Five potential unsung heroes of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline

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With less than two months to go until the March 3 NHL trade deadline, we’re bringing you a deadline-focused story every day at Daily face-to-face.

Today we’re going to focus on the unsung heroes: the potential acquisitions of the six midfield forwards who don’t get as much attention as the star players, but still contribute to their respective teams. In previous trade fixtures, players such as Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and others have been able to raise their games with their new teams.

For the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, many unsung players will get great returns and could achieve new levels of success with new teams, even if they play lower in the roster than at their current clubs. Here are five players who will be in high demand at the March 3 deadline and before:

2023 Trade Deadline Countdown: 48 Days

Gustave Nyquist

Current team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Age: 33 years old
Height: 5’11 »
Weight: 180 lbs.
Contract: $5.5 million, ends in 2022-23 (UFA)
Commercial clause: none

A former fourth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, Nyquist has carved out a good role for himself in the NHL. In 692 games played in 11 seasons, he totaled 172 goals and 419 points. Nyquist emerged in the 2013-14 season with the Red Wings, scoring 28 goals and 48 points in 57 games. Over the past decade, any team he played for could count on him for a 45-55 point season.

From 2014 to 2022, Nyquist scored between 40 and 55 points in seven of eight seasons, excluding his 60-point campaign in 2018-19. This year his output has dipped a bit with eight goals and 18 points in 40 games, but given his age and the Blue Jackets’ tough condition, that number is understandable. Still, he’s on track for 37 points and is tied for fourth in Blue Jackets scoring.

It’s now a given that the Blue Jackets won’t make the playoffs this year and unless they have long-term plans for Nyquist, they’ll likely try to trade him at the deadline. Many teams will be interested in a reliable third line veteran who can play on a team’s second power play unit.

Any team inquiring about the Swedish forward likely won’t even start a dialogue unless Columbus agrees to keep the maximum 50% of their cap. At $5.5 million, there aren’t many playoff teams that can afford it with so many teams already facing the salary cap. Even the reduced cap of $2.75 million will remain difficult for many teams and could reduce the Blue Jackets’ performance.

Max Comtois

Current team: Anaheim Ducks
Age: 24
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 210 lbs.
Contract: $2.037 million, ends in 2022-23 (RFA)
Commercial clause: none

Comtois is an interesting player because he is the only player on this list to be RFA after this season. It may also complicate matters because his qualifying bid will be $2.44 million next year, and if he doesn’t bounce back, few teams will want to pay that.

Comtois is having a disappointing season in Anaheim, with five goals and seven points in 31 games. There was no sudden decline either; he has 23 points in his last 83 games over the past two seasons. For a player who was expected to become a legitimate top-six striker in his career, this is a worrying trend.

He’s had a good NHL season, which optimistic general managers will review. In the shortened 2020-21 season, he scored 16 goals and 33 points in 55 games, a 49-point pace. He led the Ducks in points that year.

Comtois has certain advantages over other commercial bait players. He’s young, still has the potential to be an influential player in the NHL and, more importantly, he’ll be under the control of the team after this season. A playoff-bound team looking for a physical depth player who could move up and down the roster could use a player like Comtois.

Tyler Bertuzzi

Current Team: Detroit Red Wings
Age: 27 years old
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 197 lbs.
Contract: $4.75 million, ends in 2022-23 (UFA)
Commercial clause: none

Bertuzzi is an undeniably talented player who can’t shake off his injuries. He returned from last in time to play Jan. 10 against the Winnipeg Jets. There is around a month and a half until the trade deadline and if Bertuzzi can stay healthy and score some points, there will be plenty of interest in him from the competing teams.

The Sudbury, Ont., native has played just 87 games over the past three seasons due to injuries and his unique COVID-19 vaccine situation. He remains a productive player, scoring 30 goals and 62 points in 68 games last year. This year, he has one goal and four points in 10 games.

Like Nyquist’s, Bertuzzi’s contract will be difficult for many teams to digest – although it will be worth it considering Bertuzzi is in his prime and has shown solid upside. If the asking price is too high, teams might just decide to wait for free agency and pursue him there. The Red Wings are still clinging to their playoff hopes, but by the deadline, it should be clearer where they are headed.

Even though Bertuzzi has missed a lot of playing time due to injuries, he would be a highly sought after player on the trade market. He’s a player who can instantly transform a group of attackers with his blend of scoring acumen and agitating ability. It’s possible the Red Wings intend to re-sign Bertuzzi this offseason, in which case it would take a lot for them to drop him by the deadline. And if they think they can make the playoffs, it’s not going anywhere.

Sean Monahan

Current team: Montreal Canadiens
Age: 28 years old
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 196 lbs.
Contract: $6.375 million, ends in 2022-23 (UFA)
Exchange clause: M-NTC, 10 teams without exchange list

The longtime Calgary Flame regained some of their scoring touch in Montreal. In 25 games this year, he has six goals and 17 points. He was traded there from Calgary with a first-round pick in a move that gave the Flames enough room to sign Nazem Kadri.

It remains to be seen how other general managers in the league like Monahan. He’s having a solid season, but is he a top-six center or just a successful third line now?

Another concern is his hit cap, but if the Canadiens keep 50%, the buying team will be more inclined to accept a $3.18 million contract. Also, he has a 10-team no-trade roster and it’s impossible to speculate which teams that is, but if he goes to a contender, it probably won’t be a problem.

Monahan is one of several Habs players with big contracts that the team hopes to trade for whatever assets they can get. The return could be modest given the constant and significant risk of injury. A foot injury has held him back since early December.

Teddy Bleuger

Current Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Age: 28 years old
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 185 lbs.
Contract: $2.2 million, ends in 2022-23 (UFA)
Commercial clause: none

Teddy Blueger is one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ player development success stories. He was drafted by the Penguins 10 years ago and slowly worked his way up the roster. Over the past five seasons, he’s carved out a place for himself as a hard-working, defensively conscientious fourth-line center who can step in offensively.

This season, he has one goal and seven points in 25 games. Blueger is still a solid player in the Penguins’ last six, but as a team with no cap, they might think it would be better to spend their money elsewhere.

The Penguins could try to move him as a frontrunner as they seek a bigger name on March 3. Blueger’s return would likely be a mid-round draft pick. And his $2.2 million cap is manageable for most teams that would be interested in him.

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