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The playing season closes, and the trade season opens

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Thank goodness that’s over, now we can make trades.

Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Now that all that actual playing of hockey is done for a few months*, it’s time for the important business: trading players. Oh, and picks too. This is definitely a year where you’ll hear non-stop how every team is trading their first-round pick. As usual, it’s most likely that most of those rumours are unfounded.

*The AHL finals go at least two more games and continue on Saturday. Also Saturday is the ECHL final game seven.

There’s two main purveyors of lists of players who are likely to be traded: TSN and the Athletic.

TSN’s is 25 names long, so it’s extra padded out with unlikely names, and for purposes of mocking, I mean analysis, sorry, here are the top parts of the two lists. I stopped typing them out when my eyes began to hurt from rolling them. It’s not really the fault of the people making these lists that they get a bit silly. Trade speculation is hard because, on the one hand, everybody but a few guys in the NHL could be traded, but only a very few will be traded.

Trade Bait Lists

The Athletic TSN
The Athletic TSN
Erik Karlsson Erik Karlsson
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Ryan O'Reilly
Phil Kessel Mike Hoffman
Max Pacioretty Jeff Skinner
Noah Hanifin Max Pcioretty
Jeff Skinner Philipp Grubauer
Justin Faulk Canucks' 7th overall
Ryan O'Rielly Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Rasmus Ristolainen Phil Kessel
Jake Muzzin P.K Subban
Nino Neiderreiter Justin Faulk
Matt Dumba Noah Hanifin
Philipp Grubauer Alex Petrovic
Vladislav Namestnikov Dougie Hamilton
Alex Galchenyuk Jacob Trouba
Andreas Athanasiou Rasmus Ristolainen

I think my own list would be a little less dependant on fame. While I think the Sens can only keep Erik Karlsson if some white knight investor wants to back Daniel Alfredsson to buy the team, the current ownership has some time to waste before they trade him for magic beans. The asset value of an NHL team is rarely dependant on the roster, but in this case, it would be dumb to move Karlsson if there is a chance the team is going to sold when it hits peak value once the arena deal is a go. And say what you like about Melnyk, he seems to grasp that side of the business.

I’d put Jeff Skinner first. The last time the Hurricanes talked about trading him, the reason rested more on Bill Peters and how he didn’t much like Skinner and Alex Semin. Semin is long gone, and the Canes changed their minds on Skinner but never really got better. Skinner looks like he’s a surplus player on a team full of guys who can score, but not prevent goals. They might regret that view in time, but it is their view now.

The reported asking price is a first round pick and some other player, not likely of great value, but not a nothing prospect either. And that’s what they’ll likely get. Although fans might be enamoured of this reported Ryan O’Reilly deal, that one includes the Cane’s second overall or something of equivalent value. So they aren’t trading Skinner for ROR, they’re trading Andrei Svechnikov and Skinner for ROR in a deal that would like be a monster of picks going back and forth to even it out.

A reality check look at what soon to be UFAs go for should disabuse anyone of the idea Skinner would net an top-six NHLer without a lot of sugar on top. Skinner is a great player, an excellent scorer, drives play, has an injury history that scares people, and seems destined to go play somewhere without any similar players. LA gets mentioned a lot.

I think the Sabres really will trade Ryan O’Reilly, and I’ve thought that for a very long time. He’s a dream that didn’t come true. He was supposed to be signed for a huge contract, hold the line until Jack Eichel took the number one centre spot from him, all while being captain of the team. This was a hockey dream, a PR dream, and it would have set the stage for the Sabres to draw every big-name free agent out there to their team. No one would have Buffalo on their no-trade list anymore.

That dream is dead.

The new dream is about Rasmus, not the old Rasmus dream, the good, new Rasmus dream, and in three years, Dahlin is going to get paid so much, he’ll be able to buy a helicopter so he can live somewhere other than Buffalo and commute to work.

Now, you want to dream? Imagine a team with cap space and the willingness to go for ROR and Skinner. Forget the ungainly swap deal. That is one hell of an instant top line. Just add any old winger and stir.

The problem with that dream is that it costs a hell of a lot in futures, and teams who want to spend their future for an expensive player in his prime and about to decline (however slowly) are not all that plentiful. The cap is rising, though.

ROR might get traded post-July 1 if the acquiring team wants to save one of his giant signing bonus payments. (Not only do you have to be willing to pay that, you have to actually have the cash to cut the cheque. So he’s not going to the Senators or the Panthers.) but you’ve got to suck it up and start paying him sometime, so why not now? Particularly if he costs less in assets now than he will in a month. Whoever gets him, he’ll cost a lot more than anyone else on this list other than Karlsson (or OEL if he moves).

I don’t really see what Oliver Ekman-Larsson is doing on the list at number two. The TSN ranking is too high too. There are firm reports, detailed in the latest Bobcast in response to a question from a fellow named Arvind, that have OEL sitting with a firm offer of 8 by 8.25 from the Coyotes. If he were going to be traded soon, he’d need to be saying no to that right now. There is also no hurry to move him if he does say no, although recent reports say the Yotes will auction him off at the draft if he turns them down.

I agree with the Athletic on the Phil Kessel ranking. I think he goes, and I don’t think Pittsburgh ever got him to keep him forever. The issue in trading Kessel now is the same as it ever was. He has to go to a team that wants a scoring winger at his absolute peak (which is an impressively high peak), has cap space, and has a team they can slot him into successfully. He is not a plug and play scoring machine. He only fits in certain systems.

So if you’re LA, do you want Kessel or Skinner? Or is a cheaper option like Hoffman a better deal?

As for Mike Hoffman, I think the biggest question no one seems to be asking about the Sens is not him or Erik Karlsson, but how they’re going to pay Mark Stone. What does Mike Hoffman get you? And then, when you’re done moving him, you’ve still got Stone to deal with. Stone has arbitration rights, by the way, so this could be P.K. Subban all over again. If Karlsson is unaffordable, then in a real sense, so is Stone, and they aren’t really running a hockey team at all, much like Carolina before they were sold or the Yotes for years.

Speaking of, why is Subban on this list? Because of a rumour involving moving Karlsson to Nashville, even though the issue is they need a lot of cap room to pay other guys. Um. Okay.

TSN is right, I think, to have the Canucks pick on their list. It’s a pick just outside the really exciting choices in the draft, but is still good enough that it can get the Canucks a viable return. I would expect them to trade for someone who can skate out on their top line right now or a for a very good defender. They might trade down to a lower first and a player, but I think the Canucks are in a position to spend all that cap space that just retired with the Sedins. They don’t have prospects to trade. They have nothing on the roster. This is their asset, that and the cap space.

The only names on the list that pique my interest for the Leafs to consider trying to get are forwards, and I start with O’Reilly. Yes he’s expensive, in both senses of the word, but he moves Nazem Kadri to 3C, leaves William Nylander as a winger on the top line, which I prefer, would be the best 2-way forward on the team by such as margin it can’t be overstated, can play all special teams, and helps make some of the not as hot as you think they are wingers coming up on the team into plausible top nine players.

You can say all that about John Tavares too, but O’Reilly would be your number two centre, would Tavares? That’s why I think that dream is never coming true.

If a defender better than Jake Gardiner cannot be had, and I don’t see a deal out there, then the Leafs should go in a different direction and make the offence super-powered. I don’t think Dougie Hamilton or Jacob Trouba are going to be traded, by the way, and I’m not sure Noah Hanifin is worth what he’ll cost, although I wouldn’t say no to a good deal for him. His youth makes a good case for him even if you think he’s only going to be as good as a second pairing player.

But my main criteria when looking at trades is to say no to spending assets, even on a good deal, for players that are essentially interchangeable with what the Leafs have. Everyone has sold themselves on the idea that the Leafs need “help at D” so they consider every defenceman a good addition. But you can’t play five third pairs all at once. The Leafs already have enough of those guys. They need real improvement at the top end, not a guy who looks like greener grass on the other side of a fence, but isn’t any better than Travis Dermott is right now.

My trade list would also include the Rangers moving out some players, and maybe even trading their second-round picks for another first. I’d make that deal for the Leafs, but the Leafs’ first might not be high enough for them. The Rangers might be a team interested in some of the Leafs extra fourth liners and third pairing players. But as past years have shown us, those guys are really hard to move unless they have a proven NHL track record.

The truth is, the players who will be traded will often be a surprise, and will often be swaps of lesser known players that don’t excite anyone. Remember the Kerby Rychel for Scott Harrington deal? That started on the draft floor.