NHL trade tiers: The way-too-early edition for 2022-23

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The NHL trade market has been gummed up by a lack of salary-cap room this season. It also doesn’t help that so many teams are within a reasonable distance of playoff seeds, unable to determine their position in the market.

When the NHL trade deadline arrives on March 3, the contenders and the pretenders will become more apparent. So will the pool of available players, ranging from pending free agents to those under contract but no longer in the long-range plans.

Here are the early NHL trade deadline tiers of theoretically available players. Some of them are stars. Some of them are risks. All of them have the potential to be those last vital puzzle pieces that recent champions, like the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning, added at the deadline to help eventually lift the Stanley Cup.

Kane and Toews tier

Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks

One of the most amazing things about Alex Ovechkin‘s 800-goal career is that it happened with one team. In fact, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis says that record (787 goals for one franchise, set on Nov. 5) to be more unbreakable than Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record (894). Gretzky played for four different teams, in an era before the salary cap. It’s hard to imagine another Ovechkin-like run, for either a player or his team.

I bring this up because the idea that Kane and Toews might not play their entire careers as members of the Chicago Blackhawks is still stunning. It’s not at all something I would have imagined as they hoisted their third Stanley Cup together seven years ago. But plans change, teams rebuild and superstars don’t always have the stomach for it.

Both players have elephantine cap hits ($10.5 million AAV) and full no-movement clauses. I think Toews would join the Colorado Avalanche in a heartbeat as their Nazem Kadri replacement. I’m not sure about the math there.

Kane is the more coveted of the two. I’ve heard anecdotally that he’s fond of the Rangers, where a reunion with Artemi Panarin awaits; the Islanders, where he could play with Mathew Barzal; the Oilers, for obvious reasons; and I’ve also heard the Capitals, although I’m not entirely sure why.

Again, both of these guys have to ask for a trade. Neither one formally has done so yet. Conversations will continue with GM Kyle Davidson about what to do next.

I did find it interesting that Kane addressed one theory for why he might stay in Chicago, which was to break Stan Mikita’s franchise record of 1,467 points, by saying, “That would be a little bit of ways away. So not really thinking about that.”


Elite pending free agent tier

Matt Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild
Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks
John Klingberg, D, Anaheim Ducks
Timo Meier, RW, San Jose Sharks

The Horvat news this week doesn’t encourage much faith that he’s going to remain with Vancouver.

There’s a wide gap in contract talks, and his incredible walk-year performance necessitates an average annual value north of J.T. Miller‘s $8 million AAV, if he wasn’t there already. Then again, the Canucks are sniffing around the playoff bubble and their owners have a funny way of not allowing core players to walk away, so who knows?

Horvat is easily the best center potentially available at the deadline. The Avalanche have been the obvious link — J.T. Compher ($3.5 million AAV), a sweetener and some salary retention could get a deal done — but Mile High Hockey offered a recent counterargument.

Meier, 26, is attractive to teams for a couple of reasons. He is on his way to his second straight 35-plus goal season. He’s a restricted free agent next summer with a hefty $10 million qualifying offer, but one that would give the team acquiring Meier another year of control before unrestricted free agency — assuming they don’t agree on a new contract.

He makes $6 million against the cap. That’s doable for several teams seeking a dynamic scorer on their wing. I’d expect the Sharks to use the Alex DeBrincat trade — which cost the Senators a first-, a second- and a fourth-round pick — as their baseline ask for Meier.

It’s here I’ll openly wonder if the Devils might dabble in a Meier deal. He can play both wings and they have Tomas Tatar ($3.5 million) and a few other veterans coming off their cap this summer.

Klingberg was signed by the Ducks to be traded, with a one-year contract carrying a $7 million cap hit. It was like the Taylor Hall deal with the Buffalo Sabres a while back: a wayward free agent inks a short-term deal with a middling team to pump up his stats ahead of the following summer. Except Klingberg has eight points in 23 games, including just one goal, with a minus-18. Metrically, he’s the worst defensive defenseman on the team. Not exactly the scenario GM Pat Verbeek likely envisioned.

But Klingberg is still a puck-moving veteran who could bring a return as a rental. One wrinkle here, via CapFriendly: Klingberg has a full no-move clause until Jan. 1, 2023, when it becomes a 10-team limited no-trade clause. Clearly, someone wanted to make sure they had a chance to hit the Disneyland holiday celebration before leaving Anaheim.

Dumba’s here not because the Wild are going to be sellers, but because he’s not likely to be a member of the team next season. He’s a 28-year-old unrestricted free agent. Minnesota is stacked in the back and only getting better when Brock Faber arrives from the University of Minnesota. Dumba has value, especially for a team that might want to sign him beyond this season. The Wild have some need, especially at center. Dumba would be a perfect candidate for a “hockey trade” at the deadline.


Elite players with term tier

Brock Boeser, RW, Vancouver Canucks
Jakob Chychrun, D, Arizona Coyotes
Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks

There were multiple reports that Boeser’s camp was given permission to seek a trade for him. He’s in the first year of a three-year deal with a $6.65 million annual cap hit, and doesn’t currently have trade protection. It’s almost like the Canucks should have moved him last summer to address their many lineup needs, but that’s a column for another day.

When I visited Tempe to see the Coyotes’ college homecoming, it was made pretty clear to me that Chychrun would be traded only if the price is right. That price is likely to exceed the first and two seconds the Ducks received from the Boston Bruins for Hampus Lindholm last season, as the 24-year-old Chychrun makes only $4.6 million against the cap through 2024-25. The Kings have had interest in the past. Ditto the Senators. I’ve personally always kept an eye on the Oilers here, too.

The Karlsson Renaissance continues, as he has 38 points in 31 games through Wednesday’s games. He also has an $11.5 million annual cap hit through 2026-27 and a full no-movement clause — and how many veterans living in the Bay Area have ever waived their total trade protection? I’ve heard, anecdotally, that Karlsson might be open to a move to a Florida team. That would be fine by me: I’ve long wanted to see The Swedish Pirates reunited in Tampa.

But even with his career resurgence, that’s a tough contract to take on for anyone.


Help up front tier

Nick Bonino, C, San Jose Sharks
Evgenii Dadonov, RW, Montreal Canadiens
Max Domi, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Drouin, LW, Montreal Canadiens
Anthony Duclair, LW/RW, Florida Panthers
Lars Eller, C, Washington Capitals
Mike Hoffman, LW/RW, Montreal Canadiens
Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sean Monahan, C, Montreal Canadiens
Gustav Nyquist, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Jack Roslovic, C, Columbus Blue Jackets
Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Edmonton Oilers
James van Riemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia Flyers

There are more than a few names here from teams that should be out of contention and looking to move veteran players, which is the case for van Riemsdyk ($7 million AAV), Domi ($3 million) and Athanasiou ($3 million). The Blue Jackets have Nyquist on an expiring contract ($5.5 million) and Roslovic signed through next season at $4 million AAV. They might want to hang on to the latter, but he could be a nifty acquisition if an erratic talent.

The Montreal players listed here all have expiring contracts, save for Hoffman, who is inked for next season at $4.5 million AAV. You could include Josh Anderson here, but I don’t believe that’s an in-season move. Monahan’s the most interesting name, given his comeback narrative. He’s still only 28. The Canadiens could sell high or potentially bring him back.

If the Capitals fall out of the playoff picture for some reason, they have no less than 14 expiring contracts. Eller makes $3.5 million AAV, is a 33-year-old pending free agent and would be a perfect bottom-six addition for a contending team. San Jose’s Bonino could also fill that role and brings significant playoff experience.

Duclair’s name has been out there since the start of the season as the Panthers seek a modicum of cap flexibility. He makes $3 million AAV through next season. He has been out with an Achilles tendon injury, but had 31 goals last season.

Kapanen is available, but maybe only for a “change in scenery” trade for a comparable contract.

The Edmonton media have done everything but put a saddle on Puljujarvi in an effort to ride him out of town. The pending RFA has six points in 30 games and his ice time has dropped nearly three minutes on average per game. It’s just a matter of when and where for a trade. A recent scouting mission by Verbeek, the Ducks’ GM, to see the Oilers raised eyebrows. Given his relationship with Oilers GM Ken Holland, it’s something worth watching.


Help in the back-end tier

Justin Braun, Philadelphia Flyers
Joel Edmundson, Montreal Canadiens
Shayne Gostisbehere, Arizona Coyotes
Jack Johnson, Chicago Blackhawks
Dmitry Kulikov, Anaheim Ducks
Matt Roy, Los Angeles Kings
Luke Schenn, Vancouver Canucks
Kevin Shattenkirk, Anaheim Ducks
Sean Walker, Los Angeles Kings

Schenn, Braun and Kulikov all fit the classic “defensive defenseman” template that contenders shop for at the deadline. While he’s been so-so this season, the “defensive D-man” I’d want is Edmundson from the Habs, who has another year on his deal at $3.5 million and a 10-team no-trade list.

The Kings are dealing from a position of strength. They’re looking like a playoff team, so they don’t have to trade either Roy ($3.15 million AAV, 18:14 TOI) or Walker ($2.65 million AAV, 14:50 TOI). But given how good their prospect pool is, these veterans signed through 2023-24 are going to have to move out so others can move in. Roy is the more important of the two, and hence might not be available.

“Kevin Shattenkirk Is Clearly the Top Prize Ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline.” That was a headline from 2017. The 34-year-old @shattdeuces isn’t anywhere near that dynamic a player anymore, but he’s good for 18 minutes a game. He has a $3.9 million cap hit with a 12-team no-trade clause ahead of free agency. It’s a little weird that he hasn’t picked up a power-play point in 26 games, given that was once his calling card.

As for Johnson, he’s averaging nearly 2:30 minutes more than he was in Colorado. They really liked him there during their Cup run. It’s just nice to not see his name attached to “LOL” when it comes up at the deadline anymore.


Help in the way-back-end tier

James Reimer, San Jose Sharks
Anthony Stolarz, Anaheim Ducks
Cam Talbot, Ottawa Senators

The goalie market is always tricky at the deadline. Goalies are much less plug-and-play than forwards or defensemen. They need to fit the system a team plays and fit within whatever goalie structure they have as well.

Reimer’s name has been in trade-deadline circulation for multiple seasons as a completely average option. Stolarz has long been one of the league’s most underrated backups. He makes $950,000 against the cap and goes unrestricted next summer.

One assumes if the Senators are out of the playoff race that they would seek to move Talbot, who has an expiring contract, a $3,666,667 cap hit and playoff experience.


Bargain beauties tier

Jason Dickinson, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Vladislav Gavrikov, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
Nick Jensen, D, Washington Capitals
Tyler Motte, LW, Ottawa Senators
Conor Sheary, LW/RW Washington Capitals
Carson Soucy, D, Seattle Kraken

Dickinson ($2.65 million AAV) has played well in a depth role on a bad team, and he’s signed through next season. Motte has been about replacement level for the Senators, but can bring something to a contending team’s fourth line at $1.35 million before free agency.

The availability of Jensen ($2.5 million AAV) and Sheary ($1.5 million), both impending free agents, probably depends on the Capitals’ contender status. Jensen is third on the Caps in average ice time and kills penalties. Sheary has played a bunch with Alex Ovechkin and that’s part of the charm: He can put up numbers and hang with the stars in the top six.

Soucy is 28 and makes $2.75 million against the cap before free agency next summer. He’d be an asset to any team … including the Kraken. If Seattle is contending, why mess with a good thing, even if there’s a chance he could walk?


Ivan Barbashev, C
Ryan O’Reilly, C
Torey Krug, D
Marco Scandella, D
Vladimir Tarasenko, LW

This season the St. Louis Blues have been like a shower faucet at a budget motel: You’re getting scorching hot or ice cold. There is no in between.

Hence, it’s difficult to figure out if St. Louis will be a contender when the NHL trade deadline arrives. The Blues had a .466 points percentage and a minus-23 goal differential as of Thursday. If they’re not in contention, or not enough of one in the eyes of GM Doug Armstrong, the Blues had shown in the past that they won’t hesitate to move significant players — especially if they’re on expiring contracts.

If O’Reilly is available ($7.5 million AAV), he immediately becomes the most coveted center at the deadline. He can play on the top line or anchor a second line. Even in a down year defensively, he’s still one of the most respected two-way players in the league and a terror in the faceoff circle. He’s a Conn Smythe winner. There aren’t many of these available at the deadline — and has no trade protection.

The Blues probably should have sold high on Tarasenko in the offseason, but he’s still producing 2.6 points per 60 minutes. Like O’Reilly, he has a $7.5 million cap hit ahead of free agency; unlike O’Reilly, he has a full no-trade clause.

Scandella is working his way back from injury, has a limited no-trade clause and a $3.275 million cap hit through 2025. He could use a change in scenery. Barbashev is a pending UFA and could help someone’s bottom six.

Then there’s Krug: full no-trade clause, signed through 2026-27 at $6.5 million per season. He hasn’t been good this season. He’s 31. A tough one to figure out, much like his team.

The NHL trade deadline might see these players on the move. It might not. Much depends on where the teams are in the standings; or perhaps more importantly, where they believe they should be in the standings.

Jersey Foul of the week

A hypothetical Foul from reader Stacy:

This is an important query, because Alex Ovechkin is going to set a new all-time NHL goals record whose first digit is also his jersey number. We’re only two years away from seeing “OVECHKIN 895” jerseys roaming the corridors in Washington, D.C., and we love it.

For the record: These are Fouls and fall under the Obligatory Celebration Rule, which also covers jerseys that celebrate a team’s first year of existence or a Stanley Cup championship, for example. But we’re interested to see how Capitals fans work out their Ovechkin goals jersey ideas, if only from a font size perspective.


Video of the week

The great thing about being a hockey fan is that every few weeks there’s a thing that happens that you didn’t realize the rulebook had covered; or, more likely, that you’ve seen happen before, but something you just forgot about until it happened again.

Such was this goal by Noah Hanifin of the Calgary Flames against the Toronto Maple Leafs:

He takes a shot. Matt Murray appears to make the save. The whistle blows. The puck then trickles in back of Murray and over the line.

We’ve been taught that the whistle, or the intent to blow the whistle, means a play is done. Yet this goal counted due to Rule 37.3, which allows for video review if the puck entered the net “as the culmination of a continuous play where the result of the play was unaffected by any whistle blown by the referee upon his losing sight of the puck.”

Scouting The Refs had a bit more about the play here. Ah, the NHL rulebook. Always a wellspring of knowledge (and a source of frustration for Leafs fans on this one, we imagine).


Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Alex Ovechkin

The best thing about Ovi crossing 800 goals was the way he did it. The usual complaints about the volume of his empty-net goals were boiling up again — nonsensical, given the trust he has had to earn to be on the ice in those defensive situations, and the fact that Wayne Gretzky himself is the all-time leader in empty-netters. So Ovechkin responds by going out and hitting 800 goals with a hat trick of two even-strength goals and a power-play tally. What’s Russian for “stick that in your empty net?”

Loser: Knee-jerk reactions

The NHL remains an inherently violent league, even if that violence isn’t as prevalent as it once was. Because of that, hits like this one from Ryan Reaves tend to stand out and draw immediate reaction on social media.

Many believed this was borderline or illegal, the kind of hit we want “out of the game.” The NHL Department of Player Safety didn’t agree. Neither did Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde, who said Reaves wasn’t being malicious and that Filip Hronek was “exposing himself” on that play with Reaves steaming into him. It’s a hockey hit. It’s a great hit. Even if you dislike the guy delivering it, that can’t be denied.

Winner: PHF salary cap

Good news from the Premier Hockey Federation, which announced that it is increasing its salary cap to $1.5 million per team for the 2023-24 season, up from $750,000 this season. The league is also talking about further expansion after adding a Montreal franchise this season.

Loser: NHL salary cap

The tone couldn’t have been more night and day from one NHL board of governors meeting to the next. Leaving the one in New York earlier this year, it seemed like a $4 million-plus increase in cap space next season was probable. Leaving Palm Beach this week, it seemed like the NHL would need a playoff revenue windfall or else the cap would rise by only $1 million, as the players’ pandemic escrow debt wouldn’t be paid off.

Some of this could be posturing, as the NHL and the NHLPA have discussed internally about a “smoothing” of the gap between the numbers, which would have to be collectively bargained. The GMs wouldn’t mind the extra room. Neither would the free agents. But hopefully it won’t be necessary.

Winner: Karel Vejmelka

The Arizona Coyotes goalie posted wins against the Bruins and Flyers in the past week, giving him a 3-0-1 record at Mullet Arena with one no-decision. A great story, even if he’s ruining their lottery odds: 16.3 goals saved above expected through Wednesday night, which is best in the NHL, per Money Puck. There’s a grand tradition of goalies getting paid for being the best thing on bad Coyotes teams, but he’s locked in through 2024-25 at $2.75 million AAV.

Loser: Board ads

I’m on the record as admiring the technology behind those digital dasher board ads. If used properly, and with a little improvement, they could enhance the way we watch the game. But for the NHL to hand-wave away the backlash because the ads are making a ton of money, and because they’re here to stay, is to ignore salient constructive criticism.

One easy, reasonable improvement: Stop making ads where the car or the logo is moving in the opposite direction of the players, which is as distracting and disorienting as the ads’ critics claim. Or, just stop having stuff move at all.


Puck headlines

Watch ‘The Drop’!

On this edition of “The Drop,” our weekly NHL streaming show on YouTube, Arda Ocal and I got gussied up for the 2022 Year in Hockey awards, talked about Ovechkin chasing Gretzky, brought you inside the NHL board of governors meetings and showed you BBQ gear made out of hockey sticks. Thank you, as always, for watching, and like and subscribe to “The Drop”!

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