Any Bachelor fans out there? Those of us who watch know host Chris Harrison manages to hype every season as “the most dramatic ever.” And that’s how it feels looking toward the 2020 NHL off-season trade market.
No, seriously, this could be the most dramatic off-season ever. The flat salary cap of $81.5 million will squeeze many franchises into trading away players they would’ve kept under normal, non-COVID circumstances in which the cap was set to rise to somewhere between $84 million and $88 million. As a result, more big names than normal seem to be floating around the rumor mill since those tend to be the players carrying the largest cap hits.
Which high-end players can we expect to get dealt this off-season? I’ve ranked this list by likelihood – but all within the context of high-impact players.
(Note the absence of Mike Matheson and Patric Hornqvist. I feel like it’s cheating to include them, assuming the trade eventually gets finalized).
THE 10 MOST LIKELY…
1. Matt Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild
Why Dumba at No. 1? He offers the perfect marriage of (a) already being shopped and (b) representing the premium position in the sport as a top-four, right-shot defenseman in his mid-20s. If the Wild want to move Dumba, they will find a taker for him, because teams will line up around the block. The last season and a half hasn’t been the best for him, as a pectoral injury cut a great year short in 2018-19 and his offensive numbers took a downturn this past season. But he has plausible upside left at 26, and his contract is quite appealing: just three seasons left at a reasonable AAV of $6 million. He’s a high-impact piece that comes with relatively little risk.
2. Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s Murray or Tristan Jarry, and the expectation is the Penguins are much more likely to move Murray. Not only is Jarry coming off the better season, albeit one that included a swoon after the all-star break, but Murray, a two-time Cup winner, arguably has more trade value anyway. At 26, he’s still a baby in goalie years, so he offers a higher long-term ceiling than many netminders available on the open market. It feels like more teams than normal need to make a change in net, from the Calgary Flames to the Edmonton Oilers to the Carolina Hurricanes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, so it’s no surprise that Pens GM Jim Rutherford is already getting calls on Murray.
3. Max Domi, C, Montreal Canadiens
We can debate whether the agent switch means Domi, an RFA, wants out of Montreal, but it doesn’t matter all that much in this context. What matters is that the Habs have pretty good depth at center after the emergence of Nick Suzuki and signs of a rebirth from Jesperi Kotkaniemi during the post-season tournament. Rift or no rift, it simply makes a fair amount of hockey sense for Montreal to move Domi. Given he’s just 25 and brings a blend of slick skill and feistiness that plenty of teams would want, it seems a trade is more likely to happen than not. The Winnipeg Jets, for instance, would be an ideal fit. They badly need a No. 2 center, and Domi happened to be born in Winnipeg.
4. Josh Anderson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets
The relationship between Anderson and the Blue Jackets has always been a bit contentious when it comes to negotiating contracts. Now he’s an RFA coming off an injury-plagued year, and the Blue Jackets have a little more than $7 million in cap space at the moment. They likely have to throw all that money at their crucial RFA, No. 1 center Pierre-Luc Dubois. Moving out Anderson makes too much sense. When healthy, he brings the crash-and-bang style the Blue Jackets already have in spades. A team needing some more jam in the playoffs could buy low on Anderson. He’s just 26 and a season removed from sniping 27 goals.
5. Frederik Andersen, G, Toronto Maple Leafs
Andersen leads the NHL in starts over his four seasons as Toronto’s No. 1. He’s been a reliable horse, compiling a respectable .916 save percentage over that period and finishing as high as fourth in the Vezina Trophy vote. He has repeatedly fallen into vicious slumps, however, and while he hasn’t lost playoff games for Toronto, he hasn’t stolen games, either. He enters the final season of his deal at a $5-million AAV, and he’s reportedly on a list of names GM Kyle Dubas is shopping this off-season. Andersen would still be an upgrade for plenty of teams, and since Toronto’s reason to deal him is largely motivated by the desire to clear cap space, it won’t necessarily cost a ton to get him. He’d be a one-year rental, after all.
6. Alex Killorn, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have to make room to sign RFAs Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. So why Killorn over someone like Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde or Ondrej Palat when Killorn is fresh off a career year? Killorn has a 16-team no-trade list, whereas the others have full no-trade clauses. The Bolts have nowhere close to enough cap space to retain Cirelli and Sergachev, so at least one veteran forward is a virtual lock to get moved.
7. Brett Pesce, D, Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes pop up in trade talk so often these days because of their collection of right-shot blueliners. They already moved Justin Faulk last season. Could Pesce be next? He’s not flashy but brings a shutdown skill set. The question is whether teams are scared off by his major injuries in recent seasons, including shoulder surgery this season and a concussion a few years back. At 25, he’s still young enough that he doesn’t have too much wear on the tires, and his contract is super appealing: four more seasons at a $4.025-million cap hit. Don’t be surprised if the Canes make a hockey trade in which Pesce goes one way and a top-six scoring forward comes to Carolina. Example: Nikolaj Ehlers.
8. Tyler Bozak, C, St. Louis Blues
As I explained in a piece on Alex Pietrangelo earlier this week, a chunky cap hit has to go if St. Louis wants to re-sign its captain. Jake Allen wasn’t enough. Bozak carries a $5-million cap hit, and his no-trade clause features a 10-team no-trade list, meaning GM Doug Armstrong still has 20 potential trade partners. The Blues can move Bozak for a song if they have to since, at 34, he’s not an indispensable member of their core, consistently operating as the No. 3 pivot behind Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly. On a weaker team starved for centers, Bozak could be a stopgap to man the second line for a season.
9. Kyle Palmieri, RW, New Jersey Devils
Palmieri is quietly one of the game’s most reliable goal-scorers, averaging 29.8 per 82 contests across his five seasons as a Devil, and he enters the final year of his contract carrying a bargain AAV of $4.65 million. Talks on a new pact have begun, but the market for Palmieri is robust. He’s also 29. Is it worth signing him to a long-term deal for what will end up being his decline years? The Devils are not close to being contenders right now, so they may be better off moving him for picks and prospects. That said, he’s not an automatic trade this off-season. New Jersey could see what it has next season and then move Palmieri as a deadline rental should it fall out of the playoff race again.
10. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights
Why so low on the list? If the Golden Knights are close to locking up Robin Lehner on a long-term extension and Fleury carries a $7-million cap hit of his own, how could both continue to coexist in Sin City? Surely, after Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh tweeted out the sword-in-the-back photo, a change of scenery looms? It’s not that simple. Per a Vegas source, Fleury has an excellent relationship with owner Bill Foley, and Fleury’s family has roots in the community at this point. Why that matters: Fleury still controls his own destiny to a certain extent. His modified no-trade clause includes a 10-team no-trade list. He still has to crack my top 10 trade candidates, as it would make sense from a hockey/cap standpoint for GM Kelly McCrimmon to want to deal Fleury if the Golden Knights lock up Lehner. But trading ‘Flower’ is not a foregone conclusion. This saga isn’t over.
OTHER TRADE CANDIDATES TO WATCH…
11. Andreas Johnson, LW, Maple Leafs
12. Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Flyers
13. Alexandar Georgiev, G, Rangers
14. Alexander Kerfoot, C, Maple Leafs
15. Jake Virtanen, RW, Canucks
16. Jaden Schwartz, LW, Blues
17. Phil Kessel, RW, Coyotes
18. David Savard, D, Blue Jackets
19. Patrik Laine, RW, Jets
20. Josh Manson, D, Ducks
21. Tony DeAngelo, D, Rangers
22. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Jets
23. Dylan Strome, C, Blackhawks
24. Ryan Strome, C, Rangers
25. Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Flames
26. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Coyotes
27. Kris Letang, D, Penguins
28. Sean Monahan, C, Flames
29. Adam Larsson, D, Oilers
30. Tyler Johnson, C, Lightning