A few years back, I asked Gary Bettman what it felt like to be showered with abuse every time he spoke in front of fans. He laughed it off and replied that there are six words he can say that are guaranteed to draw applause:
“We have a trade to announce.”
The NHL Draft is the one day each year when Bettman gets to be the bearer of good news. And this year’s draft, which kicks off next Friday night in Sunrise, Florida, should see the commissioner showered with love. With several teams looking to shake up their rosters, take advantage of appreciating assets or get out from under a salary cap burden, the draft floor could turn into a 30-team swap meet.
There are scads of stars in play but some of the big-ticket items, including Toronto's Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, might require a little more time before deals can be finalized...if they're moved at all. So, who will get sent packing? Here are 10 players who are up for grabs:
• T.J. Oshie, Blues: A team that has betrayed high expectations with a first-round elimination in each of the past three seasons simply cannot stand pat. And with his decision to re-sign coach Ken Hitchcock for one more year, GM Doug Armstrong has all but committed to making one or more changes to his core. Oshie seems to be the most likely to go, in part because of the tensions between himself and the coach but also because he’s someone whose game could blossom in a different system. The trick will be finding a partner who is willing to return an NHL-ready asset. The Panthers, who have a stated needed for scoring wingers, and the Bruins could be in the mix.
• Cam Talbot, Rangers: It’s a sell-high world and Talbot, who posted a 21-8-4 record with a 2.21 GAA and .926 save percentage, is too valuable an asset to leave parked on the bench for 60+ games. Teams in need of a young goalie (Edmonton, Buffalo, San Jose, Calgary) will look at that record and see a player who is ready to be a starter. If one of those teams is willing to part with a first rounder (something the Blueshirts don’t currently have) in exchange for Talbot plus a sweetener there’s a deal to be made. The Oilers have the 16th overall pick (acquired from Pittsburgh in the David Perron deal) to dangle.
• Jared Spurgeon, Wild: The Wild need to keep an eye on their cap scene and Spurgeon, with one year left on his current deal, will be looking to cash in on a big-money/long-term extension before long. He’s a nice player, but with Matt Dumba ready to assume a larger role as the freewheeling member of the second D pair, he’s soon to become redundant. Dealing him ahead of the draft maximizes his return/gives the acquiring team time to sell him on re-signing with them. The defense-poor Oilers could be in on him, too.
• Eddie Lack, Canucks: GM Jim Benning made it clear that he wants to keep Ryan Miller on hand for his veteran experience, so that means Lack or Jacob Markstrom, who just led Utica to the Calder Cup Final, will be moved. Lack’s experience at the NHL level and his reasonable salary commitment (one year at $1.15 million) makes him the more appealing of the two, and the cost—a third or possibly second-round draft pick—isn’t exorbitant. The Sabres just happen to have an extra second lying around...
• Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks: GM Stan Bowman used the draft to address his looming cap issues in the wake of the 2010 championship and it’s a good bet that he’ll strike quickly this year, too. Sharp’s experience and versatility (he can play all three forward positions) make him an appealing option for a team that can handle his cap hit (two years remaining at $5.9 million per). Pittsburgh is clearing space to focus on adding top-six wings to complement Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Washington needs help as well, perhaps on Alex Ovechkin’s line. A bidding war between two rivals desperate to get to the next level could lead to a nice haul for the Hawks.
• Bryan Bickell, Blackhawks: The best-case for Bowman: There’s a GM out there who skipped watching the Stanley Cup Final and doesn’t realize that Bickell was a healthy scratch in five of the six games. Barring that little miracle, he’ll need to be creative to move the bottom-six winger and the $4 million cap hit he’s carrying for the next two seasons. That means packaging Bickell with another asset (either a pick or a mid-tier prospect) and settling for scraps just to get that commitment out from under his cap.
• Robin Lehner, Senators: The decision to re-sign Andrew Hammond marked the end of the line for one of Ottawa’s two established goaltenders. Both younger and cheaper, Lehner seems more likely to move than Craig Anderson (plus it makes more sense for the Sens to keep the veteran in case the Hamburglar can’t recreate his late-season magic). The catch here is that GM Bryan Murray would like to ditch the salary of either David Legwand or Colin Greening as part of any deal. If he insists on following through with that approach the cap space gained might be the chief asset he gets in return, which means that a team wouldn’t have to give up much to acquire the promising netminder. San Jose might be a good fit.
• Tom Gilbert, Canadiens: The Habs are another team that is dealing with a cap crunch, with around $4 million remaining and a bunch of RFAs to get under contract, including Alex Galchenyuk. That may require GM Marc Bergevin to move a more substantial salary—Tomas Plekanec is a viable option—but he’ll look first to make a move that’s less damaging to the team. Gilbert is a valuable piece, especially to a team with aspirations of contending and a need for depth on defense. And with one year remaining on a deal that pays $2.8 million he’s an easy fit for many clubs. The Habs won’t get much in return other than cap space, but with Greg Pateryn ready to fill his role, moving Gilbert is a painless solution to a pressing problem.
• Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson, Bruins: The need to re-sign Dougie Hamilton, along with Ryan Spooner, Brett Connolly and a backup goaltender, will provide the first test for rookie GM Don Sweeney. With all that money going on to the cap, something’s got to come off. There’s no rush however, and so he might be inclined to wait until later in the summer to make a decision on where to make his cuts, but Sweeney doesn’t want to make the same mistake as his predecessor who delayed his decision so long that he had to settle for spare change in return for Johnny Boychuk. With that in mind, either or both of these veteran wingers could be in play in Florida during the draft.
• What a night this would have been: Three former broadcasters gathered at a Toronto home to swap tales about covering the Maple Leafs. Not surprisingly, much hilarity ensued.
• Speaking of the Leafs, the fiancee of free-agent goalie Jonathan Bernier has sent a subtle message to management via Instagram. Oh, boy.
• Hollywood producer (and former Penguins owner) Howard Baldwin reveals the surprise origins of Sudden Death and Mystery, Alaska in this all-too-brief take on hockey in cinema.
• Florida has no room for the elderly.
• Mike Heika argues that Tyler Seguin belongs on this list of the top-five centers in the NHL. Not sure that using Seguin’s defensive performance at the World Championship should count, but if that element of his game came back from overseas with him, he could be a beast next season.
• Do you have a burning desire to know everything about the legal proceedings involving the City of Glendale and the Arizona Coyotes and have 45 minutes to kill? Then this audio recording of the hearings is just for you. Probably worth the time just to hear a lawyer use the term “full-on haboob.”