The 2019 free agency class is packed with notable players and the buzz of potential offer sheets, but the trade market may be the only option for some teams.
In recent years, all-star players, including but hardly limited to Taylor Hall, PK Subban, Shea Weber, Erik Karlsson, and Ryan O’Reilly, have all ended their summers with new sweaters, consequently changing the future of a number of franchises.
This summer, the focus is on a free agent class that includes Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Joe Pavelski, and Matt Duchene. Pending some contractual extensions this month, tens of millions of dollars will be dished out on July 1.
Then there’s the restricted free agency class of Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, and Brayden Point—among others—creating gossip of the rare and dangerous off-sheet.
But for the teams that don’t have the luxury of cap space for free agency bidding or the draft pick compensation for an offer sheet, they’ll have to turn to the trade block to refortify their quest for the Stanley Cup as reports surface on the availability of all-stars.
RW | Pittsburgh Penguins
While Kessel is often a target for criticism due to his stature and lack of consistent defensive effort, he simply produces. He was an integral part of Pittsburgh’s back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017 and has found himself in trade rumors.
As the fourth-highest cap hit on the team, behind only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, using the American as a trade chip can help Pittsburgh shed some salary, add some youth, and pad their forward depth.
At 31 years old, Kessel won’t suddenly blossom into a reliable two-way player, but with 61 goals and 174 points over his last two seasons, coupled with a team-friendly $6.8 million cap hit through 2022, he’s a top-line winger on just about any team that could use an offensive boost.
The potential return in a Kessel trade would bolster the Penguins’ depth while opening up cap space ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.
D | Winnipeg Jets
In September 2016, Trouba’s agent released a statement that the defenseman had requested a trade, but rumors of his wanting out of Winnipeg have seemingly swirled since the start of his career in 2013.
My colleague @frank_seravalli has Jacob Trouba #2 on TSN’s Trade Bait board. There is significant interest in Trouba and ongoing discussions. Several teams are conducting pro scouting meetings this week, so action is expected to heat up.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 30, 2019
Last summer, Trouba signed a one-year deal for $5.5 million, suggesting it could very well be his final year in Winnipeg. The 25-year-old posted a career-high 50 points (8 G, 42 A) and is likely on the verge of a notable raise.
While the Jets have cap space, a number of restricted free agents will add up quickly and Trouba’s departure seems imminent. His value is at its highest, and he’s proven he can be a top-pair defenseman with his complete game.
Several teams could land Trouba and peg him as their immediate No. 1 defenseman, but his price tag will be steep and his new contract will be large. Winnipeg could land a combination of a young, roster player, high prospect, and high draft pick for June 21-22.
D | Colorado Avalanche
On the surface, shopping a 27-year-old, right-handed, consistent 50-point defenseman signed at $5.5 million seems strange, but Barrie could very well be on is way out of Colorado this summer.
With a questionable defensive game and need for a new contract next summer, Barrie’s perceived value may be pricier than the team is willing to dish out. Especially with phenom Cale Makar’s imminent rise, a maturing Samuel Girard, and other stable blue line pieces.
Makar is a No.1 in the making and will eventually take over Barrie’s spot on the power play, hurting Barrie’s biggest strength as a player. That makes him expendable, especially for the return package a potent offensive-defenseman could fetch.
Scoring depth is what ultimately sank the Avalanche this postseason and receiving a reliable No. 2 center to play behind the arguable best line in hockey would go a long way in Denver.
A Vegas Golden Knights Forward
“The Golden Misfits” inaugural season as the runners-up was followed by a controversial first-round exit, which will be followed by some offseason refinancing. Contract extensions have added up quickly in Vegas—Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Marc-Andre Fleury to name a few—and now they’re in cost-cutting mode.
With William Karlsson owed a new deal, two names that could be on the way out are Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. The additions of Paul Stastny, Pacioretty, and Stone have helped make two-thirds of 2017-18’s top line expendable.
Both players are 28, signed at $5.5 million through at least 2022, and have the ability to play both sides of the ice. They also both underwhelmed after terrific 2017-18 campaigns. Neither would fetch a hefty return, but their services would be formidable for a handful of other teams that could land them at a lower cost given Vegas’ financial constraints.
C | Toronto Maple Leafs
After a last-minute contract agreement saw him miss the first 26 games of the season, Nylander’s 2018-19 season should be a forgotten one with just 27 points (7 G, 20 A) through 54 games, showing just how important training camp is.
The 23-year-old still has a bright NHL future ahead of him, but at a little more than $6.9 million and sitting behind John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner on the depth chart, who will likely add up to more than $30 million, he may be on the way out.
Has your team made an offer for William Nylander? https://t.co/ziPBQBWzJf— NHL Trade Rumors (@NHLTradeRumors) May 26, 2019
Add in the need for several defensemen and new contracts owed to Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, and the Leafs will need to cut salary heading into 2019-20.
Other Leafs forwards could be in the market, but Nylander’s price tag is the highest in regards to “expendable assets,” and teams would line up for his upside.
A Nashville Predators Defenseman
The Predators relinquished James Neal back in 2017 at the expansion draft in order to protect their enviable top four of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. Now, two consecutive years of postseason regression could bring a shake-up to the blue line core.
Any of the four would fetch a hefty return, one that would likely focus on forward scoring depth, particularly of the speed or grit kind. Nashville isn’t in a dire need to cut salary, but given the lack of a Stanley Cup with a wide open window, change could be useful.
With the strong play of Dante Fabbro down the stretch, the 20-year-old rookie is looking like he could be a strong replacement should a blue line trade occur. Justification can be found to trade each of the top four, save for maybe Josi, but pulling the trigger on such a deal is never easy, even for David Poile.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.