8 NHL Players Who Need a Change of Scenery Next Season
As the 2021 NHL playoff progress, the offseason draws ever closer. Once the Stanley Cup is awarded in early July, the trade market should return to life. Once it does, there could be some deals involving players who could welcome a move.
Several of those players have struggled in recent seasons. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere falls into that category after being the subject of frequent trade speculation this season.
Some, like Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk, are young players who have yet to play up to expectations in their current markets. Others, such as the New York Rangers' Tony DeAngelo, will seek a second chance elsewhere after wearing out their welcome with their current club.
This listing spotlights eight NHL players who need a change of scenery to get their NHL careers back on track. Most could be traded to new clubs. Some could be selected by the Seattle Kraken if left unprotected in July's expansion draft. One of them could become free to sign with a new team if bought out of his contract.
Tony DeAngelo, New York Rangers
Tony DeAngelo began this season with the New York Rangers. Within a month, he was banished from the club following a post-game altercation with teammate Alexandar Georgiev. On May 7, the New York Post's Larry Brooks reported the Rangers hiring Chris Drury as their new general manager wouldn't change the 25-year-old defenseman's status.
After DeAngelo passed unclaimed through waivers on Feb. 1, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News reported the defenseman had courted controversy throughout his playing career. Still, he did tally a career-high 53 points last season. Perhaps another club will give him one last chance to salvage his NHL career.
Brooks speculated DeAngelo could be bought out of his contract if he's not selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. He has a year remaining at an annual average value of $4.8 million. A buyout would only count as $383,334 per season over the next two years. That's because a buyout for a player under 26 counts as one-third the remaining value.
The Rangers could attempt to trade DeAngelo, but clubs could be reluctant to pick up that final year of his contract. They could prefer signing him to a more affordable one-year deal once he's bought out of his deal.
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
Selected in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft (14th overall), Jake DeBrusk had the making of a top-six winger with the Boston Bruins. After four seasons in Boston, however, he could be suiting up with another club next season.
DeBrusk had a promising start with the Bruins, enjoying back-to-back 40-plus point performances in his first two NHL seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19. But after managing 35 points in 65 games in 2019-20 and just 14 points in 41 games this season, he has tumbled down the club's depth chart. He has one season remaining on his contract worth an annual salary-cap hit of $3.675 million.
Sidelined for five games by a lower-body injury earlier in the season and by NHL COVID-19 protocols for seven games, DeBrusk never seemed to find his stride. He was also a healthy scratch in four regular-season contests and in Game 5 of the Bruins' second-round series against the New York Islanders.
On April 8, The Athletic's Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek reported teams were calling the Bruins about DeBrusk before the trade deadline. They could keep the 24-year-old winger for next season and see if his performance improves. However, a fresh start with another club could help him reach his potential if the Bruins receive a suitable offer.
Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues
The subject of trade rumors since January, Vince Dunn faces an uncertain future with the St. Louis Blues. Expected to blossom into a top-four defenseman, the 24-year-old has instead battled through injuries and inconsistent play. An upper-body injury sidelined him for the remaining 10 games of the regular season and the entirety of the Blues' brief first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
Dunn finished this season with 20 points in 43 games. A restricted free agent with arbitration rights completing a one-year, $1.875 million contract, he could seek a significant raise after accepting a marginal pay bump for this season.
With $66.6 million invested in 20 players and Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou to re-sign or replace, the Blues might not have enough to re-sign Dunn. They could also lose Dunn in the expansion draft, as they're likely to protect Torey Krug, Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk. A trade before that draft takes place is a real possibility.
On June 5, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports teams were expressing interest in the 24-year-old blueliner. Considering how this season shook out for Dunn, a trade might be the best opportunity to get his career back on the right footing.
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
In 2018-19, Johnny Gaudreau tallied a career-high 99 points to lead the Calgary Flames to a first-place regular-season finish in the Western Conference. Two years later, the Flames missed the playoffs and Gaudreau became the subject of trade speculation.
Gaudreau is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. On May 20, the Calgary Sun's Daniel Austin reported the 27-year-old winger said he's willing to negotiate a contract extension with Flames management during his season-ending press conference. Re-signing him, however, will be expensive. He's earning $6.75 million annually on his current contract.
Austin also pointed out Gaudreau would be the Flames' most valuable trade chip if management decides to shake things up. Such a move could be as beneficial to him as to the Flames. If shipped to a playoff contender with a better-balanced roster, he could regain his high-scoring form.
One way or another, changes will be coming to the Flames after this season's disappointing performance. Those could involve a more defensive-minded style of play under head coach Darryl Sutter that might not suit Gaudreau's offensive game. Rather than both sides bogging themselves down in a contract they could regret, it might be best for all concerned if he was traded this summer.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
The past two seasons have been difficult for Shayne Gostisbehere. Once considered the Philadelphia Flyers' best puck-moving defenseman, he's tumbled down the depth chart as injuries and inconsistency hampered his performance. He doesn't seem to have a long-term future in Philadelphia.
A Calder Memorial Trophy finalist in 2015-16 following a 46-point NHL debut, Gostisbehere tallied a career-high 65 points in 2017-18. Since then, his production has declined along with his ice time and value to the Flyers blue line.
Gostisbehere stumbled through a career-worst 12-point effort in 42 games in 2019-20. His point total this season rose to 20 in 41 contests, but he was also a healthy scratch for several games and passed unclaimed through waivers on March 31.
Under contract for two more seasons at an annual average value of $4.5 million, Gostisbehere could be difficult to move under a flattened salary cap this summer. Nevertheless, a trade to a club seeking a skilled puck-moving blueliner could help him regain his offensive form.
Andreas Johnsson, New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils acquired Andreas Johnsson in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in October. General manager Tom Fitzgerald cited the winger's speed and scoring touch among the reasons for the deal.
Johnsson enjoyed a 20-goal, 43-point rookie performance with the Leafs in 2018-19. However, his numbers tumbled to 21 points the following season as a knee injury limited him to just 43 games.
Joining the rebuilding Devils didn't improve Johnsson's stats. He seemed to have difficulty adjusting to head coach Lindy Ruff's system, managing just 11 points in 50 contests this season. With two years left on his contract with an annual cap hit of $3.4 million, the Devils could leave Johnsson exposed in next month's expansion draft. If he's not selected, perhaps they will try to trade him.
Johnsson put up good numbers as a complementary player on a deep Leafs roster. Perhaps he can do so again on a comparable team.
Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks
A two-time 30-goal scorer in 2016-17 and 2017-18, Rickard Rakell's stats have tumbled in recent years. After spending his entire nine-season NHL career with the Anaheim Ducks, it may be time for the 28-year-old winger to move on to a new club
Rakell's production coincides with the Ducks' overall decline in offense over the past three seasons. In 2017-18, their 2.82 goals-per-game average ranked 19th overall. By this season, their 2.21 goals per game was dead last.
The waning production of veterans centers Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique combined with the Ducks' transitioning toward a younger roster also affected Rakell's numbers. After 40-plus point performances in 2018-19 and 2019-20, he managed just 28 points in 52 games this season.
Rakell is a year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent and carries an affordable $3.8 million cap hit next season. With the Ducks in a full-fledged rebuild, it might be best to trade him to a playoff contender where he can return to his 30-goal ways.
Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Ristolainen has spent his entire eight-season NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres. Having yet to play a single postseason game, the 26-year-old defenseman could be ready for a trade to a playoff contender.
During his end-of-season interview with the press in May, Ristolainen told Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams he was fine with getting traded and fine with staying put. The Buffalo News' Mike Harrington reported the Finnish blueliner also indicated he doesn't want to wait multiple years on another rebuild.
The 6'4", 221-pound Ristolainen has been the Sabres' best defenseman in recent years. Since 2015-16, he leads the club in time on ice per game (24:51) while sitting third in total points with 221. He's also their leader in total hits with 1,171 and blocked shots with 680.
Ristolainen is a year away from unrestricted free agent status. The Sabres could trade him knowing he'll walk next summer. Skating for another club could help him bolster his value in next year's free-agent market as well as give him that long-awaited taste of postseason action.