Which NHL team can make the best current roster of players they traded away?

We all love trades. Trades are the best. There’s no better feeling than finding out your favorite team has made a big deal.

Well, unless they trade away somebody good.

That’s the problem with the trading game — most teams have this weird thing where they want to get something back in return. In today’s NHL, that’s often just cap space, or some draft pick you’ll forget all about. But occasionally, teams still trade away actual NHL talent. And sometimes, that talent ends up looking pretty good in their new home.

So today, let’s see which team can make the best starting lineup out of guys they’ve traded away. We’re talking current NHL talent — the three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie that your team traded and might wish they had back right now. We’re only counting the trades that put a player on his current team, so the Oilers can’t claim Taylor Hall, for example. We’re not counting draft picks that turned into players, and we’re not looking at free agents or waivers or anything else. Just those player trades, please.

It’s harder than you’d think to build full six-man lineups for most teams. Hard, but not impossible, and they don’t pay me to do the easy stuff. Let’s go through a few teams and see what we can come up with.

Let’s start with the obvious: Rebuilding teams are going to be our prime target here, because those are the teams that are trading established players away. And no team has been rebuilding longer than the Sabres. As soon as I had the concept for this post, I knew the Sabres would be my first stop.

And sure enough, there’s a ton of talent to work with. Too much, in fact, at least up front. We can start with Jack Eichel, who went to Vegas in last year’s blockbuster. We can also use Sam Reinhart. And for our third spot, we can have our pick of either Taylor Hall or Ryan O’Reilly, with Marcus Foligno available as depth. That’s about as good as we’re likely to get for a forward group.

Jack Eichel. (Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)

The blue line isn’t quite as strong, but still has some options. The Sabres fleeced the Flyers into taking Rasmus Ristolainen a few summers ago, and we could pair him with Brandon Montour. Not exactly a Norris-worthy pairing, but not bad, and with five players down our Sabres lineup is in great shape.

That’s where it falls apart though, as I don’t think there are any active NHL goalies who were traded to the current team by the Sabres. We could argue over Jonas Johansson, who was traded from Buffalo to Colorado but recently had a brief waiver stop in Arizona, but he’s only played one game this year. The big miss is Linus Ullmark, a former Sabre who’ll probably win the Vezina but was a free agent, not a trade.

So somewhat surprisingly, the Sabres aren’t going to run away with this. Let’s check in on another rebuild to see if we can do better.

The Hawks haven’t been at this as long as the Sabres have, but Kyle Davidson has made up for lost time over the last year or two. And unlike Buffalo, we have a clearcut goaltending option in Marc-Andre Fleury, dealt to the Wild last season.

Up front, we don’t even need to wait on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, because we can lean on last year’s draft sell-off to start with Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. And we can find a solid third option if we reach back to 2018 for the Nick Schmaltz trade. Sorry Brandon Hagel, we’ll keep you on speed dial.

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The blue line is OK, with Adam Boqvist and Nikita Zadorov. That makes Chicago our first entry with a legitimate six-man group, and it’s a solid one that might get even better very soon. It doesn’t feel unbeatable, though, so let’s check in on one more rebuild.

Tragically, the Habs can’t make use of their best trade of the past few years, as Bitcoin Ben Chiarot has already moved on from his brief stint with the Panthers. We also lose out on Max Pacioretty, who would have worked before Vegas dealt him to Carolina. And Habs fans will be happy to know that this is one trade history post where we don’t have to bring up Ryan McDonagh. But don’t fear, because the Canadiens’ up-and-down last decade still gives us some options to work with.

Let’s start with Mikhail Sergachev, who went to the Lightning for Jonathan Drouin back in 2017. More recently, we can plug in Tyler Toffoli up front, and give him Artturi Lehkonen on the wing. And our second blueliner can give us a choice of something old (Jeff Petry) or something new (Alexander Romanov).

Unfortunately, I don’t see a great option for the third forward, and goaltending will be an issue. That may be a temporary problem, as Montreal should be selling at the deadline, so maybe we can pencil in a Jake Allen or Sean Monahan in a few weeks.

And since we did the Habs, let’s go to their oldest rivals …

The Leafs entry is … not good?

Sorry if I sound confused, but I just sort of assumed the Leafs would be strong here, based on a long history of bad trades. But most of those are too old to help us here, and at least a few of the worst Kyle Dubas moves involved shipping out draft picks. We can’t use Nazem Kadri to Colorado, since he’s now with the Flames, or Mason Marchment, who went from Florida to Dallas. Even Carter Verhaeghe doesn’t work, because the Leafs sent him to the Islanders before they traded him to Tampa.

So what are we left with? I can’t find much more than Kasperi Kapenen, Trevor Moore and Matt Martin up front, and maybe Sean Durzi and Nikita Zaitsev on the back end. I could get cute in goal by claiming Robin Lehner, who was technically Leafs property for a few minutes on the way from Chicago to Vegas, but otherwise it’s Petr Mrazek. The Leafs entry is bad. Which I guess is good. Or bad. I’m confused, let’s just move on.

Pat Verbeek was busy moving veterans at last year’s deadline, and that forms the basis of a solid start. We can build around Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson on the blue line, plus Rickard Rakell up front, since all three stuck with their new teams. But that’s about all we’ve got to work with, as the last years of the Bob Murray era didn’t give us much in the way of significant player trades. I’m not even sure the incoming John Klingberg trade helps us — after the year he’s had, does he even take Manson’s spot?

The Blue Jackets are another team that gets off to a great start. We can build the blue line around Seth Jones, dealt to Chicago in 2021 in a deal that worked out well for Columbus. There’s plenty to choose from up front, starting with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand. We could use our third spot on Cam Atkinson, although he’s missed this entire season. Another option would be Nashville’s Ryan Johansen from the original Jones trade, all the way back in 2016. Josh Anderson is there too.

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Unfortunately, that’s about where the magic runs out for Columbus, who don’t have great options in goal or for the second blue-line spot (at least until they find a taker for Vladislav Gavrikov). If we weren’t limiting this to trades, they could call up their 2019 UFA departures like Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene or Sergei Bobrovsky, but alas.

There was a time when the Rangers were in on every big trade. That time was called “before we had a salary cap,” and you kids out there will have to take my word on it that it was fun. These days, the Rangers aren’t quite as active, but they still offer up some options. Up front, we can start with a pair of Blues in Pavel Buchnevich and the just-traded Sammy Blais, and let’s add in Ryan Reaves just for the entertainment value. (We could also go with Brett Howden or Morgan Barron.)

The blue line could start with Brady Skjei, and the second spot is probably Neal Pionk, with Nils Lundkvist ready to take over a spot soon. And they even have a solid option in goal, where Alexandar Georgiev is just entering his prime and having a good year in Colorado. All in all, the Rangers are far from an all-star squad, but it’s not bad.

We sadly can’t use buyouts to pad the roster, but Bill Guerin still has a sneaky good team. We can start with Kevin Fiala up front, thanks to last summer’s trade to the Kings. Going back a few years before that, we can round out our forwards with Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle.

The back end is a little dicey; the best I can do is Dmitry Kulikov, and I’m not even sure there is a second option. But we’ve got two goalies in Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, so maybe we can move one for some blue-line help.

Kevin Fiala. (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

In theory, the Sens should be just about the ideal candidate for this sort of drill. They’ve been rebuilding for a few years, but were a contender recently enough that they had some good players to trade away. And sure enough, we can start with this year’s potential Norris winner, as Erik Karlsson slots into our blue line. We also get a strong start up front, where Mark Stone can be our top forward. And we have one more big name available, thanks to the ill-fated Mika Zibanejad trade from back in 2016.

The star power fades a bit after that, although we can still plug in some solid names. Let’s go with Nick Paul as the third forward, and Dylan DeMelo as our second defenseman. (If you prefer, we could also use guys like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Jakob Silfverberg and Mike Reilly.) And unlike most of our teams, the Senators even have multiple options in goal, where Matt Murray could back up Filip Gustavsson.

Vegas Golden Knights

We mostly think of the Golden Knights landing big names, but they haven’t been shy about trading them away. We can use Max Pacioretty twice here, once from his own trade to the Hurricanes and once when the Knights acquired him, giving up a package that included Nick Suzuki. Let’s round out a really nice forward line with Alex Tuch.

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Unfortunately, the rest of the roster doesn’t live up to the forwards. Our blue line loses Nate Schmidt and Colin Miller, who’ve both switched teams since the Knights traded them, so we probably end up with Nick Holden and maybe Erik Brannstrom. And I’m not sure there’s a goalie option.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes are another team that’s better known for acquiring these days, but they’ve given up a few decent names over the years. Let’s start with the biggest, even though it comes with an asterisk: Adam Fox, whose rights were traded to the Rangers because he wasn’t going to sign out of college. Bad for them, but good for our roster.

We can turn to a different Fox trade to fill a few other spots, landing Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin from the 2018 deal that sent them to Calgary for Fox’s rights and Dougie Hamilton. There’s also Justin Faulk, if you’d prefer him to Hanifin. Or Ethan Bear. Or Tony D’Angelo. These guys traded a lot of defensemen.

They also trade goalies, although that’s usually after they’ve figured out they’re not good anymore, so we’re probably stuck with Alex Nedeljkovic here. That leaves us with two forward spots to fill, and we can safely use one on Jeff Skinner now that he’s back to scoring goals. The third forward can be Nicolas Roy, or maybe Warren Foegele. All in all, not a bad squad thanks to the Fox/Lindholm starting duo; you could argue that Fox represents the best player in this entire exercise.

St. Louis Blues

We’ll end with the Blues, an interesting team that in recent years has experienced both a championship and, now, the start of a rebuild. Doug Armstrong is an aggressive trader, so this could be a good squad.

And it is, starting up front. The recent trade of Vladimir Tarasenko gives us a legitimate star, but there’s an even bigger one out there thanks to Tage Thompson. And we can round out the line with T.J. Oshie, traded to Washington almost eight years ago. That’s a solid forward group, and if we wait another week or two we can probably add Ryan O’Reilly to it.

The blue line won’t be quite as strong — curse you for not trading Alex Pietrangelo’s rights — but it’s workable. The Tarasenko trade also included Niko Mikkola, a serviceable player with a bit of upside. And we can go way back into the archives to find his partner. Erik Johnson is coming up on the 12th anniversary of the trade that sent him to Colorado, and he’s still there, meaning he qualifies for our team. (I believe that makes Johnson the longest-serving player on any NHL team who was acquired by trade, but feel free to fact-check me.)

We’ll round out the Blues with Ville Husso in goal, backed up by Jake Allen. With Oskar Sundqvist and Robby Fabbri as depth, that makes St. Louis one of our stronger entries.

So, who you got?

My final four comes out as the Blues, Senators, Hurricanes and Blackhawks, with the Sabres ready to push their way in as soon as they find a goalie. I think the Blues take it, but it’s close, and I could be swayed if you want to weigh in. Or even better, take a crack at a team I haven’t covered. Maybe you can do something with the Flames or Panthers around the various names in the Matthew Tkachuk trade, or the Sharks with Brent Burns and Josh Norris, or the Jets with Patrik Laine and Jacob Trouba. Meet us in the comments section — it’s Friday, it’s not like you were going to get any work done.

(Top photo of Erik Karlsson: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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