We are days away from the start of the best 17 days of the NHL calendar. Sure, hoisting the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize, but it only involves two teams in June. Once the Cup is hoisted by either the Blues or Bruins on Wednesday, then all 31 teams become involved again.
The draft, trades (not just trade deadline rentals) and free agent signings will be the talk of the NHL. And according to long-time NHL General Manager Ken Holland, the trading period heats up a week before the draft and continues to the end of June.
I love it. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy watching the playoffs, and the Cup Final has been very entertaining, but the games are only about 150 minutes in length, and with two days off between games I’m not nearly as intrigued as I will be when the trade rumours, actual trades, the draft and the start of free agency.
Let’s look at some names who are very likely to be traded before the end of the month.
1. Phil Kessel. Phil the Thrill can still play. He has a short list of eight teams he can be dealt to without having to waive his no-trade clause, but he scored 92 and 82 points the past two seasons and many teams will be interested. Connor McDavid said Kessel is the best half-wall PP player in the NHL, and any team who acquires him is getting a legit scorer. He turns 32 in December and has three years remaining on his contract. He currently has a $6.8 million cap hit with the Penguins (also $1.2 million on Toronto’s cap), and with 174 points the past two years no one should be worried about his value/cap ratio. He vetoed a trade to Minnesota last month, but I have no doubt he gets moved. He’d be perfect for the Oilers, but unless Ken Holland makes some other moves they don’t have the cap space to fit him in. My wildcard destination is he ends up in San Jose. Doug Wilson is always wheeling and dealing.
2. Jason Zucker will be moved. He’s been almost traded twice in the past four months, but both times the trade didn’t go through. Kessel vetoed the trade to Minnesota, that had Zucker going to Pittsburgh, and at the trade deadline the Calgary Flames were extremely close to acquiring Zucker, but something went awry at the last minute. He is 27 years young with a $5.5 million cap hit for four more seasons. In the last three years he is tied for 46th in goals, and 34th in EV goals among forwards. He can score. Wild GM Paul Fenton is hellbent on trading away forwards (Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle at the deadline) and Zucker is destined to be the third skilled forward traded out of Minnesota in the past five months. I could see him and the Flames making the trade work leading up to the draft.
3. Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets have had a few tough contract negotiations and I keep hearing they are leaning towards trading him, and trying to re-sign Tyler Myers before he becomes a UFA. Trouba will garner a lot of interest. He was one of only five right-shot defenders to score 50 points last year. He is just entering his prime years and if I was the Jets I’d rather sign him long-term and trade Dustin Byfuglien (34 years of age), but that might not realistic. The rumblings about Trouba, who is American, wanting to play in the USA have been around for years. I reached out to two people in Winnipeg, who are much more tuned into the Jets than I, and they both said Trouba would prefer not to sign long-term in Winnipeg. So the Jets would be smart to move him now and get a hefty return. My wildcard trade is Trouba to Buffalo with Rasmus Ristolainen as the main part coming back.
4. Nikita Zaitsev has asked for a trade and there is some interest. Despite playing for the Maple Leafs, who have scored the second most goals (556) in the NHL the past two seasons, Zaitsev only produced 12 and 13 points. For a comparison, Adam Larsson had 20 and 13 points with the Oilers, who were 22nd in goals scored (458) in the same span. Zaitsev isn’t a great puck mover or a shutdown defender, so acquiring him and his $4.5 million cap hit for five seasons isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I’m told teams are interested, because there is a lack of NHL right shot defenders, but the Leafs will have to sweeten the pot to move him. Trade requests happen more than we realize, but when the player makes it public, often it is the beginning of the end. The Flyers need a RD and have loads of cap space, even after they resign Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. Other option is Jim Benning acquires him on day two of the draft and the home crowd in Vancouver serenades the move with a loud chorus of boos.
5. The list of older players with at least three years remaining on their deal, a large cap hit and low production includes Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson, Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd (all $6m) and James Neal $5.75m. Kyle Turris turns 30 in August and has five years with a $6 million cap hit. Turris only had 23 points (55 games) last season, but he had 51 and 55 the previous two years. Ryan Callahan has one year left at $5.8 million cap hit. He will be easiest to move, due to term. I see three of these players being dealt. I mentioned four weeks ago that the Canucks had discussed a Lucic/Eriksson deal internally. Remember Dave Tippett coached Eriksson in Dallas, and certain coaches can get more out of certain players. Eriksson won’t score 60 points again, but if he could chip in 30 and help on the PK, then I suspect Ken Holland takes a long look.
6. Vegas has to shed salary and still have to sign William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek and Deryk Engelland. I see them dealing Colin Miller and Cody Eakin. Eakin ($3.25M) has one year remaining while Miller has three years at $3.875. He is a right shot D-man and very few teams have three good ones. Miller is a low-end #4, and probably best suited in your third pair, but he can move the puck and help your second unit PP. I’m sure Vegas would like to keep Eakins, but they are in a cap crunch and he’s one year away from being a UFA. Eakins will garner a lot of interest. Vegas has nine picks in the first five rounds, and they’d rather get a young prospect than more picks, but they might have to settle for picks. I see the Devils making a play for Eakins. They want to be more competitive next year, and try to increase their chances of re-signing Taylor Hall.
7. Jesse Puljujarvi will not be traded. Holland will be patient. I think there is a better chance Puljujarvi spends a year in Europe than trading him.
Daniel Nugent-Bowman had a lengthy interview with Ken Holland. You can read it here (paywall). It is worth your time. A few of Holland’s responses caught my eye.
“It’s hard to have guys that have 70 points like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does and put him on the third line. I think you’re wasting somebody there,” said Holland in regards to having three top-six forwards, but all are centres.
I love it. The thought of three scoring lines is a nice thought, but very unrealistic to find six scoring wingers to play across the three lines. Load up your top two lines and find a good third line centre, but no one more discussion about RNH on the third line please.
DNB asked him about Darnell Nurse and signing an extension.
“I don’t really know their talent (or) who they are. Who are they? I’ve gotta get to know the person. Do they go to the gym? How much do they sacrifice? How committed are they to fitness? How much to they compete on an every-night basis? Those are the things I look at when I’m making assessments and determinations on contract extensions,” said Holland.
This is a great response. I think at times some underrate the human side of evaluations. Holland wants to get to know the players on his own. He doesn’t want to go off of other’s opinions, without at least having some time to formulate his own. Of course he will have to make some decisions on players without knowing them, but it would be a mistake to make a major move on a player who you think could be here for a long time. He needs to know who can be part of a strong foundation.
He was asked about his shopping list this summer.
“If you look at our defence, we have seven defencemen on one-way contracts. So, I’m not looking to add anything on defence. I’m hoping that we can have a little better luck with injuries to our defence,” he said.
I’ll admit this surprised me a bit. I don’t see how they can start next season with Larsson and Russell as their top-two RD. I think they are too similar and neither is a great puck mover. Maybe they promote Matt Benning. Benning was really strong down the stretch. Holland can’t fix all the holes in one off-season, and he did mention he needs another goalie and some wingers, but I will be surprised if the Oilers go to training camp with the exact same top-six as the past few seasons. He likely will try to trade away at least one of them, and open up a spot for Caleb Jones, Joel Persson or Ethan Bear. *I think Bouchard starts in the minors.**
Which D-man do you think Holland moves? Who would you like him to trade?