NHL trade market expected to be quiet as deadline approaches
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

While the NHL Trade Deadline is exactly six weeks away and trade whispers have grown louder in recent days, a number of sources warn that it may be a mistake to expect an active trade market. The factors at play are what one might expect: the flat salary cap and clubs’ financial limitations as well as the U.S.-Canada border restrictions. 

Speaking on Sportsnet 960 in Calgary today, Elliotte Friedman noted that the market is much quieter than recent rumor and speculation has led everyone to believe. He cites the border issue – a mandatory 14-day quarantine for any player heading north – as limiting potential trade partners, but states that finances are an even greater inhibitor. Friedman said that many clubs are not looking to add salary and stress is being placed more on actual dollars than on cap hits. 

The Athletic’s Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek take it even one step further, reporting that “few teams have permission to add salary” and noting that some non-contenders have been ordered by ownership to cut salary if at all possible. There is also the issue that many of the teams who may have the financial ability to add salary lack the cap space to do so. CapFriendly currently lists 16 teams – more than half the league – with projected cap space that amounts to less than a minimum salary and only seven teams currently in a playoff spot are among those with flexibility.

Fortunately, we may not be entirely without fireworks at the deadline. Friedman notes that major investments on players whose impact on teams will last beyond just this season or next could be seen as exceptions to the rule when it comes to adding salary. These additions can be excused as a financial commitment beyond the current financial and flat cap crises. Custance and Duhatschek also point out that for those Canadian teams with the means and desire to add, the deadline may be a little late given the possibility of lengthy quarantines, meaning trades could start up well before six weeks from now. There is hope that there will still be some transactional excitement this season and possibly even sooner rather than later.

  • It sure seemed like a notable trade was about to occur this weekend. On Saturday, it was reported by a number of sources that the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks were nearing a deal that would have swapped Jake Virtanen and Danton Heinen. However, the deal never occurred and Friedman questions whether it was really as close as it was made out to be. The two sides certainly did discuss a trade and those two players in particular, and by all accounts continue to do so, but Friedman says that things got “carried away” before a firm deal was in place. The two sides are committed to balancing out the salaries in the trade and while Virtanen and Heinen do have very similar cap hits, their salaries are not even. In the final year of his contract, Heinen carries a $2.8M AAV and near-equal amount of actual salary. Virtanen’s contract carries a $2.55M AAV and he is owed only $1.7M in salary this year, but he has an additional season remaining and $3.4M in salary. That discrepancy is significant and a major hurdle and the reason why Friedman says a one-for-one swap was never a possibility. He notes that Derek Grant was discussed as a possible addition from Anaheim’s side and he could still be part of a final deal. In the first year of a three-year contract, Grant’s $1.5M salary next year and $1.75M in 2022-23 could help to offset Virtanen’s cost to Anaheim next year, but it doesn’t entirely cover the the difference and it is of course discounting the fact that Grant is a valuable player in his own right and not just a salary dump. There is clearly still more work to be done by the Ducks and Canucks if this heavily-rumored deal is to actually become reality. In the meantime, Friedman stated that Virtanen’s salary next season is a turn-off for most teams and could hinder Vancouver’s ability to trade him, especially if these talks with Anaheim fall apart.
  • One other limiting factor for the current trade market is that a pair of notable rental candidates may not be willing to waive their No-Movement Clauses. While there could be interest in Arizona Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, especially in a lacking rental market for blue liners, don’t expect the respected veteran to be on the move. Custance and Duhatschek write that Hjalmarsson has no interest in waiving his NMC and appears content to play out the final year of his contract in Arizona. Hjalmarsson does appear to have lost a step, scoring at a career-low rate and getting penalized at a career-high rate, so perhaps it’s in the best interest of all parties if he finishes out the year and rides off into the sunset. The more surprising note from Custance and Duhatschek on a player who also may not be willing to waive their NMC for a potential trade is Taylor Hall. Signed to a one-year deal this off-season, it was expected that Hall would again be the top trade deadline target if the Buffalo Sabres were not on a postseason trajectory. Well, the Sabres are certainly not playoff-bound, but Hall doesn’t seem to mind. Custance and Duhatschek cite sources who believe that Hall, ranked at just No. 24 on The Athletic’s trade board, is happy in Buffalo and would like to stay. There is a belief that an extension may be more likely than a trade at this point, even with the Sabres’ season in shambles and the team in need of the immense trade capital he would return.
  • Another year, another season in which the Detroit Red Wings will be sellers at the trade deadline. However, the team may be looking to move more than just rentals in the coming weeks (or in the off-season). A rival executive tells Custance and Duhatschek that GM Steve Yzerman is listening to all offers and wouldn’t be surprised if a young core forward such as Anthony Mantha or Tyler Bertuzzi were moved. Mantha, 26, is struggling this season and it remains unclear what his ceiling may be in the NHL as he has dealt with injury and inconsistency over the years. Bertuzzi, also 26, actually got off to a great start early this season, scoring at the best pace of his career albeit in nine games. He has since been sidelined by injury and without building on his hot start, there remain concerns that his development has flatlined in Detroit. If the Red Wings doubt that either player can be an effective part of the young core they are growing in the pipeline, they could be moved.

This article first appeared on Pro Hockey Rumors and was syndicated with permission.

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