fact, the Sabres have the NHL's longest postseason drought (nine years) and haven't won a series of any kind since 2007, back when Eichel was a mere 10 years old.
The frustration is beginning to wear on the gifted center, too, as evidenced by comments he made in the team's wrap-up media gathering after missing the 24-team playoff qualifying round.
"I'm fed up with the losing, and I'm fed up and I'm frustrated," he said. "It's definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. ... It's been a tough five years with where things have went. I'm a competitor. I want to win every time I'm on the ice. I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season."
But let's face it: It's unlikely a team that finished tied for 13th in a 16-team Eastern Conference will be a championship contender anytime soon. So perhaps giving the Massachusetts native an exit ticket—in the form of a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, who were tied for sixth in that same conference—would be ideal.
He and Carolina center/left wing Sebastian Aho are both 23, they are both signed for the long term—Eichel won't be a free agent until 2026-27, and Aho won't be one until 2024-25—and they are both immensely talented. Eichel's $10 million salary is also comparable to the $8.5 million Aho makes, which means it's not impossible from an accounting standpoint, either.
Aho had 38 goals and 66 points in 68 games this season, and he could blend nicely with the players already on Buffalo's roster. Put it all together, and it spells "Adios, Jack"...and don't forget to pack some chicken wings.