Top NHL Off-Season Trade Candidates and Landing Spots

Jacob Trouba, Phil Kessel and Jason Zucker - NHL Logo

The Stanley Cup Playoffs may be over, however, the off-ice action is about to hit high gear.

Among the events over the next three weeks is the NHL Entry Draft, NHL free agent negotiating window and the opening of unrestricted free agency on July 1st.

However, the trade market is also very much an item to keep an eye on.

We’ve already seen a couple of deals, both involving the Philadelphia Flyers as they acquired the rights to pending UFA Kevin Hayes in exchange for 2019 fifth-round draft pick before swinging a hockey deal that sent defenseman Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Matt Niskanen.

Expect much more trade action to follow as the NHL offseason hits its boiling points over the next few weeks.

Now figures to be a good time to identify some of the top trade candidates league-wide while predicting where they will land and whether or not that player adds value to their new team’s odds at winning the 2020 Stanley Cup.

Let’s go!

*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
**Salary cap figures courtesy of CapFriendly

D Jacob Trouba (WPG)

Trouba has precisely what every NHL team covets.

He’s young, skilled, offensively talented, defensively strong and he is a right-shot defenseman. Every team in this league values such a commodity which is why Trouba will have a wealth of potential suitors despite relatively unknown contract demands as a restricted free agent this summer.

The Jets are in a cap bind and have both Trouba and Tyler Myers to sign if they wish to keep both. However, Trouba’s departure from the Jets has been a long time coming.

Prior to the 2016-17 season, Trouba’s first as an RFA, the Jets and Trouba’s camp entered a contract statemate that saw him miss a portion of games to start the season, the first of two seemingly frustrating contract discussions between the two sides.

The second came prior to last season before Trouba eventually signed on to play under a one-year deal at a $5.5M cap hit.

This time around, it seems the two sides are way too far apart to reach a deal while both appear to be ready to move on rather than butt heads for the third summer of the last four.

As a result, Trouba will likely be the most sought-after defenseman on the trade market this summer, if not the most sought-after player overall.

After all, he shattered previous career-highs with 50 points while skating in all 82 games, the first time in his career he skated in every reason season contest. He was a +8 and even racked up 18 points on the power play in place of Dustin Byfuglien when the big man was injured.

He’s just 25 years old and is on track to be a premier defenseman for the next decade or so. The Jets will understandably want plenty in return for their 2012 first rounder, so teams will need to be rich in NHL ready talent and either high-end prospects or a first-round draft pick, at least.

Landing Spot Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs (+1000)

It’s been well documented that the Maple Leafs highly covet a top-four, right-shot defenseman and there isn’t a player in this league that fits their criteria more than Trouba.

He would skate on the top pair with Morgan Rielly and considering the Leafs are all but set to trade Nikita Zaitsev – a right-shot top-four defenseman himself – their need for a right-shot blueliner increases.

The Maple Leafs are in tight against the cap and Mitch Marner is due a hefty payday, however, if they are able to unload Zaitsev and the unfavorable $6.25M owed to Patrick Marleau next season, perhaps they can sign Marner and work out a contract for Trouba as well.

In return:

The Maple Leafs would surely have to give up one of their high-end RFAs in Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson. It would also cost them a high-end prospect or perhaps their first-round pick for next year as well. Toronto does have the assets to get a deal done, however.

Adding Trouba to a team with the fourth-best odds to win the Cup would certainly increase their chances. I’m not sure there’s a ton of value in the Maple Leafs at +1000, but in terms of realistic Cup contention, there probably isn’t a move that would increase their chances more than adding Trouba.

RW Phil Kessel (PIT)

Kessel has already nixed a trade to the Minnesota Wild and the latest rumor has him staying in Pittsburgh next season, but I have a hard time believing the winger isn’t firmly entrenched on the trade market this summer.

Kessel carries a cap hit of $6.8M and has an eight-team trade list where he can be dealt to without having a say in the matter. In other words, Kessel has nixed a trade to 22 of the other 30 teams in the league, having done so once already.

He’s on the wrong side of 30, but given the increasing salary cap and contracts being handed out nearing double-digits to the scoring winger, Kessel’s $6.8M over the next three seasons seems like a bargain and won’t take him into his decline years.

I mean, this is a guy who has posted at least 70 points in each of the last three seasons and had as many as 92 just two seasons ago. He’s actually never hit the 40-goal barrier in his career, however, he’s good for at least 25-30 and his play-making skills have improved to the point where he’s racked up at least 47 helpers in each of the last three years.

Please Note:

He’s also one of the top power-play producers in this league with his 78 power-play points over the last two seasons ranking second only to Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and his 84 in that span.

The cost certainty is nice, as is the production. There will be teams continuing to call in regards to the American winger throughout the summer.

Landing Spot Prediction: Colorado Avalanche (+1200)

Kessel still has that blazing speed down the wing. Now, who is a contending team that plays with speed and has the cap space and top-six room to fit a player like Kessel?

You bet, the Colorado Avalanche.

With just 13 players under contract for next season and more than $37M in cap space, the Avalanche certainly have the financial resources to hit Kessel’s affordable contract.

They also need secondary scoring behind their elite top trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. The Avs are best served to keep that trio together, and having a proven scorer like Kessel on the second line allowed them to at least keep MacKinnon and Rantanen on the top line together.

At +1200, the Avs have the fifth-best odds to win the Stanley Cup next season, making them a win-now team to be sure.

Kessel would fit well in Colorado’s fast-paced style of play and with just three years left on his contract, they wouldn’t be stuck with a declining veteran when their young stars have hit their prime.

I already like the Avalanche at +1200 to win the Cup as their set on the back end and in goal, I just think they need more offense behind the top line and Kessel would give them just that.

LW/RW – Jason Zucker (MIN)

Just one year into his five-year $27.5M contract extension, Zucker’s name continues to swirl in trade rumors and he apparently would have been the main, if only, piece coming back in the rejected Kessel trade.

Zucker has a lot going for him. First, if his true potential is at or slightly above the 33-goal, 64-point season two years ago that earned him that extension, then he is a nice bargain at just 27 years old. Again, teams are paying upwards of $9M for goal scoring these days, making Zucker’s reasonable cap hit and four-year term rather attractive on the trade market.

The Wild seem to be teetering on the fence between contender and rebuild, however likely closer to the latter which is why his name is firmly in the rumor mill. He’s Minnesota’ most marketable trade asset for the above reasons and I believe he is indeed moves prior to the opening of the 2019-20 season.

Landing Spot Prediction: Dallas Stars (+2800)

The Stars came within one goal of playing in the Western Conference Final and they’re hungry for more.

What’s more is the fact that all impact moves are surely going to be made up front as their second-ranked defense from last season doesn’t need any major upgrades, but the Stars need to take some pressure of the top trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov to provide offense.

Like the Avalanche – another strong potential landing spot – the Stars rely far too much on their top line to do the bulk of the scoring.

The Stars don’t have a ton of cap space to work with at around $12M before dealing with a trip of RFAs, so Zucker’s reasonable cap hit would serve them better rather than paying a premium for scoring help in the free agent market. Knowing you are getting a player with upwards of 35-goal potential at less than $6M for the next four seasons is surely valuable to a team in need of secondary scoring.

A Zucker addition gives the Stars a wealth of value at these odds. Their defense took them so close to a final four berth last season and with an infusion of secondary scoring, I believe the Stars would hold the most value in the entire NHL relative to their +2800 Stanley Cup odds.

D Nikita Zaitsev (TOR)

No, he’s not an established well above an average player like the trio before him, but in terms of likelihood to be dealt and potential suitors, Zaitsev is becoming one of the more talked about names in the trade market this offseason.

After three years in Toronto – the latter two of which fell well below expectations – Zaitsev and his representatives asked the Maple Leafs for a trade and a new start. The Maple Leafs are said to be very willing to meet his demand as a fresh start works for everybody, not to mention salary relief for the cash-strapped Maple Leafs.

Please Note:

Zaitsev doesn’t do anything overly special, but he’s regarded as a second-pair defenseman that sports a right-hand shot. Again, that carries value in today’s NHL.

After surprising offensively to the tune of 36 points in his first NHL season after several years in the KHL, the 27-year-old Zaitsev has recorded just 27 points over the next two seasons. He was utilized heavily by Mike Babcock on the penalty kill, however, ranking 19th in the league in short-handed ice time per game and also 19th with 151 blocked shots on the season.

He also comes with cost certainty and a $4.5M cap hit over the next five seasons. A may be a little rich considering his overall production over the last couple of seasons, but with a steadily rising salary cap, the cost certainty is helpful to potential suitors.

Landing Spot Prediction: Vancouver Canucks (+4000)

The rebuilding Canucks have plenty of cap space to work with and won’t be as worried about the Zaitsev contract as others.

Furthermore, they have just four defensemen under contract for next season, only three of which are locks to be in the lineup in Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher and rookie Quinn Hughes. Hughes is the only defenseman under contract for the 2020-21 season.

Clearly, there’s a need for blueline help in Vancouver and Zaitsev could be a nice fit. Brock Boeser is going to get paid this summer and Elias Pettersson before the 2021-22 season, but other than that the Canucks’ don’t have any long-term, big-money contracts that would have them shying away from Zaitsev’s $4.5M for the next five seasons.

That said, a Zaitsev addition would have no bearing on their Stanley Cup odds as the Canucks are very much at least two years away from becoming a playoff contending club.

C Nazem Kadri (TOR)

The Maple Leafs could end up being a busy team this offseason in the trade market as rumors continue to swirl regarding the availability of center Nazem Kadri.

With John Tavares and Auston Matthews in tow for the long haul, the Maple Leafs are already rich at center, making Kadri somewhat of a disposable asset. Despite trading Zaitsev and possibly veteran Patrick Marleau, Kadri would be their best trade piece in terms of what he would bring back.

He’s a player that, when receiving second-line minutes, produced back-to-back 32-goal seasons. He’s only going to cost potential suitors $4.5M on the cap for three more years, a contract that rival GMs will drool over. A potential 30-goal second line center who plays with an edge for less than $5M is a league-wide bargain.

His history of crossing the line and dealing with NHL Player Safety has been well documented as he has been suspended in each of the last two Maple Leafs’ playoff series’. He’s put his team in a bind when it matters most two years in a row.

However, he’s still just 28 years old, plays all 200 feet of the ice and has the upside to score 30 goals at just $4.5M. That’s a value that could net the Maple Leafs some nice assets while taking even more money off the books.

Landing Spot Prediction:  Winnipeg Jets (+1800)

I mentioned Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen as trade pieces in a potential deal for Jacob Trouba above, but Kadri may be the best fit. The Jets are thin at center behind Mark Scheifele and given their cost-conscious needs with a Patrik Laine mega-deal on the horizon, Kadri would fit the bill as a productive, cost-conscious second-line center.

Not only is it Laine’s deal that has Winnipeg pinching pennies these days, but Kyle Connor, fresh off back-to-back 30-goal seasons is also due for a hefty raise in restricted free agency. Add in the Trouba situation, a potential reunion with a highly-coveted Tyler Myers in unrestricted free agency and potential long-term, lucrative deal for Josh Morrissey – an RFA after next season – and the Jets have plenty of financial obligations on their hands over the next 12-15 months.

There isn’t a team in the league that makes more sense for Kadri than the Jets, so fire up the Kadri for Trouba rumors as those will not stop until a resolution is found on either end.

As for the Jets’ Stanley Cup odds:

I already don’t mind them at these current +1800 odds, and a Kadri deal isn’t going to change them. They certainly disappointed in a first-round exit this past season and it would appear they’re right there in the mix with a whole bunch of other teams with Stanley Cup aspirations.

If I’m looking for true value, I’m likely staying away from the Jets.


Brenton Kemp / author

Brenton is a lifelong sports fan who resides in Ontario, Canada. Brenton is a fan of most all sports but specializes in hockey, baseball, football, basketball, and golf. He’s a fierce researcher with a strong appetite to deliver accurate and relevant facts that in turn have led to past success with picks and DFS advice across the board. Brenton’s biggest goal is to deliver readers with the picks and advice that can build their bankroll. He takes great pride in his success and loves nothing more than to share that success for the benefit of everyone involved.

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