Players to Watch Ahead of the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline

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NHL general managers have until 3 p.m. ET on February 29 to make their final trades of the 2015-16 NHL season. Anything that comes into the NHL office after that time will not be honored; it’s past the trade deadline. Now is the time when the 30 GMs are sitting down with their hockey operations teams and trying to figure out if they are going to be buyers or sellers.

It’s not just the front offices that are thinking about these things; it’s the players as well. Any player who’s in the final year of his deal and approaching free agency knows that he is, at the very least, a potential trade option. Even if that contract is in the $7-$8 million dollar range, that player could be traded.

After all, the team that picks up the player is only on the hook for a portion of that salary. It’s a tense time of the year for players and management. For hockey fans, it’s one of the most enjoyable times of the season, a time of endless debate. So, let’s get in on that debate. Here are five players to watch as the trade deadline nears.

Keith Yandle

Keith Yandle #93 of the New York Rangers during a NHL game
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It looks like the New York Rangers made a mistake in exchanging Anthony Duclair for Keith Yandle last season. While Duclair is having an excellent rookie season for the Arizona Coyotes, Yandle looks like he will be traded from the Rangers so the team can get some scoring help. In 50 games with the Rangers this season, the defenseman has scored 27 points and is averaging 19:16 of ice time per game, some of the lowest totals of his career. It will be a surprise if Yandle isn’t used as trade bait to get a scoring forward.

Jonathan Drouin

The Tampa Bay Lightning sent second-year player Jonathan Drouin to the AHL in January. Instead of taking the demotion, Drouin refused to report, and the team suspended him. The demotion and suspension came after Drouin had requested a trade. Tampa Bay is in the hunt for the playoffs, and it looks like they will make the playoffs when the season ends.

They do not miss Drouin, who is under contract with the team through the end of the 2017 season, as such they do not need to trade him, but that’s not to say they won’t. If Lightning GM Steve Yzerman gets a phone call from a team looking for a young scoring forward with a significant potential upside, he will listen, but he’s going to be looking for a nice return for a player who was picked third overall in the 2013 draft.

Eric Staal

Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes during a hockey game
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The Carolina Hurricanes selected Eric Staal with the second pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Staal has been with the team ever since, playing 897 games with the team and winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Staal is third all time in games played with the team, and second all time in scoring. If there’s a record for offensive performance for the Hurricanes, it’s a safe bet that Staal’s name will be near the top of that list.

Yet, Staal may be on the market at the trade deadline. Right now Carolina is a borderline playoff team. If it looks like they will make the playoffs Staal could come off the market. However, if they slide, expect the team to shop the pending unrestricted free agent, whose cap hit is $8.25 million in the last year of his deal.

Dustin Byfuglien

Dustin Byfuglien is a name that has been coming up a lot in trade talks. Some of the talk involves wondering if the 30-year-old Winnipeg Jets defenseman will actually hit the market. It’s not that the Jets expect to make a late push for the playoffs, but rather if the team will fork over the cash necessary to keep Byfuglien in the fold. Byfuglien will be a free agent at the end of this season, and according to the Winnipeg Free Press, he’s looking for a deal worth $55 million over eight years.

The Jets are last in the league in spending on salaries and Byfuglien’s request may be too much for the team to stomach. If it looks like a deal cannot be done, expect Byfuglien to hit the market and a slew of playoff teams to attempt to make a deal for him. He’ll be an ideal rental for a playoff run; he’s a huge defenseman that can also play forward if needed. Byfuglien also has a Stanley Cup to his name, winning with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010

Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay during a NHL game
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This is the player who everyone will watch. That’s not an exaggeration; every player, every coach, every GM, every fan will look at Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. The 25-year-old Stamkos will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and if Tampa Bay doesn’t think they will be able to come to terms with Stamkos by the end of the season, they almost have to shop him at the trade deadline.

Letting a player with the talent of Stamkos leave the team for nothing is unthinkable. Since coming into the league, Stamkos has played in 542 games and scored 536 points. He’s one of the best goal scorers in the game, as evidenced by his 60-goal campaign in 2012. If there’s a sign or trade this season, it is Stamkos.

Stats via Hockey-Reference.