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20 NHL trade candidates you’ll hear about before the deadline

Sportsnet logo Sportsnet 5 days ago Rory Boylen
a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: 22338840 © Kathy Willens/AP 22338840

There’s still lots to sort out between now and the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 24. Who will buy, who will sell? What will the standings even look like?

And, how many trades will be made before the final day of dealing?

All of this is going to influence which players are out there on the market. For instance, if the Montreal Canadiens fall they may explore more movement than if they start winning again. Likewise, if John Hynes can start righting the ship in Nashville and get them back into the race, perhaps the Predators won’t be as “open for business” as a seller as David Poile indicated he was after firing Peter Laviolette.

That’s why this list of 20 trade candidates you’ll hear about will change over the next few weeks. Today, we’ll go over the names who are currently in the rumour mill, but we’ll revisit and update as the landscape changes — and trades are made — in the lead up to the deadline. 

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

He’s having a career year, sure, but after a very strong November it’s worth mentioning he’s come back to earth with four goals in his past 17 games. Pageau brings other intangibles though.

He’s an excellent penalty-killer and face-off man so he’d ideally fit into a third line centre role anyway. The question is what can the Senators recoup for him in trade? Given he plays a valuable position with special teams capabilities, they’ll likely be seeking a first-round pick. Whether it gets there or not, we’ll see. But, there should be plenty of teams in the market for this type of player.

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

There is still a chance Kreider and the Rangers come to terms on an extension, but the rebuilding Blueshirts would rather move him as a rental than risk losing him for nothing to the UFA market this summer.

“All the contenders from Colorado to Boston to St. Louis to Pittsburgh are all believed to be interested in [Kreider],” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said during a Hockey Night in Canada Headlines segment in late-December. “Teams don’t believe, right now, the Rangers have made him available, but they are waiting to see if they decide they can’t keep him, and they want to trade him, there is a ton of interest.”

A first line left winger in New York, Kreider would fit any team that needs a top-six flanker. He brings size (six-foot-three, 217 pounds) and is tough around the net, which should lend itself to playoff hockey (though he had three goals and four points in 12 post-season games the last time he made it there in 2017).

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild

Nearly traded already to Calgary and Pittsburgh over the past year-plus, Zucker is again a candidate to move — and possibly even to the Penguins still, as they deal with the loss of Jake Guentzel to injury. With 12 goals and 24 points in 35 games, the 27-year-old Zucker’s scoring pace this season is rivalling his career best. Far from a rental, Zucker has another three years after 2019-20 on his contract with a $5.5 million cap hit, but he does have partial trade protection — he can submit a no-trade list of 10 teams.

Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators

Moved at last year’s deadline to Nashville from Minnesota for Kevin Fiala, Granlund could again be made available as he heads towards UFA status this summer. In his last two full seasons with the Wild Granlund posted 69 and 67 points and looked to be turning a corner in his career, but in 54 games with Nashville he has only 20 points. What gives?

Is this a player not fitting in to a system, or is it something else? He’s still getting top-six minutes and Nashville isn’t struggling for offence, sitting with the sixth-most goals at 5-on-5. Either way, he’s making $5.75 million against the cap and as Nashville appears set for wheeling and dealing, Granlund is a good bet to be wearing another jersey by the end of the season.

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings

The 27-year-old pending UFA struggled through a low shooting percentage season in 2018-19 and returned a disappointing 13 goals, but he really is good to reach 20 most years — including this one. Toffoli is a fit for anyone hoping to add scoring help on their second line, or to bolster a first line in a complementary role. The Bruins are the team most closely linked to a Toffoli deal.

“I do think Boston, if they wanted to, could do a deal for Toffoli almost at any time,” Elliotte Friedman said on the latest 31 Thoughts Podcast. “I think they know they’ve got that in their hip pocket.”

Nick Bonino, Nashville Predators

OK, so we’ve established the Predators may sell some players off, but how deep will it go? Bonino will be a great indicator. He’s having a terrific season (his 57.17 SF% at 5-on-5 is top 20 in the league) and is signed for another season at $4.1 million. He’s Nashville’s top penalty killer, wins 54.1 per cent of his draws, has plenty of playoff experience and brings a good amount of offence, on pace for over 20 goals. He’s a perfect third line centre for a contender, but the cost of acquisition should also be relatively high for his placement in the lineup.

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators

Another Predator who could be had, Smith is generally a 20-goal, 40-point player and while he could be a top-six player for some team, he’s currently on Nashville’s third unit. Making $4.25 million against the cap, Smith would seem like a candidate to move as the Predators look to switch gears and open up some money.

Zach Bogosian, Buffalo Sabres

December brought reports that Bogosian had requested a trade out of Buffalo, but the next defenceman who was dealt was Marco Scandella (to Montreal). Since that was revealed, Bogosian’s played more than 16 minutes in a game just once. Past his peak, injuries have limited him to just 16 games this season, and his shots for percentage at 5-on-5 is second-worst among Sabres defencemen, ahead of just Colin Miller. Bogosian is a pending UFA and, especially if the Sabres retain some of his salary for the remainder of the season, is a decent depth defender with penalty kill capabilities.

Evan Rodrigues, Buffalo Sabres

Reports also surfaced that Rodrigues had requested a trade out of Buffalo (“I just want to play hockey,” he said), but he’s been going through a miserable season, which will end with him becoming an arbitration-eligible RFA. Last season, Rodrigues scored nine goals and 29 points in 74 games, but under Ralph Kruger he has five points in 26 games — both of his goals this season coming just last game against Detroit. And since reports of his trade request became public, Rodrigues’ minutes have also declined.

On that note, here’s what Ralph Krueger told the Buffalo News about these reports of multiple players wanting out:

“I can only speak to what is, and what is is we will end up here with a group of players that really want to be here, and we will work with the players that really want to be here, and quite clearly, play the players that want to be here.”

Alex Galchenyuk, Pittsburgh Penguins

Well, his GM has already once said that Galchenyuk was available.

“The fact of the matter is, when we’re totally healthy, he’s going to have to work very hard just to get in the top 12,” Jim Rutherford said in December. “That’s just the way it is, because we have a lot of guys playing well. So, that’s the good news and the bad news.”

Well, they’re not yet fully healthy but Sidney Crosby is returning Tuesday and Nick Bjugstad is nearly ready. Meantime, Galchenyuk has already been demoted to the fourth line.

The experiment hasn’t worked after the Phil Kessel trade brought Galchenyuk to Pittsburgh last summer. He didn’t click with either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and has just four goals and 15 points in 36 games. A pending UFA, Galchenyuk wouldn’t bring the Penguins back much in a deal unless he’s part of a bigger trade. Any acquiring team would be taking a similar flyer on the player, and would probably drop him to UFA anyway.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Montreal Canadiens

Look, any contender already could have had Kovalchuk without giving up anything after the Kings terminated his contract to make him a free agent last month. He ultimately landed in Montreal for the rest of this season at a $700,000 cap hit, but as the Canadiens struggle to stay in the playoff race (now seven points out of a wild card), could they move Kovalchuk for even a late pick? He’s been averaging more than 19 minutes a night in five games with Montreal and has a goal and four points — his play in the near future could make him appealing again.

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

At 38, Anderson is clearly past his peak and his .897 save percentage this season isn’t going to get any buyer excited. But the idea is that Anderson wouldn’t have to be acquired to be a No. 1 for any team, but rather a backup/safety net in case of injury. Anderson is most likely to walk to UFA this summer. It’s worth noting that Anderson’s numbers are probably hurt by the rebuild in front of him — and that he has a .929 career save percentage in his post-season career, including .922 in Ottawa’s run to the conference final in 2017.

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

This section should really be committed to “a Chicago goalie” as the Blackhawks appear set to miss the playoffs again with two pending UFAs manning the crease. But Robin Lehner has bucked the idea he found success with the Islanders last year because of Barry Trotz’s system by posting a .923 save percentage and 13-7-4 record in Chicago, so we’d expect the team is hoping to sign him for some term before July 1. That leaves Crawford, who hasn’t been his same high-level self in two years now. Much like Anderson, the thinking is some team could come after Crawford to get his experience as an insurance marker in net, and probably not for a hefty cost.

Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh Penguins

Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are both RFAs this summer and it’s looking like Jarry may be taking over the job — he’s been the better goalie on the season. So, maybe, Murray’s is a name that pops into the rumour mill by next month, too. But right now Casey DeSmith is the odd-man out, playing in the AHL after signing a three-year extension last summer that followed a pretty sturdy effort in 36 NHL games a year ago. The fact is the Penguins won’t keep moving forward with three goalies for too long, and the upcoming trade deadline is the earliest opportunity to move one. Unlike Anderson or Crawford, though, each of Pittsburgh’s goalies are in their 20s and could be a long-term solution for some team, so the price in trade could bring the Penguins back some notable assets.

Marco Scandella, Montreal Canadiens

Montreal acquired Scandella for a fourth-round pick on Jan. 2, but like with Kovalchuk, if the team isn’t in the playoff picture by late February GM Marc Bergevin could try and flip the left-shot Scandella to a needy team — we’d hope for at least a fourth-round pick. Scandella is effectively a depth defenceman with penalty-killing abilities (he averaged exactly two shorthanded minutes a game in Buffalo), but what makes him a tradeable asset for the Habs is that his contract expires at the end of the year, when he’s scheduled to become a UFA. The potential return won’t be big, but every contender needs depth on the blue line. And if Montreal retains some of his $4 million cap hit for the remainder of a year, Bergevin could come out ahead.

Alexandar Georgiev, NY Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist is still signed through next season and we shouldn’t expect him to be traded. And it appears the Igor Shestyorkin era has begun as the 24-year-old was recently promoted from the AHL and started two games. But Georgiev is no slouch. He was terrific in 33 games last season (.914, 2.91, 14-13-4) and though his numbers haven’t been as strong in 2019-20, he’s still a young (23) NHL netminder. New York likely doesn’t want to keep going through the season with three goalies on its roster and since Georgiev now has to pass through waivers to go to the AHL, a trade out seems the most likely outcome.

“They’ve got a lot of good defence prospects coming and they obviously don’t need goalies. So teams are under the impression that it won’t be cheap,” Friedman said Saturday during the Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “It will probably cost you a forward who’s either as young and either ready to play or close to it — but they won’t listen to anything that doesn’t impress them beneath that.”

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks

Currently out with an injury, Saad was back skating this week, though he may not return to the Hawks until after the all-star break. When he does, however, Elliotte Friedman noted in a recent 31 Thoughts column that “there will be interest.” Saad has been a second-unit PK player for the Hawks this season and a regular in the top six at even strength. He’s fourth on the Hawks in goals scored per 60 minutes of play. The 27-year-old makes $6 million against the cap this season and next.

Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators

Two years ago, Turris was wrapping up his second straight 50-plus-point season. He’s played 92 games since and has mustered just 41 points. And the biggest problem is that he’s under contract through 2023-24 with a $6 million cap hit. The Predators have been shopping him for some time, but it seems likely they’d have to retain some of that salary, or at least sweeten a deal fairly significantly to get someone else to take on that contract. Of all the players GM David Poile could potentially move before the deadline, Turris is seemingly the one they’d like to move out most. He’d also be the toughest one to trade, though.

Mark Jankowski, Calgary Flames

The Flames are in an interesting position and have a GM who’s unafraid to take big swings via trade. After trading Michael Frolik, Calgary has approximately $3.73 million in deadline day cap space, according to CapFriendly, and that could go up a little bit by moving a body or two to the AHL. Treliving said he intends to use that space to help his roster, and on a recent Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Elliotte Friedman noted that we shouldn’t necessarily expect that help to come in the form of a rental.

“From what I understand, they’re not really that interested in rentals,” Friedman said. “They prefer somebody with term, that’s what their preference is if they try to add someone.”

For a team like Calgary, picks and prospects are on the table, but there is interest in NHLer Mark Jankowski, who has a single point on the season and seems to need a fresh start. He’s also an arbitration eligible RFA this summer. If the Flames can use Jankowski in a package to help upgrade the roster with a player who has some term on his deal, they’d have to entertain the thought.

Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers

We’re all wondering what the Edmonton Oilers will do. They’re still very much in the playoff race and have a clear need to add some scoring help on the wings. But at the same time, they’re not really in a position to go all-in, so floating their first-round pick or top prospect Evan Bouchard in a trade doesn’t seem like a likely path for GM Ken Holland.

But we do expect him to do something.

“When you’ve got Connor McDavid and you’ve got Leon Draisaitl — and we’ve got some other players, obviously (Darnell) Nurse and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins — I believe the window to try to be in the playoffs is now. We’re in the race,” Holland said Monday in an interview with the Lead Off crew on Sportsnet 590. “When you’ve got Connor McDavid, the window is now. The time is now.”

Outside of later draft picks, there’s one player in particular who stands out. Puljujarvi asked out of Edmonton and, when a trade didn’t happen in time for this season, he decided to go back to Finland to play for Karpat in the Liiga. He’s their top scorer with 14 goals and 32 points in 35 games, but questions linger about how that will translate in the NHL, and if he’s improving any as a two-way player capable of effectively playing within an NHL system while playing against competition that is lesser than what he’d see in the NHL.

The deadline has passed for Puljujarvi to return to the NHL this season, so any acquiring team couldn’t use him right away. Still, he was the fourth overall pick in 2016 and while he doesn’t carry that same value anymore, there are probably some teams out there willing to take a shot on him.

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