Way-Too-Early Predictions for the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline
The NHL has yet to confirm a date for its 2021-22 trade deadline. On July 22, the Fourth Period's David Pagnotta tweeted it's usually held 40 days before the end of the regular season, which would be March 21. Given the NHL's participation in the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, that appears to be the most likely date.
Making predictions in September over which players could be traded by that deadline seems premature. However, it could take that long to move a star who's been a fixture in offseason speculation, such as Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel. Meanwhile, San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl recently surfaced in trade rumors because of his unrestricted-free-agent status next summer.
Here are our way-too-early predictions for this season's trade deadline. We'll examine why the five players on this list could get moved to the teams we consider as possible destinations. Feel free to express your views on this topic in the comments section below.
Filip Forsberg to the Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche lost some scoring punch at left wing this summer with Brandon Saad's departure to the St. Louis Blues as a free agent. Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic could attempt to bolster that position at the trade deadline. Someone like the Nashville Predators' Filip Forsberg could become an enticing option.
Predators GM David Poile had a busy July engaging in what he called a "competitive rebuild." He traded defenseman Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and winger Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings. With Forsberg slated to become an unrestricted free agent next July, perhaps the 27-year-old winger will be next to hit the trade block.
Forsberg is earning an annual average value of $6 million on his current contract. He also lacks no-trade protection, allowing Poile to ship him anywhere for draft picks and prospects if unable to re-sign the skillful left winger by the trade deadline.
On Aug. 20, The Athletic's Adam Vingan speculated Forsberg could seek upward of $8 million per season. While he felt the Predators should pass on offering him that much, he doubted the skillful Swede would accept less than the $8 million that teammates Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen are making.
The Avalanche currently have $2.4 million in projected cap space with a projected $11.4 million in deadline cap room. They lack first- and second-round picks in the 2022 draft but have promising prospects such as Alex Newhook, Justin Barron and Shane Bowers as possible bargaining chips. Sakic could also request Poile retain some of Forsberg's salary to make this work.
Sacrificing future assets on a possible playoff rental is always a risky move. Nevertheless, Sakic could take the gamble on someone like Forsberg to help his club win the Stanley Cup next spring.
Tomas Hertl to the Vegas Golden Knights
This could be Tomas Hertl's final season with the San Jose Sharks. The versatile 27-year-old forward is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next July. Despite a history of knee injuries, he's a skilled two-way player who can play center or wing. He carries a $5.625 million cap hit for this season and a three-team trade list.
Hertl's abilities would make him a desirable trade commodity for the Sharks if they're unable to sign him to a contract extension. On Sep. 10, The Athletic's Kevin Kurz speculated they'll want a first-round pick and at least one high-profile prospect center or defenseman as part of the return.
The Vegas Golden Knights could be among the suitors if Hertl hits the trade block. They have Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson filling the center roles on their top two lines, but both lack Hertl's all-around skills.
That need for a No. 1 center explains why the Golden Knights were among the clubs rumored to be interested in the Buffalo Sabres' Jack Eichel. On July 27, The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy reported the Sabres' asking price from Vegas was veteran winger Reilly Smith, prospect center Peyton Krebs, defenseman Nicolas Hague and a first-round pick.
If the Golden Knights aren't in the Eichel sweepstakes, perhaps they could pursue the more affordable Hertl. If they're unwilling to part with Krebs, they could dangle Nolan Patrick or former 2020 first-round pick Brendan Brisson and a first-round pick. The Sharks would have to retain part of Hertl's cap hit for the cap-strapped Golden Knights unless they take on a player with a comparable contract (like Smith) in the deal.
The Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2017-18 but fell just short of the Final in the last two seasons. They've shown a willingness in the past to make big moves, acquiring Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty and signing Alex Pietrangelo. They could roll the dice on a rental player such as Hertl if they're on his list of preferred trade destinations.
Vladimir Tarasenko to the New Jersey Devils
With training camp opening this week, the St. Louis Blues are no closer to finding a trade partner for Vladimir Taransenko. On Sept. 18, general manager Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jim Thomas he expects the 29-year-old right winger to be on the Blues' opening-day roster.
Taransenko's limited playing time over the last two seasons because of shoulder surgeries was one reason cited by Armstrong the winger's trade request hasn't been fulfilled. Another was the difficulty of making a move with the flattened salary cap. Tarasenko is signed through 2022-23 with an annual average value of $7.5 million, though he'll earn $9.5 million in actual salary this season.
On Sept. 15, The Athletic's Eric Duhatschek speculated the two sides could "make nice" through this season to use up some of those cap dollars. It will also allow other teams to evaluate his performance. One of them could be the New Jersey Devils.
Back on July 29, Duhatschek's colleague Jeremy Rutherford included the Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes as potential destinations for Tarasenko. With the Hurricanes having signed away Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey could become a feasible landing spot provided Tarasenko agrees to waive his no-trade clause to join the Devils.
The Devils possess two talented young centers in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes but lack a true first-line scoring winger to skate alongside either one. With $12.2 million in salary-cap space, they can afford to take on the remainder of Tarasenko's contract. They also have some good young NHL-ready wingers such as Janne Kuokkanen or Yegor Sharangovich to use as trade bait if they wish.
Signing top free-agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton on July 28 signaled the Devils' intent to become a serious playoff contender following several seasons of rebuilding. Adding Tarasenko near the trade deadline could help them secure a postseason berth.
Marc-Andre Fleury to the Pittsburgh Penguins
After four seasons as the Vegas Golden Knights' starting goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 27 in a cost-cutting move. If the Blackhawks aren't in playoff contention by deadline day, perhaps the 36-year-old netminder will find himself back where his NHL career began.
The No. 1 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003, Fleury helped them win three Stanley Cups during his 13 seasons in the Steel City. They could need his services again if Tristan Jarry struggles.
Jarry was fourth in regular-season wins in 2020-21 (25) but ranked 25th in save percentage (.909) and 27th in goals-against average (2.75) among goalies with 20 games played. His postseason numbers were among the league's worst.
Fleury, meanwhile, can still play at a high level despite his age. He took home his first Vezina Trophy last season, winning 26 games with a 1.98 GAA, a .928 save percentage and six shutouts. He also finished third among last spring's postseason goalies with a 2.04 GAA in 16 games.
During a recent interview with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek of 31 Thoughts: The Podcast, Fleury hinted this season could be his last. If so, maybe he'll agree to return to Pittsburgh for a final hurrah if the Blackhawks are out of the playoff race by the trade deadline. He carries a 10-team no-trade list, but the Penguins might not be on it.
Fleury has a $7 million salary-cap hit for this season. Most of his salary, however, will be paid by the time the trade deadline hits. The Blackhawks could also absorb part of his remaining cap hit if Pittsburgh were to give up a second-round draft pick or a quality prospect. Penguins backup Casey DeSmith could be part of the deal, as he's also due to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Jack Eichel to the Columbus Blue Jackets
The impasse between the Buffalo Sabres and Jack Eichel shows no sign of ending. There's also no indication what type of medical procedure he'll undergo to repair the herniated disk in his neck. On Sept. 9, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the Sabres "reengaged" with interested teams to see where they stand. Uncertainty over his health, however, could make those clubs reluctant to pursue him.
Assuming Eichel eventually undergoes surgery this fall and makes a full recovery, it could take until the trade deadline before the Sabres find a suitable trade partner. If Eichel's returned to form by then, those interested parties could make serious bids for a potential blockbuster in-season deal.
One of those teams could be the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Sept. 17, The Athletic's Eric Duhatschek suggested Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was among two general managers (the other being the Minnesota Wild's Bill Guerin) "with the courage to wade in on a possible Eichel deal."
Both clubs need a genuine No. 1 center. The Blue Jackets, however, have an advantage in salary-cap space, entering this season with a projected $10.5 million available and $49.8 million in deadline cap room. The Wild have $12.2 million, but most of that will likely be taken up re-signing free-agent winger Kirill Kaprizov. Duhatschek's colleague Michael Russo reported Minnesota has offered Kaprizov around $9 million per season.
The Jackets also acquired the Chicago Blackhawks' 2022 first-rounder in the Seth Jones trade. If the Blackhawks don't win one of the 2022 draft lotteries, perhaps the Jackets will include both first-round picks as part of a package offer. They could also include a couple of promising young players, such as Yegor Chinakhov, Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, Corson Ceulemans and Liam Foudy.
Kekalainen has a reputation for bold trades. During this summer, he shipped Jones to the Blackhawks and sent Cam Atkinson to the Philadelphia Flyers for Jakub Voracek. It shouldn't be shocking if he makes a big play for Eichel at the deadline.