Now almost a month into free agency, the NHL off-season is nearing a point where the flow of transactions, once a raging river of signings during the first few days of July, will slow down to only a trickle. A few notable unrestricted free agents remain unsigned, a handful of young restricted free agents are set to still be extended, and arbitration cases continue to be settled prior to their hearings, though perhaps one of two will come to fruition. However, the days of big signings are over; all remaining deals handed out will either be expected, in the case of RFA’s, or underwhelming, for the UFA’s lucky enough to even find a new home. So what off-season excitement is left for hockey fans to follow? The trade market. August often brings a change of mindset for many NHL front office executives, from adding free agents before someone else scoops them up, to instead subtracting from the current roster as the season nears and cap space, depth, and even character concerns become more clear and focused as opening night approaches. We’ve already touched on the talented and troubled Evander Kane, the inevitable move of Marc-Andre Fleury, and the cap-strapped Red Wings. The following players are a few more who have had their names floated around the trade market all summer, and the next few weeks could bring a change of scenery to one or more:
Valterri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
Given the salary cap crunch of the Lightning, as well as their talent and depth up front, and in particular down the middle, Filppula seems like a very “tradeable” player. With nearly $8.5MM in cap space still available, it seems like the Bolts shouldn’t be too panicked about their situation, right? Wrong. Still to be signed by Tampa are young forwards Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov, as well as arbitration-bound defenseman Nikita Nesterov. One side effect of having a great young core of players is the struggle to re-sign them, and this off-season, sacrifices must be made. Kucherov alone should command between $5-$6MM or more per season (depending on the length of the deal) and Namestnikov and Nesterov easily combine to go way over the remaining few million in cap space. Unless the Lightning make the bold choice to move one of these restricted free agents, a veteran will have to be moved off the team, and it will be someone that carries a decent cap hit. Enter Filppula, who at 32 can still produce and plays a solid two-way game. A contender with ample space or a young team in need of some veteran leadership and defensive stability up front could both use his services, unless the $5MM price tag is too much for them. He presents the Lightning’s best chance at relieving their cap troubles without significantly effecting the team, but they must first convince someone that the price for Filppula is worth it, as trading him and holding on to contract dollars makes no sense. Filppula will continue to hear his name batted around the rumor mill, and if a team falls in love with him like Tampa Bay did, he could be on his way elsewhere for 2016-17.
Braydon Coburn, Tampa Bay Lightning
If the Lightning are unable to move Filppula and unwilling to move any other forwards, they would turn next to the defense, where Coburn is the prime trade candidate. Although Jason Garrison represents the least value for production on defense, with only 11 points last season despite being pegged as an offensive defenseman, other teams can see that as well. Garrison and his $4.6MM cap hit are essentially untradeable. Coburn on the other hand, is a reliable stay-at-home defenseman, who may not be a perfect fit in Tampa but has great value on the market. The Bolts would risk losing arguably their strongest defensive player if they choose to move Coburn, but they would also get plenty in return and his departure would allow younger defenseman like Nesterov, Andrej Sustr, and Slater Koekkoek to have guaranteed playing time all season long. The goal for any team that is up against the cap is to gain the space and flexibilty necessary while reducing the negative impact on the team. While Filpulla and Garrison would hurt the Lightning less, Tampa Bay may be forced to move Coburn and suffer the consequences because he is easier to trade than the other two and would give the team $3.7MM in space that they desperately need.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
Bishop, of course, is the crown jewel of Tampa’s trade candidates. As one of, if not the best goalie in the NHL, it would be hard to find a team that wouldn’t be at least somewhat interested in acquiring him. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, but could be appealing as both a relatively cheap one-year rental at $5.9MM or a steal for a team willing and able to give him a long-term extension worth somewhere in the arena of eight years and $64M before they have to battle it out in free agency. Either scenario will likely draw interest from the Dallas Stars, who we’ve already connected to both Jimmy Howard and Marc-Andre Fleury, but who have shown special interest in Bishop. While the Lightning don’t necessarily have to get rid of the likes of Filppula or Coburn, they do have to eventually say goodbye to Bishop, as they can’t keep both he and the recently-extended Andrei Vasilevskiy through next summer’s expansion draft. The only question that remains is whether Tampa Bay wants to hold on to Bishop for one last run at the Cup with him in net and then let him walk in free agency, or trade him away and get a very impressive haul in exchange from Dallas or another interested team. The Bishop trade winds will not be dying down any time soon.
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have already traded one past first overall pick this off-season, but don’t be shocked if another moves on. Yakupov has not come anywhere close to reaching the playing level of former teammate Taylor Hall, but still holds some trade value despite his “bust” label. Still just 22 years old, the former Sarnia Sting star who was taken #1 in 2012 has seemingly gotten worse and worse every year since his rookie season. That year he had 31 points in 48 games, not to shabby for a rookie, but has since followed it with two mid-twenties point totals in sixty-odd game seasons in 2013-14 and 2015-16, sandwiched around only 33 points and a -35 rating in 81 games in 2014-15. A change of scenery seems imperative for Yakupov at this point, as he has not found a fit in Edmonton, and the Oilers would be smart to trade him while he still has any value left and not fall victim to a sunk cost. Yakupov trade rumors have been non-stop for years, but expect this season to finally be the one where the former Russian prodigy moves on to hopefully greener pastures.
Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche
D-needy teams across the NHL are waiting for this trade rumor to become a reality. Barrie, who has developed into an elite puck-moving defenseman with great offensive ability, has been a bargain for the Avs over the past two seasons at just $2.6MM. Now that it has become time to pay the man, he has instead been met with incessant trade chatter. There are questions as to whether coach Patrick Roy sees him as a top-pairing caliber defenseman worth the $5-$5.5MM per year that he is worth on the open market, not to mention that Colorado has only about $7MM dollars in cap space and a deal of that size would leave their cap flexibility greatly restricted. However, the Avalanche are also not very deep on defense, having already traded away solid contributor Nick Holden, and especially on the right side have no one other than Barrie and Erik Johnson who can play major NHL minutes. Of every trade rumor listed today, Colorado would likely be the most ill-advised to trade the rumored player. $5MM is the going rate for a defenseman like Barrie right now, and the Avs would be smart to just lock him up. If they instead choose to trade him, it will make another team very happy and the impact of the loss will be felt in Denver.