7 NHL Stars Who Should Be on Trade Watch This Offseason
The NHL playoffs may be over, but the business of hockey continues. There will be an increase in player movement as all 32 teams resume the ability to make trades.
Franchises flush with salary-cap space will seek deals to improve their rosters. Cap-strapped clubs will attempt to shed salary.
Such moves can sometimes involve notable NHL stars in their prime. The most recent occurred in the summer of 2018 when the Calgary Flames shipped Dougie Hamilton to the Carolina Hurricanes, and Ryan O'Reilly was traded by the Buffalo Sabres to the St. Louis Blues.
Several factors can contribute to trading a star. In Hamilton's case, the Flames wanted to make changes following a disappointing season. O'Reilly's unhappiness with the constant losing in Buffalo led to his move to St. Louis and Stanley Cup glory with the Blues.
Hamilton could soon find himself on the move again along with several other stars. We'll examine why they should be prepared for trades this summer. Feel free to weigh in with your views in the comments section.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
During his season-ending press conference in May, Jack Eichel referred to "a bit of a disconnect" between himself and Buffalo Sabres management over treatment for a neck injury. The 24-year-old team captain has since become the subject of ongoing trade speculation.
On July 6, Sportsnet's Rory Boylen listed the Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers, Vegas Golden Knights and Philadelphia Flyers as possible suitors. Last month, the New York Post's Larry Brooks reported the Chicago Blackhawks also had an interest in the Sabres captain.
Brooks also reported Buffalo sought "at least four pieces that could be the equivalent of first-rounders." That high asking price could also narrow the list of potential destinations. So could the uncertainty over the treatment of Eichel's injury combined with his $10 million annual salary-cap hit for the next five seasons.
Despite the red flags, his skills and star power could override any concerns from interested teams. On July 6, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun wrote Eichel "is almost certainly getting dealt." It's just a question of when and where.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
After winning his first Vezina Trophy, Marc-Andre Fleury seems an unlikely trade candidate. However, the Vegas Golden Knights could be forced to move the 36-year-old goaltender in a cost-cutting deal.
ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski and Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal suggested shopping Fleury following the Golden Knights' elimination from the NHL playoffs semifinal. They felt it would open some salary-cap flexibility to address other needs. Fleury has one season left on his contract at $7 million and carries a 10-team no-trade clause.
On July 3, Graney's colleague David Schoen reported Golden Knights owner Bill Foley singled out his club's weak power play as a key reason behind its inability to reach the Stanley Cup Final. While he's pleased with the goalie tandem of Fleury and Robin Lehner, he admitted their status would be up for discussion as the front office plans its offseason.
Schoen noted Foley previously said he'd like Fleury to finish his career in Vegas. Still, the Golden Knights' $6.01 million in projected cap space is not enough to add a scorer to bolster their power play. With the 29-year-old Lehner averaging $5 million per season for the next four years, they could part with Fleury and replace him with an affordable backup.
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Trade speculation dogged Johnny Gaudreau following the Calgary Flames' early ouster from the 2020 NHL playoffs. The 27-year-old left wing hasn't been mentioned as much in the rumor mill this season. However, he could become a trade candidate if the Flames shake things up after missing this year's postseason.
Gaudreau has a year remaining on his contract with an annual cap hit of $6.75 million. On July 2, the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson reported he's open to signing a contract extension. Gilbertson also pointed out the winger's modified no-trade clause kicks in July 28, giving him the power to deny a move to all but five teams.
Two seasons removed from a career-high 99-point performance, Gaudreau could be the Flames' best trade chip if general manager Brad Treliving intends to make big changes.
The New Jersey Devils might be an option. They have $35.7 million in projected salary-cap space and could use a scoring winger. A Salem, New Jersey, native, Gaudreau could also welcome a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. Both clubs might seek assurances he'll re-sign with them, though, as they likely won't risk trade assets on a player who could depart next summer as a free agent.
Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton is due to become an unrestricted free agent July 28. On June 14, however, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported an unusual twist as the Hurricanes allowed Hamilton and his agent to speak with other clubs ahead of his UFA eligibility date.
This move could allow Hamilton to take the best contract offer back to the Hurricanes and see if they'll match. If it can't, Carolina can sign and trade him to the club making the offer and recoup value. Hamilton could then walk away with an eight-year deal instead of the seven-season pact every other team can extend.
Hamilton, 28, is the top defenseman in this summer's free-agent market. Since 2018-19, the 6'6", 229-pounder leads all NHL blueliners in total goals with 42 and sits fourth among the Hurricanes over that period with 121 points. He's completing a six-year contract with an annual cap hit of $5.75 million and could command around $8 million per season on the open market.
A rearguard with Hamilton's skills would be invaluable to teams seeking offense from the blue line, especially on the power play. On July 8, Sportsnet's Justin Bourne suggested the Seattle Kraken, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs as possible destinations if he doesn't sign an extension with the Hurricanes.
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets trading Seth Jones this summer seems a foregone conclusion after the 26-year-old informed the team he'll test next year's free-agent market, per Friedman. A talented two-way blueliner who logs big minutes, he'd be a welcome addition to any club's defensive corps. He has a year remaining on his contract at $5.4 million and carries a 10-team no-trade list.
On July 1, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline and Corey Pronman reported Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen had received interest from most of his fellow GMs. They believe the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers were the front-runners.
The Blackhawks could soon clear $5.54 million in cap space to absorb Jones' contract if they can trade veteran defenseman Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers, and TSN's Darren Dreger reported July 7 "there's still mutual interest in getting something done." The Avalanche, on the other hand, could be squeezed for cap room with free-agent stars Cale Makar, Philipp Grubauer and Gabriel Landeskog to re-sign.
Jones could be a good fit with the rebuilding Kings. They have $14.7 million in projected cap space and are deep in prospects and young players such as Adrian Kempe, 24, or Gabriel Vilardi, 21, to offer as trade bait. The Flyers need a top-pairing right-side rearguard, but the Blue Jackets' asking price could include a good young defenseman such as Philippe Myers.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals could be preparing to trade Evgeny Kuznetsov in the coming weeks. On June 23, The Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli included the 29-year-old center on his list of this summer's potential trade candidates.
Seravalli reported the Capitals are fed up with Kuznetsov's off-ice actions after he was one of the few players to test positive twice for COVID-19 this season. In 2019, he earned a four-year suspension from international hockey after testing positive for cocaine.
At his best, Kuznetsov is a skilled playmaking center, reaching or exceeding 72 points three times. He also led all postseason scorers in 2018 with 32 points during the Capitals' Stanley Cup run. He's under contract for four more years with an annual cap hit of $7.8 million and carries a 15-team no-trade list.
Kuznetsov might benefit from a change of scenery to a team in need of an established first-line center. On May 27, The Hockey News' Matt Larkin listed the Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights as possible destinations.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Trade rumors began swirling around Vladimir Tarasenko following the St. Louis Blues' elimination from the opening round of the 2021 playoffs. On June 1, The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford speculated general manager Doug Armstrong could investigate Tarasenko's value in the trade market. By June 29, Seravalli indicated Armstrong was shopping the 29-year-old winger.
Rutherford followed up with a bombshell on July 7, reporting Tarasenko requested a trade earlier in the offseason. He's reportedly unhappy over how the Blues medical staff handled two of his three shoulder surgeries and no longer trusts the club. His third surgery was conducted by doctors outside the organization, who discovered ligament damage that was overlooked in the previous procedures.
Tarasenko's injury history and $7.5 million annual cap hit through 2022-23 could limit potential trade partners. Nevertheless, a five-time 30-goal scorer with a Stanley Cup ring could draw interest from playoff contenders. Rutherford indicated he provided Armstrong with a list of up to 10 preferred destinations.
Rutherford suggested the New York Islanders and New York Rangers as possible destinations. Boston Hockey Now's Joe Haggerty wondered if the Bruins can afford to make a pitch. The Edmonton Oilers could also become a suitor, as they could use a scoring right winger for superstar Connor McDavid's line.