The NHL trade deadline usually features contending teams bringing in supporting players to solidify themselves, but the possibility of some big names moving always exists.
While few of the obvious players on the trading block inspire excitement, contract situations could lead to some more intriguing pieces getting dealt. Bigger trades could prove difficult due to the number of moving parts involved, but almost anything can happen leading up to the deadline.
As teams continue to weigh their options with the deadline quickly approaching, here is a rundown of the hottest rumors surrounding some of the best players who could be set to change locales.
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The Chicago Blackhawks are in hot pursuit of another Stanley Cup, but with salary-cap space looking as if it will be at a premium next season, they could be compelled to make a cost-cutting move.
Perhaps the easiest way to save money would be to deal forward Patrick Sharp, who has a $5.9 million cap hit through next season, per NHLNumbers.com. Sharp has been a key part of Chicago’s success over the past several years, but tough decisions have to be made in the wake of signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to big extensions.
There should be no shortage of interest in a player of Sharp’s caliber, and apparently some trade talks regarding the veteran have already taken place. According to Chris Kuc of The Chicago Tribune, the Washington Capitals have inquired about the 33-year-old star:
Source: #Blackhawks and Capitals have had dialogue about possible trade involving Patrick Sharp.
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) February 28, 2015
Sharp’s numbers are down a bit after racking up 78 points last year, but he has still been fairly productive this season with 32 points in 49 games. In fact, he seems to be an ideal fit for the Caps since he could conceivably skate on the same line as Alex Ovechkin.
The potential return is unclear, but Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago has reported that the Blackhawks like Capitals forward Joel Ward:
FWIW, a source said the #Blackhawks have asked about Joel Ward (Caps). Who knows what comes of it but that would be intriguing, IMO.
— Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN) February 28, 2015
Ward will be a free agent during the offseason, which means Chicago wouldn’t have to commit to him. He also has a unique blend of skills that could help the Blackhawks come playoff time. He is big and gritty but has goal-scoring touch as well after netting 24 in 2013-14.
Even Ward himself has admitted that he is intrigued by the possibility of getting traded, per Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com.
“I’ve never been traded before, I’m just curious to see what that feeling would be like,” Ward said. “What goes through your head? I just never had that feeling before.”
Ward may soon get to find out if the two sides feel as though they would both benefit from a move that would send Ward as part of a package to Chicago for Sharp.
The Capitals would seemingly become instant contenders in the Eastern Conference, while the Blackhawks would add another dimension to their team that could make them much tougher to play against in the postseason.
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have already made several moves designed to set themselves up for a rebuild moving forward. Shipping a high-priced player like defenseman Dion Phaneuf out of town would accelerate the process significantly, and it appears as though there may be a willing taker.
According to TheFourthPeriod.com, the Leafs and Anaheim Ducks have engaged in trade talks regarding the 29-year-old blueliner.
Phaneuf is Toronto’s captain and has been a fine presence over parts of six seasons with the team, but his contract is a luxury that the Leafs can’t afford. He has a massive $7 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season, per NHLNumbers.com, and he simply doesn’t bring enough to the table to justify such a huge investment.
The former Calgary Flames standout has been banged up for much of the season, which has limited him to just 49 games, but the Leafs have clearly been better with him in the lineup, according to NHL Network’s Mike Kelly:
Leafs record with Phaneuf this season, averaged over 82 games, would put them at 82 pts. (23-23-3) Without, 41 pts. (2-8-2)
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) February 27, 2015
Toronto is going nowhere fast, though, which should make the decision to trade Phaneuf quite easy. The biggest sticking point will be monetary. While the Ducks would probably love to have Phaneuf due to his mixture of offensive capabilities and physical play, there is no way that they will agree to take on his entire contract.
The Leafs will have to eat a portion of it, which means they will essentially be paying Phaneuf to play somewhere else.
Toronto proved that it isn’t afraid to take on dead money, though, as it already traded David Clarkson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton. With Horton’s NHL future in doubt, the Leafs will be able to pay him without his contract counting against the cap on long-term injured reserve.
After making that type of deal, there is a good chance that the Leafs will swallow their pride once again in an effort to ship Phaneuf out of town.
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Forward Mats Zuccarello was key in the New York Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, but the Blueshirts may have to pursue a second consecutive Eastern Conference title without the services of the 27-year-old winger.
The Norwegian star will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason if he and the Rangers are unable to come to terms. According to ESPN.com’s Katie Strang, it is unlikely at this point that the two sides will reach an agreement:
As it currently stands, looks more likely that Rangers F Mats Zuccarello will be traded than re-signed. Teams have been told he’s available
— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) February 28, 2015
Because of that, Larry Brooks of the New York Post is reporting that the Rangers are looking to move Zuccarello elsewhere:
Slapshots will be coming up soon on Post website…Rangers actively shopping Zuccarello in wake of contract extension talks breaking down..
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) February 28, 2015
The diminutive forward had a career year in 2013-14 with 19 goals and 40 assists. He was also fantastic in the playoffs, to the tune of 13 points in 25 games. The Rangers have a legitimate chance to go the distance once again, but losing Zuccarello would make it far more difficult.
New York is in a tough position as a contending team. As much as it doesn’t want to lose Zuccarello without getting something in return, it certainly doesn’t want to weaken itself either.
Head coach Alain Vigneault is among those who are hopeful that the Rangers aren’t forced into trading the energetic star, per Pat Leonard of The New York Daily News:
Vigneault “keeping my fingers crossed” Zuccarello and #NYR get a deal done that’s good for both sides.
— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) February 28, 2015
One can only assume that other contending teams would love to get their hands on Zuccarello. At the same time, they’ll likely have to give up a useful asset in return since the Rangers would almost certainly be more interested in something that would help them now rather than in the future.
The Rangers are in an unenviable position right now, and it will be interesting to see how the front office handles such a delicate situation.
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