After months without any meaningful transactions, the recent spate of trades has NHL fans expecting a flurry of activity in the days ahead. And based on the buzz around the league, they’re going to get it.
Here’s a look at a 13 noteworthy names who could be on the move ahead of the Feb. 29 trade deadline:
• Dustin Byfuglien: Of all the pending UFAs who are likely to be shipped ahead of the deadline—the Jets aren’t thought to be comfortable with Big Buff’s demand for a five-year extension—no player carries the potential of a larger impact than Byfuglien. The right-handed blueliner ranks second among NHL defenseman with 134 shots on net and seventh with 117 hits. He tops Winnipeg in time on ice, averaging 24:07 per game while playing in all situations. And he ranks as the single most intimidating presence in the game today. The Capitals and Stars are the most frequently rumored destinations, but keep an eye on the surprising Panthers. GM Dale Tallon has a history with Byfuglien in Chicago and the motivation to make a pre-deadline splash with his team squarely in the Eastern Conference mix.
• Jonathan Drouin: The disgruntled winger is seen as a longer play, but he may yet be the most coveted player ahead of the deadline. There’s no questioning his skill. The question is if can he deliver it at the NHL level ... and how soon? The Blues, Ducks, Canadiens, Wild, Rangers and Senators are thought to be his most determined pursuers. The cost will be high, though: a top prospect along with a high pick. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is under no pressure to make a deal and may hold Drouin past the deadline until he has a better handle on the Steven Stamkos situation.
• Eric Staal: The big center has indicated that he’d like to stay in Raleigh, and with the surprising Hurricanes just two points out of a wild card spot and a no-trade clause in hand he could get his way. Still, there are whispers that he could be this seasons Antoine Vermette—a player who is moved at the deadline in exchange for assets to expedite a rebuild, only to return to his original team as a free agent over the summer. He’d have to accept a vastly discounted offer to do that, but Staal seems genuinely happy with Raleigh, the team and the chance to play with his brother, Jordan. The Wild might be a viable destination for the 31-year-old, who currently sits second on the Canes with 28 points.
• Keith Yandle: Teams hot in pursuit of a conference title rarely move top-six defenders ahead of the deadline, but the Rangers are in a unique situation here. Coach Alain Vigneault has little faith in the 29-year-old, using him sparingly at five-on-five as well as on the power play, his supposed specialty. Re-signing the pending UFA seems unlikely, so it makes sense to get something in return before he skips away for nothing, even if it creates a hole that has to be filled. He won’t generate anything close to the return he did for the Coyotes last winter (Anthony Duclair, John Moore and a 2016 first-round pick), but even a second-rounder and a B-level prospect would be worth it to wash their hands of this mistake.
• Dan Hamhuis: He’s out until early February after suffering a gruesome facial injury back in December, but the veteran will be in high demand nonetheless. A gold-medal winner with Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics, Hamhuis offers the poised defensive presence that virtually every contender will be looking for ahead of the deadline. The pending UFA owns a no-trade clause, so he’ll have full control over his destination. The Capitals, who could use a stable, left-handed shot with Brooks Orpik out indefinitely, are likely suitors. The Rangers might also see him as a short-term option if they move Yandle.
• Jamie McGinn: With their season quickly spiraling into the abyss, the Sabres will look to sell off some veterans ahead of the deadline. McGinn, acquired over the summer from the Avalanche, has been a quietly excellent soldier this season, and offers the size (6' 1", 200 pounds) and scoring ability (9-11-20) to add real value to a contender’s middle six. He might be a nice fit for the Kings.
• Tyler Ennis: There’s a growing sense that the Sabres are willing to part with the diminutive winger, just one year after he led the team in scoring. Ennis is having a terrible season, with just three goals so far, and has three years remaining on a contract that carries a $4.6 million salary-cap hit. But the 26-year-old does have three seasons of 20 or more goals on his resumé. That, along with his speed and his contract certainty, might make him appealing to a mid-level contender looking beyond this spring.
• Scott Hartnell: The 33-year-old forward has three seasons remaining on a deal that carries a hefty $4.75 million cap hit. That, and Hartnell's limited skating ability, suggest he might be with the Jackets for the duration. Still, there have been rumors that he’s available and his physical presence, leadership and willingness to go to the net have some appeal. He’s a dark horse to be moved, but worth watching just the same.
• Lee Stempniak: He’s the NHL’s hot potato, passed around from team to team as part of the endless search for depth scoring. The 32-year-old forward has played for five organizations in the past 24 months alone, and has shown he can adapt quickly to a new team. He has 10 goals and 30 points this season for the Devils, and carries a negligible cap hit. High demand could drive up his price.
• Frederik Andersen: The Ducks have the depth in net to survive his loss. Now they just need to find a team looking for insurance or for someone to replace an injured starter. Judging by recent goalie transactions, the cost won’t be high, but the Ducks would like to land some scoring help in return. In fact, count Anaheim in on any deal that might land them an offensive-minded winger.
• Andrew Ladd: There’s a sense the Jets would like to find a way to extend their captain, but with this season slipping away GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has to explore all options. A big, physical winger with a Stanley Cup ring on his hand, Ladd would be a hot commodity. He has a no-trade clause and so can control his fate, but if the right opportunity comes along—the Penguins, for example—he might be willing to move on. His $4.4 million hit might require the Jets to retain some salary, but by doing so they could be able to convince a potential partner to sweeten the pot.
• Ryan Murphy: He’s spent the majority of this season in the press box or the minors, so Murphy doesn’t promise the kind of instant impact most teams are looking for at the deadline. But the former first rounder, who has been pushed down Carolina's depth chart by the growth of several promising defenders, could be a buy-low option with high upside. His natural offensive instincts, as well as his right-handed shot, will have broad appeal.
• P-A Parenteau: It’s only a matter of time before the Maple Leafs start divesting their roster of UFAs-to-be. Parenteau has done a nice job playing primarily on their top line, and ranks third on the team with 11 goals. A team looking for secondary scoring should be able to acquire him for a pick. The Rangers, who are weak on the right side, could be interested.
The numbers game
• Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenneville has tied Hall of Famer Al Arbour for second on the NHL’s all time wins list (782).
• Ken Hitchcock, who ranks fourth with 733 career victories, is now the second head coach in Blues history to win 200 games with the franchise. The other is Quenneville (307). Hitchcock, who won 277 with the Stars is also the sixth head coach in NHL history to notch 200 wins with more than one team.
• Steven Stamkos has become the third player in Lightning franchise history to have eight straight 20-goal seasons. The others: Vincent Lecavalier (12; 1999-11) and Martin St. Louis (9; 2002-11).
• NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly offers an update on the NHL expansion process.
• Could the prospect of a thin free-agent market spur a late-season trade frenzy?
• Are off-ice distractions sabotaging the season of the Montreal Canadiens?
• Ron MacLean makes the connection between the classic book/film Out of Africa and an early hockey game in his Hometown Hockey blog.
• A Russian junior player just destroyed the record for the fastest goal from the start of a game.