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NHL unofficial trade season about to heat up — these are 15 names to watch

The NHL’s trade deadline generates most of the hype, but draft week is often what delivers the goods.

We have officially entered the unofficial trade season, a brief window where front offices can draw on increased cap flexibility to alter the makeup of their rosters.

With a weaker-than-usual free agent class set to hit the market on July 1, the push to look for improvements via trade should only be stronger as the league descends on Nashville for the June 28-29 draft.

These are the names in play. (Contract figures from PuckPedia).

1. Alex DeBrincat, Ottawa Senators

Age: 25

Position: LW

Contract status: RFA owed a $9 million qualifying offer

With DeBrincat unwilling to sign a long-term extension in Ottawa, the Senators are looking to recoup assets before the two-time, 40-goal scorer becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. They’re working off a short list of preferred destinations provided by the player and are said to have received “strong interest” from those teams. Expect a push to be made to get this done by the draft. The Sens are currently feeling out DeBrincat’s market value and aren’t placing guardrails around the desired return — they’re open to doing a deal involving established players or future assets.

2. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets

Age: 24

Position: C

Contract status: RFA owed a $6 million qualifying offer

Front-line centres still in their window of peak performance don’t change teams too often, which explains why Dubois holds so much appeal. Like DeBrincat, he’s focused on a narrow band of suitors (including Montreal and Los Angeles) with whom he’d be willing to sign a long-term extension. It remains to be seen if any team from that group will pay the kind of price Winnipeg is looking for here. Dubois can handle high-level competition and is good for at least 25 goals and 60 points, which will see him remain a coveted trade asset next season if the Jets hold onto him with a one-year contract at his qualifying offer price ($6 million).

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Age: 30

Position: G

Contract status: $6.166 million cap hit through 2023-24

As appealing as it is to consider adding a Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltender still performing at an exceptionally high level, this comes with complications. Namely, are you willing to extend Hellebuyck at $9 million or more per season after acquiring him? Bringing him aboard for just one guaranteed season probably won’t make sense given what the Jets are going to need to get back in a trade. Hellebuyck is a workhorse and consistently ranks among the best at an unpredictable position, but he was also burned for 18 goals during a five-game playoff series loss to Vegas this spring.

4. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

Age: 32

Position: RD

Contract status: $11.5 million cap hit through 2026-27

The Sharks are taking another run at moving the 100-point defenceman after engaging in discussions last season. This would be a trade unlike any other completed during the NHL’s salary cap era because of Karlsson’s eight-figure cap hit and the $39 million he’s still owed in actual salary. Would the Sharks be willing to retain $3 million or more per season to facilitate a deal? So far, the answer is “No.” Karlsson owns a no-movement clause and would welcome the chance to join a contending team. Meanwhile, he’s expected to pick up the Norris Trophy for a third time at next Monday’s awards ceremony.

5. Noah Hanifin, Calgary Flames

Age: 26

Position: LD

Contract status: $4.95 million cap hit through 2023-24

With Hanifin not inclined to forego the possibility of summer 2024 free agency by signing an extension now, expect the Flames to be proactive. New GM Craig Conroy has made it clear that he wants to get ahead of situations like this one rather than risk losing assets for nothing. Hanifin has produced decent offensive results throughout his NHL career — including a career-best 10 goals and 48 points in 2021-22 — and logged more than 22 minutes per night last year. He’s a bona fide top-four option on any team in the league.

6. Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers

Age: 26

Position: RW

Contract status: $5.5 million cap hit through 2024-25

GM Danny Briere is vowing to rebuild the Flyers, but that doesn’t mean he’s trading absolutely everything of value from inside his organization. Enter Konecny. Coming off a career-best 31 goals and 61 points, there is considerable outside interest in the strong-skating winger signed to a reasonable contract. The Flyers are listening. Whether or not they end up acting will depend largely on if they get something put in front of them that makes sense.

7. Brett Pesce, Carolina Hurricanes

Age: 28

Position: RD

Contract status: $4.025 million cap hit through 2023-24

Even though the Hurricanes have started to gauge the market on their reliable, minute-munching defenceman, they’ve also made it clear they’d like to sign him to an extension as soon as the rules permit them to do so on July 1. All bases are being covered. Pesce is clearly in line for a raise and will also be seeking significant term on a contract that’s due to kick in a few months before his 30th birthday. Should Carolina opt to trade him rather than sign him, the acquiring team will want to know it can lock him up. Buffalo and Edmonton are among those keeping tabs on the Pesce file.

8. Andrew Peeke, Columbus Blue Jackets

Age: 25

Position: RD

Contract status: $2.75 million cap hit through 2025-26

Rather than waiting for free agency to begin, the Blue Jackets got a jump on the market by acquiring Ivan Provorov and executing a sign-and-trade with Damon Severson. That puts them in position to move a defenceman. Peeke is signed for three more seasons on a manageable cap hit and should be an attractive asset in a market where demand currently outstrips supply. The Blue Jackets are also willing to listen on Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean, but Peeke is generating the most interest.

9. Scott Laughton, Philadelphia Flyers

Age: 29

Position: LW

Contract status: $3 million cap hit through 2025-26

A highly competitive forward who can chip in offensively, Laughton has a skill set and cap charge that appeals to contending teams. But since Laughton still has three years left on his contract, the Flyers have the ability to establish a high asking price and remain patient. This isn’t an asset they need to move now. Someone is going to have to step up and compel them to pull the trigger.

10. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Age: 30

Position: C

Contract status: $6.125 million cap hit through 2023-24

The Jets have to listen on all of their veterans with pending UFA status, but there’s a growing sense that Scheifele is less likely to be moved than Dubois or Hellebuyck. His departure would leave a massive hole in the middle of the team’s lineup, for starters. And there’s still a chance the first draft pick from the 2.0 version of the Jets’ franchise might consider signing a third NHL contract in Winnipeg.

11. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres

Age: 27

Position: RW

Contract status: $4.75 million cap hit through 2023-24

On an improving Sabres team last season, Olofsson saw his role diminished — and yet he still finished with a career-best 28 goals. He’s a power play threat with a cannon for a shot and could be an impediment to the growth of the organization’s emerging young players if not moved this summer. It’s a trade that would also make sense for the Swedish winger given that he’s one year from UFA status and will want ample playing time to boost his value in a platform season.

12. Ross Colton, Tampa Bay Lightning

Age: 26

Position: LW

Contract status: RFA owed a $1.25 million qualifying offer

Ross The Boss appears to have priced his way out of Tampa. Colton made his name as a value-added bottom-sixer who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2021, but he’s now due for a raise. The Lightning front office faces difficult cap decisions every summer and hasn’t abandoned the possibility of retaining pending UFA Alex Killorn. They’ll need to carve out more space elsewhere to make it happen, which is why rival teams have started circling Colton.

13. Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers

Age: 31

Position: C

Contract status: $7.143 million cap hit through 2025-26

It’s no secret that Hayes didn’t see eye-to-eye with Flyers coach John Tortorella at times during a season where he was scratched while leading the team in scoring. A fresh start could benefit all involved. Even though Hayes is a veteran carrying a big ticket, he also remains reasonably productive and plays a premium position. The actual money still owing on his contract is less than the cap hit, which is a bonus, and the Flyers could further incentivize a trade by retaining salary.

14. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Age: 29

Position: G

Contract status: $6.4 million cap hit through 2026-27

It’s now been four seasons since Gibson put up above-average numbers, and any team looking to bring him in will be wrestling with the question of how much that rests on his shoulders compared with the rebuilding outfit in front of him. He faced an average of 37.4 shots per appearance last season! A deal for Gibson comes with significant risk because his contract carries the third-highest cap hit among active NHL goaltenders and stretches across the next four seasons. Still, it’s believed his time in Anaheim is approaching an end.

15. Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers

Age: 24

Position: RW

Contract status: $3.1 million cap hit through 2023-24

The Oilers are forever in search of more cap flexibility, which has left Yamamoto in a vulnerable position. He saw a dip in production last season and will be a candidate for a 26-and-under contract buyout if nothing materializes on the trade market. Still, there should be a market for the former first-round pick. He’s got a 20-goal season on his resume and still carries the promise of better years ahead.

Chris Johnston writes about sports for NorthStar Bets. The Star’s parent company has a minority interest in NorthStar Bets. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterchris

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