Scouting the trade market: Some potentially available top-six forwards

Vrbata (Getty Images)

Vrbata (Getty Images)

The new year has come and gone, and with that comes trade season. It’s rare to see trades in the first few months of the season, as teams are still usually figuring out what they have internally. That feeling out process has concluded, and we should start seeing some action as the trade deadline approaches. The Rangers have a few holes, one of them being a top-six forward, preferably a right wing. Top-six forwards are tough to come by, especially in today’s “everyone is in it until March” NHL. The epic disaster that is the Pacific Division makes finding a forward that fits even more difficult.

For the Rangers, it’s not just a need for a top-six forward, it’s a need for a top-six forward that is a pure shooter. Not one of the current top-six –including the rotation at 2RW– has a shoot-first mentality. Someone who fits this mold keeps Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, and J.T. Miller on the third line, and moves Jesper Fast back to where he belongs on the fourth line. It rounds out the lineup nicely.

There are going to be two major hurdles for the Rangers this year: Acquisition price and cap space. Both work against the Blueshirts this year, who are saddled with a few bad contracts and few assets to give for a rental. Unless a player comes with a full season cap hit under $3.5 million, the Rangers need their trade partner to take on salary. Let’s look at a few potential targets.

Radim Vrbata – Vancouver Canucks
Current Stats: 10-8-18 in 37 games
Contract: Pending UFA, $5 million cap hit
Clauses: Modified no-trade clause

Vrbata has been the topic of late, as he would be the perfect fit for the Rangers. The 34-year-old right wing fit right in with the Sedins, scoring 32 goals last year. Barring an incredible run he won’t get there this year, though. He’s shooting 7% this year, a full two points below his career average of 9%. That doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to rebound, but he could be in for a strong second half. Vrbata hasn’t missed out on a 20-goal year since 2010-2011.

The problem with Vrbata is that Vancouver is currently in the playoff hunt. They are in third in the tire fire that is the Pacific Division. Should they fall out of the race –and I expect they will by the deadline– then they might look to recoup future for Vrbata. Likelihood? It’s possible, but the Rangers would need Vancouver to take salary back. Plus the Rangers may lack the futures Vancouver wants.

James van Riemsdyk – Toronto Maple Leafs
Current Stats: 14-14-28 in 37 games
Contract: Two years remaining following this season, $4.25 million cap hit
Clauses: None currently, no trade in 2016-2017 (may have been voided by previous trade)

JVR is another player that fits the Rangers perfectly. He’s got a nose for the net, he shoots, and he wasn’t a product of Phil Kessel. The last time JVR missed a 20-goal season was 2009-2010 –not including the 2011-2012 campaign, when he was hurt– and he has another shot at 30 this year. He’s on a great deal as well, and at just 26 years old he’s got a lot of great hockey ahead of him.

Again though, cap hit and cost are prohibitive. The Rangers would still need Toronto to take on salary, and I’m not quite sure the Rangers have the pieces to land him. Toronto needs help all over, but their advanced stats guys won’t touch any defenseman on this blue line for JVR. The immediate ask would like be a young roster player like Kevin Hayes or J.T. Miller, or a top prospect like Brady Skjei or Pavel Buchnevich. Likelihood? Doubtful. JVR is my preferred get at the deadline, but Toronto is showing no signs of wanting to trade him. Plus the pieces don’t fit.

Jonathan Drouin – Tampa Bay Lightning
Current Stats: 2-6-8 in 19 games
Contract: One year remaining following this season, $894,000 cap hit plus bonuses
Clauses: None, this is his entry-level deal

The only reason why Drouin is here is because he has requested a trade from Tampa Bay. Jon Cooper has slung him up and down the lineup, scratched him a bunch, and has now just sent him to the AHL. Clearly it’s not working there, and this reminds me of how the Islanders handled Nino Niederreiter. The former third overall pick in 2013 is wildly talented, but couldn’t find a regular spot with Tampa Bay.

Drouin isn’t a shoot-first guy, but he has to be mentioned in this post just for sheer potential. He’d be cheaper than you expect –reminder that the Isles only got Cal Clutterbuck for Niederreiter– since he’s in a bad spot. But the Lightning are in just as bad shape as the Rangers with the cap. They have a ton of guys to re-sign with zero cap space to do so. Likelihood? Almost zero. The Rangers need to dump salary too, and the Lightning will look to dump a higher priced guy with Drouin for cap space. I expect him to go west.

Jordan Eberle – Edmonton Oilers
Current Stats: 10-6-16 in 27 games
Contract: Three years remaining following this season, $6 million cap hit
Clauses: None

The Oilers are impossible to predict, but they need help on defense with forwards to spare. The 25-year-old right wing may be getting pushed out, as the Oilers have Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid in the NHL this year to supplement Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov. Eberle is a bonafide 25-goal guy on the right wing, and is one of Edmonton’s best trade chips. They need defense in the worst way though, and the Rangers might be able to swing something here. Likelihood: Definitely possible, especially if the Oilers are one of the teams that value Marc Staal or Dan Girardi or if Tyler Dellow takes a nap. I think if something like this were ever to be considered, Chris Kreider would be a part of the conversation, which makes this a draft-day deal and not a deadline-day deal.

There are more forwards that will be available as the deadline nears, and we will be sure to address those players in separate posts. These are four of the best that could potentially be available at the deadline though, and it looks like the Rangers may only be a true deadline fit for just one (Vrbata). But even then, it’s far from guaranteed that Vancouver slides out of the playoff race. My guess is the Rangers have other, less obvious, players in mind, but these were the first four that came to mind.