Identifying Early NHL Season Trade Bait

By ,

Posted in: NHL

NHL - Players Headed for Free Agency

The NHL trade deadline is a long ways away at this point, but already there are some players around the league that are sure to garner some trade interest as the season moves along.

Most of the early trade bait will be among players on expiring contracts and potentially headed for free agency at the end of this season. Players with term on their contract will become trade bait as well, however typically those types of players become sought-after later in the season as teams identify their needs heading towards a potential playoff run.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some players that find themselves in the rumor mill from the get go.

RW – Wayne Simmonds (PHI)

Wayne Simmonds - Philadelphia FlyersSimmonds is on an expiring contract and also on a team that has struggled out of the gate, so get ready to hear his name swirl in rumors until he is either extended or the Flyers right the ship.

Certainly, Simmonds is an attractive player for teams bound for the playoffs given his hard-nose style of play combined with 25+ goal potential. He can stir the pot with his physical play at even strength while he is one of the best netfront presence players in the entire league, especially on the man advantage. That’s a fairly rare skill set in this league and comes in handy during the postseason.

Simmonds endured a down season by his standards last season with 24 goals after scoring at least 28 over his previous five full NHL seasons. That said, he’s notched six goals through 11 games this season, two of which have come on the man advantage.

Simmonds also brings an attractive $3.975M cap hit to the table this year, meaning salary cap ramifications are not as substantial for the acquiring club. It could also increase the return from the Flyers’ endowed the Flyers make Simmonds fully available at some point, he could very well become one of the most sought-after players on the trade market.

D – Alexander Edler (VAN)

Alexander Edler - Vancouver CanucksEdler has been a Canuck ever since the team drafted him in the third round of the 2004 draft. That said, he’s a free agent at the end of the season and would bring a solid return back for a rebuilding Canucks team that should be happy to flip a veteran for future assets.

It might not be that simple as it’s been a long and happy relationship between Edler and the Canucks over the past 12 seasons and change. It’s possible that the 32-year-old and the Canucks agree on an extension to keep him in Vancouver as a stable veteran presence during what is otherwise a youth movement.

On the other hand, Edler is without a Stanley Cup championship and the Canucks will not be competing for hockey’s ultimate prize any time in the near future, so perhaps the lure of a Stanley Cup ring has Edler leaning towards a move to a playoff-bound club, at least to finish this season. The Canucks can always bring him back in free agency even if he is moved this season.

He has plenty to offer aside from his vast NHL experience as he’s a 35+ point blueliner when healthy with 0.44 points-per-game over his NHL career. That equates to a 36-point season over a full 82-game campaign. However, Edler has had troubles staying healthy throughout his career and is out 3-6 weeks at the moment due to an MCL sprain.

That said, he’s a shot-blocking machine as his 39 blocked shots are tied for the league lead despite missing two games. He plays the penalty kill and the power play and can log between 22-24 minutes per game. That’s an asset that doesn’t appear on the market all that often.

Until a contract extension is reached, Edler will be the most talked about name among defensemen this trading season.

RW – William Nylander (TOR)

William Nylander - Toronto Maple LeafsThis one is interesting and has been well documented early in the season, but the reality of a possible trade is coming quick.

Nylander and the Maple Leafs are currently mired in one of the most epic RFA contract stalemates in history. It’s been reported Nylander is demanding $8M over a long-term deal with the Maple Leafs feel more comfortable in the $6-$6.5M range considering they have fellow youngsters, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner, to sign before next season.

With neither party willing to budge to this point and a December 1st deadline looming, teams are rightfully polling Leafs GM Kyle Dubas about Nylander’s availability in a trade. If Nylander is not signed by Toronto by December 1st, he is ineligible to play in the NHL this season.

It’s long been known the Maple Leafs would like an upgrade on the blueline, preferably a right-handed defenseman. If Nylander isn’t going to budge from a number the Leafs are not comfortable in giving him, using him as a means to acquire that desired defenseman might be the only way to go.

He’s notched exactly 61 points in each of the last two seasons and certainly has a bright future in this league ahead of him. Wh that future is with Toronto or not remains to be seen, but until a contract is agreed upon, Nylander’s name will be a staple in the rumor mill.

G – Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ)

Sergei Bobrovsky - Columbus Blue JacketsAnother free agent in 2019, Bobrovsky is in a delicate situation with the Blue Jackets.

The first thing to know is the Blue Jackets cannot afford to move him if they are competing. Not many teams trade their number one goaltender and two-time Vezina winner before attempting a playoff run.

However, if the Blue Jackets aren’t competing as the season moves along, trading their star netminder has to be seriously considered by GM Jarmo Kekalainen.

Losing him for nothing would not help the long-term success of this team. The Jackets have 24-year-old Joonas Korpisalo as their current backup, but he’s not ready to take on full number one duties in the NHL.

Not helping the team’s cause is Bobrovsky’s reported unwillingness to negotiate a contract extension, meaning Kekalainen’s hands are essentially shackled together at this point with his star netminder.

If Columbus qualifies for the postseason but loses in the first round, for example, Bobrovsky is likely gone in free agency and Columbus has gained nothing. If he trades him prior to the deadline, he sends a message to the team and their fans that he doesn’t believe they are good enough to compete for a championship, even with Bobrovsky in tow.

Either way, this is going to be one heck of a situation to keep an eye on as the season moves along. If Bobrovsky indeed hits the trade market, he will be one of the most sought-after goaltenders in a trade in recent history.

LW – Artemi Panarin (CBJ)

Artemi Panarin - Columbus Blue JacketsThis situation is Bobrovsky 2.0. Or maybe Bobrovsky’s is Panarin 2.0. Either way, Kekalainen is in one of the most unenviable positions a GM can find himself in.

Like Bobrovsky, Panarin is a free agent at season’s end. Also like Bobrovsky, Panarin has reportedly been unwilling to negotiate a contract extension to remain in Columbus long-term. In other words, here we go again.

Panarin is by far the Blue Jackets’ top offensive weapon as his monster second half was the single biggest reason why the Blue Jackets snuck into the postseason last year. He’s just shy of a point-per-game in his NHL career at 0.98 and proved he can score without Patrick Kane on his line as his 82 points in Columbus last season were a career-high.

It just feels like Panarin is destined for the unrestricted free agency which can come his way after just four seasons in the NHL thanks to signing an extra-level deal at the age of 22 out of the KHL. For whatever season, Panarin doesn’t appear interested in staying with the Blue Jackets for the long haul.

With that comes another set of handcuffs on Kekalainen. Does he trade his best forward at the deadline if the Jackets are hovering around a playoff spot? Or does he keep the band together, including Bobrovsky, for one last go at it this year and pray that the Russian stars listen to Columbus’ free agent pitch on July 1st of 2019. Either way, the Finnish GM will be a popular man among competing clubs over the next several months.

RW – Mark Stone (OTT)

Mark Stone - Ottawa SenatorsStone is on a one-year deal to remain with the Senators for this season, but he too is headed for the unrestricted free agency on a team that is likely going to finish near the bottom of the standings despite a strong start to the season.

He’s coming off a year where he posted 62 points in an injury-shortened 58-game season on what was the league’s 25th-ranked offense from a season ago. He’s on a similar trajectory this time around with four goals and four assists in 10 contests this season.

Among the top free agents to be, only Stone and Jordan Eberle of the Islanders are true right-wingers. Given their production in recent years, Stone is the clear-cut choice for the top right winger in the 2019 free agent class.

As such, he will be the top right winger on the trade market this season. It’s hard to imagine Stone wanting to remain on what should be a basement club for years to come, however, it’s possible he would remain to lead the rebuild.

We also have to consider the Senators’ needs.

Sure, Ottawa probably wouldn’t mind signing Stone long-term to be the main cog on a young rebuilding team, and they also have to get to the cap floor.

However, given his standing as the top right winger on the market, the potential return for such an asset is hard to ignore. While the debate on whether or not GM Pierre Dorion maximized the return for Erik Karlsson from the Sharks will rage on, Stone could certainly fetch a first-round pick and a high-end prospect in a potential trade this season.

It’s something the Senators need to seriously consider.

C – Matt Duchene (OTT)

Stone isn’t the only highly regarded offensive player set to hit the open market on the Senators this year.

Duchene is certainly playing himself into one of the more attractive names on the trade market with 11 points over the first 10 games to his season. He was already one of the top players set to hit the market, but perhaps the Senators will use Duchene to re-accumulate some of the assets they sent the Avalanche to acquire him last season in the form of a first and third-round pick.

In terms of centers on expiring contracts, Duchene is the best of the bunch. When we factor in age, it’s not even close with Joe Pavelski the next best option, but at the age of 33 Pavelski isn’t as desirable as Duchene at the age of 27.

Perhaps he’s not a first-line center on a contending team, but if he isn’t extended within the next couple of months, expect Duchene to fill an important role on his new club prior to the February 25th trade deadline.

RW – Mats Zuccarello (NYR)

Mats Zuccarello - New York RangersHere’s a player that might not get the same attention as others on this list as a possible trade target, but Zuccarello could certainly provide value to a contending team down the stretch and into the postseason.

First, his $4.5M cap hit is the second-lowest among this group which means the team that possibly trades for the 31-year-old won’t have as many salary cap implications to consider or may not need to make additional salary-related transactions to fit Zuccarello on the books.

The team trading for Zuccarello would also be getting a productive player. Zuccarello has been a reliable 50+ point player in his career and had a few seasons around 60 points when the Rangers were competitive a few years back. He’s quietly off to a really nice start on a weak Rangers offense this season with eight points in 11 games while logging just shy of 20 minutes per game.

He’s not going to score you a ton of goals, but Zuccarello is one of the league’s most underrated playmakers with just short of half an assist per game throughout his NHL career.

The Rangers are bound for basement duty in the Eastern Conference this year and the Norwegian free agent to be could provide sneaky value to his new club once officially placed on the trade block.

Comments are closed.