By Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page NHL Expert
Let’s take a look at some players who figure to be on the move by the NHL’s February 26 trade deadline. Surprisingly, we wonder whether the Rangers will be sellers; Unexpectedly, we view expansion Vegas as buyers. But no one saw that coming five months ago.
Evander Kane, LW, Buffalo Sabres
The most hotly-anticipated UFA on the market, Kane (16-20-36; 188 shots) has improved professionally and personally, on-and off-ice this season. In the East cellar, the Sabres are said to be asking for as many as four assets in return, and who could blame them? 26 years old, scores consistently. Chicago is dropping like a rock, but we can see them go for Kane as a replacement for Marian Hossa, who they’ve so sorely missed. If Anaheim surges as they usually do, GM Bob Murray will be itching to make a move; he’s facing a closing Cup window and wing is an issue. What about Vegas? They’ve got the cap space and could also offer Kane an opportunity to stay put and become a long-term Golden Knight.
Patrick Maroon, LW, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have found out that in no short order that the league is faster, and despite having a speedy superstar in Connor McDavid, they are a bit too heavy, especially on the wings. With a non-playoff season looming, Maroon (13G) could yield a heavy bounty for GM Peter Chiarelli. He’s proven himself in Edmonton and Anaheim. Have to wonder who wouldn’t want him on the wing for a playoff run.
Rick Nash, RW, New York Rangers
It may seem odd to see multiple Rangers on this list, but the air is a bit heavy around MSG. The season started poorly, then got a lot better before the club came to earth after New Year’s. Just as big a name as Kane–if not bigger–Nash (15-10-25) has six goals in his last five games. Could it be that the 2014 SCF loss to LA is in Rangers’ brass heads, maybe they perceive that the Blueshirts’ window has closed? But what is the message to Henrik Lundqvist if Nash and possibly Ryan McDonagh (see below) are dealt?
Mark Letestu, C, Edmonton Oilers
Letestu (8-8-16; 2 shorties) is a big body who sees 3rd- and 4th-line duty. Raised eyebrows during last year’s playoffs during which he scored five goals and six assists in 13 games. Good on faceoffs (52.8%). The type of player who can put a contender over the top. Wonder whether Tampa would see him as just the type of depth charge they can unleash in the postseason.
Alex Galchenyuk, LW, Montreal Canadiens
The season started slowly for Galchenyuk as the Habs stumbled out of the gate. Four goals in his first 23 games did nothing to help the 23-year-old from Milwaukee, drafted third overall in 2012. Has two years left on his deal, but could be trade bait for a Habs team on the verge of a rebuild. Could easily see a variety of playoff clubs come calling, including Dallas, Columbus and Calgary.
Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres
We can easily see Reinhart used to sweeten the impending Kane deal, or being dealt on his own. The time may have arrived, at the end of the 22-year-old’s entry level deal, to cut bait with the 2nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. A change of scenery is in order. Reinhart scored 23 goals as a rookie, but has lacked confidence ever since.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Arizona Coyotes
Easily the best defenseman to be had. A league-worst –36 is hard to ignore, but neither is the AHL-caliber roster at hand in Arizona (only one plus-player on ARZ, Richard Panik, +6). 96 goals in 543 career games, and two 20+ goal seasons. Only player remaining from the team’s only conference final appearance (2012). Drafted sixth overall in 2009, Ekman-Larsson is solid on the back end and can move the puck up ice reliably. A number one d-man on a team that’s been to hell and back, Ekman-Larsson will likely embrace a new home. Too may non-playoff seasons for an underrated player. Watch out for the Flyers. They’re surging now but need a lot of blueline help and can offer Ekman-Larsson a long-term deal in the summer. Can also see Pittsburgh or San Jose inquiring. What about the Caps? They tried Kevin Shattenkirk unsuccessfully last spring…perhaps Ekman-Larsson will come through for them?
Erik Gudbranson, Vancouver Canucks
Dale Tallon, restored as GM of Gudbranson’s former club, the Florida Panthers, called the Panthers about re-acquiring the d-man, who he drafted 3rd overall in 2010. Gudbranson is 26 years young, coming into his prime. Could easily see the Maple Leafs make a deal. Whoever rents him will be tempted to sign a long-term deal. How about Vegas, baby?
Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings
Very attractive plug-in candidate. 139 goals in 768 NHL games, could be an offensive-minded blueline pickup for Pittsburgh, Toronto, New Jersey or any host of destinations. He’d be a great rental. Consistently good for 2.23 shots per game. When the going gets tough in the postseason, Green can supply offense to support the forwards. What about the Islanders? Nick Leddy has been great, but Calvin De Haan and Johnny Boychuk have been out of the lineup for almost a month.
Jack Johnson, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Johnson asked for a trade and it’s not about wanting to play for a contender (he likely already does). It’s about the fact that his parents, of all people, shamelessly ripped him off and put him in deep trouble with the IRS. It’s all about being able to have something to keep after many years in the NHL. You can be sure that Johnson wants to land somewhere that will give him a long-term deal. Sounds like a bottom-third club such as Vancouver, Arizona or Florida might grab him, if not at the deadline, then in the summer.
Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers
Like Nash (above) this is a longshot and it’s possible that the Rangers will be a buyer, not a seller. But it’s a sign that the Rangers may realize that a Cup is not on the horizon and a rebuild-on-the-fly is coming. What about the LA Kings as a destination?
Cam Ward, G, Carolina Hurricanes
Let’s look at the goalies from the point of view of a potential destination, rather than who is the hottest goalie up for trade: Carolina’s Cam Ward.
The Islanders surged from the start of the season, and have a potential Calder-trophy winner in Matt Barzal (16-34-50 top rookie scorer). John Tavares and Josh Bailey have been spectacular, but the netminding has been tough. Jaro Halak and Tom Greiss sit 31st, dead last in goals against. Carolina is on the playoff bubble, but Ward has been brilliant of late, is 12-6-2 and has supplanted free agent acquisition Scott Darling, reclaiming his number one status. If the Hurricanes slip out of contention, the ‘Canes could exact a big price from the Islanders, who are a legit threat in the East.
Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators
This is not as outlandish an idea as it would seem. Karlsson (41GP: 4-27-31) has made noise about wanting top-dollar (which he deserves) when his deal is up in 2019. Whoever picks up the two-time Norris trophy winner would be getting two, rather than just one, playoff season. The Senators would exact a huge bounty. Is there a purge coming in Ottawa? Pierre Dorion and the players held a contentious meeting last week, according to Elliotte Friedman, and the players gave it back to the GM as good as he gave it to them.
Read Josh’s take on notable NHL All Star Game omissions.