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NHL trade asset tiers: Buyer's guide to the deadline

Trading captain Max Pacioretty would be a franchise-altering move for the struggling Canadians. Will they do it before this season's Feb. 26 deadline? David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire

Parity has bestowed many gifts upon the NHL, like keeping fans engaged deep into the season as their teams hang around the playoff bubble, kept afloat by a combination of prevalent mediocrity and overtime charity points.

But parity has also made the NHL trade deadline one of the more frustrating moments of the season, where speculation and hype remain far more entertaining than what usually transpires -- too many buyers, not enough sellers.

That could change this season for the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26.

A few teams are already counting their lottery balls, having seen their playoff aspirations crater early, the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres among them. Other teams are making tough calls on pending free agents. So maybe, just maybe, the trade deadline will feature actual trades and not just a bunch of guys in suits staring at their phones on Canadian television waiting for anything to happen.

In case there are actual trades, we've grouped the potential players on the move into five different tiers based on their perceived price tags -- not only what assets they're worth in the trade market, but also how difficult it could be to pry them away from their current teams.

The players listed below are culled from conversations around the league and media reports where cited. All salary cap information is via Cap Friendly. Please discuss in the comments, and add any players we might have missed.

Note: Players are listed alphabetically within each tier.

Tier 1 | Tier 2 | Tier 3 | Tier 4 | Tier 5

Tier 1: The price of your neighbor's yacht

Your neighbor loves his yacht. Deeply. They don't want to sell it, but might have to. But if they do? Well, you've got the dock space, but do you have what it takes to acquire a yacht?

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Arizona Coyotes

Age: 26 | 2017-18 cap hit: $5.5 million
Contract ends: 2019 | At expiry: UFA

There's increasing speculation that the Coyotes will move Ekman-Larsson before he's able to walk away in July 2019. The asking price, according to the Ottawa Sun: "two high-end players off a club's roster" and a first-round pick. And that's if GM John Chayka wants to move him now, which he's claimed he doesn't.

Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators

Age: 27 | 2017-18 cap hit: $6.5 million
Contract ends: 2019 | At expiry: UFA

Unless Karlsson believes that a Senators rebuild will be hasty and effective -- or he has an unwavering affinity for living in Ottawa, despite the presence of stingy owner Eugene Melnyk -- there's a creeping inevitability that he'll be traded at the deadline or during the summer, ahead of his unrestricted free agency in 2019.

His $6.5 million cap hit is cap-friendly; the Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, could trade for two years of Karlsson before having to hand out new deals for Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. His impact on any Stanley Cup contender would be immediate. We broke down what Ottawa could expect in a Karlsson trade package.

One wrinkle: The Senators could try to use Karlsson's trade value to rid themselves of forward Bobby Ryan's contract, who is signed to a $7.25 million cap hit through 2022.

Max Pacioretty, LW, Montreal Canadiens

Age: 29 | 2017-18 cap hit: $4.5 million
Contract ends: 2019 | At expiry: UFA

After four straight seasons of 30-plus goals, Pacioretty has 16 in 59 games. Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos said Pacioretty was being "actively shopped" by the Canadiens, with the price tag being "draft picks and prospects" as well as "a top goal-scorer back" that's younger than the Habs captain. This is the kind of franchise-reshaping move the Canadiens should consider, but perhaps it's best left for their next general manager.

John Tavares, C, New York Islanders

Age: 27 | 2017-18 cap hit: $5.5 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

OK, so Islanders fans gave us grief for doing that "Johnny's next spot?" article, saying that the moment the Islanders announced their new arena, all the trade speculation ends. Well, the new arena was announced and ... Islanders fans are still telling me they're on pins and needles (as well as needles and pins) about him re-signing this summer. So, on the outside chance the Islanders fall out of the playoff race (not likely), or the Islanders know his future plans (maybe?), we'll include him here. But it would take a ridiculous return, considering the public relations disaster it would be for GM Garth Snow and ownership.

Tier 2: The price of a new sports car

A top-line model, but it's going to cost you two, perhaps three, of the following: a high-end, young roster player, an elite prospect and a first-round pick.

Derick Brassard, C, Ottawa Senators

Age: 30| 2017-18 cap hit: $5 million
Contract ends: 2019 | At expiry: UFA

Brassard is one of the few centers available at the trade deadline that could slot into a team's top six. He also had another year left on his deal at $5 million, which makes more than just a rental. GM Pierre Dorion is reportedly looking for a first-round pick, a prospect and another piece (likely a pick) to move Brassard. But given Ottawa's apparent "everything must go!" mentality, perhaps there's some movement on that. Watch the Pittsburgh Penguins on this one.

Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW/RW, Montreal Canadiens

Age: 23 | 2017-18 cap hit: $4.9 million
Contract ends: 2020 | At expiry: UFA

Galchenyuk's future in Montreal has been in doubt since ... oh, the second or third "he can't play center, can he?" debate. But it's going to take a high-end prospect and then some to pry him away from Montreal, as he's one of the most valuable assets on the roster.

Mike Hoffman, LW/C, Ottawa Senators

Age: 26 | 2017-18 cap hit: $5,187,500
Contract ends: 2020 | At expiry: UFA

Hoffman has been bandied about as trade deadline fodder, despite his 10-team no-trade list. His stats are down this season, because the Senators are a disaster, but at his age and with that contract Ottawa can command a high return. The St. Louis Blues have been linked prominently.

Evander Kane, LW, Buffalo Sabres

Age: 26 | 2017-18 cap hit: $5.25 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

The asking price from the Sabres, according to multiple sources: a first-round pick, a conditional pick if Kane signs with his new team, and a prospect. Only 22 players have a higher goals-per-game average than Kane (0.36) during the past three seasons. Question is, does he pass the character test for most teams?

Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers

Age: 28 | 2017-18 cap hit: $4.7 million
Contract ends: 2019 | At expiry: UFA

As part of the Rangers' rebuild, the 28-year-old captain is very available thanks to a very cap-friendly contact: $4.7 million AAV, signed through 2019. He could be a 'final piece of the puzzle' player for teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins. But he won't come cheaply.

James van Riemsdyk, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

Age: 28 | 2017-18 cap hit: $4.25 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Would the Leafs trade the player tied with Auston Matthews for the team lead in goals? Well, JVR is rumored to be looking for a six-year, $36 million extension. If that's not in the cards for GM Lou Lamoriello, perhaps they get proactive and move him for a piece they need (like on the blue line). But he won't come cheap, and he has a modified 10-team no-trade clause.

Tier 3: The price of a used, three-year-old sports car

A top-line model ... with a few miles and dents, and a bit closer to its decline. It's going to cost you one of the following: a high-end, young roster player, an elite prospect or a first-round pick. Plus, perhaps, some added sweetener.

Michael Grabner, LW/RW, New York Rangers

Age: 30 | 2017-18 cap hit: $1.65 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Grabner's a weird one. He skates like Usain Bolt runs. He has 52 goals during the past two seasons (135 games) with the Rangers. Yet how much is he worth on his next contract, given his age?

Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings

Age: 32 | 2017-18 cap hit: $6 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

The belle of the trade deadline ball, among defensemen. He's in the top 20 in scoring for D-men this season and a power-play quarterback. He should fetch a first-rounder as a rental.

Jack Johnson, D, Columbus Blue Jackets

Age: 31 | 2017-18 cap hit: $4,357,143
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Johnson has requested a trade from the Jackets due to a decrease in playing time, but he'll still be seen as an important part of a contending team. If they move him, they'll need to get an NHL contributor back, and most likely it would need to be a defenseman.

Robin Lehner, G, Buffalo Sabres

Age: 26 | 2017-18 cap hit: $4 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: RFA

Lehner is a quality NHL starter on a bad hockey team. He was also an acquisition by the previous regime. He'd have value to a contender that needs to bolster the position, and could garner a solid future consideration.

Rick Nash, LW, New York Rangers

Age: 33 | 2017-18 cap hit: $7.8 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Nash wants to stay in New York, but the Rangers might not even bring him back on a discount next season. New York has declared that they want to move out some veterans in order to jump-start a rebuild; how much will they get for Nash?

James Neal, LW/RW, Vegas Golden Knights

Age: 33 | 2017-18 cap hit: $5 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Yes, it's odd to think about a playoff team dealing away a top-six forward. But considering everything else that's unprecedented about the Golden Knights in their inaugural season, who knows? One thing's clear: Neal would absolutely fetch a top-end pick or prospect from a goal-starved contender.

Brock Nelson, C/LW, New York Islanders

Age: 26 | 2017-18 cap hit: $2.5 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: RFA

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that Nelson's name was "creeping out there" in trade talks. Considering his contract situation and the Islanders' needs on the back end, he could be available. His numbers and ice time are both down significantly this season.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Ottawa Senators

Age: 25 | 2017-18 cap hit: $3.1 million
Contract ends: 2020 | At expiry: UFA

Given the Senators' situation, Pageau's youth and contract would seem to make him an asset they keep. The odds are long that he'll be moved, but perhaps the right deal pries him away. That eight-goal performance in last season's playoff run are a heck of a calling card.

Alex Petrovic, D, Florida Panthers

Age: 25 | 2017-18 cap hit: $1.85 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: RFA

OK, so maybe protecting him and exposing Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft wasn't the brightest idea. Petrovic has value as a still-developing defenseman, and it's pretty obvious he's in need of a change in scenery.

Andrew Shaw, C/RW, Montreal Canadiens

Age: 26 | 2017-18 cap hit: $3.9 million
Contract ends: 2022 | At expiry: UFA

Shaw has two Stanley Cup rings and all those intangibles (i.e., a willingness to do the dirty work) that contending teams crave. His contract's also an intriguing one, given how the salary dips at the end. Reports have emerged the Habs GM Marc Bergevin doesn't want to deal Shaw, but every option should be considered by the team.

Tier 4: A year's worth of Uber trips

Hey, who needs a car when someone else turned theirs into sort of a taxi? These players will cost you a second- or third-round draft pick, and maybe a little salary swap as well.

Ian Cole, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

Age: 28 | 2017-18 cap hit: $2.1 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Cole's name has been in circulation since his healthy scratches earlier this season. His status seemed even more tenuous with the Penguins' acquisition of Jamie Oleksiak. Chances are he's done in Pittsburgh, but the Penguins do value his experience on those back-to-back championship teams.

Luke Glendening, C/W, Detroit Red Wings

Age: 28 | 2017-18 cap hit: $1.8 million
Contract ends: 2021 | At expiry: UFA

The 28-year-old depth forward is on the market, but the market for him seems rather centered on the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have a need in their bottom six for a player of his ilk, and coach Mike Babcock knows him well from his days in Detroit. He makes $1.8 million against the cap through 2021.

Josh Gorges, D, Buffalo Sabres

Age: 33 | 2017-18 cap hit: $3.9 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Gorges would seem like an obvious rental from the "everything not named Jack Eichel must go" Sabres, but his 15-team no-trade clause makes that trickier.

Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas Stars

Age: 34 | 2017-18 cap hit: $5.9 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Can Stars GM Jim Nill find someone desperate to take on a rickety, high-cost goalie?

Patrick Maroon, LW, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 29 | 2017-18 cap hit: $2 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

As good as gone for the Oilers, who can snag something for the future for a player who can slide into the top six for many contenders. Maroon has 11 goals in 44 games, skating 16:57 per night. The "Big Rig" is less costly than some of the other left wings on the market, that's for sure.

David Perron, LW/RW, Vegas Golden Knights

Age: 30 | 2017-18 cap hit: $3.75 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

As with James Neal, this comes down to GM George McPhee's philosophy on the playoff-bound Golden Knights: Keep the band together, or maybe see if someone is willing to part with a first-rounder for Perron? Everything we've heard is leaning toward the "keep the band together" route, but who knows?

Tomas Plekanec, C, Montreal Canadiens

Age: 35 | 2017-18 cap hit: $6 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

He's on the record as wanting to finish his career with Montreal. We're on the record as saying the Habs are insane if they don't flip him at the deadline to a contender that's coveting him as a shutdown center.

Anton Slepyshev, LW/RW, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 23 | 2017-18 cap hit: $925,000
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: RFA

GM Peter Chiarelli hung a "for sale" sign on this big-body, small-results forward. Although at this point, Chiarelli should be handcuffed to his office chair before making another regrettable trade involving a young offensive player.

Zack Smith, C, Ottawa Senators

Age: 29 | 2017-18 cap hit: $3.25 million
Contract ends: 2021 | At expiry: UFA

That 25-goal season in 2015-16 is officially an anomaly, but he'll bolster the bottom six for any team that's willing to take on that contract term.

Thomas Vanek, LW/RW, Vancouver Canucks

Age: 33 | 2017-18 cap hit: $2 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Hey, that's Trade Deadline Superstar Thomas Vanek to you! Vanek was traded in a deal involving a second-round pick in 2014 and one involving a third-round pick in 2017. Is 31 points in 44 games enough to earn more than a fourth, to buck that trend? Potentially?

Tier 5: My rollerblades from 2006

They, uh, have wheels. Basically players you can get for a low draft pick or, failing that, a bag of slightly used pucks.

Cody Franson, D, Chicago Blackhawks

Age: 30 | 2017-18 cap hit: $1 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Franson was recently buried in the AHL, ostensibly to make it earlier to deal him. Up next: Finding someone that wants to give up anything for him.

Mark Letestu, C, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 32 | 2017-18 cap hit: $1.8 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

An anticipated part of an Edmonton deadline sale, he leads the Oilers in short-handed ice time for forwards. He also had 11 points in 13 playoff games last season. He's a good little addition for someone out there.

Johnny Oduya, D, Ottawa Senators

Age: 36 | 2017-18 cap hit: $1 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

A veteran defenseman with two Cup victories who is ready to help your bottom pairing or add insurance to a contending team. But don't expect much more than that.

Brad Richardson, RW, Arizona Coyotes

Age: 32 | 2017-18 cap hit: $2,083,333 million
Contract ends: 2018 | At expiry: UFA

Nice, thrifty addition to someone's bottom six, who probably boomerangs back to the Coyotes after the season if they do deal him.