With the NHL’s Holiday Roster Freeze underway, there won’t be any big deals to announce in the coming days. No team is getting Kevin Shattenkirk for Christmas or Jason Zucker for Hanukkah. However, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Frieman is filling the down time with some ideas as to what may happen once the trade market re-opens in his “30 Thoughts”.
There have been deals made immediately following the Holiday Freeze in each of the past three seasons and the end of the freeze always kicks off an active two months of transactions leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. Friedman warns though that the 2016-17 is a year like no other before. Friedman says “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trade market as paralyzed as this one (due to) so little cap room, so many teams chasing the playoffs and the expansion draft looming.” The reason only minor deals have gone down over the first few months of the season is because no identifiable market has yet formed. With so few teams outside a reasonable shot at the postseason and front offices proceeding with caution in regards to the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft, the market is barren right now. Friedman, and all hockey fans, hope that some excitement is on the way, but he has his doubts that major moves are in the near future this season.
If one big piece does move, Friedman speculates it could be Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk. Friedman explains that last year the power forward was completely off the table, but this year interested teams are being told that he could be available for the right price. It will definitely be a high price in the current seller’s market. The 27-year-old van Riemsdyk, who has one year remaining on his current contract, is a bona fide scorer and one of the best in the league at net front presence. He’s hit 30 goals once before, in 2013-14, and is on pace to do so again this season. If the rebuilding Leafs decide that they want more young talent or perhaps a top defenseman, van Riemsdyk could net them that return. Eric Staal was traded by the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers last season for two second-round picks and a top prospect, and he was in the final year of his contract. The Leafs will likely get more than that if they decide to move long-time leader van Riemsdyk.
One team that could be interested is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although they are pressed for cap space, GM Jim Rutherford seemingly always finds a way to bring in the players he wants and remain salary cap compliant. As Friedman points out, it’s been unusually quiet for Rutherford and the Penguins so far, but with a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champs, he believes they’ll make a move sooner rather than later. However, Friedman believes the target for Pittsburgh will be a defenseman. With Kris Letang currently injured and always an injury risk regardless, the Penguins may want some added depth. It will have to be a rental though, as Pittsburgh is already in a tough situation in regards to the looming expansion draft and four blue liners – Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, and Derrick Pouliot – they would like to keep protected and an eye on re-signing Justin Schultz as well.
The Penguins’ biggest trade chip is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Despite his struggles in 2016-17, Fleury remains a valuable asset and Pittsburgh needs to move him before expansion to protect Matt Murray. Friedman believes the perfect partner would be the Dallas Stars, who continue to get uninspiring performances from the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Any trade would almost definitely require a one-for-one swap of goalis, and while both Stars keepers are signed to significant contracts through next season, the Penguins will take any deal they can get to ensure Murray’s protection and potentially open up some cap space.
Joining van Riemsdyk and Fleury as big names that have been floated around this season is Arizona Coyotes pending free agent Martin Hanzal. At this point, an extension seems unlikely and Hanzal is almost sure to be moved. Additionally, Friedman believes there could be a market for career Coyote Shane Doan and bounce-back goalie Mike Smith. At age 40, Doan is finally showing some wear and tear, as his numbers are way off the usual pace. If this is his final season, Doan has never been close to a Stanley Cup and deserves a shot. Teams would love to add the toughness and heart of the veteran forward. Meanwhile, Smith has been playing great of late and may be of interest to contenders as well. There is a strong chance that Arizona is leaning towards protecting young backup Louis Domingue over their starter in the expansion draft and may like to jettison Smith while his value is high. Don’t be surprised if Radim Vrbata becomes another name mentioned as heading out of Arizona.
Read up on all of Friedman’s thoughts on the trade market here and enjoy the Holiday Roster Freeze before your team inevitably makes a move or two in the new year.