Top 30 Players to Watch Approaching the 2021 Trade Deadline

Who will stay and who will go? This tiered list of trade candidates can be your primer in the weeks leading up to the NHL's April 12 deadline.
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Let the trading begin. Or not. Honestly? No one knows what to expect from these unprecedented circumstances.

The list of names being bandied about as targets approaching the 2020-21 NHL trade deadline is pretty exciting. We should temper our expectations, however. Quarantine periods, the flat salary cap of $81.5 million and expansion-draft protection schemes will serve as roadblocks to executing easy deals. That said, the Canadian government agreeing to shorten post-trade quarantine periods from 14 to seven days will encourage more trades.

We will surely see some NHL teams make moves in the days leading up to the April 12 deadline,. Which players are most likely to get dealt? Here’s a primer to follow based on the rumors swirling out of each market.

THE TOP 30: Realistic Trade Candidates, Ranked by Potential Impact

1. Mattias Ekholm, D, Predators

Age: 30
Cap hit: $3,750,000
Years left: 1
Clauses: none

The top prize. Blends top-pair shutdown ability, an extra year of term and a criminally low cap hit relative to his impact. But is there a chance Nashville makes a surprise Ryan Ellis trade instead?

2. Filip Forsberg, LW, Predators

Age: 26
Cap hit: $6,000,000
Years left: 1
Clauses: none

Still young enough to be part of the Preds’ long-term plans, and GM Poile went on the record earlier this month about his reluctance to move his first-line left winger. So why place Forsberg on this list? He’s attractive to too many teams. The offers should be plentiful and tempting.

3. Rickard Rakell, LW, Ducks

Age: 27
Cap hit: $3,789,444
Years left: 1
Clauses: none

Among players with at least 500 minutes played at 5-on-5 this season, only Connor McDavid averages more shots per 60 than Rakell. He could do real damage as a high-volume chance generator with a star center feeding him the biscuit. Very affordable contract, too.

4. Taylor Hall, LW, Sabres

Age: 29
Cap hit: $8,000,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: full no-movement clause

With the Sabres enduring the longest winless streak of the shootout era, teams might get ‘Buffalo discounts’ at the trade deadline because every Sabre’s stats are so ugly. If a team can land Hall for less than a first-round pick, he might be a steal. The Sabres have been better with him on the ice than without, for what it's worth.

5. Sam Reinhart, RW, Sabres

Age: 25
Cap hit: $5,200,000
Years left: RFA
Clauses: none

If the Sabres don’t want to go nuclear with the rebuild and trade Jack Eichel, a Reinhart deal would still shake the franchise and bring in significant future assets. He’s long been a streaky player, but when he’s on, he can be a difference maker.

6. Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins, G, Blue Jackets

Age: Korpisalo 26. Merzlikins 26
Cap hit: Korpisalo $2,800,000, Merzlikins $4,000,000
Years left: Korpisalo 1, Merzlikins 1
Clauses: None

Korpisalo has the more impressive sample size of playoff success and the cheaper contract, whereas Merzlikins has shown a higher ceiling and is exempt from the expansion draft. Both are attractive trade targets should the Blue Jackets decide to sell, but they’re not dead yet in the Central.

7. Mikael Granlund, C, Predators

Age: 29
Cap hit: $3,750,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

Versatility is Granlund’s game. He has experience at all three forward positions and has spent time in his career playing a pure scoring role or a hybrid scoring/shutdown role on a two-way line. 

8. Nick Foligno, LW, Blue Jackets

Age: 33
Cap hit: $5,500,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: 10-team no-trade list

Foligno is a Columbus institution, a beloved captain who sits third on the franchise’s all-time list in games, goals, assists and points. He epitomizes the heart-and-soul brand of hockey GM Jarmo Kekalainen and coach John Tortorella love. But that also makes Foligno an ideal trade target, someone other players will go to war with in the playoffs. There will be suitors.

9. Josh Manson, D, Ducks

Age: 29
Cap hit: $4,100,000
Years left: 1
Clauses: 12-team no-trade list

Trading for Manson means spinning the revolver with more than one bullet in the chamber, because his rugged, self-sacrificing style gets him banged up often. But a healthy Manson brings a playoff-friendly game on the right side of the blueline. 

10. Conor Garland, RW, Coyotes

Age: 25
Cap hit: $775,000
Years left: RFA
Clauses: none

Trade Garland? The Coyotes aren’t forcing it, but they’re reportedly receiving bites and could move him if the return is significant. The team linked to him most frequently at the moment is his hometown club, the Boston Bruins.

11. Alex Goligoski, D, Coyotes

Age: 35
Cap hit: $5,475,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: 8-team no-trade list

He gone. Goligoski is a veteran puck-mover on an expiring deal, playing for a rebuilding team and signed by a previous regime. He can likely be had for a pick or prospect or both – though the Coyotes may have to eat some salary to help out his new team in the flat-cap world.

12. Dustin Brown, RW, Kings

Age: 36
Cap hit: $5,875,000
Years left: 1
Clauses: 7-team no-trade list

If the Kings absorb some salary from the contract, which isn’t nearly as prohibitive as it was a few years ago, a contender could consider adding Brown for his physicality and playoff experience. Any team buying him for his resurgent numbers could end up disappointed, however. His shot metrics haven’t rebounded at all. Only his shooting percentage has – to a number way above his career average. A regression looms. Actually, it’s already begun.

13. Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta, G, Coyotes

Age: Kuemper 30, Raanta 31
Cap hit: Kuemper $4,500,000, Raanta $4,250,000
Years left: Kuemper 1, Raanta UFA
Clauses: none

Both Coyotes stoppers could provide significant upgrades in net to a contending team, particularly Kuemper, coming off consecutive top-seven finishes in the Vezina Trophy vote. But both goaltenders are injured. Kuemper’s week-to-week timeline puts him on track to return before the post-season. The pending UFA Raanta would be the logical guy for Arizona to move, but he’s expected to be out longer than Kuemper and won’t command as big of a return.

14. Kyle Palmieri, RW, Devils

Age: 30
Cap hit: $4,650,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: 8-team no-trade list

Throw out his terrible 2020-21 numbers on a disappointing Devils team. He averaged 30 goals per 82 games in his first five seasons in New Jersey and is a perfect rental target for a team in need of a reliable top-six scorer who can help on the power play.

15. David Savard, D, Blue Jackets

Age: 30
Cap hit: $4,250,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

With the Jackets needing a new deal for RFA Patrik Laine and potentially Foligno if they bring him back, not to mention an extension looming for blueliner Seth Jones, it’s difficult to imagine them having room to keep Savard, so he’s a logical piece to sell off as a rental. He’s big, right-handed shot-blocking machine who limits high-quality chances.

16. Eric Staal, C, Sabres

Age: 36
Cap hit: $3,250,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: 10-team no-trade list

Bet on Staal to end up with a Cup contender before the deadline passes. With his size, experience and leadership, he’s a natural third-line center target.

17. P.K. Subban, D, Devils

Age: 31
Cap hit: $9,000,000
Years left: 1
Clauses: none

Could it happen? Subban has quietly played better in his second season as a Devil, especially in the last month or so. If a team is willing to inherit half his cap hit at $4.5 million, with New Jersey retaining the other half, he could be a bargain acquisition. He’s not close top a top-pair guy anymore, but his well-rounded skill set could make him a useful middle-pair contributor.

18. Anton Khudobin, G, Stars

Age: 34
Cap hit: $3,333,333
Years left: 2
Clauses: none

While they have games in hand, the Stars are seventh in the Central Division, not expecting Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin back any time soon. It feels like a lost season. Since Bishop has a no-movement clause and breakout rookie Jake Oettinger is expansion-draft exempt, the Stars are pretty much set for their netminding tandem next season and beyond if they decide to trade Khudobin, who should attract attention after helping Dallas reach the final last year.

19. Jake DeBrusk, LW, Bruins

Age: 24
Cap hit: $3,675,000
Years left: 1 (RFA)
Clauses: none

DeBrusk has flashed potential thus far in his career but hasn’t been able to climb the mountain and become a reliable 30-goal type. He was called out by coach Bruce Cassidy and made a healthy scratch earlier this month. It doesn’t feel like DeBrusk is untouchable, and the win-now Bruins could sacrifice him in pursuit of a Cup if he can land them the left-shot defenseman they crave. DeBrusk is young enough to be an appealing reclamation project.

20. Tanner Pearson, LW, Canucks

Age: 28
Cap hit: $3,750,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

An ankle injury will cost Pearson about a month, and it’s likely any team acquiring him will be doing so before he returns to action. The Canucks are also reportedly interested in re-signing him. So is he off the table? Not necessarily. Acquiring him as an LTIR stash could be a sneaky salary-cap trick for teams in need of reliable middle-six wingers.

21. Ryan Murray, D, Devils

Age: 27
Cap hit: $4,600,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

He’s underwhelmed this season but has a reasonable track record (when healthy) as a modern-style defensive defenseman who does his job with smarts and mobility rather than brawn. He can probably be had for an early-mid-round pick.

22. Jonathan Bernier, G, Red Wings

Age: 32
Cap hit: $3,200,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

Bernier has excelled on a bad team facing a difficult workload this season. Because he hasn’t been a reliable starter for a good six years and has five career playoff starts, suitors might want to see him return from his lower-body injury before taking the plunge.

23. A top Toronto Maple Leafs prospect

Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has made it clear he’s willing to pay up in the name of chasing a championship during a season in which a Canadian team is guaranteed to make the final four. That could include giving up a top prospect such as Nick Robertson, Rasmus Sandin, Rodion Amirov or Timothy Liljegren.

24. Bobby Ryan, RW, Red Wings

Age: 34
Cap hit: $1,000,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

Ryan hasn’t made much noise since opening the year with four goals in three games, but Detroit is where goals go to die right now. The fact Ryan showed he was still capable of scoring four goals in three games makes him a viable cheap depth option.

25. Sam Bennett, LW, Flames

Age: 24
Cap hit: $2,550,000
Years left: RFA
Clauses: none

The Flames have to be careful moving Bennett, as he’s likely their best piece of expansion-draft bait right now. But he may attract attention because of his (primarily luck-based, sorry) strong playoff numbers and ornery physicality.

26. Erik Haula, C, Predators

Age: 30
Cap hit: $1,750,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

Sometimes it’s a small deal that puts a team over the top. Adding Haula’s speed and faceoff acumen to the bottom six could augment a contender.

27. Brandon Montour, D, Sabres

Age: 26
Cap hit: $3,850,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

The underachieving puck-mover Montour is only a few years removed from being considered one of the better defense prospects in the game as an Anaheim Duck. It’s tough to evaluate his potential playing in Buffalo. But he’d be an interesting buy low even if it’s just for some third-pair and PP2 work. A comparison would be when the Penguins acquired Justin Schultz on the cheap in 2016.

28. Luke Glendening, C, Red Wings

Age: 31
Cap hit: $1,800,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

Penalty killing, faceoff wins and competitiveness: pretty much what every team wants from a fourth-line center in the playoffs. 

29. Chris Driedger, G, Panthers

Age: 26
Cap hit: $850,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

It sure feels like the Panthers need him as insurance behind Sergei Bobrovsky given ‘Bob’ has a spotty playoff history. But Driedger’s solid performance and affordable contract could attract offers nonetheless. Long-term, he’s not a fit for Florida’s plans, as Bobrovsky isn’t going anywhere with his contract and elite prospect Spencer Knight looms.

30. Ryan Dzingel LW, Senators

Age: 29
Cap hit: $3,375,000
Years left: UFA
Clauses: none

Five goals in 11 games since Ottawa reacquired him! The Dzingel showcase has gone swimmingly. He’s been an accurate shooter his whole career at a 14.2-percent mark, meaning he can contribute goals even with a relatively low number of changes in a middle-six role.

Other realistic candidates to get traded: Devan Dubnyk, Sami Vatanen, Erik Gudbranson, Marcus Sorensen, Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau

Watch list: Colin Miller, Alexander Kerfoot, Connor Brown, Travis Dermott, Jonathan Quick, Caleb Jones, David Rittich, Dmitry Kulikov, Tony DeAngelo, Jamie Oleksiak

Teams may call, but unlikely to move due to no-movement clauses, no-trade clauses, large cap hits or general complexities: Jack Eichel, Ryan Ellis, Matt Dumba, Vince Dunn, Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Joel Armia, Dylan Strome, Travis Zajac, Alexandler Edler, Travis Hamonic, Ryan Miller

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