NHL Trade Block Big Board Entering December 2021
NHL fans didn't have to wait long for a major trade to take place this season. On Nov. 4, the Buffalo Sabres shipped Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights, removing the biggest name from our November trade board.
Early-season trades involving an NHL superstar are rare in the salary-cap era. Since the Eichel deal, only two other deals took place. On Nov, 4 the New York Islanders traded the contract of permanently sidelined defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the Sabres. Twelve days later, forward Kyle Clifford was dealt by the St. Louis Blues to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Eichel may be off the market, but several other notable NHL players remain the subject of trade conjecture. Some, like Arizona Coyotes winger Phil Kessel, were on our November listing. Others, like the Vancouver Canucks J.T. Miller, are making their first appearance on our trade board.
Here's our ranking of the NHL's top-10 trade candidates for December 2021. Do you agree or disagree with our evaluations? You can express your view on this topic in the comments section below.
The Selection Process
This listing is made up of 15 players based on media speculation throughout November 2021. The top 10 are chosen and ranked based on their level of talent, potential trade value and the possibility of getting traded.
Several notable players among November's top 10, such as the Nashville Predators Filip Forsberg and San Jose Sharks Tomas Hertl, are not part of this month's ranking because they dropped out of media trade chatter in recent weeks. New additions include Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg, Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala and Vancouver Canucks center J.T. Miller.
Note: A roster freeze will be in effect starting from 11:59 PM ET on Dec. 19 until 12:01 AM ET on Dec. 28.
The updated list is as follows, in no particular order:
- Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes
- J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks
- Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild
- John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
- Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens
- Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights
- Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks
- Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
- Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings
- Samuel Girard, Colorado Avalanche
- Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers
- Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
- Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks
10. Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings
Selected in the first round (11th overall) in the 2017 NHL draft, Gabriel Vilardi has had difficulty securing a full-time roster spot with the Los Angeles Kings. On Nov. 10, The Athletic's Lisa Dillman responded to a reader's question about the 22-year-old center's future, suggesting the Kings explore his value in the trade market.
Dillman explained the Kings have depth in promising young centers such as Quinton Byfield and Rasmus Kupari. She felt Vilardi might benefit from a change of scenery with a club in need of depth at center.
On Nov. 16, the New York Post's Larry Brooks wondered if the Rangers could tempt the Kings into parting with Vilardi by offering up the rights for winger Vitali Kravtsov, who's currently playing in the KHL. A week later, GOPHNX.com's Craig Morgan reported a Los Angeles source said the young center's trade value was too low.
The Kings aren't under any pressure to trade Vilardi. Because he's waiver-exempt and in the final season of his entry-level contract, they control his rights beyond this season. Still, it's worthwhile monitoring his status in case his trade value improves as injuries start taking a toll on other clubs.
9. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights pulled off a significant early-season trade by acquiring Jack Eichel last month from the Buffalo Sabres. While the 25-year-old center is on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) recovering from neck surgery, his anticipated debut with the Golden Knights in late February could see a forward such as Reilly Smith getting traded in a cost-cutting move.
Eichel's annual salary-cap hit is $10 million through 2025-26. While he's on LTIR, they're allowed to sit over the $81.5 million cap by $9.8 million but must be cap-compliant when he's ready to return. On Nov. 4, the Las Vegas Sun's Justin Emerson suggested Smith or Evgenii Dadonov as trade candidates. Both earned annual average values of $5 million, but the 30-year-old Smith is due to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Lacking trade protection, Smith could prove enticing to playoff contenders seeking a versatile two-way, top-six forward. He could be had for a draft pick or prospect if the Golden Knights aren't keen to take back any salary in the deal.
One of those clubs could be the New York Rangers. In his Nov. 24 mailbag segment, NHL.com's Dan Rosen was asked if the Blueshirts could have interest in Smith or the Arizona Coyotes' Phil Kessel. Rosen believes Smith's all-around skills could make him a better fit than Kessel, pointing out he played for Rangers coach Gerard Gallant during the latter's tenure as the Golden Knights' bench boss.
8. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
A talented puck-moving defenseman, John Klingberg is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. On Nov. 27, Sportsnet's Jeff Marek reported the Carolina Hurricanes contacted the Dallas Stars to express interest in the 27-year-old blueliner.
Marek reported last month the Stars want to retain Klingberg and he wants to stay in Dallas. However, his camp was said to be seeking an eight-year extension worth between $62 million and $68 million. That's an annual cap hit between $7.75 million and $8.25 million and a considerable raise over his current $4.25 million annual average value.
The Stars are paying Miro Heiskanen $8.45 million annually, as well as $5.80 million annually to Esa Lindell and $3.65 million per season to Ryan Suter. Ponying up around $8.00 million per season to Klingberg would give them a very expensive blue-line corps.
Marek said the Stars don't intend to move Klingberg because they have playoff aspirations this season, but they don't expect that will stop teams from calling. The rearguard's availability could change if the Stars fall out of postseason contention before the March trade deadline.
7. Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs
On Nov. 4, Sportsnet's Luke Fox reported the Toronto Maple Leafs were shopping one of their right-side defensemen. He cited colleagues Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos saying Travis Dermott or Justin Holl could be available for the right price.
Both blueliners remain with the Leafs entering December, but that doesn't mean one of them couldn't be moved at some point before the trade deadline. Holl could be the one the Leafs are most willing to part with to garner some salary-cap flexibility this season. They could also use the savings put toward re-signing pending free agent goaltender Jack Campbell.
The 29-year-old Holl carries a $2 million average annual value through 2022-23 plus a 10-team no-trade clause. Dermott lacks no-trade protection, but he's younger (24) and has a more affordable $1.5 million cap hit.
Holl enjoyed a career-best 20-point performance in 2020-21 but has had his difficulties this season, including a five-game stretch from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 when he was a healthy scratch for five games. He's appeared in every game since, logging between 18 and 20 minutes of ice time. Holl could draw interest at some point from a club in the market for an affordable right-side defenseman.
6. Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens
As the Montreal Canadiens enter the final month of 2021, they find themselves a long way from the giddy high of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in June. With just six wins and 14 points in 24 games, the Canadiens find themselves near the bottom of the NHL standings.
With their playoff hopes fading daily, some pundits are speculating over which Canadiens could become trade candidates. Ben Chiarot surfaced most frequently in November's media rumor chatter. The 6'3", 234-pounder is a big, physical shutdown defenseman who played a key role in the Habs' underdog run to the Final.
Carrying an annual cap hit of $3.5 million, Chiarot is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and could fetch a first-round pick. That's not far-fetched considering the Tampa Bay Lightning gave up a first-rounder for a comparable rearguard in David Savard at last season's trade deadline.
Given their recent front-office changes, the Canadiens could wait until closer to the trade deadline to move Chiarot. That could improve their chances of landing that first-rounder.
5. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes winger Phil Kessel was second on our trade board last month. The 34-year-old remains among the players most likely to be shopped before the March 21 trade deadline.
The rebuilding Coyotes enter December with one of the worst records in the league. On Nov. 18, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun speculated general manager Bill Armstrong will attempt to stock up on draft picks before the trade deadline by shopping some pending free agents such as Kessel.
One destination for the Coyotes winger could be the New York Rangers. LeBrun's colleague, Arthur Staple, suggested Kessel as a possible target on Nov. 19 after TSN's Darren Dreger reported the Blueshirts are in the market for a middle-six forward.
Kessel's best seasons are behind him, but he has decent stats (three goals, 11 points in 22 games) with the low-scoring Coyotes. His offensive skills and postseason experience could make him a worthwhile rental for a playoff contender.
The Coyotes are carrying $6.8 million of Kessel's $8 million salary-cap hit, though he's only earning $1 million in actual salary. Unless they're willing to retain a portion of that cap hit, however, they might have to wait until close to the trade deadline, when it would become more affordable to interested contenders.
4. Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild are riding high in the NHL standings as the calendar flips to December, sitting atop the Central Division and third overall in the Western Conference. Nevertheless, they recently surfaced in the rumor mill as The Vancouver Province's Ben Kuzma reported they had an interest in Canucks center J.T. Miller.
Kuzma suggested the Wild would likely offer up Kevin Fiala as part of the return for Miller. The 25-year-old winger tallied 20 or more goals in each of the last two seasons but has just three goals in 21 games this season. He's on a one-year, $5.1 million contract and is slated to become a restricted free agent next summer with arbitration rights.
On Nov. 25, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman expressed skepticism that Wild general manager Bill Guerin would trade Fiala just because he's in a slump. He doubted Guerin would make a move unless it was to improve his club.
Acquiring Miller, who has a year left on his contract with a $5.25 million cap hit, would improve the Wild, but there's no certainty the struggling Canucks intend to move him. Still, Fiala's inconsistency and his free-agent status should keep his name in the rumor mill for the time being.
3. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks are sinking like a sunset in the Western Conference. With just 16 points in 23 games, they've won just two of their last 12 games and sit near the bottom of the standings. On Nov. 25, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported, "Everyone in the organization knows changes are coming. Whether in the front office, on the bench or on the ice, they are coming."
Those changes could include J.T. Miller. On Nov. 23, Ben Kuzma of The Vancouver Province reported the Minnesota Wild contacted the Canucks to inquire about the 28-year-old center. A versatile two-way forward who can play a variety of roles, Miller's style of play could help the Wild get beyond the opening round of the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Kuzma speculated it could cost the Wild a winger such as Kevin Fiala and one or two draft picks (including a second-rounder) to tempt the Canucks. Even if there isn't a deal to be had there, his suggested asking price of a scoring forward and two picks could be the going rate for other clubs that could be interested in Miller.
That's assuming, of course, the Canucks are willing to move Miller. The fact that a specific club has already been singled out as having an interest in him is a good reason to include him in this month's trade board. The volatility of the Canucks situation is why we've placed him this high on our list.
2. Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks
Allegations from Evander Kane's estranged wife of abusive behavior, including sexual assault, were just the start of a concerning string of stories surrounding the San Jose Sharks winger. Those off-ice issues, his hefty contract and his recent 21-game suspension for using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card would seemingly make him untradeable. However, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reports the San Jose Sharks have given Kane's agent Dan Milstein permission to speak with other NHL teams. He also said several clubs have expressed to Milstein some level of interest in his client.
On Nov. 27, the New York Post's Larry Brooks reported that an Eastern Conference team is actually quite interested in the 30-year-old. He was quick to point out that the Eastern club is not the New York Rangers.
Brooks indicated the Sharks are willing to retain as much as half of his $7 million annual salary-cap hit to facilitate a trade, and he feels his offensive skills would work with with most clubs' top-six forwards despite Kane's personal baggage and his alienation from his Sharks teammates.
San Jose Hockey Now's Sheng Peng speculated over which Eastern Conference team might be inquiring about Kane's trade status. One was the Carolina Hurricanes because of their offseason addition of defenseman Tony DeAngelo despite his history of disciplinary problems. He also proposed clubs with a strong winning culture like the Tampa Bay Lightning Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
For now, Kane has cleared waivers and will report to the Sharks' AHL affiliate. It will be interesting to see if they can actually find a suitor to take him off their hands.
1. Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
Selected by the Boston Bruins in the first round (14th overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, Jake DeBrusk has been a regular in their lineup since 2017-18. However, the 24-year-old left winger's tenure with the Bruins could soon draw to a close. On Nov. 29, TSN's Ryan Rishaug reported DeBrusk's agent Rick Valette confirmed his client requested a trade over the weekend.
DeBrusk's time with the Bruins began well, tallying 43 points in 2018-19 followed by a 27-goal, 42-point effort in 68 games during his sophomore campaign. However, he's since struggled with his consistency and bounced around the lineup. His numbers tumbled to 35 points in 2019-20, 14 points last season and six points in 17 games thus far this season, making him the subject of trade speculation.
Rishaug indicated it's felt DeBrusk could benefit from a change of scenery. Given his youth and his promising stats earlier in his career, there appear to be several clubs that could give him that opportunity.
On Nov. 30, Rishaug's colleague Darren Dreger reported as many as 12 teams have contacted the Bruins about DeBrusk. He believes the New York Rangers have expressed some interest, as well as the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes. Dreger also noted the St. Louis Blues also seemed near the top of the list when DeBrusk previously surfaced in the rumor mill.
Dreger indicated the Bruins still need DeBrusk in the lineup with Brad Marchand serving a three-game suspension and a COVID-19 issue with their AHL affiliate in Providence. Given the high number of teams reportedly monitoring his situation, however, he could end up moving before the end of this month.