10 NHL Teams That Need to Make a Bold Trade in the Offseason
As the 2021 NHL season approaches its conclusion, the teams eliminated from the playoffs and those that failed to qualify are laying the groundwork for their offseason plans. Their general managers can make trades with each other now, but most tend to wait until the postseason has ended to begin swinging deals.
The trade market should return to life by mid-July. Business could pick up the week of July 18-24, with the NHL expansion draft on July 21 followed by the entry-draft weekend on July 23-24.
There could be a significant amount of trade activity this summer. Struggling teams, such as the Buffalo Sabres, could attempt to move out some noteworthy talent. Others, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, could shake up their rosters following another disappointing postseason. Meanwhile, clubs like the Los Angeles Kings could try to accelerate their rebuild.
Here's a look at 10 NHL teams that need to make bold trades during the offseason.
Big changes could be afoot for the Buffalo Sabres after missing the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season. Those could involve a couple of their top forwards.
During his end-of-season interview in May, team captain Jack Eichel expressed frustration regarding what he called a "disconnect" with management over treatment for his season-ending neck injury. That sparked considerable speculation about his future in Buffalo. On June 16, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported the Eichel trade talks were growing in seriousness and intensity.
Sam Reinhart, meanwhile, declined to commit to a return with the Sabres during his season-ending interview. A restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, he's also a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility. The 25-year-old center indicated he didn't want to be part of a rebuild.
A rebuild, however, is what could be coming for the Sabres after a decade mired in mediocrity. That could involve an eye-catching move involving Eichel, Reinhart or both. Perhaps other longtime Sabres, such as defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, could end up shopped this summer.
The Calgary Flames looked like Stanley Cup contenders in 2018-19 after finishing atop the Western Conference with the league's second-best record. After two first-round playoff exits and missing the postseason in 2020-21, a roster shakeup could be in order.
Johnny Gaudreau has surfaced in the rumor mill as a potential trade candidate. The 27-year-old left winger is a year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent. While he's open to negotiating a new contract, his modified no-trade clause kicks in on July 28 with a five-team trade list. The Flames could attempt to move him before then if a contract extension cannot be reached.
Sean Monahan also popped up in recent media trade chatter. On May 25, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported the Flames were listening to offers for the 25-year-old center following his disappointing 28-point campaign. He has two seasons remaining on his contract with an annual average value of $6.25 million and a 10-team no-trade clause.
Gaudreau and Monahan were once considered the foundation of a potential Cup contender in Calgary. With that dream derailed, perhaps they are peddled this summer for returns that get the Flames back on track.
The unrestricted free agent market doesn't open until July 28, but the Carolina Hurricanes are allowing Dougie Hamilton to speak with other teams before then. If he receives a better offer from a rival club that the Hurricanes can't or won't match, it could set up a sign-and-trade scenario before his UFA eligibility.
It's not the ideal situation for Carolina. Their blue-line corps is built around Hamilton on the right side of their top pairing, with Jaccob Slavin on the left side. However, if the 28-year-old rearguard proves too expensive for the Hurricanes to sign, trading him to a club willing to pay what could be a hefty raise could be the best option.
The Hurricanes' asking price could be a defenseman to immediately replace Hamilton. Failing that, they could accept a quality draft pick or prospect and use that return in a possible package deal to seek a new puck-moving defender.
If Hamilton isn't re-signed, the Hurricanes will have a projected $29.4 million in salary-cap space for 2021-22. Even with restricted free agents such as Andrei Svechnikov and Alex Nedeljkovic to re-sign, there could be room to add a replacement. Doing a one-for-one swap with a comparable defenseman or acquiring one in a separate deal could be crucial to maintaining their position as a Stanley Cup contender.
A depleted defense corps is among the reasons behind the Chicago Blackhawks' decline since their last Stanley Cup championship in 2015. They're transitioning younger players into their lineup to complement longtime veteran stars like Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews. However, they could be planning a major move this summer to shore up their blue line.
The Athletic's Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers recently reported a source claimed the Blackhawks were going to target Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton or Columbus Blue Jackets rearguard Seth Jones. Pursuing Hamilton will depend on how much the pending UFA seeks on his next contract, while acquiring Jones will be determined by the Blue Jackets' asking price.
The Blackhawks have $75.3 million invested in 21 players for 2021-22. However, career-ending injuries will put Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw on permanent long-term injury reserve. That provides the club $10.8 million in potential cap relief to put toward making a significant acquisition without having to make a cost-cutting deal.
Hamilton or Jones would provide a significant boost to the Blackhawks defense. Such an audacious move could also step up their retooling process and perhaps put them on a quicker path toward Cup contention.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Seth Jones' decision to test next year's free-agent market was shocking news for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 26-year-old defenseman is the anchor of their blue line. Losing him to free agency will leave a big gap they could struggle to fill unless they make a big trade this summer.
That move will likely be trading Jones rather than have his imminent departure become an unnecessary distraction throughout 2021-22. On June 6, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline examined two possible trade scenarios. One was shopping Jones for a package of players and picks that can help the Jackets now. The other would be moving him for draft picks and prospects in a rebuild scenario.
Another possibility could involve shopping him in a one-for-one scenario. Perhaps they could give the Carolina Hurricanes a call. They're willing to do a sign-and-trade involving blueliner Dougie Hamilton if unable to re-sign him before the free-agent market opens on July 28.
The Jackets could also attempt to swing a bigger deal by packaging Jones with one of their goaltenders. On May 18, Portzline reported they could attempt to trade Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo. That perhaps sets the stage for a blockbuster deal this summer.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings' most recent appearance in the NHL playoffs was in 2015-16. Under general manager Steve Yzerman, they have been rebuilding their roster primarily with young talent they have drafted and developed.
After finishing dead last in 2019-20, the Wings showed promising signs of improvement this season. While they finished seventh in the eight-team Discover Central Division with 48 points in 56 games, they rose to 27th in the overall standings.
Yzerman showed a willingness to make a bold move at this year's trade deadline. He shipped winger Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals in exchange for forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, as well as a first-round pick in this year's draft and a second-rounder in 2022.
The commitment to their patient rebuild is commendable, but the Wings need to make a significant move to speed up the process. With 12 picks in this year's draft (including seven in the first three rounds), $48.1 million in projected salary-cap space and a deep pool of prospects, Yzerman has the assets to pursue a big deal this summer.
Los Angeles Kings
Like the Detroit Red Wings, the Los Angeles Kings have put the focus on building up their roster with promising young players from within their system. General manager Rob Blake appears ready to make a move or two to speed things along. On June 8, TSN's Darren Dreger reported the Kings are hoping to acquire two top-six forwards this summer via trade or free agency.
The Kings last reached the playoffs in 2017-18. They were in contention this season in the Honda West Division before fading over the second half of the schedule, finishing in sixth place with 49 points. That promising effort could explain Blake's willingness to seek some scoring depth.
Blake could have his eye on scorers who have surfaced in recent trade speculation. Perhaps he's looking at Calgary Flames forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. He could be eyeing the Buffalo Sabres' Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Maybe he'll seek an affordable option like Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk.
The Kings have $20.5 million in projected salary-cap space, a prospect pool ranked No. 1 by The Athletic's Scott Wheeler and extra picks in the second and third rounds of this year's draft. That's plenty of tradeable assets to draw upon to acquire an impact player or two this summer.
New Jersey Devils
Another club in the middle of a rebuild, the New Jersey Devils were undone this season by a lack of scoring punch. Their 2.59 goals-per-game average ranked 26th overall.
The Devils are blessed with two good young centers in team captain Nico Hischier and promising Jack Hughes. However, the two former first overall draft picks lack skilled wingers on their respective lines. General manager Tom Fitzgerald must do something this summer to address that glaring need.
Fitzgerald has $37.6 million in projected cap space if he wants to make a splash in this summer's free-agent market. However, he could find it difficult to entice an unrestricted free agent scorer to join his rebuilding team.
The trade market seems a better area for Fitzgerald to find some offensive help. The Devils GM has two picks in the first round of this year's draft plus some promising prospects to use as trade bait. Some of those assets could be used to make a big move to acquire an established scoring winger to skate alongside Hischier or Hughes.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Thanks to talented, high-priced forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs have become a perennial playoff club. However, they can't get past the first round. With their most recent Stanley Cup championship coming in 1967 and their last series win in 2004, the Leafs must do something to shake things up.
During the Leafs' end-of-season press conference, TSN's Kristen Shilton reported team president Brendan Shanahan blamed his club's first-round elimination by the Montreal Canadiens on a lack of "killer instinct." He also said they didn't intend to break up their young core of Matthews, Marner and Nylander.
Something's got to give in Toronto, however, for the Leafs to at least win a playoff series, let alone end their 54-year Cup drought. Tavares' no-movement clause ensures he's not going anywhere. If they are unwilling to move one of their expensive young forward stars, they will have to consider shipping out another significant player.
Morgan Rielly could become a trade candidate. The Leafs' top defenseman is a year away from unrestricted free-agent eligibility and will seek a big raise over his current $5 million cap hit, perhaps more than the Leafs can afford. He could fetch a player with that killer instinct they need.
A lack of defensive depth, especially on the right side of their blue line, has proved costly to the Winnipeg Jets. They have won just one playoff round since reaching the 2018 Western Conference Final.
After they were swept from the second round of this year's playoffs, Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press reported head coach Paul Maurice acknowledged the defense corps has been thin for the past two years.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tends to take a patient, methodical approach to building and maintaining his roster. He's never made a major free-agent signing during his tenure in Winnipeg, but he could jump into the trade market to bring in a top-four right-side defenseman. Two notable options could include Columbus' Seth Jones or Carolina's Paul Hamilton.
With $14.9 million in projected cap space and key free agents Andrew Copp, Neal Pionk, Paul Stastny and Mathieu Perreault to re-sign or replace, Cheveldayoff could be forced to use a top-six forward as trade bait. On June, 9, Bell's colleague Mike McIntyre suggested shopping Kyle Connor for a blue-chip rearguard.
Dangling a reliable skilled offensive forward such as Connor would be an aggressive move by Cheveldayoff. However, he's made such deals in the past, sending Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres in a multiplayer deal in 2015 and shipping Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in 2019. He could surprise everyone by making what could be the biggest move of his managerial career this summer.