Seemingly every year, there is speculation that a prominent impending free agent could be the one to finally bring the “sign and trade” back to the NHL. The sign and trade is relatively self explanatory; a player re-signs with his current team to a contract negotiated with a second team that he is subsequently traded to. In the current structure of the NHL, the sign and trade could hypothetically be used to add an eighth year to a contact, as free agents are limited to a cap of seven years when negotiating with a team other than their current club. This season, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun has reopened the sign and trade discussions, this time in regards to Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene. LeBrun speculates that Duchene has approximately two weeks to work out an extension with the Senators before the team will be forced to shop him. Ottawa has reportedly already made an initial offer of eight years and $64MM, but Duchene is likely to be eyeing an AAV closer to $9MM per year instead of $8MM. If that counter is too rich for Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and company, the team could not afford to miss out on a the potential return for Duchene at the trade deadline.
When it comes to a sign-and-trade, things get tricky for the player, which could explain why it remains such an infrequently used device in the NHL. While the eighth year is enticing for Duchene, especially at his desired salary, signing that long-term deal means a) getting another team to first agree to that contract and b) trusting the future plans for that franchise. The last time Duchene was traded, from the Colorado Avalanche to the Senators early last season, it didn’t work out so well. Duchene may be hesitant to sign with a team for eight years simply because they can afford to acquire him this season. A sign and trade also eliminates Duchene’s opportunity to test the free agent market and potentially maximize his market value. Duchene will undoubtedly be the top center on the UFA market this summer and may wish to weigh his options rather as a first-time free agent rather than commit to another team so soon before seeing what else is out there. A sign and trade works out nicely for the Senators, as they would surely receive a better return, but finding a trade partner could be difficult and getting Duchene to go along with the plan may not happen. For these reasons, a sign and trade remains an unlikely result to the ongoing Duchene saga.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning have all the makings of a true trade deadline buyer this season: they are the first-place team in the league by a considerable margin, will have upwards of $8MM in cap space by the deadline, and are facing an impending cap crunch that could begin to dismantle their roster as early as this off-season. The Lightning are in win-now mode and, with excellent odds of winning the Stanley Cup, will look to add the best reinforcements they can ahead of the deadline. However, the Lightning may struggle to make the trades typically seen by a true buyer. Tampa Bay currently has 49 players signed to professional contracts against a cap of 50, per CapFriendly. The team probably doesn’t want to hit that 50-contract mark either, as it would take them out of the college and junior free agent market this spring. This means that the Bolts cannot simply trade picks and prospects for rental players. Instead, GM Julien BriseBois will have to get creative with sending under-contract players the other way. Only two of Tampa’s 49 “pro” players are in juniors, meaning that any trades will likely send current AHL contributors to sellers and the team will effort to do so without hurting their postseason depth. At the end of the day, Tampa Bay’s trades at the deadline may end up looking more like hockey trades – player-for-player talent swaps – than you would typically see from a deadline buyer.
- Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire believes that there is great long-term value to be found in the current buyer’s market. Berkshire writes that the Los Angeles Kings’ Tyler Toffoli, the Chicago Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad, and the Florida Panthers’ Evgeni Dadonov are among the best bargains potentially available on the market due to their recent struggles and/or under-the-radar trade status. Berkshire states that Toffoli’s value is at a career-low given his current 33-point pace for the down-and-out Kings. However, Toffoli notched 47 points just last year and has 20+ goals in three of the past four seasons. The two-way forward also has a palatable $4.6MM cap hit and could be a buy-low candidate that blows up with a change of scenery. Similarly, Berkshire believes that Saad’s value is still low after bottoming out last season. He has rebounded this season, but is still on pace to fall short of the 50+ points that used to come consistently for him. At $6MM AAV for two more years, Saad’s contract isn’t egregious but is a strain for the cap-strapped Blackhawks. They could be enticed to sell low on the power forward and could very well end up on the wrong side of a Saad trade for the third time. Conversely, Berkshire believes that the Panthers are happy with Dadonov and would be reluctant to move him, but may feel pressured to sell at the deadline despite few obvious rental pieces. The play-making winger is quietly on his way to another 65-point season or better and with one year left on his contract at just $4MM, is already a bargain and could be even better elsewhere. Florida won’t give him up easily, but considering the upside that Dadonov has shown, he could still prove to be a steal even with ample trade capital going the other way.