The NHL All-Star break has commenced, giving general managers throughout the league an opportunity to make trades and set the groundwork for future deals ahead of the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
Depending on which upcoming unrestricted free agents re-sign before the deadline, we could be in for an exciting couple of weeks with several quality players potentially on the market.
Here’s a look at the top trade targets for teams to pursue:
Steven Stamkos, Center, Tampa Bay Lightning
Stats: 49 GP, 21 G, 17 A, 38 Pts
Contract: $7.5 million, UFA on July 1
Stamkos remains unsigned, which is creating a lot of nervous Lightning fans as the deadline approaches. It’s important to remember Stamkos as a no-movement clause in his contract, which allows him to control this entire process. He must approve any trade the Lightning make.
One thing to consider, as Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times recently wrote, is the tax implications of re-signing in Tampa versus leaving as a free agent to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. Florida has no state income tax, while Ontario has much higher taxes.
The Lightning’s recent climb up the standings makes it almost impossible to trade Stamkos even if there’s a legitimate fear of him leaving July 1. Tampa Bay is a Stanley Cup contender again, and even though the Washington Capitals are the team to beat, the Bolts have as good of a chance as any team to beat Alex Ovechkin & Co.
Jonathan Drouin, Left Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning
Stats: 19 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 Pts
Contract: $894,166, RFA in 2018
Drouin still is a member of the Lightning organization despite his agent making the forward’s trade request public. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft also was suspended last week when he failed to report to a Syracuse Crunch (AHL) game.
Drouin has absolutely no leverage. The Lightning are playing their best hockey of the season entering the break, and Drouin hasn’t been a part of it. He’s not an RFA until 2018, so general manager Steve Yzerman has the luxury of waiting until the draft or the summer to find the best return package.
Still, we might see a team desperate for scoring depth try to acquire Drouin before the deadline. There’s no doubting his offensive skill.
Eric Staal, Center, Carolina Hurricanes
Stats: 51 GP, 9 G, 21 A, 30 Pts
Contract: $8.25 million, UFA on July 1
The Hurricanes’ recent surge up the standings and into playoff contention has made Staal’s situation more interesting. Carolina has a realistic chance of earning a postseason berth given its excellent puck possession, neutral zone defense and balanced scoring. Teams need players like Staal — captain, former champion, skilled top-six center — to finish the season in a playoff spot.
If the Hurricanes begin to falter, trading Staal makes much more sense. Even if he wants to remain in Carolina long-term, allowing the Canes to deal him, acquire assets, and then re-sign him over the summer would be beneficial for everyone.
Dustin Byfuglien, Defenseman, Winnipeg Jets
Stats: 49 GP, 14 G, 15 A, 29 Pts
Contract: $5.2 million, UFA on July 1
Byfuglien is the best defenseman who could be available, and he’s sure to fetch Winnipeg a decent return on the rental market. His ability to play a top-pairing blue line role or a top-six right wing spot provides valuable versatility, and his immense size and strength make him difficult to play against in the defensive zone. He’s also a quality power-play quarterback.
The Jets reportedly are going to make an attempt to re-sign him, but if that fails, you would have to expect plenty of teams to show interest.
Andrew Ladd, Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets
Stats: 49 GP, 10 G, 17 A, 27 Pts
Contract: $4.4 million, UFA on July 1
TSN’s Darren Dreger recently reported on “Insider Trading” that Winnipeg has offered Ladd six years at $6 million per season. His TSN colleague Pierre LeBrun said in the same segment that Ladd would be one of the “hottest commodities” on the trade market if he doesn’t re-sign with the Jets.
LeBrun also mentioned the Florida Panthers as one of the teams that could make an attempt to acquire Ladd, citing the veteran forward’s history with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, for whom he played in Chicago.
This makes a lot of sense. Florida surprisingly leads the Atlantic Division at the All-Star break and could use additional scoring depth for a playoff run. The Panthers rank 11th in goals scored per game, but they have the fourth-worst power play in the league.
Florida also has the combination of young players, talented prospects and draft picks to make a deal work.
James Reimer, Goaltender, Toronto Maple Leafs
Stats: 8-8-6, 2.10 GAA, .932 SV%
Contract: $2.3 million, UFA on July 1
Reimer has played pretty well this season for Toronto — a team with defensive issues. He’s given up two goals or fewer in 16 of his 23 starts and does have playoff experience from the Leafs’ first-round series against the Boston Bruins in 2013.
Reimer is among the best targets for teams in search of a quality backup or a starter who can hold down the fort until the No. 1 goalie returns from injury.
Jiri Hudler, Center, Calgary Flames
Stats: 41 GP, 6 G, 18 A, 24 Pts
Contract: $4 million, UFA on July 1
Hudler is having a disappointing season, but he’d be a nice third-line center upgrade for a contending team lacking scoring punch. He also has plenty of playoff experience from his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings.
Hudler’s HERO chart sows he’s still productive enough to pursue at the deadline. Many of his outputs are at a top-six level.
Patrick Marleau, Left Wing, San Jose Sharks
Stats: 48 GP, 15 G, 17 A, 32 Pts
Contract: $6.67 million, UFA in 2017
Marleau still is a quality top-six forward and on pace for his 11th 25-goal season. His playoff experience and production (103 points in 147 games) are impressive, as well. One of the issues in acquiring Marleau is his contract, which carries a salary cap hit of $6.67 million for another season. It wouldn’t be easy for contending teams to fit that kind of cap hit under their salary structure.
Thumbnail photo via Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports Images. Salary info via General Fanager.