Ah, yes. The offseason. That one month of craziness and mayhem after the Stanley Cup gets awarded where the NHL’s general managers get together and make the majority of their moves to assemble their teams and shape their organizations.
One of the busiest times is the four or five days surrounding NHL draft — which is less than two weeks away — where the majority of the league’s significant trades will get made.
Sometimes teams make themselves better. Sometimes teams make themselves worse. Either way it is always fascinating to watch unfold, even if it tends to underwhelm us in terms of the moves that actually get made.
Sometimes the trades that don’t get made are more interesting than the ones that do get made.
Either way, there will be trades, and they could involve significant players. With that said let’s start taking a look at some of the candidates to be on the move with six players that probably should, for one reason or another, be moved this summer.
[Related: Six players who should stay put this summer]
• Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators. Whether it happens during the summer or before the trade deadline this split just seems inevitable, even before all of Tuesday’s news broke. He is entering the final year of his contract, he was quite clearly on the trade block all of last season, and even though the Senators front office seems determined to try and sign him to a new long-term contract extension it just seems like it is a long shot at this point.
If he rejects the Senators’ offer in early July — when they can officially sign him to a new deal — the team is going to have little choice but to move him. The team itself is almost certain to stink this year so that one extra year of Karlsson isn’t going to make much of a difference, and you can’t afford to lose a franchise player for nothing as a free agent. As painful as it would be to move a player like this the Senators have to make sure they get something back in return.
Vegas made a run at him before the trade deadline and has the salary cap space, prospects, and future draft picks to deal from to try again.
• Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators. Simply put, the Senators are a mess in more ways than one and while Hoffman is an extremely productive player and signed for two more years it would probably be best for everyone involved to just go scorched earth with this thing and tear the whole bloody thing down to the ground.
• Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes. My first instinct when I hear or read speculation about a Jeff Skinner trade is to laugh about it and dismiss it because we’ve been hearing this stuff for what seems like five years now.
Every summer, every trade deadline it is the exact same thing — the Hurricanes might trade Jeff Skinner! Jeff Skinner could be on the market! Is this the year the Hurricanes finally trade Jeff Skinner!?
Hey, look, maybe all of those times he has in fact been available for trade. Maybe the Hurricanes have fielded offers or shopped him around. General manager talk. Trades get discussed. Players get offered. It is part of the business. But through it all Skinner has always still been there in Carolina. He is always still there in Carolina. And that has not been a bad thing for the Hurricanes because Skinner has been one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL at a salary cap hit that is probably a bargain.
But allow me for one year, for one time, to join the chorus of people saying … “hey, maybe this is the year?”
Because this really could be the year.
The environment is certainly right for it. Skinner is entering the final year of his contract, the Hurricanes have a new owner that seems to be looking to shake things up, and that all makes Skinner a logical candidate to be moved.
It’s a tough situation because the Hurricanes have some flaws and one of those flaws is not having players that can finish and put the puck in the net. Skinner is one of the few players on the team that has proven he has the ability to do that, so it it’s a hard sell to move him, especially when he is still in his prime years.
But all of the pieces for a trade just seem to be in place, and there are no shortage of teams in the league that could be in the market for him (looking at you, Los Angeles).
• Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals. Grubauer is good enough to be a starting goalie but is stuck on a team that also happens to have one of the best goalies in the NHL in front of him. Braden Holtby still has two years left on his contract and is coming off of a Stanley Cup win where he was mostly fantastic, cementing his status as one of the best, most productive postseason goalies in league history (that is not hyperbole! Just look at the numbers).
He is not going anywhere.
Grubauer, on the other hand, is ready for a full-time starting job, is a due a raise as a restricted free agent on a team that will not have a ton of salary cap space and has some important players that it has to try and re-sign, and there are at least two teams in the NHL that might be a good, young starting goaltender away from becoming a playoff team in the Carolina and New York (Islanders) that should be willing to pay for him.
While there is a lot of benefit to keeping two outstanding goalies (especially when it comes to the workload over a full season) there simply may not be enough room for both of them.
• Ryan O'Reilly, Buffalo Sabres. My colleague James O’Brien recently put together a strong argument for why the Sabres should keep Ryan O’Reilly (read it here), whose name has surfaced in trade speculation heading into the summer. And it makes sense. But allow me to offer the counterpoint: The Sabres stink, have holes all over their roster, and could probably get a pretty strong return on a two-way center that plays big minutes. It might also be good for him to get him out of Buffalo where the losing seemed to really to take its toll on him this season.
• Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers need salary cap space. They missed the playoffs by a mile, have significant cap space tied up in their young core, and have to find a way to not only fill out a roster around that core, but also have it be a roster that is good enough to complement them.
This is not going to be easy!
Somebody, simply, has to go.
The easy and most sensible answer is Lucic but there is one very big problem with that: Nobody is really going to want to take on that contract. He still has five years remaining on his contract (a contract that includes a no-movement clause) at a salary cap hit of $6 million per season. Who is going to want to take on that commitment for a 30-year-old winger that managed just 34 points in 80 games this past season, including only 27 at even-strength, despite playing a healthy chunk of the season alongside Connor McDavid?
To move him the Oilers are either going to have to 1) Throw in one hell of a sweetener, or 2) pick up a significant portion of the salary.
Neither option is ideal.
But neither is that $6 million salary cap hit for what Lucic is likely to produce this season.
Sometimes you just have to take a little bit of a hit to try and make yourself better.