The National Hockey League is based upon results.
For coaches, management, and players alike, existence within the league is dependant on the ability to produce. If a given individual fails to meet expectations, justify their significant salary, or simply succeed on a consistent basis, their presence and future within an NHL organization immediately comes into question.
Now, while there is an immense amount of pressure placed upon those holding front office and managerial roles, the strain endured by those who grace the ice on a nightly basis is, arguably, much greater.
For some, they face the odds of not only breaking into the NHL but securing a full-time role in the process. For others, there lays the stress of attempting to live-up-to a major contract and its associated expectations. And, for a select few, the tension of meeting demands as a high NHL Draft pick.
Whichever the case may be, existence within the NHL is no simple task. If a player finds himself enduring any of the three scenarios referenced above, they run the risk of stagnating their development, drawing the ire of passionate fanbases, or, perhaps worst of all, being shuffled out of town through an unwanted trade.
When it comes to the five players listed below, all of which are facing the pressures associated with everyday existence at hockey’s highest level. And, for the benefit of their individual careers, these talented players would do well to move on to new organizations.
Sam Bennett – Calgary Flames
As the fourth overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Sam Bennett was expected to become a consistent and powerful scoring threat for the Calgary Flames. However, with Bennett now in his third campaign with the Flames, such has simply yet to transpire.
Chosen by Calgary ahead of William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers, and David Pastrnak, Bennett was touted as a physical two-way player who could contribute at both ends of the ice. Highly competitive, Bennett was viewed as a natural leader as he emerged from the Ontario Hockey League, and one whose personal drive would ensure both consistency and lethality.
In fact, Bennett’s career began with considerable success, as he netted 18 goals and 36 points in 77 regular season games as a rookie – a promising start to be sure. However, in his second season, Bennett’s play began to waver, as the native of East Gwillimbury, Ontario potted a mere 13 tallies and 26 points as a sophomore.
Time for Change?
With the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign came the most visible struggles of Bennett’s career.
Through his first 15 games of the season, Bennett failed to record a single point, with his first assist of the campaign eventually coming in the Flames’ 16th fixture of the year. Averaging roughly 13:00 of ice time per game and clearly misused within an increasingly deep Calgary roster, the time has clearly come for Bennett to net a change of scenery.
Currently skating in the first year of his two-year deal with the Flames, a trade involving Bennett now is far more likely than one which would move him come to the end of his contract, and especially so given his pending RFA status. Certainly of immense potential, Calgary could nab a significant haul in return for Bennett’s services – if they feel he holds a dim future within the organization, that is.
At the end of the day, Bennett would do well to move on from the Flames. Clearly stagnant in his personal development, Bennett needs far more playing time in more potent situations if he wishes to become the star offensive player which he is certainly capable of becoming. While his first few NHL seasons have been average, Bennett could develop into a legitimate offensive threat if provided with a greater opportunity.
Let’s not forget, he is just 21 years-of-age.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Arizona Coyotes
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is undoubtedly the most highly skilled and proven player on this list, so why does he need a change of scenery, you ask?
Well, Ekman-Larsson has been bound to a struggling Arizona Coyotes franchise throughout his entire eight-year career to date. As one of the NHL’s most complete and valuable defenders, one trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in nearly a decade is simply unacceptable. What’s more is that the Coyotes have shown little to prove themselves as a contender in 2017-18, as their regular season start was amongst the worst in NHL history.
In fact, their 11-game losing streak to begin the current campaign tied them with the New York Rangers of 1943-44 for the worst start ever.
So, as one of the league’s elite, Ekman-Larsson is surely aching for the opportunity to enjoy greater success, as his ability to dominate the game at both ends of the ice is arguably unparalleled. As an NHL All-Star, perennial Norris Trophy contender, and two-time 20-goal scorer, Ekman-Larsson would do well to move on to a new franchise where his versatile skill-set would truly be appreciated.
While orchestrating a trade in the modern-day NHL is no simple task, Coyotes General Manager John Chayka would certainly do well to entertain dealing Ekman-Larsson for a bevy of reasons.
Firstly, there is Ekman-Larsson’s contract situation. Currently skating in the fifth year of a six-year deal which carries an annual cap hit of $5.5 million, Ekman-Larsson is due to become a UFA following the 2018-19 campaign. If Ekman-Larsson does reach this stage, he will be able to depart Arizona for a new team of his choosing, while the Coyotes will have received nothing in return for the loss of his services.
So, with this being said, it would be smart for Arizona to move Ekman-Larsson now, as his value is arguably at its greatest height considering the one year remaining on his contract.
Further, the native of Karlskrona, Sweden, is skating on a sweet deal, as his yearly salary is in no way reflective of his on-ice play and value. As such, Ekman-Larsson’s relatively low cap hit should further the facilitation of a trade, as moving the towering defender at this stage would ensure that the Coyotes land a massive haul in return – a haul which would undoubtedly help supplement the team’s floundering rebuild.
Alex Galchenyuk – Montreal Canadiens
Since his introduction to the NHL in 2013-14, Alex Galchenyuk has become one of the Montreal Canadiens’ most lethal and highly skilled forwards. Capable of dangling opposing defenders before ripping a crisp shot on goal, Galchenyuk is a game-changing player whose offensive instincts are undoubtedly amongst the league’s elite.
It is this raw skill-set which Galchenyuk has put on full display throughout his career and a skill-set which has rightfully anointed him as one of the best young players in the game today. However, following a 20-goal sophomore campaign as well as a 30-goal season to cap off his entry-level contract in 2015-16, Galchenyuk’s play has begun to falter, and especially so during the 2017-18 campaign.
Demoted to Montreal’s fourth line at times, Galchenyuk has been unable to establish himself as a premier offensive player within the Canadiens’ lineup despite his incredible skill-set. Sure, he has endured his fair share of scoring droughts and is arguably stronger on the wing as opposed to centre but Galchenyuk remains an incredibly important piece of the Canadiens’ future given his young age and massive potential.
Perhaps the most telling sign regarding Galchenyuk’s seemingly stunted development is his average time on ice per game. While he was logging a healthy 16:00 or greater during the two best years of his career to date, his ice time has slumped to under 15:00 per game in 2017-18 – a clear indication of Head Coach Claude Julien’s trust and devotion to improving the youngster’s game.
Flying the Coop
There is, in fact, a reason why Galchenyuk was the third overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft. Extremely talented, capable, and adaptable, Galchenyuk is a special talent whose offensive game has the ability to turn heads and bring fans to their feet.
However, it would be inaccurate to portray Galchenyuk as a complete player, as he quite obviously needs to improve his play within his own zone as well as without the puck. While these areas of need are certainly coachable, it will take Galchenyuk considerable time playing within a positive environment before he becomes a confident and capable two-way player.
As such, the Canadiens would be smart to seriously consider trading Galchenyuk. As an incredibly thin team lacking both scoring and defensive depth, it would appear as though Montreal will take a step back within the league before they take a legitimate step forward. As such, dealing Galchenyuk – an underutilized player whose development has become stagnant – would provide the Canadiens with a number of highly valuable assets with which to further strengthen their team.
Further, Galchenyuk is in the first year of a three-year contract which he signed with Montreal this past July – a contract term which would add significant value to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin native in a potential deal. Playing alongside a meager $4.9 million cap hit, Galchenyuk’s addition to a team on the rise would add serious scoring power and potential for a reasonable financial commitment.
While trading Galchenyuk remains a long shot, it is a possibility which has certainly gained traction to begin the current season given his lack of playing time and the Canadiens’ poor play. Ultimately, if Galchenyuk is not a natural fit, then why hold onto him and further dilute his value? Major changes will surely be considered in Montreal in the near future, and Galchenyuk’s presence will deservedly be amongst them.
Kasperi Kapanen – Toronto Maple Leafs
Kasperi Kapanen will always be linked to the trade which swung Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, the link which connects Kapanen to the Toronto Maple Leafs may soon be broken, as the talented young forward finds himself buried deep within a thick Leafs roster.
A first-round selection of the Penguins in the 2014 NHL Draft, Kapanen has become a consistent and lethal force at the AHL-level since arriving in Toronto. An uber-talented winger of considerable speed and silky hands, Kapanen’s on-ice vision allows him to create and finish plays with relative ease.
Having netted 30 goals and 71 points with the Marlies through his first 93 games played with the team, Kapanen was clearly deserving of greater playing time at the NHL-level.
However, achieving said playing time has not been an easy task for Kapanen, as Toronto currently boasts a remarkably deep collection of competent forwards eager for valuable NHL ice time. As such, Kapanen has been forced to remain at the AHL-level for the most part, where his personal development is at serious risk of becoming stagnant.
Gone with the Wind?
Despite being one of the Leafs’ most promising prospects, it appears as though the time has come for Kapanen to move on to a new NHL organization. Now, while Toronto surely covets Kapanen’s presence, they simply do not boast an adequate opportunity for the Kuopio, Finland native to further develop his game.
At just 21 years-of-age, Kapanen has plenty of hockey ahead of himself and still has a lot of room to grow as an individual player. Surely capable of developing into a top-six forward at the NHL-level, Kapanen’s natural offensive instincts should make him a legitimate scoring threat for years to come. As such, there would undoubtedly be a great deal of interest in Kapanen’s elite services, and especially so from franchises who are in the midst of the rebuilding process.
Sam Reinhart – Buffalo Sabres
Sam Reinhart was the second overall selection in an incredibly talented 2014 NHL Draft. Although names such as Leon Draisaitl, Nylander, and Ehlers remained on the board, the Buffalo Sabres nabbed Reinhart – a player which they pegged as their future first-line centre.
A strong playmaker known for his terrific two-way game, the Sabres were smart to select Reinhart who had been a long-time standout with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. As consistent as they came, Reinhart’s ability to influence the game at both ends of the ice had scouts drooling over his sky-high potential.
However, despite two relatively successful seasons in Buffalo to begin his career, Reinhart and his personal development have begun to stall.
Following two consecutive seasons of 40+ points, it looked as though Reinhart would take the next step and become a premier player at the NHL-level. However, Reinhart’s game has seemingly plateaued in 2017-18, as he is on pace for new lows offensively and is seeing the least amount of ice time per game of his career.
Ready for Revitalization
At just 22 years-of-age, Reinhart has an immense amount of hockey ahead of himself and will surely continue to improve alongside greater ice time and experience. Yet, with this being said, now could be the optimal time to trade the North Vancouver, British Columbia native, as doing so would arguably benefit both he and his current organization.
Skating in the final year of his entry-level contract, Reinhart will enter the coming offseason in search of a new deal, and will likely nab a short bridge contract in the two to three-year range. Now, while this deal won’t carry an immense financial burden, it would all but ensure the continued stagnation of Reinhart’s development, as the natural centre would once again find himself slotted in behind both Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly within the team’s depth chart.
If the Sabres truly wish for Reinhart to reach his immense potential, they will need to provide him with more consistent and valuable options to succeed.
However, if not, dealing Reinhart could be an attractive option for Buffalo, who have continued to struggle despite re-tooling their roster over the past few seasons. Further, with seemingly little opportunity to provide Reinhart with, the Sabres could deal the youngster for a substantial return which would, in turn, address other glaring organizational needs.
So, with this being said, moving on from Buffalo could be exactly what both Reinhart and the Sabres need.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.