The NHL's 2021 trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m. ET. While the big day is fast approaching, the trade market isn't as busy compared to previous years for several reasons.
This season's stagnant salary cap means most playoff contenders have limited cap space. Several teams assumed to be sellers, such as the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators, have recently surged into playoff contention. Teams must also give consideration to their protection lists for this summer's expansion draft if pursuing a player signed beyond this season.
Nevertheless, a couple of notable deals recently took place. In late March, the Buffalo Sabres traded center Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens. On Wednesday, the New York Islanders acquired forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils.
Several quality players remain available in the trade market. Sabres left wing Taylor Hall, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno and St. Louis Blues winger Mike Hoffman are among the noteworthy talents on TSN's NHL Trade Bait List.
So where could the biggest remaining trade targets end up? Here are the top landing spots for this year's candidates.
Mattias Ekholm: Montreal Canadiens
Mattias Ekholm resided atop TSN's trade bait list for most of March. With the Nashville Predators fading in the Discover Central Division standings, it seemed only a matter of time until the 30-year-old was traded. However, following their recent surge into playoff contention, TSN's latest update saw the defenseman tumbling to No. 11.
His trade value could also be dampened by the Predators' asking price.
On March 23, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported they sought three assets, including a first-round pick and a top prospect (stick tap to The Score's Brandon Maron). The remaining year on his contract could complicate some teams' expansion-draft protection lists. The acquiring club must protect him or lose him to the Seattle Kraken.
The Predators' ongoing improvement could take Ekholm off the trade block. If he's still available, however, the Montreal Canadiens need an experienced top-four left-side defenseman. They have the assets to make a deal. PuckPedia indicates they have nine picks between the second and fifth rounds of this year's draft. On Feb. 5, The Athletic's Scott Wheeler ranked the Habs sixth in prospect depth.
With winger Brendan Gallagher placed on long-term injury reserve, the Canadiens have $2.03 million in additional cap relief to put toward acquiring Ekholm, who has $1 million left to be paid on his $3.75 million cap hit this season. The Habs could also include a player such as winger Artturi Lehkonen ($2.4 million) in the deal.
Nick Foligno: Toronto Maple Leafs
Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno remains a fixture on TSN's trade bait list as his club's playoff hopes fade. The 33-year-old forward is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, making him a prime trade-deadline candidate. He carries a salary-cap hit of $5.5 million but with only $1.47 million still to be paid. He also has a 10-team no-trade list.
On Wednesday, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline reported Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he won't trade Foligno without the captain's approval. Portzline also included the Toronto Maple Leafs among the teams believed to have an interest in him.
On March 16, TSN's Kristen Shilton reported Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas indicated most of his trade discussions at that time had to do with forwards. Foligno is a versatile, two-way, top-six forward who can play center or left wing. His experience and leadership would make him a solid fit on the left side of one of their top two forward lines.