The National Hockey League’s 2020-21 trade deadline is set for Monday, April 12th at 3 p.m. ET and with COVID-19 related travel restrictions, quarantines, etc. it’s hard to imagine teams would wait until the last minute to make some deals happen.
For starters, contending teams want to maximize as much as they can out of potential rentals down the stretch prior to and (theoretically) including after clinching a playoff berth.
While many teams will be buying large or making minor moves (adding without subtracting), some teams will be imploding and might already be advertising impending fire sales on nearly all of their assets.
The Nashville Predators have ruled all but about three or four players untouchable. The Buffalo Sabres are dismal and underperforming as has become an annual tradition.
The Detroit Red Wings aren’t as bad as they were last season, but still have a lot to offer to interested window shoppers if they’re willing to pay the price of Steve Yzerman’s admission to his magic show.
But let’s focus less on teams per se and more on ten players that might be in play approaching this season’s trade deadline, keeping in mind your nearest exit may already be behind you.
Jack Eichel, Center
The 24-year-old native of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts is in the third year of his current eight-year contract worth $80 million through the 2025-26 season with the Buffalo Sabres and carries a $10.000 million cap hit that is quite hefty in a flat cap due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s a star player nonetheless and has yet to make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut since being drafted 2nd overall by Buffalo in 2015.
A lower body injury kept him out of Thursday night’s, 4-3, overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils at KeyBank Center, but he’s managed just 2-12—14 totals in 16 games with the Sabres under head coach, Ralph Krueger, this season.
Though there’s reportedly no ill will between Krueger and his dressing room, it seems as though Eichel may have already checked out of Buffalo and it’s hard to blame him with the revolving door of players, coaches and general managers in his short tenure with the Sabres thus far.
The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings have a lot to offer with a plethora of prospects to gauge the interest of Sabres GM Kevyn Adams, should Eichel’s current good standing with the organization head south. Between the two teams, New York has more salary cap fluidity than Los Angeles’ aging heavyweights in Anze Kopitar’s $10.000 million cap hit through 2023-24 and Drew Doughty’s $11.000 million cap hit through 2026-27.
Jeff Skinner, Left Wing/Center
Skinner is in the second year of his current eight-year contract worth $72 million through the 2026-27 season that he agreed to on June 7, 2019, as an extension with Buffalo after one season as a Sabres forward after being traded by the Carolina Hurricanes on Aug. 2, 2018.
Carolina’s 7th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year in 2010-11, reaching 31-32—63 totals in 82 games as an 18-year-old.
In eight seasons with the Hurricanes, Skinner managed to score 30 or more goals on three occasions in 2010-11, 2013-14 and 2016-17 before dipping from 63 points (37 goals, 26 assists) in 79 games with the Canes in 2016-17 to 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) in his last season in Raleigh in 2017-18.
That offseason, Skinner was dealt to the Sabres where he went on to match his career-high in points (63) and set a career-high in goals with 40 in 82 games. Then Buffalo General Manager, Jason Botterill, rewarded Skinner handsomely with a $9.000 million cap hit over eight years.
Last season, Skinner managed 14-9—23 totals in 59 games. This season he has one assist in 14 games and has been scratched for a few games by current head coach, Ralph Krueger.
Any trade involving Skinner would need to see some major cap pieces being swapped and/or Buffalo retaining a significant portion of Skinner’s salary, but here’s the thing— Skinner wants to stay in Buffalo. He’d like to not be a healthy scratch and get top-six playing minutes, sure, but it’d just set a bad precedent to move on from someone that wants to be on a team with a coach that has a lot to prove.
Mattias Ekholm, Defender
An alternate captain for the Nashville Predators, the 30-year-old native of Borlänge, Sweden has ten years of NHL experience to offer to a potential contender looking to buy pieces of what was once thought to be an untouchable, long-time dominant core in Nashville.
Ekholm is a left-shot defender, which isn’t as hard to come by as, say, right handed blue liners, but at a team friendly $3.750 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season and no clauses attached, it might be worth taking a flyer and perusing the high price— if not bidding war— the Predators might find themselves in control of for his services.
At 6-foot-4, 215-pounds, Ekholm brings size, experience and a bit of a shutdown role to any team looking to add depth to their defensive core. Sure, he might not be a top-pairing defender, but think of what the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to accomplish with Ryan McDonagh on their third pairing last year. That’s right, the Bolts won the Cup.
In 550 games (all with the Predators), Ekholm has amassed 45-154—199 totals, as well as a career plus/minus rating of plus-70.
As The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun ponders, a team like the Boston Bruins— currently hampered by injuries to almost their entire left shot regulars on defense— or perhaps the Winnipeg Jets, Philadelphia Flyers or Washington Capitals should be offering up at least one current roster player, a “highly touted” prospect from their system and/or this year’s first round pick to get a player that’s not exactly going to be just your average rental.
Oh, and, pay no attention to the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft in July. If you’re going for a Cup now, it’s better to win it this season.
Bobby Ryan, Left Wing
Since returning from the NHL’s player assistance program, Ryan is a completely different player in that he’s back to his old successful ways of winning battles and scoring clutch goals when it counts.
Though he only has 5-6—11 totals in 21 games with the Detroit Red Wings so far this season, the 33-year-old Cherry Hill, New Jersey native is approaching the twilight of his prime, but playing well in a bottom-six role for his age and skillset.
After spending the last seven seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Ryan signed a one-year deal worth $1.000 million with Detroit back on Oct. 9th and would be more of a traditional rental player at the deadline.
That said, he’d bring lots of energy with his 6-foot-2, 208-pound frame and career resurgence in his newer role as an inspirational comeback story and defending Bill Masterton Trophy winner.
Red Wings GM, Steve Yzerman, shouldn’t be forced to move him— just like how Ryan might have a bit of a say in determining his own outcome with the organization— but if he’s on the board, he’s a low-cost, high-reward solution for any playoff contender looking to add depth and a little more ferocity to go along with another healthy body in a season where it is ever more important to try to steer clear of injuries (let alone COVID protocol).
Eric Staal, Center
Another player to watch that could depart the Buffalo Sabres, Staal was traded to Buffalo on Sept. 16th in a one-for-one swap with the Minnesota Wild for Marcus Johansson.
The 36-year-old had 19-28—47 totals in 66 games for Minnesota last season and reached the 40-goal plateau for the second time in his career back in 2017-18 when he scored 42 goals and had 76 points in 82 games with the Wild as a 33-year-old.
This season, Staal has 3-5—8 totals in 17 games with the Sabres and could be on the move simply because of his role as a second- or third-line center on the right contending team with $3.250 million in cap space to work with or offer up in return.
Not that the Toronto Maple Leafs have the money to necessarily work something out (let alone want to trade with their closest rival to the south), but it sure wouldn’t hurt to have a guy like Staal to compliment the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton—and that’s not even naming half of the guys that are actually playing center these days in a Leafs jersey.
The Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens could also be in on Staal if quarantining is of no concern.
Staal could even be a great acquisition by the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks or even a reunion with the Carolina Hurricanes if the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Vegas Golden Knights, etc. aren’t already in on trying to get him.
He won the Cup with Carolina in 2006, and with 1,029 points in 1,257 career games for the Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Wild and Sabres, he’s probably itching to win another ring.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center/Left Wing
Nugent-Hopkins is a pending unrestricted free agent at season’s end, so the Edmonton Oilers could simply look to get something instead of losing him for nothing since his current $6.000 million cap hit is only expected to rise out of their price range when he hits the open market.
Edmonton’s 1st overall pick in 2011, the 27-year-old Burnaby, British Columbia native has 9-10—19 totals in 22 games for the Oilers this season and had 61 points in 65 games prior to the pandemic ending the regular season early.
Nevertheless, Nugent-Hopkins managed back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points in his mid-20s. There’s clearly still an offensive upside to behold and— in the right circumstance— the possibility that trading for him won’t be a short term thing.
If Eric Staal can’t be acquired by the Montreal Canadiens because of the mandatory 14-day quarantine entering Canada getting in the way, then perhaps the Habs could consider spending a little more in salary and shedding something expendable in the process, like pending-UFA, Phillip Danault in return for Nugent-Hopkins from Edmonton.
Of course, trading within your own division isn’t always easy or encouraged to begin with in normal circumstances, but it might just be worth the risk to think big. Especially since Habs GM Marc Bergevin could be on the hotseat after firing now former head coach, Claude Julien, on Wednesday.
Filip Forsberg, Center/Left Wing
If there’s one player that’s already been involved in quite the one-sided deal before on this list, it’s Forsberg. Martin Erat and Michael Latta never really amounted to as much as what Washington Capitals fans were hoping for back when the Caps dealt Forsberg to the Predators on April 3, 2013, but Forsberg had a good run in Nashville in the meantime.
The only trouble is that the 26-year-old has been declining in production since the Preds peaked in their 2017-18 Presidents’ Trophy winning season.
Forsberg set career highs in assists (38) and points (64) in 67 games played that season, then followed it up with 50 points in 64 games in 2018-29, as well as 21-27—48 totals in 63 games last season.
It’s not bad, though with a $6.000 million cap hit through next season it might turn out to be a “long-term” rental with a bit of buyer’s remorse if a fresh change of scenery doesn’t provide a spark.
In nine NHL seasons (all with Nashville), Forsberg has 175 goals and 195 assists (370 points) in 477 career games and has— at times— looked like a David Krejci style of playoff performer.
That, of course, raises an interesting question if the Bruins were even remotely open to trading their pending-UFA in Krejci to the Predators for a younger center like Forsberg that could slide to the wing if/when Charlie Coyle takes over as Boston’s second line center (or if Jack Studnicka grows into the role).
Krejci has never been pleased with the idea of the B’s trading him, however, and Forsberg would be a better fit elsewhere, like the Minnesota Wild or something.
Taylor Hall, Left Wing
Hall signed with the Buffalo Sabres because he wanted to… win? Allegedly.
He also wanted a reunion with head coach, Ralph Krueger, whom he admired in Krueger’s short tenure with the Edmonton Oilers in the lockout shortened 48-game 2012-13 season, which went well for Hall—managing 16-34—50 totals in 45 games after 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists) in 61 games in his sophomore campaign in 2011-12, as well as 22-20—42 totals in 65 games in his rookie 2010-11 season.
Edmonton’s 1st overall pick in 2010, Hall won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s regular season most valuable player with career highs in goals (39), assists (54) and points (93) in 76 games with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18—one year removed from the infamous “one-for-one” trade for Adam Larsson in June 2016.
Last season, of course, he was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes after amassing 6-19—25 totals in 30 games with New Jersey and went on to put up 10-17—27 totals in 35 games with the Coyotes before hitting the free agent market and signing with Buffalo.
Hall had 52 points in 65 games last season, but he has just 12 points in 17 games for the Sabres so far this season.
He’s happy with Krueger though, but has only scored one goal in that 17-game span.
That’s not at all what Sabres GM Kevyn Adams was expecting when he signed Hall to a one-year, $8.000 million contract.
Is Hall just a productive journeyman at this point? Time will tell, though it’s pretty hard to move that contract (even if it is just a rental and Buffalo retains up to 50% of it), given the lack of goals and his current good standing with Krueger.
Jake Virtanen, Right Wing/Left Wing
The 24-year-old, New Westminster, British Columbia native hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations of being the 6th overall pick in the 2014 Draft by the Vancouver Canucks.
Though Virtanen posted 20 points in 75 games in 2017-18, 25 points in 70 games in 2018-19 and career-highs across goals (18), assists (18) and points (36) in 69 games with the Canucks last season, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound winger is off to a rough start to the 2020-21 season.
Like Hall, Virtanen has one goal so far. Unlike Hall, Virtanen has just one goal in 19 games and… …that’s it.
He’s a minus-three and he’s not at all a prominent forward that should attract decent compensation in a trade, but with enough demand for depth in a market at the right time, well, Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, has his best chance to move on from Virtanen if Vancouver is destined for being on the outside looking in.
At this point a change of scenery might get a fire going inside him, especially when you consider that he’s under contract through next season at a $2.550 million cap hit.
If Virtanen wants to see more in his next deal, it’d be worth being shipped out elsewhere and playing lights out hockey.
Assuming he’s dealt, the question becomes “will he?” and it’s absolutely fair to ask given the much slower than anticipated start to his season after looking like he was making a turn for the better.
Again, though, at his age, he’s only just entering the arc of his prime, so there could still be a lot of hockey left in him if a team like the Philadelphia Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him and incorporated Virtanen into their system.
Mikael Granlund, Center
The 29-year-old Nashville Predators center was not among those players rumored “off limits” in Nashville’s looming “[almost] everything must go” sale, which makes things really interesting considering his skill that was displayed in his last two full seasons with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17 and 2017-18, before being traded to the Predators during the 2018-19 season.
Granlund had a career-high 69 points in 81 games for Minnesota in 2016-17 as a 24-year-old, then had 67 points in 77 games the following year and had 49 points with the Wild in 63 games at the time he was dealt to Nashville, where he finished the 2018-19 season with 1-4—5 totals in 16 games with his new team.
In parts of seven seasons with the Wild, Granlund had 317 points in 461 games. In parts of three seasons with the Preds, he’s had just 44 points in 95 games entering Saturday.
If Predators General Manager, David Poile, is taking a page out of the currently unemployed GM (but most recently with the Pittsburgh Penguins) Jim Rutherford’s book, then being active and flipping pieces after short tenures with your team isn’t a bad idea here.
After all, Granlund could flourish elsewhere again and he just might not otherwise ever amount to that while in Nashville’s marigold uniform. In the process, Poile could charge the other team a premium for his past proven services and remaining years of his prime ahead of him.
Then again, Granlund is only on a one-year deal worth $3.750 million.
While that’s team friendly and again attractive to a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is the obvious question of whether or not he should be considered “just a rental” or worth convincing to stick around for longer.
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