NHL Trade Deadline 2015: Analyzing Top Players Contenders Should Target

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The rumor mill is churning with the March 2 NHL trade deadline less than two weeks away.

The action already has begun with the Leafs and Predators completing a trade Sunday that saw defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli, two of the most coveted rental players, going from Toronto to Nashville. The Leafs received a 2015 first-round draft pick, veteran forward Olli Jokinen and a prospect.

The uncertainty of the salary cap’s future and hesitation to trade first-round picks because of the extraordinary talent/depth in the 2015 draft will make deals difficult, but we should still expect to see plenty of movement between now and the deadline.

Here’s an overview of the top players for playoff contenders to target ahead of the deadline.

Forwards

Player, Team: Antoine Vermette, Arizona Coyotes
Position: Center/Winger
Age: 32
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $3.75 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Vermette is a versatile two-way forward with the ability to provide scoring production at center or as a winger. He’s also an excellent penalty killer and regularly ranks among the top faceoff men in the league. Even though Vermette could fill a second-line role for a contender, he’s best suited as a third-line forward.

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Player, Team: Daniel Winnik, Toronto Maple Leafs
Position: Center Left Wing
Age: 29
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $1.3 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Winnik is a high-energy player who can provide depth scoring, leadership and make a huge difference on the penalty kill. He’s very good defensively and makes the smart, simple plays. His low cap hit also makes him an attractive option for contending teams.

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Player, Team: Chris Stewart, Buffalo Sabres
Position: Right Wing
Age: 27
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $4.15 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Stewart has underachieved this season from a goal scoring perspective, but in fairness, it hasn’t been easy to generate offense in Buffalo this season. He does have the ability to score goals and being surrounded with more creative players would certainly benefit him. Stewart also plays the heavy, power-forward style of hockey that is suited for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Player, Team: Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs
Position: Center
Age: 28
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $4.2 million, signed through 2017-18
What He Brings: Bozak is a third-line center on most teams, but he’s being paid like a top-six forward. He’s capable of tallying anywhere between 45-60 points in a full season, but that’s only if a true goal scorer is on his wing. For example, Bozak’s scoring production when he’s not playing alongside Phil Kessel is astoundingly low. [tweet https://twitter.com/AGretz/status/566298916766109696 align=”center”]

Player, Team: Matt Beleskey, Anaheim Ducks
Position: Left Wing
Age: 27
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $1.35 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Beleskey is one of two 20-goal scorers on the Ducks, but he’s been plagued by inconsistency and much of his success this season can be attributed to his abnormally high shooting percentage. If the Ducks aren’t able to work out an extension with Beleskey, trading him for help on the blue line would make a lot of sense. He would be able to help a contending team with his excellent shot, power-play skill and willingness to play a physical game.

Beleskey is battling an injury right now, but he’s expected to recover before the playoffs. [tweet https://twitter.com/AnaheimDucks/status/567774443221417984 align=”center”]

Player, Team: Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils
Position: Left Wing
Age: 42
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $5.5 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Jagr leads the Devils in scoring with 29 points, but he probably wouldn’t receive top-six minutes on a contending team. He’s still able to provide depth scoring, create chances on the power play and add playoff experience, but his high cap hit could make the Czech legend difficult to move. The Boston Bruins acquired Jagr before the deadline in 2013 and he failed to score a single goal during their run to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. His lack of speed makes him a bad fit for contenders who prefer an uptempo game, such as the Montreal Canadiens.

Player, Team: Curtis Glencross, Calgary Flames
Position: Left Wing
Age: 32
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $2.5 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Glencross is a smooth-skating winger who could provide depth scoring to a contending team’s second or third line. He’d also give a contender additional offensive skill for the power play (16 power-play goals since 2010-11). Glencross ranks third among Flames forwards in goals-for percentage (57.41) and has respectable possession numbers for a player on the 28th-ranked team in Corsi-for percentage at even strength.

The Flames are currently in a playoff spot, but if the two sides are unable to reach an extension, it would be wise to acquire an asset(s) for the veteran forward.

Player, Team: Sean Bergenheim, Florida Panthers
Position: Right Wing
Age: 31
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $2.75 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Bergenheim is a veteran forward capable of adding depth scoring, toughness and valuable playoff experience to a contender. He’s also been to be a quality puck possession for the Panthers and ranks 15th among all forwards with a 57.7 scoring chance-for percentage.

As the chart below shows, Bergenheim has excelled in several areas this season and is one of the most underrated players available at the deadline.

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Player, Team: Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Hurricanes
Position: Center/Left Wing
Age: 26
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $2.95 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Tlusty has an expiring contract and the Hurricanes need to improve their position for the draft lottery, so don’t be surprised if the veteran forward is moved before the deadline. Tlusty is able to play both center and left wing and could provide goal scoring to a contending team’s third line. He averaged 18.6 goals over the previous three seasons.

Player, Team: Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Position: Right Wing
Age: 26
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $8 million, UFA in 2022
What He Brings: Kessel is an elite offensive player with five 30-goal seasons on his resume. He’s also an underrated playmaker, plays with top-end speed and excels on the power play. His playoff resume (21 points in 22 games) is impressive, too. [tweet https://twitter.com/reporterchris/status/567378634684792832 align=”center”]

The problem with moving Kessel is his salary cap hit. Not many teams have $8 million in cap space or the assets it would take for Toronto to make a fair deal for a superstar forward signed long term. Kessel’s contract makes him a better player to move at the draft rather than the trade deadline because teams will have more cap flexibility in the summer.

Defensemen

Player, Team: Andrej Sekera, Carolina Hurricanes
Age: 29
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $2.75 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Sekera is a very good top-four defenseman with a strong two-way game, enough offensive skill to provide depth scoring on the back end and the ability to play on both special teams units. He also has the puck-moving ability teams covet at this time of the campaign. The Hurricanes have controlled more than 50 percent of even-strength shot attempts with Sekera on the ice this season. As the chart below shows, Sekera is capable of playing a top-pairing position if needed.

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Player, Team: Jeff Petry, Edmonton Oilers
Age: 27
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $3.1 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: The Leafs trading Franson was a huge win for the Oilers because it means they have arguably the top right-handed defenseman to dangle at the deadline. Lots of teams are in need of a player with a right-hand shot who can play 20-plus minutes each night and drive puck possession in a second-pairing role. Petry is that type of player.

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Player, Team: Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes
Age: 32
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $4 million, UFA in 2015
What He Brings: Michalek isn’t going to provide a ton of scoring (eight points in 53 games this season), but he excels defensively in his own end, has good mobility and possesses a powerful right-hand shot that teams covet. Michalek also is capable of logging a ton of ice time against quality competition.

Player, Team: Keith Yandle, Arizona Coyotes
Age: 27
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $5.25 million, UFA in 2016
What He Brings: Yandle is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league and leads Arizona with 40 points. He would add excellent speed/mobility, the skill to quarterback a power play, a heavy shot from the point and the ability to play 20-plus minutes per game. The Boston native is one of the few first-pairing D-men for teams to target at the deadline.

Yandle has another year remaining on his contract and isn’t a rental, so the Coyotes aren’t likely to trade him unless a team offers significant value.

Player, Team: Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs
Age: 29
Salary Cap Hit, Contract Term: $7 million, UFA in 2021
What He Brings: Much like his teammate Phil Kessel, Phaneuf isn’t easy to move because of the term and high salary cap hit with his contract. He’s best suited as a second-pairing defenseman who can be sheltered with offensive zone starts and power-play ice time, but in Toronto, he’s played No. 1 minutes against top competition. Phaneuf has a heavy shot, plays a physical game and could play 25-plus minutes per game if needed. He’d be a strong addition to any team that could make the salaries involved fit.

Thumbnail photo via Chris Young/Associated Press. “HERO” charts Ownthepuck.blogspot.ca, salary information per NHL Numbers.

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