The bad news: The Stanley Cup has been handed out, and now we’re forced to survive about three months without meaningful hockey in our lives. The good news? The heart of the offseason is quickly approaching, and this is shaping up to be a wild summer that could feature a lot of big names on the move across the NHL.
In addition to the usual free agency and draft hype, there are some extra wrinkles folded into the 2021 offseason. The Seattle Kraken are now officially in the mix and will be assembling a roster for their inaugural season via the expansion draft and supplemental moves. On top of that, the trade market appears extra flush this summer.
A number of notable players (including a handful of stars) are seemingly on the trade block, so we could be in for a circus of an offseason that sees some drastic shifts in the league’s landscape. We’ve already seen some movement on the trade front, as the Predators dealt Viktor Arvidsson to the Kings earlier this month.
The moves continued Monday, as several reports have the Oilers acquiring Duncan Keith from the Blackhawks for defenseman Caleb Jones and a mid-round draft pick.
With that in mind, let’s highlight some of the bigger names that have been heating up the stove in recent weeks and will help us pass the time this summer.
Note: This list does not include pending free agents, unrestricted or restricted.
Eichel is the biggest potential mover this offseason. It’s not a certainty that he’s going to be traded but the signs (and the rumors) are popping up all over the place. The 24-year-old center has grown frustrated in Buffalo, especially after a disagreement over the handling of his neck injury last season and has expressed interest in playing elsewhere.
The No. 2 overall pick from the 2015 draft is capable of being a franchise cornerstone, so it should take a strong haul to pry him from the Sabres. He also has five years remaining on his current contract at a cap hit of $10 million annually, making him cost prohibitive for some potential suitors. That being said, Eichel has a modified no-movement clause kicking in next year, at which point he can semi-dictate where he’s moved. If the Sabres are to trade him, then their best bet to maximize return may be to do it now.
The injury concerns are valid — Eichel played only 21 games last season and recorded just two goals and 18 points — but, when healthy, he’s a game-changing talent. He was better than a point-per-game player in each of the prior two seasons.
The Rangers, Kings, Wild and Golden Knights are among the teams that have been rumored to be interested in a deal for Eichel.
Jones being traded from the Blue Jackets this summer is pretty much a sure thing. The 26-year-old defenseman has one year remaining on his current contract ($5.4 million average annual value) and has let it be known he’s not interested in re-signing with Columbus, so the team will look to move him in an effort to supplement its rebuilding efforts.
Jones has been a blue-line workhorse to this point in his career, and he should receive plenty of interest from teams that need an upgrade on the back end. He does have a 10-team, no-trade clause, and the 20 teams permitted to acquire Jones will likely want to know whether he’d sign long-term.
The Flyers have been the franchise most heavily linked to Jones to this point, but the Penguins and Blackhawks are also among the teams that have expressed interest.
Both sides seem to agree that it’s time for Tarasenko to depart the Blues. He has officially requested a trade, and the team is already hard at work trying to find the best deal.
Tarasenko is a proven goal scorer who eclipsed 30 goals in five straight seasons (including one 40-goal campaign) from 2014 to 2019. However, the 29-year-old has struggled to stay on the ice while battling shoulder injuries in each of the past two seasons. According to The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford, a reason why Tarasenko has requested an exit from the Blues is due to frustrations over the organization’s medical treatment of his shoulder.
It will be interesting to see what the Blues are able to get in return for Tarasenko. He has played just 34 games over the past two seasons and carries a cap hit of $7.5 million over the next two seasons. He also has a no-trade clause and is due to be paid $9.5 million in actual cash this season, so St. Louis may have to offer concessions (or retain money) in order to swing a fair deal involving Tarasenko.
According to Rutherford, the Rangers, Islanders, Golden Knights, Bruins and Flyers are among the teams expressing interest in Tarasenko.
Kuznetsov’s name has been floated around as a possible trade piece for Washington this offseason. He has been a key player for the Capitals down the middle over the years, but his production has waned over the past couple of seasons. Also, rumor has it that the team is tired of his off-ice behavior. Kuznetsov tested positive for COVID-19 twice in the past year — including just before the playoffs this past season — and was suspended for cocaine use in 2019.
He’s still a talented player capable of facilitating offense, but his off-ice issues as well as cost may make it a little more difficult for Washington to find a suitable deal. Kuznetsov, 29, has four years remaining on his current contract, which carries a cap hit of $7.8 million and a 15-team, no-trade clause.
It seems as though there’s a good chance Voracek has played his last game as a Flyer. In search of some cap flexibility this summer, Philadelphia has been shopping Voracek, who carries a cap hit of $8.25 million for the next three seasons, but he may not necessarily be headed out of Philly via trade.
If the Flyers can’t find a trade suitor, the 31-year-old Voracek will likely be exposed in the expansion draft and could be headed to Seattle. (Philadelphia could also strike a deal with the Kraken to entice them to take Voracek off their hands.)
Another offseason, another round of Ekman-Larsson rumors.
He was the subject of rampant trade speculation last year but was only open to two trade destinations (Boston and Vancouver) before setting a hard deadline and shutting down talks. He still carries a full no-movement clause that will let him dictate where he ends up, but with the Coyotes entering a rebuild, there may be more willingness for the Yotes captain to entertain a trade.
Ekmann-Larsson has underwhelmed in recent years and will soon turn 30, and he still has six years left on his contract at $8.25 million annually. Arizona would likely prefer to move him, but the Coyotes may have trouble convincing a team to take on that sort of commitment, especially when the player has final say on any deal.
If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that we should never underestimate the Golden Knights’ aggressiveness when it comes to player personnel. Smith has been a key piece for Vegas since arriving as one of its original players, but he has one year remaining on his current contract ($5 million cap hit) and may be deemed expendable as the Golden Knights are looking to get stronger down the middle this offseason.
Without a lot of flexibility on the cap, Vegas is likely to dangle Smith as a trade chip as it looks to restructure its lineup a bit while also getting something back for a player who might walk for nothing next summer.
The Canucks swung a deal to acquire Schmidt last offseason, and now they may already be looking to part ways. The veteran defenseman underwhelmed in his first season in Vancouver and wasn’t a great fit, and it’s been reported that he’s asked the team to trade him.
There may not be a ton of urgency to get a deal done, especially since Schmidt’s trade value is lower after a tough year, but Canucks general manager Jim Benning has expressed an interest in adding size to his blue line. So moving Schmidt could theoretically help create some flexibility to accomplish that.
He has four years left on his current contract at $5.9 million annually and a 10-team, no-trade list.
Matthew Tkachuk and/or Johnny Gaudreau
There seems to be an air of uncertainty around the Flames these days. The current core has underachieved, and there’s a chance big changes could come to the roster soon. Two names that have come up in trade speculation are Tkachuk and Gaudreau, as both are heading into the final year of their current contracts.
A Tkachuk trade seems much less likely — he’s 23 and the Flames would still hold his rights through restricted free agency next summer. But there have been rumblings that the youngster isn’t thrilled in Calgary and would be interested in playing elsewhere.
Gaudreau, meanwhile, is 27 and a year away from unrestricted free agency. The Flames have reportedly begun discussing a contract extension with the winger, and there’s a chance that they lock him up long-term before next season. However, if those contract talks stall, there’s a chance that Calgary moves on early instead of risking the chance of losing him for nothing. Gaudreau has a five-team, no-trade list.