The NHL's list of untradeable talent is shorter than you think

The shifting economic realities of the NHL mean almost everyone is vulnerable to a trade. All things being equal, it's tough to rule players out.
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There was shock in the hockey world last week when rumors began flying that the Blues were entertaining thoughts of trading defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Even if St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong was looking to shake up the roster in the wake of another playoff flop, the 2014 Olympian seemed like an unlikely option. Just 26, Shattenkirk is an elite puck-moving blueliner, exactly the sort of player a contending team typically builds around.

Shattenkirk was unfazed by the chatter.

“St. Louis has been great to me, but this is a salary cap league,” he told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “There are 10 guys who are probably safe. Look at Phil Kessel. If a team gets the right price, you can get traded. As players, you realize that more and more. I was traded [in 2011] for the first overall pick [Erik Johnson, who went No. 1 in the ’06 draft].

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“Anything can happen. That was the lesson I learned, I thought I was king of the world. Playing well, made the rookie All-Star team. I was locked in there. A day later, I was traded.”

What Shattenkirk recognizes is that there’s no room for sentiment in the NHL. The shifting economic realities of the game dictate that everything comes down to numbers. And that means that everyone is vulnerable.

Well, almost everyone.

Shattenkirk estimates there are 10 players who can’t be traded. There might not be that many.

Obviously there are a lot of moving pieces that would play into any discussion involving a top player. Ultimately it would come down to organizational timelines, roster strengths and cap considerations. All things being equal, it’s tough to rule almost anyone out.

• Available free agents and cap space by team | Full NHL signings tracker

Take Sidney Crosby, for instance. At this point, wouldn’t Penguins GM Jim Rutherford at least have to listen if someone came to him with a compelling offer for his captain? I’m not going to speculate about what that offer might include, but it’s conceivable that one could be made that would benefit a Pittsburgh organization that hasn’t looked like a legitimate contender since last winning it all in 2009.

The Penguins would still have Evgeni Malkin, a superstar around which an offense can be built. And the right deal could fill obvious holes in Pittsburgh’s roster and address a cap squeeze that has limited the Penguins’ flexibility for years.

Does that mean that Pittsburgh would consider swapping Sid? Unlikely, but in these complicated times it’s tough to say never.

So, who could truly be considered untouchable?

The short list starts with Connor McDavid. The top pick in this year’s draft is cheap, he has unlimited upside and he is the perfect fit for an organization whose better days lie just over the horizon. There’s literally nothing, within reason, that another team could offer in exchange for the young center that would make sense economically or strategically to the Oilers.

Jonathan Toews is integral both to the Blackhawks’ identity and to their ability to extend a run of three Stanley Cups in the last six seasons. The same holds for Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, who is key to the Hawks’ chances and also wildly affordable, at an average annual value of just $5.5 million.

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At $7 million a year, Drew Doughty isn't quite as affordable as Keith, but he’s 25 and has been the linchpin of the Kings’ two recent championships. There’s no way to upgrade by moving a player who might be the best clutch defenseman in the world.

John Tavares is the heartbeat of an Islanders organization on the verge. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are keys to a Cup contender in Anaheim (although their status could change if things go sideways again in 2015–16). And for as long as the Rangers harbor their own championship aspirations (at least another year or two), Henrik Lundqvist will be their goalie.

That’s eight players. And that might be it.

There are a number of others who would qualify as highly unlikely to be moved. Organizational tent poles such as Alex Ovechkin,Erik Karlsson,Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Jamie Benn seem all but untouchable. So does recently signed Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko. But in each of those cases there are factors that would at least open door a crack.

Players understand this. And that’s why none of them can truly be caught off guard anymore when their name gets run through the rumor mill.

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