NEW YORK – The NHL’s trade season began to heat up last week, with two noteworthy deals getting done well in advance of the Mar. 8 deadline.
The Calgary Flames kicked things off Jan. 31 by shipping Elias Lindholm − widely considered the top available center − to the Vancouver Canucks for a substantial package of a first-round pick and conditional fourth-rounder in the 2024 draft, along with forward Andrei Kuzmenko and defensemen prospects Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo. Two days later, the Montreal Canadiens sent another center, Sean Monahan, to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2024 draft and a conditional third-rounder in 2027.
Those high price tags raised eyebrows around the league and sent a clear message that rentals won’t come cheap, particularly for teams in need of centers. The Rangers are certainly among them after losing Filip Chytil for the season due to lingering symptoms and a scary setback following a Nov. 2 concussion.
Keeping Chytil on long-term injured reserve will give team president Chris Drury over $5 million in salary cap space to work with. The expectation is that he’ll act aggressively to fill his primary needs − namely, a center to replace Chytil and a right winger who can fill the void on the top line next to Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad − but it’s looking like a seller’s market.
The current options for impact forwards are limited, with multiple league sources telling lohud.com, part of the USA TODAY Network, that the few teams with appealing trade bait are holding firm on hard-to-stomach asking prices. Those general managers are understandably trying to take advantage of high demand in a shallow pool of choices, with inquiries about forwards who project as bottom-six contributors on playoff contenders being met with requests for first-round picks, top prospects or both.
The costs may soften in the coming weeks as more teams fall out of the race, but for the moment, it’s tough sledding for GMs hoping to fortify their rosters. It sounds like Drury is among those reluctant to pay filet mignon prices for a cheeseburger and fries.
That could lead to bargain shopping, as opposed to making a big splash, but something has to give one way or the other. With Thursday marking exactly one month to go until the deadline, here are five teams we’ve either heard to keep an eye on or would make sense as potential trade partners for the Rangers:
The next domino multiple sources are expecting to fall among the available centers is Anaheim’s Adam Henrique. He’s a quality two-way player, but the fact that the 34-year-old is considered the best remaining option who’s a sure bet to get dealt speaks volumes about the state of the market.
The Rangers think highly of his hockey IQ and have some interest, according to one source, but not at the expense of the first-round pick the Ducks are believed to be asking for. A second-rounder and/or B-level prospect (perhaps defenseman Zac Jones?) might be as far as they’d go for an aging player with 33 points (15 goals and 18 assists) through 49 games played and limited speed. Perhaps a compromise could be a conditional second-round pick that elevates to a first if they reach the Eastern Conference or Stanley Cup Finals, similar to what they did in the Andrew Copp deal a couple seasons ago.
It’s worth wondering how much the Blueshirts would pay if they could fill two holes with one deal, and it’s no secret that they liked what they got out of Frank Vatrano during his 22-game stint (plus another 20 in the playoffs) with the team in 2022. He’s still the most-effective RW to play alongside Kreider and Zibanejad since Pavel Buchnevich was traded in 2021, with that trio posting a 56.07% xGF in 186:34 time on ice together, according to Natural Stat Trick. And he’s only gotten better since then, with 22 goals through 50 games played during this all-star season.
Vatrano is under contract for 2024-25 at an average annual value of $3.65 million, which New York could probably afford with the cap ceiling expected to rise to $87.7 million. But fitting both him and Henrique for the remainder of this season would be difficult, even if Drury convinced Anaheim to retain 50% of Henrique’s $5.825 million AAV. That would leave the Rangers on the hook for a combined cap hit of over $6.5 million for both players, which they couldn’t swing unless they were sending a chuck of salary back to the Ducks.
It would work if Kaapo Kakko and his $2.1 million AAV were included in the deal, with the young forward’s name recently surfacing in trade rumors. But those whispers are believed to stem from opposing GMs trying to buy low on the former No. 2 overall pick, as opposed to the Blueshirts actively shopping him.
Then again, of all the feasible offers that might entice Drury to move on from Kakko, a Henrique-Vatrano package is among the most intriguing because it would solve both the 3C and 1RW dilemmas. That’s why some said it can’t be ruled out, while others pointed out that historically a trade of that magnitude is more likely to happen over the summer.
What’s clear is that, if it comes down to one or the other between Henrique and Vatrano, the former has the higher probability of getting moved due to his expiring contract status.
A sleeper trade candidate to keep an eye on is veteran RW Jakob Silfverberg, who’s in the final year of a contract that pays him $5.25 million annually and has some of the best metrics on this floundering Ducks’ team.
The Predators are one of the teams teetering on the edge of the playoff race, entering Wednesday tied for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. But one source expressed belief that GM Barry Trotz will ultimately make a deal or two, which makes them a team worth keeping tabs on.
At this point, Nashville seems most likely to move one of its defensemen on expiring contracts, either Tyson Barrie or Alexandre Carrier. But there are a few forwards on the radar, as well.
At the top of that list is Tommy Novak, who would be an ideal candidate for the Rangers due to his incredibly team-friendly $800,000 deal. The 26-year-old has moved into the Preds’ top six on the wing, but he’s spent most of his career as a center.
Not only are his 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists) through 40 games played a bargain for his AAV, but his 55.3% xGF ranks No. 1 on the team among all forwards, according to Evolving Hockey. Novak brings the type of speed, tenacity and all-around game the Rangers could use, but there are some who see those as reasons Trotz will want to keep him around.
Michael McCarron ($775,000 AAV) and Yakov Trenin ($1.7 million) are a couple other modestly priced forwards on expiring contracts. The former ranks second behind Novak with a 54.77% xGF, albeit in a limited fourth-line center role, while the latter is a physical presence, aggressive forechecker and above-average skater. Neither are going to put up many points (McCarron has 12 this season, while Trenin has 11), but both would bring versatile elements New York wants to infuse into its bottom six.
If you dig even deeper, Nashville has a couple forwards in the AHL who could be had for cheap. Liam Foudy is a former first-round pick who played 72 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season but hasn’t been able to stick with the Preds this year, while Mark Jankowski is a 29-year-old center who brings a big body (6-foot-4, 212 pounds) and has been one of the AHL’s leading scorers with 46 points (15 goals and 31 assists) through 38 games. He also has a 17-goal NHL season on his resume back in 2017-18 with the Calgary Flames.
Novak is the only obvious top-nine choice for the Rangers, but there are some interesting bargain buys to consider if Drury is turned off by the prices for more established players.
The expectation is that the last-place Senators will part ways with scoring RW Vladimir Tarasenko, who was signed to a one-year, $5 million deal during a turbulent summer that saw him change agents due to his disappointment in the market.
The Rangers haven’t been shy about reacquiring the same player at multiple deadlines (see: Tyler Motte) and both sides seemed to appreciate their time together last season. The 32-year-old posted 21 points (eight goals and 13 assists) in 31 games after being traded to New York while bringing underrated strength and valuable postseason experience. He’s currently at 33 points (13 goals and 20 assists) through 45 games with Ottawa.
The fit is there, but it’s unlikely the Blueshirts would be willing to devote basically all their available cap space to one player – especially one who doesn’t play center. That would mean convincing the Sens to retain a portion of his salary, which would raise their price tag.
For a second-round pick? Sure. But it’s hard to see Drury surrendering a first-round pick for the second consecutive year for the same player.
An alternative could be a prospect who helps Ottawa replenish what’s considered one of the worst pipelines in the NHL. One source wondered if the Rangers might be shopping one of two young defensemen who are blocked in their path to the lineup, Jones and Matthew Robertson. And with Jakob Chychrun possibly on the trading block, the Senators could use a potential replacement.
Another Ottawa forward to monitor is winger Dominik Kubalik. His production is way down this year – 12 points (nine goals and three assists) through 43 games played – but he scored 30 goals as a 2019-20 rookie in Chicago and 20 last season with Detroit. With an expiring contract and a manageable $2.5 million AAV, the 28-year-old could be a buy-low candidate.
San Jose Sharks
There’s an obvious connection to make between Drury and San Jose GM Mike Grier, who were college teammates at Boston University and worked together in the Rangers’ front office during the 2021-22 season. And while the Sharks don’t have any stars who will garner big returns, there are a number of depth pieces who could be in play.
Three of their top-four wingers are headed toward unrestricted free agency − Mike Hoffman ($4.5 million AAV), Anthony Duclair ($3 million) and Alexander Barabanov ($2.5 million) − plus the struggling Kevin Labanc ($4.725 million). Duclair has been frequently connected to New York because of his speed and scoring combination, which would make him a relatively inexpensive alternative for that RW1 spot.
There are also a couple of centers who could be viewed as options for the third line if Grier is willing to let them go with one year remaining on their contracts.
Mikael Granlund, who has been San Jose’s best points-per-game player with 29 (five goals and 24 assists) through 38 games played, has been out since Jan. 16 with a left-shoulder injury but is expected back soon. His $5 million AAV for this season and the next would create a squeeze, which makes him somewhat of a long-shot candidate. But the skilled 30-year-old would certainly qualify as a 3C upgrade.
Nico Sturm is another interesting man in the middle. He hasn’t provided much offensive production, with seven points (three goals and four assists) through 32 games, but the 28-year-old is the type of two-way player the Rangers value. He played that exact third-line center role in Colorado when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup two years ago, and with a $2 million AAV through the end of the next season, his cap hit is doable.
The centers would cost more than the UFA-bound wingers, but all besides Granlund could probably be had for mid-round picks and/or mid-tier prospects. Perhaps Drury could even talk Grier into a two-for-one type of deal. (Duclair and Sturm, anyone?)
The Kraken are one of the Western Conference teams vying with the Predators for a wild card. They entered play Wednesday sitting two points out of the final spot, but if they do ultimately decide to sell, they’d be one of the most appealing trade partners out there.
Jordan Eberle ($5.5 million), Alex Wennberg ($4.5 million) and Tomas Tatar ($1.5 million) are each on expiring contracts and would figure to be on the trade block in that scenario. Wennberg is an obvious candidate because he’s a versatile center who gets used in all situations, but there’s a case to be made for all three. Both Eberle and Tatar have posted an xGF above 55% this season and would bring ample playoff experience, although the former would be a much trickier transaction due to his salary. Seattle would have to retain some of that $5.5 million to make a deal work, unless the Rangers were sending salary back.
But perhaps the most intriguing option would be Yanni Gourde, who won two Cups in Tampa Bay while playing on the same line with current Blueshirt Barclay Goodrow. He’s proven to be a championship-caliber 3C and would fit New York’s preference for a hard-working, two-way center to a tee.
The 32-year-old is under contract through the end of the next season for a $5.167 million AAV, which adds a layer of complication. But he’s in the midst of a down year, and if the Kraken don’t see him sticking around, perhaps Drury could talk them into moving on without having to surrender his very best assets.
It will be a few weeks before Seattle declares its intentions, but GM Ron Francis should be on Drury’s speed dial.