NHL Trade Deadline: 9 defensemen teams might target

The 2021 NHL trade deadline is Monday, April. 12 at 3 p.m. ET. As we wait to see who will be dealt, we’ll be looking at the top names who could be on the move next week. Today, we finish with defensemen.

Mattias Ekholm, Predators (30 years old, signed through 2021-22, $3.75M cap hit): As Juuse Saros keeps juicing the Predators’ win-loss record, defensemen like Ekholm keep slipping down various “trade bait” boards. But we might as well get two Predators defensemen out of the way first, as Ekholm and his upcoming colleague rank as the cream of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline crop.

It makes sense that the Predators might get cold feet about trading Ekholm, as he checks oh-so-many boxes. Blueliners as defensively adept as Ekholm simply don’t hit the market (trade or free agent) very often. When given the opportunity, Ekholm’s also revealed some offensive upside, too. Combine those skills with his bargain cap hit and the notion that you can get two playoff runs out of his current deal, and it’s easy to see why he’s so sought-after. And he might just end up too valuable for the Predators to trade.

[NHL Trade Deadline Primer: Back when it seemed clearer with Ekholm]

Ryan Ellis, Predators (30 years old, signed through 2026-27, $6.25M cap hit): About two weeks ago, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman raised eyebrows by asking if the Predators might trade Ryan Ellis instead of Ekholm. It seems silly that the Predators’ 2021 NHL Trade Deadline outlook could change so much after several wins, but hockey — and especially hockey goalies — can be tough to predict.

Ellis is an especially interesting name because, like Ekholm, he checks boxes on offense and defense. Consider how their multi-season RAPM charts compare, via Evolving Hockey:

Yes, Ekholm and Ellis are very, very good. (via Evolving Hockey)

Ellis stands as an even more potentially fascinating potential trade deadline target because such a move would be about the future more than this next run. At the moment, he is healing up from surgery, so a would-be buyer would be thinking about the many years left on his contract. Last season, he put up numbers comparable to Norris Trophy-winning teammate Roman Josi, only Ellis suffered through injuries that killed his argument. While his age makes this contract a gamble, it could pay off if he delivers at a high level. Really, it might make more sense to the (potentially rebuilding) Predators to move such a contract. If the price is right, Ellis could rank as a huge splash — but we might not see the biggest waves until quite a while after the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

David Savard, Blue Jackets (30, UFA this summer, $4.25M cap hit): When old-school hockey people conjure images of old-school, punishing, playoff-style defensemen, they think of someone like Savard. John Tortorella sees it that way, too, as Savard tends to go from playing solid minutes in the regular season (20:26 TOI average) to being a playoff workhorse (23:38 TOI average for his playoff career, 25:24 per night during Columbus’ last run). He’s also a right-handed shot, making him a rarer breed. There’s a lot to like, so he’s ranking as high as the top spot on some trade boards. Don’t let that time he boondoggled Victor Hedman fool you, though; Savard’s not going to bring much offense. There are some signals that maybe Savard’s asking price might outpace his reputation, too. If the price stays reasonable, he could be one of the best 2021 NHL Trade Deadline options, on defense and overall.

(It’s also way, way safer to bet on him getting traded instead of Ellis and/or Ekholm.)

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2020-21 NHL Trade Tracker]

Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues (23, RFA this summer, $1.875M cap hit): From Savard, a defenseman old-school types love, to Dunn, someone who is often off the charts from a “fancy stats” perspective. Granted, Savard and Dunn share an interesting bond in being advanced stat friendly most seasons, except not quite as much in 2020-21:

Maybe Savard and Dunn aren’t so different? (via Evolving Hockey)

It’s a bit baffling that the Blues couldn’t find one taker for Dunn earlier this season. Sure, you might need to shelter him, but he’s a 23-year-old defenseman with at least some factors in his favor. He’s cheap for 2020-21, and could be a bargain going forward. Why not give him a shot?

Perhaps the Blues were/are simply asking for too much from a player they don’t seem to like a whole lot? Again, strange stuff, but Dunn carries the potential to be a heck of a reclamation project. Or maybe he was just overrated all along? Defensemen are confusing.

Josh Manson, Ducks (29, signed through 2021-22, $4.1M cap hit): A few years ago, Manson ranked as one of the NHL’s most underrated defensemen. His game has slipped in recent years, though. You can see it even in his deployment, as his ice time average dropped from 22:18 per game in 2018-19 to 20:38 per night last season, and all the way down to 17:19 this season. Not ideal on a Ducks team that’s basically asking John Gibson to save them most nights. That said, Manson’s experienced without being too old, is a right-handed shot, and some might hope that he merely needs a change of scenery. (If you need a laugh, consider the reported asking price of “first-round pick and top prospect” for Manson, as Pierre LeBrun reported for TSN.)

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Brandon Montour, Sabres (26, UFA this summer, $3.85M cap hit): Speaking of defensemen who saw better days a few years ago with the Ducks, we have Brandon Montour. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, and that might sell a team on the idea that he could be useful in a better atmosphere than Buffalo. None of his numbers — traditional, or “fancy” really make you think he’d avoid his next coach’s doghouse for very long. (Then again, that skill, and he’s a right-handed shot …)

Ryan Murray, Devils (27, UFA this summer, $4.6M cap hit): Thanks to a dizzying array of injuries early in his career, Murray never really had a chance to justify being the second overall pick. Even of what turned out to be a lousy 2012 NHL Draft. Mike Ditka didn’t need the wig. To Murray’s credit, he’s found a niche as a meat-and-potatoes defenseman, especially during certain stretches previously with Columbus. It won’t be easier to trade Murray after the Devils already retained salaries in trading Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, though.

Dmitry Kulikov, Devils (30, UFA this summer, $1.15M cap hit): Kulikov ranks high on the list of most confounding players of this pandemic-shortened season. Most seasons, he’s ranked somewhere between mediocre and outright bad. Yet, in this broken Devils season, he’s been shockingly effective. Observe one more RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, which isn’t the only place where his metrics shine:

Most years, Kulikov’s charts are, uh, not this good. (via Evolving Hockey)

If you’ve followed Kulikov’s career, you’ll “Huh?” with me. Considering his miniscule cap hit, Kulikov might be worth a very small gamble at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

[Islanders land Kyle Palmieri from Devils in blockbuster trade]

Jamie Oleksiak, Stars (28, UFA this summer, $2.14M cap hit): Wait, by law, is Oleksiak allowed to be traded in a deal not also involving the Penguins? Might need to call Saul.

Anyway, Oleksiak is a huge defenseman with solid experience. He’s mostly been lingering around average, although he enjoyed a startling burst of offense when Rick Bowness allowed him to take some chances. Could be an interesting possibility if the Stars shop him at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

(Dials up Harvey Birdman, just in case.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract Sunday, after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat on Monday. He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division on Saturday despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said Saturday after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena on Thursday.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

    ATLANTIC

    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

    CENTRAL

    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

    PACIFIC

    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

    Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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    ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

    General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

    Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

    The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

    Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.

    Rivals Crosby and Ovechkin relish being All-Star teammates

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have played dozens of regular-season and playoff games against each other since breaking into the NHL together in 2005.

    The longtime rivals and respective captains of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have also shared the ice at All-Star Games before. But with each superstar in his mid-30s, they know this trip could be their last together.

    They took advantage of it, with Ovechkin setting up Crosby for two goals Saturday in the lone game of the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament their Metropolitan Division team got to play.

    “I think we have fun to play together, not against each other,” Ovechkin said, flashing his gap-toothed smile. “Right now, we was on the same team, and it was pretty special, pretty good moment.”

    Crosby, who also had the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s goal, did not expect to get the puck back. That’s not unreasonable given Ovechkin has built a career on scoring and is only 82 goals back of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career record.

    “I was thinking I just did my job: gave it to him,” said Crosby, whose career numbers are so close to Ovechkin’s that he has just five more points overall. “I thought he was just going finish it, but he was kind enough to send me a couple back. We had some nice goals there.”

    Not enough to win the 3-on-3 semifinal against the Atlantic, which beat the Central in the final. Ovechkin lamented not scoring more and took some jabs at his goalie teammates for a day: fellow Russians Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders.

    “Obviously goalie could play better,” Ovechkin said.

    Crosby and Ovechkin being together at All-Star weekend for the first time since 2018 was one of the themes of the weekend, given how they shared the stage as faces of the NHL for much of their careers. But they don’t want this to be a Sid and Ovi swan song and could do this again as soon as next year when the festivities are in Toronto.

    “You try to go out there have fun and stay in the moment,” Crosby said. “Hopefully, it’s not our last one. That’s the best way to approach it.”

    HOMETOWN HEROICS

    The introductions for Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk were saved for last.

    And of course, the two Florida Panthers stars, representing the Atlantic Division, delivered in their home arena.

    “We play regular-season and playoff games here, but with this event, it’s even more special to be here representing the Florida Panthers,” Barkov said.

    Tkachuk was clearly comfortable playing in the same arena where has amassed 66 points (sixth in the NHL) this season with the Panthers. He had seven points (four goals, three assists) Saturday, including a goal and an assist in the Atlantic Division’s 7-5 win over the Central Division to take the All-Star game title.

    Tkachuk had a hat trick and a pair of assists in the Atlantic squad’s semifinal game against the Metropolitan division – tying a single-game points record for the 3-on-3 All-Star format. Two of those goals were assisted by his Panthers teammate to give their squad a win 10-6 and advance to face the Central division the final.

    By the time Barkov and Tkachuk came out for the All-Star game final, “Let’s go Panthers!” cheers were being belted throughout FLA Live Arena.

    Barkov, the beloved Panther in his 10th season, has 14 goals this year and 33 assists. He has 234 career goals and 600 points.

    BROTHERLY LOVE

    Brothers Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk have played against each other plenty over the years. But with both players starting for the Atlantic division, they got to experience playing together as the 11th set of brothers to be All-Star teammates.

    The brothers each had a goal in Saturday’s semifinal game between the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions. And Brady assisted on his brother’s goal in the final against the Central division.

    Matthew, drafted in 2016 by the Calgary Flames, is a two-time All-Star with 177 career goals and 448 points.

    Brady, the younger Tkachuk sibling, was drafted in 2018 by the Ottawa Senators and has 110 career goals and 243 points.

    Both were All-Stars back in 2020 in their hometown St. Louis. Brady represented the Atlantic division, while Matthew represented the Pacific squad.

    WEATHER WOES

    It was 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius) outside FLA Live Arena when the All-Star 3 on-3 tournament started – more than 50 degrees warmer than 2024 host Toronto. That doesn’t mean this year’s event didn’t have a weather issue.

    The NHL All-Star Beach Festival – which had areas where fans could test their hockey skills, get a photo with the Stanley Cup and check out a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit, among other things – couldn’t open on Saturday.

    Rain in the morning delayed the opening on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and then 40 mph (64 kilometers per hour) wind gusts later in the day forced the NHL into keeping it closed and calling off a watch party for the All-Star Game.

    It was open Thursday and Friday.