With the NHL holiday roster freeze now lifted and the calendar soon turning to January, activity could finally pick up in the stagnant trade market.
Entering the recent holiday period, the Colorado Avalanche attracted the most interest among NHL insiders. With only 12 wins and 25 points in 34 games, the Avs sit at the bottom of the Western Conference with the league's worst record.
During an appearance last Friday on Buffalo's WGR 550, TSN analyst Darren Dreger said GM Joe Sakic is going to have to do something to improve his club's culture. Dreger notes core players such as left winger Gabriel Landeskog or center Matt Duchene are the subject of trade speculation.
Dreger's colleague Bob McKenzie told Toronto's TSN 1050 he thinks there's a sense of urgency for the Avalanche to change something. If Sakic moves a core player, McKenzie cautions he must ensure he gets a good return. Of those players, McKenzie doubts they'll move the 21-year-old MacKinnon, who signed a seven-year, $44.1-million contract last summer.
Duchene could attract the most interest among rival GMs. Last season, he reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time. With 12 goals in 30 games this season, he's on pace to do it again. ESPN.com's Craig Custance includes the center on his “All-Trade-Candidates” team. Noting the Avs need for an impact defenseman and the Carolina Hurricanes' depth in good, young blueliners, Custance suggests Duchene could be a fit there.
Duchene, Landeskog or MacKinnon will undoubtedly bring the Avalanche a top-two defenseman. But while such a move bolsters Colorado's struggling blueline, it would weaken their already anemic offense.
Their respective contracts also hamper attempts to move them. MacKinnon's annual cap hit is $6.3 million, Duchene's is $6 million and Landeskog's $5.57 million. Only three NHL clubs (Florida, New Jersey and Carolina) carrying over $6 million in cap room this season. If Sakic intends to shop one of those players around the league, he'll have to seek a dollar-for-dollar deal in order to make a substantial in-season trade.
With their depth in blueliners, sufficient cap space and need for a top-line scorer, the Hurricanes could make a suitable trade partner. But of the 'Canes blueliners, only Justin Faulk can be considered an impact rearguard right now. Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanifin have potential but have yet to fully establish themselves. Hurricanes GM Ron Francis could be reluctant to part with Faulk.
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler was the subject of frequent trade speculation throughout last summer and into preseason. It was assumed the 25-year-old would be dealt to free up cap space to re-sign Hampus Lindholm. GM Bob Murray, however, resolved that problem by placing defenseman Simon Despress and center Nate Thompson on long-term injured reserve.
The Ducks depth in defensemen, however, means they risk losing a quality blueliner such as Fowler to the expansion draft in June. As they lack experienced skilled depth at left wing, perhaps a swap of Fowler for Landeskog is possible. To date, Bob Murray's given no indication he intends to move Fowler this season.
Given the Avs' needs, the limited number of trade partners this season and the expensive contracts of their core players, Sakic could be forced to wait until the offseason to find a suitable deal.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.