Coyte: Don’t expect a busy NHL Trade Deadline this year + Trades the fans deserve

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This upcoming NHL trade deadline has the potential to be one of the quietest in years. The two biggest names that were floated over the past months have already been dealt. With Patrick Laine and Pierre-Luc Dubois off the table, names like Jack Eichel, Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg now headline trade boards. 

Most big names are now moved in the off-season, think Taylor Hall, Shea Weber and P.K. Subban in recent memory. But with the pandemic-shortened season, little-to-no revenue and extremely difficult situations, team owners across the league are pinching their (considerably fat) wallets. It’s the reason most Free Agents this past off-season signed below their projected value. Add that to the reality that despite this, 15 teams are currently over the cap, only saved by the LTIR.

So maybe the Sabres hear an offer on Eichel they like and pull the trigger and send the league into a tailspin of chaos and deals. Maybe teams decide that they’d rather bunker down with the rosters they have and not have to deal with the added complexities of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

Normally, maybe one of those players would get dealt, but now more than ever, the trade deadline’s importance to gearing up for a Cup run has dwindled. Even the biggest deadline-day trades of the past decade or so aren’t jaw-dropping. Marian Hossa to the Penguins. Jeff Carter to the Kings. Martin St. Louis to the Rangers. All great players, but be honest, did any of those names elicit a gasp when you heard they were being moved?

Last year’s trade deadline didn’t offer much in terms of drama. The biggest names to move on Feb. 24, 2020, featured a slurry of solid moves, but no major, eye-opening trades. The biggest name players to pack their bags and swap rosters included Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the Islanders, Vincent Trochek to the Hurricanes and Barclay Goodrow to the Lightning. These are all good players. Goodrow played a depth role in getting Tampa Bay their Cup last season. But these aren’t superstar moves.

The NHL is a very conservative league when it comes to transactions, and the reason is pretty simple: GMs like their jobs. Making moves means taking risks. Taking risks means having to be accountable for those risks. Accountability means potentially getting fired. Unless you’re Joe Sakic, being active on the trade block can be the quickest route out of town.

But it shouldn’t be this way. Trading in the NHL should be easier than other leagues like the NBA. Yet even with a salary cap system filled with exceptions, max contracts and guaranteed money, the NBA is home to incredibly complex trades multiple times every year. For Pete’s sake, the James Harden involved three teams, four first-rounders, four draft swaps, five other players and the rights to another. It was complicated, yet NBA GMs seem to be able to pull these deals off with regularity.

From an entertainment standpoint (and also a business standpoint since acquiring stronger assets = fielding a stronger team), the NHL’s trade deadline is often a lacklustre endeavour. Depth pieces and second-line players have become the commodity of choice for teams either looking to acquire draft picks or prepare for a playoff run. So here are a few transactions that would send hockey fans’ group chats into a frenzy.

Jack Eichel

The Sabres captain is in the midle of the most difficult season of his career, but that doesn’t matter. Eichel is one of the best forwards in the league (a top 10 forward in my books but who’s asking). His breakaway speed, hands, shot and age make him one of the most valuable available assets in years. Any team looking to add him to their roster is going to pay a premium, as is often the case for elite players, especially a captain.

The obvious choice to acquire Eichel is the New York Rangers. They have the cap space. They have some prospects they could part with. Maybe this is how Buffalo gets a goalie. Would Kappo Kakko, Filip Chytil + picks be enough to wet the beak of Kevyn Adams? An Eichel-Panarin pairing would arm the Rangers with arguably the second-deadliest duo in the league.

Would a team like New Jersey be willing to undergo the Ancient And Forbidden Tactic of offering their freshly-minted captain Nico Hischier in exchange for Eichel? Or would the Sabres demand Jack Hughes (among other things)? Either way, if the Sabres are interested in either of those deals, the Devils would immediately acquire the best player in the deal in Eichel. Hughes is having a great start to his sophomore season, but is his ceiling as high as Eichel’s? Hischier is poised to be a fantastic 2-way player on a contract that should age well, but his offensive potential is significantly less than Eichel’s.

The other potential partner that’s been brought up has been the LA Kings. Is Byfield the main piece in that deal? Despite a difficult World Junior tournament, the 2020 second-overall pick has the potential to be one of the best players in the league.

Mattias Ekholm

Nashville is not good. Just a few years removed from their appearance in the Cup final, the Predators have cratered. Now GM David Poile has to decide whether he can re-tool this roster or if he’s going to sell the house. Option two seems more likely considering the difficulty of moving some deals on this team.

This means that the Preds can be expected to get several calls regarding defender Mattias Ekholm. Ekholm is on a team-friendly deal ($3.75 million for two more years), is still solid defensively and would immediately improve the back-end of whichever team acquires him. I mean, just look at this technique.

Would the Flyers be interested in bolstering their blueline? They already have Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim, but adding Ekholm would provide immediate help to the second unit. Shayne Ghostibehere is the first name that pops into mind in terms of assets going to Nashville.

The Capitals have John Carlson, but adding a defensive defender like Ekholm would do a lot to help their backend. Do they offer a package of Nick Jensen and Garnet Hathaway in return? Or do the Winnipeg Jets decide to finally address the defensive holes left by Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba by sending Mathieu Perreault and a First Round pick to the Preds?

Filip Forsberg

Speaking of Nashville, somebody please save Filip Forsberg. A consistent scorer with high-end talent, he’s an offensive threat with positive defensive abilities as wel- wait what’s that? I hear the trademarked sound of Lou Lamoriello’s shears approaching! Someone save the beard!

The Islanders have been the main team associated with a potential Forsberg trade. It makes sense for both teams. The Islanders need to add another offensive weapon to play alongside Mat Barzal. The Isles could offer a 2021 First Round pick and a sweetener (sign-and-trade with Adam Pelech perhaps) to acquire Forsberg. A rare instance where both teams could benefit. From a fan standpoint, having another skill player with Barzal could lead to some incredible puck-possession and odd-man rushes.

Clayton Keller

The Arizona Coyotes have one of the most difficult outlooks of any team in the league. They’re not a playoff team, don’t have any star power and even worse, have little draft picks to rebuild the system. They need a jolt in that regard. Considering the roster, the quickest way to do so is to offer up Clayton Keller as a sacrifice (or as he might see it, salvation). With a $7.15 million cap hit, the team that acquires Keller will have to be willing to clear a significant amount of cap space.

Keller is a solid pick-up, and he’s still young and in development to get better. A team that could use some depth would be the Minnesota Wild aka The Most Exciting Team in Hockey. Despite a decent start to the season, the Wild have too many veterans signed for too long. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise continue to be effective players but are a nightmare from a cap viewpoint. Would the Wild be willing to part with Jared Spurgeon in a Keller deal? At 31, Spurgeon is a very talented defender, but his contract gives me the chills (six more years at $7.575 million), but the money makes sense.

Sidebar, but do I have a problem with how unattached I am to captains in this league? The answer: Yes. Captains provide a lot of value. In the right circumstances, that should be leveraged.

Enter the Coyotes! They love bad contracts! Of course, the Penguins First Round pick from the Jason Zucker trade as a sweetener wouldn’t hurt. Let’s make it happen! Keller would certainly provide newfound sensation Kirill Kaprizov with some much extra support. Even if it’s not Spurgeon going the other way, if the Wild find themselves on the phone with Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong, they should make this deal happen.

Overall though, these moves are highly unlikely to appear on TSN Trade Watch. Speaking of unlikely…

Pure Chaos Moves

Sidney Crosby

The Penguins are not good. Crosby is 33. Those Tim Horton commercials are funny. It only begs to reason that a Crosby trade can only happen if he goes to Colorado to play alongside fellow puppy lover Nathan MacKinnon. Any other destination violates the will of the hockey gods.

I liken a MacKinnon-Crosby union as one similar to the Daenerys-Jon Snow one. Incredibly powerful, lots of firepower, and it doesn’t really make that much sense.

Alex Galchenyuk

The Canadian leg of the Galchenyuk World Tour continues. If we work quickly, we can get him traded to and from the remaining Canadian teams in the week leading up to the deadline. Russian (American?) Roulette to decide which team ends up with the former 30-goal scorer.

William Nylander

Kyle Dubas finally realizes how much of a smart guy that Steve Simmons guy is and moves Nylander to the first team that calls him up. Who needs a 70-75 point scorer anyways! He had so many issues anyways like *checks notes* being Swedish.

Follow me on Twitter – @Matthew_Coyte

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