With the NHL holiday trade freeze (Dec. 19-27) beginning at midnight tonight, check out the latest on Ryan Johansen, Jeff Skinner, Steven Stamkos and Radim Vrbata. 

Johansen rumors gaining momentum.

Ryan Johansen trade rumors ramping up ahead of holiday trade freeze.

Ryan Johansen trade rumors ramping up ahead of holiday trade freeze.

NBC SPORTS: Cam Tucker cites a recent interview by Columbus Dispatch reporter Aaron Portzline with Blue Jackets president John Davidson, who did little to damp down the growing trade speculation over center Ryan Johansen. “The situation is we’re in a position where we’re trying to upgrade our team. If we can make a deal – I don’t care who it is – we’re sitting at the bottom of the heap right now. Unless the contract stipulates otherwise, everybody’s tradeable. That’s hockey. It could be Joey or it could be anybody else. If we feel it’s the right deal, we make the deal,” said Davidson.

SPORTSNET (via TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): Elliotte Friedman observes there’s no one from the Blue Jackets organization saying Johansen won’t be traded, leading Friedman to conclude the center could be dealt. He believes the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues could be interested. Friedman isn’t sure if the Canucks could pursue Johansen, a Vancouver native. He notes the Montreal Canadiens lack cap space but points out GM Marc Bergevin is known for his stealth in making deals.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin lists the Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild as five perfect landing spots for Johansen, with the Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets getting an honorable mention.

SPORTSNET: Jeff Simmons lists the Predators, New York Islanders, Flyers and Canucks as possible destinations. Meanwhile, Doug MacLean believes the Blue Jackets must handle this carefully, suggesting this could be another Tyler Seguin situation, in which Johansen could blossom into a superstar elsewhere.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree with MacLean. In fact, if the Jackets intend to ship out Johansen, I recommend waiting until the offseason, when there are teams with more cap space and willingness to make big deals. Even then, however, the Jackets must tread carefully. Their asking price will be high, likely a top-two defenseman, a first-round pick and a top prospect. They’ve been in the market for blueline help since mid-October and I daresay that hasn’t changed. Don’t forget, Johansen has an affordable salary-cap hit now ($4 million), but next season he’ll earn $6 million, meaning it’ll cost that much just to qualify his rights in 2017, when he’ll be a restricted free agent eligible for arbitration. Long-term cap implications must be taken into account. 

As for destinations, I think the Predators are the best fit. They have the blueline depth and a desperate need for a true first-line center. However, the Jackets could ask for Roman Josi or Seth Jones in return. The Wild could also be a good fit, as they’ve got blueline depth to draw upon, but they’ll have to shed some salary to make it work.The Blues are a possibility if management decides a major roster overhaul is in order, but I don’t see that happening until the offseason.

The Islanders already have a top center in John Tavares and I suspect they want to re-sign Frans Nielsen, so I don’t see Johansen going there. The Flames must re-sign key players like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler and Kris Russell, as well as find a proven starting goaltender, so Johansen’s not a fit there. The Flyers won’t move any of their good young defensemen and they still have cap issues for next season to sort out.  

The Canucks still have a lot of money tied up in aging stars like the Sedins and Ryan Miller, plus they’re lacking the type of long-term defensive help the Blue Jackets seek.  While the Canadiens would probably love to land Johansen, they don’t have the depth in top-four defenders. Unless the Leafs want to part with Morgan Reilly (and they don’t), I don’t see them as a fit. The Jets are traditionally a budget team and their management tends to be cautious, so I don’t see them pursuing Johansen. 

Updates on Skinner, Stamkos and Vrbata.

CBC.CA: Doug Harrison reports Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner’s performance has noticeably improved in recent game, suggesting it could increase his value in the trade market.

SPORTSNET: (via TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): Elliotte Friedman believes teams remain wary of Skinner, who’s struggled with injuries and inconsistency throughout his career.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Skinner maintains his offensive pace over the next couple of months, that will improve his trade value. As Friedman points out, Skinner could simply be going through a good couple of weeks. 

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Pat Hickey observes the recent trade speculation tying the Canadiens to Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Columbus Blue Jackets pivot Ryan Johansen, but wisely points out acquiring either guy will cost the Habs prized assets. “Sorry folks, Jarred Tinordi, Zach Kassian and a third-round draft choice won’t get it done,” said Hickey. If Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin makes a significant move or two, it’ll likely happen after key players Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher return to the lineup in the new year.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Yes, Bergevin has a reputation for stealth in the trade market, particularly at the trade deadline, but he’s won’t sacrifice his club’s long-term future for a quick fix. 

ESPN.COM: Pierre LeBrun believes the Vancouver Canucks will have big decisions to make in January regarding pending UFAs Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis. He suggests Vrbata would have the most value at the trade deadline.