We’re nearly at the end of January, and with February comes the real countdown to the NHL trade deadline on March 3. And when it’s deadline time, the players most likely to be moved are those at the end of their contracts and staring unrestricted free agency right in the face come summertime.
Sometimes that isn’t very spicy, and there aren’t many fun names out there for contenders to rent for a run at the Stanley Cup. Take a look at this list of pending free agents from CapFriendly. You could cobble together a pretty decent All-Star roster out of the players who could be available to sign come July. But why wait when you can trade for them now?
Of course, not everyone gets traded because NHL GMs are always eager to trade, but somehow none of the other GMs want to trade with them. That’s quite the paradox, but eventually the desire for a Cup (or to save one’s job) forces hands, and when it’s a staring contest, someone will blink. Usually.
But which free agents who could move are most likely to move, and which ones are a pipe dream? That’s why I’m here, friends, to buy or sell who will get dealt and who will wind up sticking around at their current address.
Sell: John Klingberg, Anaheim Ducks
It’s been a fascinating turn of events for John Klingberg the past few seasons. At one point with the Dallas Stars, he was turning heads all over the league as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.
In 2017-18, he tied with Brent Burns for second in scoring among defensemen with 67 points, one point behind John Carlson. When he headed into free agency last summer, his hope was he would cash in on having been a consistent point producer with the ability to set up teammates well. But his defensive abilities were heavily questioned, and with good reason.
Klingberg’s possession numbers worsened last season, and he had a team-worst minus-28 rating in plus-minus (I know, I know…it’s a bad stat for judgment), and that was after seasons with a minus-10 and minus-15 before that, albeit with better possession numbers.
Because of that and the lessened offense, the calls with long-term offers never came, and he took a one-year deal with the Ducks to show that he’s still got it.
Unfortunately, the Ducks are one of the worst teams in the NHL, and Klingberg’s numbers are taking a further hit because of that. Through 40 games, he’s a minus-26, and his possession numbers are the worst in his career.
Could a team view this and say, “We’re better than the Ducks, so there’s no way he’ll be that bad with us,” and pull the trigger on a trade? Absolutely! And there aren’t many good puck-moving defensemen out there in a similar situation, which could make him an attractive add. But…
After the way his offseason went with a dearth of offers for his services, and with how gnarly his total numbers look this season, it’s hard to see a team coughing up what the Ducks may want for him to add a player who might not actually help out in the end.
He has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to somewhat control where he goes (he’s got a 10-team list of where he won’t go), but if he’s asked about it now, it would be a surprise.
Buy: Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks
We’ve written a lot about Bo Horvat lately, and with how awful the situation has been in Vancouver, any hopes Canucks GM Patrik Allvin and team president Jim Rutherford had of re-signing their captain had to have flown out the window. After all, who wants to stick around after what the team did with now-former head coach Bruce Boudreau?
The Canucks are a sinking ship, and everyone should be on a lifeboat away from them…and Horvat should absolutely be the first one off the boat. If you’re not buying the Canucks trading him, I want to know what kind of stuff you’re on because I want to try it out for fun.
Horvat’s $5.5 million cap hit is no big deal when it’s deadline time, so that’s easy enough to move. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Vancouver reportedly wants three players, including a top prospect.
That’s a fair enough price, but if I’m an interested team, I’d like to get a contract extension worked out first before I make that deal. Assurances are good, after all.
Horvat is having the best season of his career, with 30 goals at the mid-season point and is on pace to set career highs in goals and points. Any contender adding Horvat would be getting a huge boost to its chances of winning the Stanley Cup, and if it can retain him beyond this season, it’s a heck of a pick-up moving forward.