NHL trade deadline: The best players up for grabs

Arun Srinivasan
·Writer
·8-min read

We're entering our first trade deadline during a global pandemic, so invariably this year ought to be little different than the past. That doesn't necessarily mean it'll be boring, or there'll be inaction, as several contenders – we're looking at the Avalanche and Maple Leafs here among others – will be looking to bolster their lineups while other teams, namely the Sabres and Predators, should be using the deadline as a means to accelerate their rebuild. 

Below are the best players that we believe are likely to be moved at the deadline, and we've included their remaining term on contract, as that often matters just as much as their production. 

*All stats current as of April 5, 2021

1. Taylor Hall, Sabres

Contract expiry date

Goals

Points

Corsi For %

Cap Hit

2021

2

19

52.84

$8M

The Sabres have been an unmitigated disaster while Hall has rarely looked like the player who won the Hart Trophy in 2017-18. On a one-year deal, the Sabres may not get the return on value the market would dictate, as opposing general managers will be swarming, all too aware that Kevyn Adams is dealing from a position of vulnerability.

Hall, for his part, seemed intent on trying to make it work in Buffalo and he does have a no-movement clause, so if the club gets several offers, the power dynamic may shift back into his hands. If the Sabres can extract either a first-round pick, or a cabal of under-25 pillars that will help kickstart yet another rebuild, it'll be considered a win in a season completely devoid of them.

Potential destinations: Avalanche, Bruins, Blues, Canadiens, Hurricanes, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Oilers, Panthers

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2. Mattias Ekholm, Predators

Contract expiry date

Goals

Points

Corsi For %

Cap Hit

2022

5

15

52.46

$3.75M

Ekholm's cap hit is as digestible as it gets for a player of his caliber and he's clearly the best defenseman on the market, in the tail end of his prime, with his 31st birthday on the horizon. Trading Ekholm would facilitate the rebuild the Predators need to undergo and the team is reportedly looking for two prospects and a first-round pick, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman also reported that the Jets, Bruins, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Flyers have shown varying degrees of interest in acquiring Ekholm. For a player that has more value to a contender than a rebuilding team, let the games begin.

Potential destinations: Bruins, Canadiens, Jets, Maple Leafs, Flyers

3. Filip Forsberg, Predators

Contract expiry date

Goals

Points

Corsi For %

Cap Hit

2022

11

29

53.11

$6M

There was some reticence about placing Forsberg on this list, but if the Predators are serious about starting a reluctant rebuild, Forsberg, much like Ekholm, is an ideal candidate. Forsberg is having a strong year, can easily slot into a team's top-six and he's still producing as a high-end skilled forward in the middle of his prime. Aside from Hall, who is atop the list partly because his name and pedigree has enough cache to get the Sabres what they want from their wish list, Forsberg is the most productive forward available.

With his contract set to expire in 2022, set at a reasonable, if slightly pricy rate for a player who last topped the 30-goal mark in 2017, Forsberg won't be a rental and won't come cheaply either. Everyone but Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis is safe, and though the 26-year-old is in the mix, there's also a good chance Nashville hangs up the phone.

Potential destinations: Bruins, Canadiens, Hurricanes, Panthers

4. Rickard Rakell, Ducks

Contract expiry date

Goals

Points

Corsi For %

Cap Hit

2022

7

22

51.03

$3.79M

Rakell constantly slips under the radar in large part due to the fact he plays on a small-market, West Coast team, but make no mistake about it, the 27-year-old winger should be in high demand this spring. He's posted more than 30 goals twice in his career and a change of scenery would be nice for Rakell, who can throw the body around and generate offense even in the absence of stellar linemates. 

The final pick in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft, the Maple Leafs passed on the dynamic Swedish winger twice to select Stuart Percy and Tyler Biggs instead. This year's deadline provides the Maple Leafs with a chance to correct the wrongs of a previous regime, although if Rakell is genuinely for sale, Toronto ought to be far from the only team making phone calls about him. 

Potential destinations: Avalanche, Bruins, Maple Leafs, Panthers

5. Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets 

Contract expiry date

Record

Save %

GSAA

Cap Hit

2022

6-7-2

.916

3.46

$4M

Elvis will be leaving the building! OK good, now that we've got that out of our system, Merzlikins is the best goaltender available on this year's market, although much like Arizona's Antti Raanta (more on him below), this depends on how the Blue Jackets forecast their future. They should be sellers, as Merzlikins would be a high-end backup or alternate starter for a contender and has better underlying numbers than Raanta. Detroit's Jonathan Bernier has slightly better underlying numbers on a worse team, but he's also six years older and his contract is set to expire at the end of the year, whereas Merzlikins has another year left. 

There has been some debate about the Blue Jackets being forced to choose between their two goaltenders, and when healthy, it's clear that John Tortorella prefers Joonas Korpisalo. Columbus will get the best return on value by dealing a goaltender, and Merzlikins will be an attractive candidate for several Cup contenders. 

Potential destinations: Avalanche, Capitals, Oilers, Panthers

6. Jonathan Bernier, Red Wings

Contract expiry date

Record

Save %

GSAA

Cap Hit

2021

8-6-0

.918

4.73

$3M

We understand some skepticism about Bernier's place on this list, but quality goaltending is a scarce resource teams will pay for and on a terrible Red Wings team, the 32-year-old has solid underlying numbers. Detroit will be looking for a first or second-round pick, or another top prospect, as Bernier is the very definition of trade deadline rental. 

This is also another way of us saying that we don't believe Carolina will trade James Reimer, either. 

Potential destinations: Avalanche, Oilers, Panthers

7. Kyle Palmieri, Devils

Contract expiry date

Goals

Points

Corsi For %

Cap Hit

2022

8

17

51.34

$4.65M

TRADED: The five-time 20-goal scorer was traded to the New York Islanders along with center Travis Zajac on April 7 in exchange for A.J. Greer, Mason Jobst, a 2021 first-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2022.

8. Antti Raanta, Coyotes

Contract expiry date

Record

Save %

GSAA

Cap Hit

2021

5-4-2

.913

1.59

$4.25M

Raanta's availability stems from two factors, mainly: whether the Coyotes, currently holding onto the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division, decide they are buyers or sellers at the deadline, and if the club has determined that Adin Hill's emergence as a NHL-caliber goalie has rendered Raanta expendable. Darcy Kuemper will eventually return from injury and Raanta certainly feels like the odd man out. 

The 31-year-old is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and like many candidates on the board, he has more value to a contender than he does for a middling Coyotes team, unless of course, Arizona determines it can improbably knock off the Avalanche, Golden Knights and Wild come playoff time. 

Potential destinations: Avalanche, Capitals, Oilers

9. Mikael Granlund, Predators

Contract expiry date

Goals

Points

Corsi For %

Cap Hit

2021

8

15

52.32

$3.75M

Like his colleague Ekholm, Granlund's contract is easily digestible and some teams may be looking at him as a sign-and-trade option as he's slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The Toronto Star's Mark Zwolinski listed the Maple Leafs as being interested in Granlund among several others, and the versatile center could regain his scoring touch after a disappointing stint with the Predators. 

Potential destinations: Avalanche, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Wild

10. David Savard, Blue Jackets

Contract expiry date

Goals

Points

Corsi For %

Cap Hit

2021

1

6

42.96

$4.25M

Savard hasn't played particularly well this year at all, but he's still capable of logging around 20 minutes per game against top-six forwards. The stay-at-home defender may very well be the affordable, insurance policy a team is seeking at the deadline. It doesn't appear the Blue Jackets have much interest in retaining him this summer and with four consecutive playoff berths under his belt, the right-shot defenseman might have a few suitors.

Potential destinations: Bruins, Canadiens, Jets, Maple Leafs, Panthers

The best of the rest:

11. Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets

12. Mike Reilly, Senators

13. Jake DeBrusk, Bruins

14. Ryan Dzingel, Senators

15. Sam Reinhart, Sabres

16. Brandon Montour, Sabres

17. P.K. Subban, Devils

18. Alex Goligoski, Coyotes

19. Josh Manson, Ducks

20. Sam Bennett, Flames

21. Luke Glendening, Red Wings

22. Danton Heinen, Ducks

23. Dmitry Kulikov, Devils

24. Jason Demers, Coyotes

25. Ryan Murray, Devils

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