The NHL trade deadline has turned into a dumping ground for expiring contracts, frequented by teams looking to shore up their rosters for a potential Stanley Cup run.
But this year could be different. While those short-term options will still be front and center, this market could be defined by the movement of players who remain under control, either with term on their contracts or locked in as restricted free agents.
Consider it a product of a maturing cap system, one in which general managers are becoming more savvy about the ebb and flow of competitiveness and the value of roster flexibility.
With that in mind, here are seven non-rental players who could be on the move before the bell rings on Monday:
• Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dallas Stars
Contract status: RFA
Recent rumors notwithstanding, I get the sense that Nichushkin is available only in the way that most good young players are: If the right deal comes along, Stars GM Jim Nill would be willing to listen. The right deal in this case would be a contract-controlled defenseman—not a top-four, a top-two, meaning someone who could immediately boost Dallas’s status as contenders. Ideally, that would be someone like St. Louis’s Kevin Shattenkirk, although the possibility that these Central Division rivals will meet up in the first round makes that particular swap less than likely. If there's another player out there who could have that kind of impact, Nill would have to listen.
• Nazem Kadri, F, Toronto Maple Leafs
Contract status: RFA
Is Kadri a foundational player? Or is he more valuable to the Leafs as a trade chip to bring in assets that better suit their rebuilding plans? With the 25-year-old expected to command term and a sizable raise when his current $4.1 million deal expires this summer, there's a good chance that Toronto's management is leaning towards the latter. Kadri would have appeal to an contending team that is looking for an influx of youth and scoring touch on its second line. The Blues might be a nice fit as would the Predators, although the price would be high: a first-rounder and a top-tier prospect or an established defenseman (yep, Shattenkirk again).
• Nail Yakupov, F, Edmonton Oilers
Contract status: one year at $2.5 million
GM Peter Chiarelli has made it clear that he's willing to trade anyone not named Connor McDavid as he looks to shake the Oilers out of a decade-long funk. While it's hard to picture him moving Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle at this point, Yakupov is definitely on the block. The problem is that he won't generate a huge return. The top pick of 2012 is viewed as damaged goods, a player whose effort levels rarely match his physical gifts. Best-case scenario is that Chiarelli finds another team with a young player of its own who would benefit from a change of scenery. Maybe a team in Tampa, for instance ...
• Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers
Schultz has never lived up to the promise that made him such a highly coveted free agent out of the University of Wisconsin, and it's probably best for both parties if he moves on. But is there a highly structured team out there that believes it can unlock the full potential of the two-time 30-point defender? The Oilers can't expect much in exchange, but since they were certain not to qualify him this summer anyway, gaining anything beyond a mid-round pick would be like found money.
• Scott Hartnell, F, Columbus Blue Jackets
Contract status: Three years remaining at $4.75 million
Why would the Jackets move their leading point producer? Simple: Age and money. Hartnell will be 34 when next season rolls around, and players who employ his roughneck style are bound to break down sooner than later. And that contract is a luxury that the Jackets' 27th-ranked attendance can't justify. There's almost certainly a team out there that's willing to take on that risk, especially if Columbus is willing to retain some of his salary. A mid-level prospect might be all the Jackets can expect in return. He has a no-trade clause, but you have to think he'd waive it for the chance to join a contender.
DEADLINE DEAL DRAFT PICKS THAT BECAME STARS
NHL Deadline Deal Draft Picks That Became Stars
One of the most popular Maple Leafs ever, Wendel Clark scored 50 goals in 125 games after arriving in a six-player swap with the Islanders on March 13, 1996. But in giving up the fourth pick in the 1997 draft, Toronto passed on a chance to draft Luongo. The future Hall of Famer has won more than 400 NHL games and helped Canada claim gold at five international tournaments.
The fifth rounder they received from Calgary for Jason Wiemer on March 24, 1998 was a dud (Curtis Rich) but the Lightning struck gold with the third rounder, taking Rimouski center Richards at No. 64. The flashy playmaker became one of the best second-line centers in the game, scoring 26 points in 23 games to claim the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup championship.
When the Sabres used the 138th pick in 1999 (which they received from Florida with Rhett Warrener for Mike Wilson on March 23) to take Miller from the NAHL's Soo Indians, they changed their franchise history. Overcoming an Olive Oyl-build with startling athleticism and a fierce competitive drive, he went on to win 30-or-more games in seven consecutive seasons and set a team record with 284 career victories.
Aki Berg was a bust, a big body who played a small man's game, when the Kings pawned him off on Toronto for Adam Mair and a second rounder on March 13, 2001. Mair alone would have been a fair return, but the choice of Cammalleri at No. 49 tilted this deal wildly in favor of L.A. He was the anti-Berg, a small man who played fearless, physical game and he’s accounted for nearly 800 NHL games and 600 points since first suiting up in 2002.
On Feb. 27, 2004, the Capitals sent Robert Lang to Detroit for Tomas Fleischmann, a first-rounder and a 2006 fourth-rounder. The ‘06 pick was a bust (Luke Lynes) but the Caps did all right with #29 in ‘04. Green went on to become one of the game's premier offensive blueliners, ranking top-five in franchise history in goals (113) and points (360) by a defenseman.
It was one of those deadline day deals that draws little attention: a depth defenseman (Alex Karpovtsev) to the Islanders for a fourth rounder. There wasn't much said after the Hawks used that pick (108) on a little-known Swedish defender. But 10 years later, Hjalmarsson has turned out to be a pivotal decision, one that solidified Chicago’s blue line and contributed to three Stanley Cup wins.
Nearly 50 players drafted in 2005 went on to skate in at least 200 NHL games, but only two—top pick Sidney Crosby and No. 11 Anze Kopitar—have been more productive than Stastny. A steal at #44, the gritty center, acquired by Colorado in a March 8, 2004 trade that sent Derek Morris and Keith Ballard to Phoenix for Chris Gratton and Ossi Vaananen, has scored 182 goals and 533 points and become a staple of Team USA.
With goalie Olaf Kolzig nearing the end of his career, the Caps used the first rounder they got from Nashville for Brendan Witt on March 9, 2006 to go fishing for a future starter in that year’s draft. They found one in Varlamov at No. 23, although he didn't truly grab the position until being traded to Colorado in 2011. He led the NHL with 41 wins in 2014 and finished just shy of Tuukka Rask for the Vezina Trophy.
If anyone was born to play for Boston, it was Lucic. Drafted after the Bruins sent Sergei Samsonov to Edmonton for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second rounder (No. 50) on March 9, 2006, he was an awkward skater and there were questions about his offensive potential. But Lucic had the heart of a lion and desire to make an impact every time he stepped on the ice. That drive made him an enduring fan favorite.
Canadiens scout Trevor Timmins has an eye for American talent, and the Habs found a gem in Max Pacioretty with the 22nd pick in 2007 (acquired from San Jose with Josh Gorges for Craig Rivet and an ‘08 fifth rounder on 2/25/07). His speedy north-south game has produced four 30-plus goal seasons while his leadership skills earned him the NHL’s most prestigious captaincy. The Sharks made something of that fifth: Jason Demers played 300 games for them before being sent to Dallas for Brenden Dillon.
The Kings snagged Simmonds with the 61st pick in 2007 after their Feb. 26 deadline deal that sent Brent Sopel to Vancouver. His physical presence and commitment to two-way hockey made him a fan favorite and he caught the eyes of rival GMs, including Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, who demanded the rugged power forward in exchange for Mike Richards at the 2011 draft. A high price to pay, but it helped the Kings win their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Andersen had gone in the draft once (187th in 2010), but didn't see a place for himself in Carolina's crowded system. He returned to the pool in 2012, and the Ducks grabbed him with the third rounder (No. 87) they got from Vancouver for Max Lapierre and MacGregor Sharp on Feb. 28, 2011. The Danish keeper made an impact, winning 49 of his first 66 games—the highest rate of success for a rookie since Montreal's Bill Durnan in 1943-45.
With a “safe” 2012 pick in their pocket (Slater Koekkoek at 10), the Lightning reached to take Vasilevskiy, the top-ranked goalie in that year's class, with the No. 19 they got from Detroit for Kyle Quincey on Feb. 21 that year. The big Russian has lived up to his early hype, showcasing the size, composure and athleticism that could see him become the team's No. 1 in 2016-17.
• Jannik Hansen, F, Vancouver Canucks
Contract status: Two years remaining at $2.5 million
The 29-year-old winger has scored a career-high 19 goals and comes with a comfortable cap hit. Those qualities make him well suited to remain in Vancouver as part of the rebuild-on-the-fly, but they also make him very attractive to contenders who would love to add his versatile, two-way game to their roster. Given where the Canucks are it makes sense to listen to offers, but only if they involve a young, NHL-ready player coming back in return. Teams offering draft picks and long-term prospects need not apply.
• Mikael Backlund, F, Calgary Flames
Contract status: Two years remaining at $3.575 million
With several expiring contracts up for grabs, the Flames are expected to be busy ahead of the deadline. But while all eyes will be on Kris Russell and JiriHudler, Backlund may be the first to go. Calgary needs to clear salary ahead of granting extensions to main cog forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan this summer, and Backlund makes too much money for a role that's likely to be reduced next season. At 26, it's safe to say he is what he is—a decent, two-way center good for 30 to 40 points. A young team looking for experience in the middle might be willing to take a shot.
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