The NHL trade deadline is less than a week away and while there may not be a lot of big names on the market, there are still some potential impact players who are going to be changing teams.
Sometimes it is a matter of need. Sometimes it is just looking for that piece to put a team over the top in a quest to win the Stanley Cup.
Here we take a look at some of the bigger names who should be on the move and the ideal destination for each of them.
Chris Kreider (New York Rangers)
Ideal destination: St. Louis Blues.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have been in the market for a top-six winger and could use some extra help there for a playoff push, especially given the uncertainty around the return of Vladimir Tarasenko. The Blues have also hit a little bit of a rut in the second half and could use a spark in their effort to repeat. Kreider brings speed, a little bit of an edge and top-line production and would be a great addition in St. Louis.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Ottawa Senators)
Ideal destination: Colorado Avalanche
Pageau would be an ideal third-line center option for the Avalanche behind their power duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri (when Kadri is healthy again, that is). He brings some penalty killing ability, is a strong (even if a little overrated) defensive player and is on track to score 30 goals this season. The Avalanche have the draft pick assets and salary cap space to land him, and it would give them an outstanding chance to win the Western Conference this season.
Ilya Kovalchuk (Montreal Canadiens)
Ideal destination: New York Islanders
The Canadiens have not fully committed to trading Kovalchuk, but they should. He has increased his value since arriving with the team, which is pretty much out of the playoff race, and he is an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Islanders have a desperate need for more offense, and general manager Lou Lamoriello has acquired Kovalchuk in the past (and signed him to a massive contract) with the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk is not the 40-50 goal player he was at his peak, but he is also far better than he showed with the Los Angeles Kings over the past year-and-a-half. He has proved in Montreal that he can still produce in the right environment, which just might be with the Islanders.
Alec Martinez (Los Angeles Kings)
Ideal destination: Winnipeg Jets
[Update: Martinez is now officially a member of the Vegas Golden Knights.]
This is kind of an out-of-left-field suggestion here since Martinez is reportedly heading to Vegas, but the Jets need short-term and long-term help on defense to go along with the key ingredients that could make them a contender in the very near future with the right tweaks to their roster. Their forwards are still excellent and they have an accomplished starting goalie in Connor Hellebuyck. They also have almost no defensemen under contract beyond this season, and Martinez (one year remaining) would help them make a push for the playoffs this season and still be able to help next season. Martinez has obviously declined from his peak with the Kings a few years ago, but he would still be an upgrade.
Sami Vatanen (New Jersey Devils)
Ideal destination: Nashville Predators
Do not let the Predators' spot in the standings fool you. They may be a few points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they have more games to play than any team in the league and can easily make up an increasingly small gap, as they are far better than their record. They still have a good top-three on defense led by Norris Trophy candidate Roman Josi, but they could use a little extra-added depth. Vatanen would help round out the top of their defense.
Erik Gustafsson (Chicago Blackhawks)
Ideal destination: Carolina Hurricanes
The Dougie Hamilton injury leaves a massive opening on the Hurricanes blue line, and there is no easy fix to replace him. He was having a Norris Trophy-caliber season and (in this view) has been the best defenseman in the league. Gustafsson is not Hamilton and does not possess his defensive impact or ability to drive possession, but he could replace some of the offense the Hurricanes are lacking with Hamilton out of the lineup.
Vladislav Namestnikov (Ottawa Senators)
Ideal destination: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers still do not know when or if Nolan Patrick will be able to join them for a stretch run, and even if he does they could still use some added forward depth. Namestnikov can play center or wing and provide some bottom-of-the-lineup scoring help. The Flyers are a sneaky good team that gets overlooked because of the overall strength of their division.
Melker Karlsson (San Jose Sharks)
Ideal destination: Pittsburgh Penguins
Not a blockbuster by any means, but the Penguins love to use four lines and with Zach Aston-Reese sidelined on a week-to-week basis, there is a need for another option there. Even without him they could probably use one more bottom-six addition. They could also be in the market for some added defensive depth with injuries to Brian Dumoulin and John Marino, but both players should be back in time for the playoffs and would give them a solid group of blue-liners to pick from when it comes to a postseason lineup.
Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks)
Ideal destination: Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning
Thornton would have to ask for a trade out of San Jose at this point, but he is not going to have many more opportunities to win a Stanley Cup in his career. Going to Boston would be an amazing storyline: returning to his first NHL stop and winning it with the Bruins. The Lightning, however, might present the best opportunity to win and make an already dominant team even more impressive. Thornton is not an MVP-level player anymore, or even a top-six player, but he can still make plays and impact a game defensively. He is an ideal third-or fourth-line center for a Stanley Cup contender right now.