NHL Trade List Target Board: Which Players Are Most Likely to Be Dealt?

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2021

NHL Trade List Target Board: Which Players Are Most Likely to Be Dealt?

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    The NHL's April 12 trade deadline is on the horizon. Business should soon pick up in the trade market as playoff clubs attempt to bolster their lineups, while non-contenders try to get an early start on moves for next season.

    Restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border could affect trades between American and Canadian franchises. The high number of teams with limited salary-cap space is an additional stumbling block. Nevertheless, there's growing conjecture over which players could be on the move.

    Some of those in the rumor mill, such as Buffalo Sabres center Eric Staal, are unrestricted free agents who could welcome an opportunity to finish this season with a playoff club. Others, such as Anaheim Ducks winger Rickard Rakell, still have at least a year left on their contracts.

    It's fun for fans and pundits to speculate over which players could be traded, but which are most likely to move before deadline day based on contract and team status?

Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    It's been another painful season during the Detroit Red Wings' rebuild. With his team near the bottom of the standings, general manager Steve Yzerman might shop several of his impending unrestricted free agents for draft picks.

    Forwards Bobby Ryan and Luke Glendening and defenseman Marc Staal could hit the trade block, but goaltender Jonathan Bernier seems the most likely to move.

    Ryan, Glendening and Staal all appear on TSN's Trade Bait List and The Athletic's NHL Trade Deadline Big Board and will undoubtedly attract interest from playoff contenders. As a goalie, however, Bernier could prove more useful for clubs seeking postseason depth between the pipes.

    Bernier, 32, has shared the Red Wings' goaltending duties almost evenly with Thomas Greiss. In 15 starts he's won eight games and lost six with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. Those are respectable numbers for a netminder on a rebuilding club.

    MLive.com's Ansar Khan wrote on March 12 that he believes Bernier will draw interest from playoff-bound clubs. He thinks the Red Wings could get a second-round pick in return and then bring him back as a free agent this summer. A few days prior, the Denver Post's Mike Chambers suggested the Colorado Avalanche acquire Bernier to back up starter Philipp Grubauer.

Devan Dubnyk, San Jose Sharks

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The San Jose Sharks acquired Devan Dubnyk in October from the Minnesota Wild to share the goaltending duties with starter Martin Jones. With the Sharks sitting near the bottom of the Honda West Division, however, he could be on the move again.

    On Tuesday, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported Dubnyk will, in all likelihood, be available. Pointing out the 34-year-old netminder's free-agent status this summer, LeBrun believes the Sharks will likely go in a different direction with their goaltending in the offseason. He suggested the Colorado Avalanche and Washington Capitals as possible destinations.

    Before joining the Sharks, Dubnyk spent five-and-a-half seasons with the Wild as their starting goalie. He won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2014-15 and was a Vezina Trophy finalist that season. While no longer in his prime as a starter, the 6'6", 224-pounder would bring considerable size and experience to a playoff team.

    LeBrun observed Dubnyk has a 10-team no-trade clause but believes he would waive it for the right contender. Dubnyk's $4.33 million salary-cap hit could be a sticking point for the cap-strapped Avalanche or Capitals unless the Sharks retain part of his remaining salary or take back a similar contract as part of the return.

Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    While not a big-name talent like some of the players popping up in recent trade speculation, Mattias Ekholm is garnering plenty of attention as deadline day draws closer. The 30-year-old Nashville Predators defenseman tops TSN's Trade Bait List and The Athletic's Trade Deadline Big Board ahead of more notable teammates Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund.

    With the Predators looking like they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14, general manager David Poile will likely become a seller by deadline day.

    However, the Nashville Post's Michael Gallagher cited Poile in a March 10 interview with 102.5 The Game in Nashville saying he doesn't have any interest in trading Forsberg. Granlund will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but Ekholm's value is higher because of his position.

    A top-four defenseman with a left-handed shot, Ekholm could be a valuable commodity for playoff clubs seeking blue-line depth. On Feb. 20, LeBrun suggested he would be a good fit with the Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

    Ekholm's contract, however, could limit potential destinations. He's signed through next season at an affordable $3.75 million and lacks no-trade protection. However, he must be protected in this summer's expansion draft or the acquiring club risks losing him to the Seattle Kraken for nothing.

    Nevertheless, a creative GM could find a way to address that issue.

Alex Goligoski, Arizona Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The more the Arizona Coyotes' playoff hopes fade, the more likely it is they will become sellers. Several of their impending unrestricted free agents, including Derick Brassard and Jason Demers, could hit the trade block. So too could goalie Antti Raanta if starter Darcy Kuemper returns from his lower-body injury before the deadline. Niklas Hjalmarsson might tempt rival clubs, too, but he could decline to waive his no-movement clause.

    The uncertainty over the statuses of Raanta and Hjalmarsson leaves Alex Goligoski as their most likely trade candidate. On March 2, TSN's Frank Seravalli said there's been no contract discussion between the 35-year-old defenseman and Coyotes management. While he no longer puts up the points he once did, he still logs 22 minutes, 25 seconds of ice time per game. A left-handed shot, he can play either side of the blue line.

    Goligoski still plays a solid defensive game too. He leads the Coyotes in blocked shots (55), sits second in short-handed ice time (3:27 per game) and fourth in hits with 40. Teams seeking an experienced blueliner could consider him a worthwhile playoff rental.

    Goligoski's contract, however, could provide a hiccup. He carries an annual average value of $5.5 million, with $2.45 remaining to be paid. Interested parties might be receptive to a deal if the Coyotes agree to pick up part of his cap hit.

Alexander Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Rich Lam/Associated Press

    It's been rumored for weeks that the Toronto Maple Leafs could try to add a top-six winger. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman raised the subject on Feb. 12. More than a month later, Friedman's colleague Chris Johnston reported Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas is shopping for a forward. The Leafs have been linked to Nashville Predators forward Mikael Granlund and Anaheim Ducks winger Rickard Rakell, per Sportsnet.

    The Leafs have only $130,527 in projected trade-deadline cap space. They will likely have to ship out a contract to take on a top-six forward. Dubas could be reluctant to move a defenseman like Travis Dermott in case injuries strike the blue line late in the season. A better option would center Alexander Kerfoot.

    On Feb. 26, Friedman wondered whether the Leafs consider him a winger, a center or part of a package to get someone else. On March 7, the Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons suggested using the 26-year-old forward as part of a package deal to pursue someone like Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno.

    Kerfoot is in the second year of a four-year contract with an annual average value of $3.5 million. His age, affordable deal and versatility could prove enticing to non-contenders looking for a decent return for any impending free-agent they try to move before the deadline.

Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    With his team floundering near the bottom of the Honda West Division, Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray could become a seller for the second straight season. He acknowledged this in a March 8 interview with The Athletic's Eric Stephens. "I'm openly talking and listening about lots of things," he said.

    One of the things Murray could be listening to is inquiries about Rickard Rakell. On March 10, Seravalli debuted the 27-year-old winger at the No. 3 spot on his Trade Bait List. He cited two sources as saying the Ducks GM has set a high asking price but didn't elaborate.

    A two-time 30-goal scorer, Rakell has a year left on his contract with an annual average value of $3.79 million. Seravalli believes he would provide the best return if Murray hopes to jump-start a rebuild. Moving him would also provide more playing time for a younger player. With Rakell a year away from free agency, he could have more value in the trade market now than as a rental player next year.

    Playoff contenders seeking depth on their top six could come calling. The Boston Bruins need secondary scoring punch and have a recent trade history with the Ducks. On Tuesday, Johnston reported Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is in the market for a forward.

David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was a buyer over the past four NHL trade deadlines. However, he could become a seller if his club fails to gain ground in the Discover Central Division playoff race. On March 1, Seravalli suggested Jackets defenseman David Savard could draw interest.

    Other Blue Jackets are also popping up in the rumor mill. Captain Nick Foligno appeared with Savard on TSN's Trade Bait List and The Athletic's Trade Deadline Big Board, while goalie Elvis Merzlikins also showed up on the latter. The Athletic's Aaron Portzline included forward Max Domi among the Jackets he believes are available.

    Portzline also thinks Kekalainen could hang on to Savard and Foligno rather than trade them for middle-round draft picks. However, the GM could change his mind for the right price, such as a first- or a second-rounder, something the Jackets lack in this year's NHL draft. There's also no rush to move Merzlikins or Domi, who are both under contract beyond this season.

    Foligno is better known and would draw plenty of interest, but acquiring Savard would be more affordable. The 6'2", 233-pounder is a right-handed shot and an experienced shutdown blueliner, making him enticing to contenders trying to shore up their defense.

Eric Staal, Buffalo Sabres

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Eric Staal knows what it's like to be moved near the trade deadline. In February 2016, he was shipped from the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers. Five years later, he could change teams again as another deadline approaches.

    Acquired from the Minnesota Wild by the Buffalo Sabres in September, Staal was brought in to center their second line and provide a much-needed boost to their secondary scoring. But things haven't worked out this season for the struggling Sabres and the 36-year-old center, who has just 10 points in 28 games. An unrestricted free agent at season's end, he's a prime trade candidate.

    Staal isn't the only Sabre mentioned in trade speculation. The Athletic included notable teammates such as Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall on their list of potential trade candidates. Eichel, however, carries an expensive long-term contract that would be tough to move if the Sabres were so inclined. Hall, like Staal, is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but his full no-movement clause is a significant sticking point.

    The trade buzz regarding Staal is increasing. On March 9, LeBrun said the veteran center is open to being moved to a contender. He's among the names being considered by the Edmonton Oilers. LeBrun also reported the Hurricanes are mulling the prospect of bringing him back for a last hurrah.


    Stats (as of March 18, 2021) via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly


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