Storms are born near the equator of the planet and flow outwards. They are born from water currents in the oceans. They are born when low pressure systems get pinched by high pressure systems. They are born when accumulated water vapour creates conduction between two positive spheres in the planet, causing electrical exchange we know as lightning. (See Electric Universe theory).
A trade in the NHL doesn't just happen on GM whims: they are caused by several extraneous factors. Some of them are high on the ladder of influence - I won't get into that. But other things influence GMs, who are the agents that spark.
The "water vapours" of the hockey world, supposing this analogy is consistent, is a team "needing" to make a change because it is not in championship status. Some teams are more pressed for change than others.
I've come up with four different distinctions or statuses for teams in trading positions (but my opinion is obviously not that of the respective GMs of the team, for I might call a team quagmired while the GM might think their team is on the brink of contention).
- The cap-crunched
- The quagmired
- The rising
- The rebuilding
In the salary cap age: our crunch teams are the ones who are having a hard time balancing the cap and keeping all their players. They have what would be called salary shedding.
Teams looking to shed salary to facilitate signing their best players would include: Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Vegas, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Anaheim and Washington. (I wrote this June 17, so a lot is going to change over the next week. SJ is basically signing Karlsson as I write this, so they might be added to this list).
Then we have another set of teams I'll call quagmire teams. These are teams who think they've built contenders, but have fundamental flaws with their teams and are forced to make big changes. Or they've peaked and cannot move further.
These include: Nashville, Edmonton, Calgary, Chicago, Minnesota, Florida, Columbus, and Philadelphia.
A third set of teams are on the rise and looking for opportunity to fill out their teams. These teams are more likely to be trade partners for cap crunched or quagmired teams. However, I have included the teams at "status quo" here as well, such as the finalists St Louis and Boston who will always look to make their team better despite being at good spots.
These teams include:
Colorado, Montreal, Dallas, Boston, St Louis, Buffalo, NYIslanders, SJ(before Karlsson signing), Carolina, Vancouver, and New Jersey
Lastly, we have a small set of teams in a hard rebuild and perhaps looking to get younger or aren't looking to acquire major players unless they're in their early 20s:
Detroit, Los Angeles, NY Rangers, and Ottawa.
The teams most likely to shed salary will probably trade with a rebuilding team, but sometimes trade with an opportunity team. The teams that are quagmired will be most likely to trade with a rising team.
So let's take a small group of players with a lot of heat around them (either they're rumoured, or teams possessing them are likely asking questions about them):
Mitch Marner, Jacob Trouba, Johnny Gaudreau, PK Subban, Phil Kessel, and Shayne Gostisbehere.
Mitch Marner: Because his contract is likely to run up the bill - he's McDavid's age and is a top 5 offensive catalyst in the league, Toronto's salary situation will become unsustainable (heavily loaded on forward). So there's heat around this team to make a move. Zaitsev is going somewhere: his contract is affordable for what he brings to a team.
But if the Leafs choose to keep all of Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, and Marner (who's getting paid likely at 10.5+), then they're looking to shift out other guys (Kadri, Marleau), and still need competent defensemen. With Liljegren and Sandin coming into the picture, that'll be okay for a little while though extremely shaky since they have no NHL experience.
Marner might definitely be targeted by an opportunity team with an offer sheet, and Toronto would think long and hard on accepting that compensation (4 1sts). A think more than a few teams out there would throw four firsts to get Marner signed if Toronto can't manage Marleau. That means the price for Toronto get rid of Marleau might be exceedingly high. Even then, I don't know how Dubas thinks he could keep 3 10+M/y forwards longterm unless he's expecting cubs to play like grizzlies on the blue line.
Jacob Trouba: Jacob means "take by the heel/supplant", and he's been nipping at Winnipeg's heels for years.
Well he played his heart out last season, earning 50 points and continuing the play physical in the meanwhile.
Many seem to think the Trouba is not going to generate that much interest, but much of his character is still enigmatic rather than decided. This was also the case with Ryan O'Reilly, and we've gotten a taste of his true character on this cup run: he's extremely competitive and an environment needs to facilitate that. So Trouba might not be the cancer a lot of fans think he is.
The Jets will likely move him, and it will likely be for either a 2C, a replacement defenseman, or futures. I consider most opportunity teams with 8m to spare on their cap next year will take a run at him, which means the offers aren't going to be as low-balled as is being conceived. It also doesn't mean they might give a good D in return.
Consider the Avs, the Stars, the Sabres, the Islanders, the Devils, and perhaps the Hurricanes. Also consider some quagmire teams like the Preds, the Panthers, the Flyers, and maybe the Wild. The Stars and the Avs don't really need him nor do the Preds, but I've seen many a hockey trade where the GMs have their own opinion on what they need and don't need (ie, TML picking up Tavares last year).
On top of that, a cap crunched team can suddenly move out salary and bring him in like the Penguins.
Since I wrote this, he was traded to the Rangers - sometimes rebuilding teams will bring in big names, like I said at the bottom of this post. NJ picked up Hall in a similar manner.
Johnny Gaudreau: While not in rumours, the Flames flamed out in the first round against a team that's only getting better and it was a pretty convincing loss. That means the Flames will consider making a fundamental change to the team to counter the likes of a team with a superstar like Mackinnon. Having a line of Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Monahan is great in theory, that is, during the regular season, but they lacked the wherewithal to deal with the super-intensity of a player like Nathan MacKinnon, and Gaudreau was especially silenced in that series.
If you made a trade from the Flames point of view, and you're looking for more impact on your team, might the Flames surprise everyone and trade Gaudreau for another star like Mitch Marner? This would easy Toronto's salary situation, keep Toronto with two star centers in Matthews and Tavares, and still retain their high powered offense. Toronto is not just a cap-crunched team, but they haven't yet found the answer to the Bruins or the Lightning (since these teams have major defensemen that Toronto is sorely lacking).
The Flames also have competent defensemen that Toronto might desire, and maybe it isn't Marner and Gaudreau, but a more minor deal involving Hamonic for Kadri.
Any way you look at it, the Flames have a problem, and moving Hamonic might not be part of the solution to that problem.
PK Subban: I have no doubt that Nashville would be looking to keep Subban if he was paid about 2m/y less, but the truth is, he isn't. Decisions are things you can analyze, and Montreal made a critical decision on PK Subban - basically they decided that he was not a #1 defenseman and that Weber is. Nashville are now also pondering a decision - they are likely discovering the same truth, that PK Subban is not a #1 defenseman and he's being paid like he is.
Now since Lamoriello traded Phaneuf's albatross contract away, which to me was a miracle, someone out there will still think that PK Subban is still a #1 defenseman, but what will they offer to acquire him? Will Nashville get more out of the deal, especially, if they retain some salary? (I believe they'll get a lot more if they retain 2m/y).
Like Trouba, you're looking at opportunity teams like Colorado, Buffalo, Carolina, Vancouver, or New Jersey (for prospects and assets). Any of the quagmire teams could also consider a "hockey trade" with Nashville.
Phil Kessel: It doesn't look like he's going anywhere, but Pittsburgh is standing still while their competitive window is starting to shut with the aging of its two superstars. That means they're probably looking to get younger.
That he was available in the first place declared the Penguins to be making a fundamental change to their line-up. That means their core of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Letang might not be cutting it anymore. If Kessel isn't going anywhere (and let's decide that when training camp stars), then would they be considering Malkin? Seems silly, but what if they trade Malkin and go after a younger center through another deal?
I have no idea what Rutherford is doing.
Shayne Gostisbehere: Philadelphia has only been moderately competitive in the last few years. With Giroux and Voracek's primes now passing, they probably expected to be in more of a competitive window, but now the team's going to be looking at their D and wondering if it's tight enough.
As a quagmire team, it looks like they also might make a major hockey trade this summer. Trouba would be a player that might make them next year's Blues. Whatever the problem with the team, I'm sure they'll be making a big impact on the trade market.
In conclusion: You know the cap crunchers are going to make a deal, but you don't expect them to make a big trade. When Chicago was cap crunching, they basically "sold" off assets for futures. Other teams in a cap crunch will have to make bittersweet trades - NJ had to trade Malakov to the Sharks with a first round pick at the beginning of the cap era... rather it was a give-away.
The quagmire teams are the most interesting: either they do something huge or they do absolutely nothing and frustrate their fan bases.
The opportunity teams are going to do something, but it's on a gradation scale from a single free agent roster signing to the acquisition of a big named player. I'd say six or seven out of ten times, they do very little and "trust in their development", which means they're going to soak up another year of mediocre hockey and try to get a good draft pick.
The rebuilding teams are basically tilling charred soil. What moves you expect them to do, they've already done all the major stuff and have accepted mediocrity for the time being. One or two of them may become opportunity teams in a big unexpected trade, but it's low probability.
Thank you for reading.