With the Winter Classic in the rearview mirror and the majority of teams past the hallway point of the season, the NHL is thundering towards the trade deadline with just one superstar in vague market conversations – Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This isn’t the first time that Stamkos, Tampa Bay’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Stanley Cup-winning captain, has found himself in the middle of trade deadline speculation – but his looming unrestricted free agency adds another fascinating storyline to an already remarkable season.
Goalies are also expected to make a ripple this year, with the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs each sending their preseason starters to the American Hockey League. Anaheim Ducks puck-stopper John Gibson tops the list, but the likes of Petr Mrazek and Jake Allen could also be moved before 8 March.
With that said, here are three players to watch as we approach the NHL’s highly-anticipated trade deadline.
Steven Stamkos, Centreman: Tampa Bay Lightning
We’ll start with the obvious candidate – Steven Stamkos.
While Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois has quashed rumours that the Lightning could move on from their long-term captain, Stamkos’ looming free agency creates more than a shade of uncertainty.
“It’s a popular and interesting … and a frequent topic is who’s going to get traded, who won’t get traded,” BriseBois said earlier this month. “Steven Stamkos isn’t getting traded. You can all write that — Steven Stamkos is not getting traded, so we can put that one to bed. That’s not going to change between now and the deadline under any circumstances.”
If the Lightning – who sit third in the Atlantic Division at the time of writing – fall out of the playoff picture before the trade deadline, BriseBois may revisit his position on Stamkos’ future.
Vladamir Tarasenko, Forward: Ottawa Senators
Vladimir Tarasenko is a serious trade deadline candidate for the second time in as many years.
The St. Louis Blues traded the Russian to the New York Rangers at last season’s deadline, with yet another move potentially in the works.
Tarasenko signed a one-year contract worth $5 million with the Ottawa Senators last summer, a deal the struggling franchise could do without as they unexpectedly languish at the foot of the leaguewide standings.
If the Senators retain a portion of his salary, the 32-year-old could be useful to a host of playoff contenders.
Tarasenko boasts 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 41 games this season, a respectable haul for a forward stapled to a struggling team.
John Gibson, Goaltender: Anaheim Ducks
Netminder John Gibson has been a centrepiece trade deadline candidate for several years, with the Anaheim Ducks tanking for high draft picks and teams across the league always on the hunt for high-quality shot-stopping.
However, the extent to which the 30-year-old is able to provide “high-quality shot-stopping” is somewhat unclear – his save percentage has hovered around the low .900s for the last five seasons.
The American, despite his 10-team no-trade list and $4.6 million cap hit through 2026-27, has a number of potential suitors, including the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, who have struggled in the crease this term.