It is a little bit early to start offering ideas for moves for building the 2016-17 season, but optimism for the future is the greatest remedy for the struggle of letting go of the current season.
From the past couple trade deadlines, Canes GM Ron Francis has stockpiled 7 picks in the first 3 rounds for 2016 and 6 more for 2017. He will undoubtedly use most of these picks to continue building a deeper system and a more sustainable path to winning hockey. But I think that some of these picks and also a couple prospects could be used to expedite the process of building out the 2016-17 with the ideal deals adding young players who help the now but also the longer-term plan.
With the blue line reasonably set except for possibly depth, the shopping list includes top 9 forwards (multiple) and a single goalie. More specifically, I think Francis needs to add offensive-leaning help at forward a goalie who is capable of being a #1 such that the Canes have 2 of those and are not completely dependent on 1 goalie.
With that shopping list in mind, here is a shopping list of players who could seemingly be available via trade:
Proven, young scoring help at forward
1) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Center-Edmonton
It is alleged that Edmonton will finally move more aggressively. With McDavid and Draisatl at center, Nugent-Hopkins is the name that comes up the most as being available. For whatever imperfections, Nugent-Hopkins might have, he will start next season as a 23-year old who is a proven offensive player who has 3 times put up 50+ points and 30+ assists. He is capable of being the offensive top 6 center to complement Jordan Staal’s defensive leaning. He is signed for 5 more years at $6 million per year which is a double-edged sword that has him locked up long-term but also carries some risk because of the term and full-priced top 6 price tag.
2) Taylor Hall-Left Wing-Edmonton
He seems less likely to be available, but who knows. When things get desperate, desperate things happen. Who had the chance of Ryan Johansen being trade at anything greater than 0 percent when this season started. Hall if a true top line wing who can pot goals and create for line mates. Hall is a proven scorer with an 80-point season and 64 for 2015-16. A package of picks and prospects would not do a deal for a player of his caliber, so it would be a complicated deal. He is signed for 4 more years at $6 million per season which seems to be the going rate for early 20-something proven scorers.
3) Matt Duchene-Center-Colorado
Seemingly on the outs with Coach Patrick Roy, Duchene is yet another young forward who is already proven as a scorer. His speed and attacking style would fit well with Peters’s pressing system. He is just entering his prime at 25 years old and already has 5 20-goal seasons including reaching 30 goals for the first time this season. He and Nugent-Hopkins are seemingly the 2 best young forwards who are actually available. Duchene is signed for 3 more years at that same $6 million per season.
A #1 capable goalie
4) Frederik Andersen-Goalie-Anaheim
With some salary cap changes on the way for Anaheim with good players coming off cheap contracts and another good young goalie option in John Gibson, it is thought that Andersen could be the odd man out and available via trade. He is a restricted free agent who will need to re-signed this summer for significantly more than his current $1.15 million contract. Andersen has put up good numbers in 3 partial seasons. For 2015-16 he is 21-9-7 with a 2.36 goals against average and .917 save percentage. He is a big and athletic goalie from the Ben Bishop mold who will be just 27 years old at the start of next season and with no guarantees obviously he at least has the potential to be a franchise goalie.
5) Jimmie Howard-Goalie-Detroit
Once considered a long-term franchise goalie in Detroit, he has played second fiddle to Petr Mrazek in 2015-16. His 14-13-5 record in 36 starts (compared to Mrazek’s 54) with a 2.82 goals against average and a .906 save percentage makes him a risky bounce back project. His $4.8 million salary ($5.3 million cap hit) for 3 more years have a negative and potentially a positive. The negative is that it is a big risk to commit that much money for 3 years knowing that his 2015-16 is not good enough that he must rebound to a higher level to be worth that much money. The positive could be that he is largely a salary dump for the Red Wings and the asking price in terms of trade assets should be very modest. If not, I would punt altogether and look at cheaper and less risky options.
6) Ben Bishop-Goalie-Tampa Bay
His name has not popped up in the trade mill as much as some of the others, but I think there is a chance he could become available this summer. If, and probably only if, the Lightning can re-sign Steven Stamkos, the team will be up against the salary cap. In addition to Stamkos, the Lightning have 4 restricted free agents who will require raises from sub-$1 million contracts this summer and then Johnson and Kucherov in the summer of 2017. Vasilevsky is waiting in the wings and due for a new contract in the summer of 2017. With Yzerman’s track record of swinging big trades and collecting value on players, there is at least a chance that Yzerman parts ways with Bishop early. He is due to make $5.95 million in the last year of his contract in 2016-17. The downside is that Bishop could turn out to be a 1-year deal who then flees via free agency the next summer. I do not see Francis going this route. He would only be a short-term fix with a high price tag for that 1 season and also likely a high trade price.
The advantage of going the free agency route is obviously that trade assets are not required to add players. The downside is that there is a limited pool of free agents and the challenge of winning bidding wars and attracting players to a team that has not made the playoffs in 7 years. Best guess is that Francis will need to use a combination of both to build the team for 2016-17 with an eye for beyond that.