By Stu Hackel
The NHL trade deadline arrives on Feb. 27 and unlike last year when February turned into trade season, there has been little movement thus far. As Kevin Allen noted last week in USA Today, the trade market appears to be stalled with many teams still evaluating their situations. Asking prices for potential trade targets are said to be prohibitively high.
The first deal, however, could break things open. That may not happen until we get closer to deadline day and the undecided teams determine for sure if they want to build for next season or take a shot at the playoffs. Then the “buyers” — the teams hoping for a playoff spot or a deep postseason run — will have more trading partners among the “sellers,” who will be looking more long term while trying to clear out cap space for future moves or acquiring useful players now.
The terms “buyers” and “sellers” can be a bit misleading. In the classic sense, the Bruins last year loaded up on depth that helped them win the Stanley Cup, so they certainly qualified as “buyers.” Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs were out of the playoff picture and considered “sellers,” sending defenseman Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim, which was driving hard for a playoff berth. Toronto got Joffrey Lupul, Jake Gardiner and a conditional 2013 fourth-round draft pick in exchange. That turned into a pretty good trade for the Leafs, so in hindsight it’s hard to render them merely “sellers.”
Here’s a look at each team’s current status heading into the last days before the deadline. We’ve never gone in much for rumors, because they turn out wrong too often, but we’ve thrown some in here if only as a point of reference for the sort of player that each team covets and who they might have to offer.
Here’s the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference is here.
Boston Bruins – The B’s don’t have many needs. If they can get Nathan Horton back from his most recent concussion, it will help their offense, although he was reported to have suffered a setback late last week. Perhaps more pressing would be a shot at adding one more defenseman to their mix. There’s concern that Joe Corvo’s inconsistency limits his dependability. Another top four D-man would allow Claude Julien to give Dennis Seidenberg a more reliable partner. Steven Harris of The Boston Herald writes that Carolina’s Bryan Allen, Phoenix’s Adrian Aucoin, Calgary’s Scott Hannan, and the Islanders’ Milan Jurcina or Mark Eaton might fit on the B’s blueline.
Buffalo Sabres — This dissapointing season has made team president Ted Black talk about changes to the core of the team and it didn’t take long for Ryan Miller’s name to come up in rumors. That would seem like a drastic, if dramatic, move, but if a such deal could bring back a few major pieces, it might happen. Rugged forward Paul Gaustad’s name has also been in the air in recent weeks, as he’s a pending UFA. There is some speculation that center Derek Roy, who hasn’t been the same after a serious leg injury suffered last season, could be had and would be a good fit for a team seeking for a second line center. Veteran shutdown defenseman Robyn Regehr, acquired from Calgary last summer, could be moved if only to clear some cap space. Asked what the Sabres need, one knowledgeable source who has been observing the situation told us, “they need everything.” A top center would be a good starting point.
Carolina Hurricanes – The ‘Canes are 11 points south of the playoffs, but playing their best hockey of the season (grabbing 16 of their last possible 24 points) and GM Jim Rutherford is probably wondering how extensive his rebuild should be. He’s already dispatched Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky. There reportedly was a great deal of interest in pending UFAs Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu, but Rutherford extended Gleason and is negotiating with Ruuttu, although if no deal is reached, Ruutu will be a hot commoditiy. Aside from Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Cam Ward and Brandon Sutter, probably everyone else is available for the right price. Had he not gotten hurt, Joni Pitkanen would likely have been a big target. He’s due back in early March from knee surgery and a concussion. Apart from a starting goalie, the ‘Canes need to be better everywhere. Veteran Jaroslav Spacek, a pending UFA, would be a nice addition for a team looking for a reliable defenseman and has been named as a target in a few places.
Florida Panthers – With Ed Jovanovski due to return from injury before the deadline, there may be little need to bolster the defense corps. This is a good veteran team, and signing John Madden in January was another shrewd move by GM Dale Tallon and his assistant Mike Santos. But the Panthers may have to win the Southeast Division to make the playoffs and only rank 12th in scoring in the East. So they could use a bit more offense. One veteran talent evaluator we spoke with noted that the Panthers “have one of the best young protected lists in the league in terms of drafted players,” meaning they have a lot of prospects and future draft picks they can offer in trade. The usual suspects who traffic in trade rumors have been relatively quiet on what this team might do, but Bruce Garrioch of The Ottawa Sun suggested last month that a veteran defenseman like Jaroslav Spacek of Carolina might be a good fit here.
Montreal Canadiens – Most were certain that the Canadiens were prepared to declare themselves open for player auctions when they dropped 11 points below the playoff cutoff line on Feb. 4. But now Montreal has won four straight and is only seven away. If the Habs continue their current hot streak, it may give ownership and managment pause. Veteran defenseman Hall Gill, who has loads of playoff experience and a Stanley Cup, is a hot commodity on the rumor market. The Habs are also thought to have another guy with Cup experience, forward Travis Moen, available. Some believe that even Tomas Plekanec, the Habs’ headiest player, could be acquired for the right price. The Canadiens are desperately in need a big center, long an organizational issue. They could also use some size on defense, but size with more mobility than Gill gives them. Both Gill and Moen are pending UFAs.
New Jersey Devils – While many GMs wish it were otherwise, it’s very unlikely that Zach Parise will be available at the deadline. He’s been the key to the Devils’ strong play of late, while skating on a line with Patrick Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk. GM Lou Lamoriello has a history of keeping his pending UFAs, so the world may have to wait to see if New Jersey’s delicate financial situation allows Parise to stick around. Acquiring Alexei Ponikarovsky last month added a solid, good-sized winger, and even though Travis Zajac may be gone for another month, the forwards have played well as a group. The Devs could now go for another top-four defenseman. There is enough organizational depth to offer in exchange.
New York Islanders — Eight points back with a game in hand but five teams to climb over, their front office is likely thinking about next season while hoping for a near-miracle finish. It’s hard to believe the rumors from January that Matt Moulson might be moved, especially given his chemistry with John Tavares. There’s been talk that goalie Evgeni Nabokov could be traded, but he has played well of late, has a no trade clause, and says he likes the team’s direction. If GM Garth Snow keeps him, would that make Al Monytoya, whose strong season was interrupted by injury, available? With a lot of prospects in their system, might the Isles dangle some of their promising young underachievers like Josh Bailey and even Nino Niederreiter? Veterans Brian Rolston and Jay Pandolfo, both pending UFAs, have Cup experience, but may not have much left in the tank. Rolston carries a big cap hit. A lack of secondary scoring has hurt the Isles this season, so that is an area they are looking to improve. Their defense corps, which has been recently hit by injuries, could stand an upgrade as well.
New York Rangers – They could use another scorer, especially an aggressive, physical forward. (Ryan Smyth and Shane Doan names have been mentioned in the trade winds blowing toward New York.) They could also use another defenseman, especially if Michael Sauer, who has been out with a concussion since December, doesn’t come back. This team blocks a ton of shots, more than any of the other top NHL team, and it’s the backbone of its defensive strategy, so injuries are quite possible. The Rangers are going to need depth, especially on defense. It would be a mistake to tamper with team chemistry, but they have lots of prospects to offer, including one of the top names in college hockey, Chris Kreider. Ray Whitney of the Coyotes, Tampa Bay’s Pavel Kubina, Montreal’s Hal Gill (who is rumored to be going many places), and Buffalo’s Brad Boyes were named as potential trade targets by Pat Leonard of The New York Daily News.
Ottawa Senators – Team chemistry here has been very strong, so don’t expect GM Bryan Murray to disrupt this group very much. But their recent seven-game slide in which they scored only nine goals showed that they could use some more offense. Bruce Garrioch of The Ottawa Sun says Murray is seeking a depth forward. Draft picks may be what the Senators will offer in exchange, but not a high one in exchange for a UFA.
Philadelphia Flyers – As always, goaltending consistency is a problem, but there’s little Philly can do, as they’re locked into a “humungous” deal with Ilya Bryzgalov and probably don’t want to part with the developing Sergei Bobrovsky. The loss of captain Chris Pronger to concussion is at least an equally important problem, if not more so. GM Paul Holmgren will be looking for a veteran defenseman, and different reports have had him interested in Ryan Suter or Luke Schenn. And because James van Riemsdyk’s status (concussion) is uncertain, they could also try to pick up another scoring forward. JVR has been rumored in trade talks (specifically in connection with Schenn), but he’s not going anywhere while he’s recovering.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Sidney Crosby’s absence continues to hover over this team — and the league — and he can’t be replaced. Even though the Penguins have gotten Jordan Staal back, there have long been whispers that GM Ray Shero would like to add another forward. He’s currently got Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis playing on the second line; ideally, they’re third-liners, but anyone they can pick up to slot in on the second or third lines and provide more offense would be helpful. There are suggestions that with injured rookie D-man Simon Despres skating again, Paul Martin should be moved. But, despite his big ticket, he remains an experienced blueliner and Shero has to be reluctant to deal that valuable an asset prior to the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Around the start of the month, GM Steve Yzerman believed he’d have a better gauge by now on whether he’d be going for the playoffs or for next season. His team is eight points out, right where it was when he made that assessment. Unable to gain ground, he’s probably leaning toward the longer term future. Damian Cristodero of The Tampa Bay Times noted that defenseman Pavel Kubina and forwards Ryan Malone and Dominic Moore have been the most mentioned in trade rumors. It’s also possible that d-man Eric Brewer could be available. While they have enough scoring power, the Lightning are very thin on defense, and goaltending has been a weakness this season. Cristodero speculated that Malone could fetch Kings backup Jonathan Bernier in return.
Toronto Maple Leafs – There was talk James van Riemsdyk was headed here from the Flyers before he was concussed. But Toronto’s real need is at center where Tyler Bozak as their number one between Phil Kessel and Joffery Lupul. A true top center would make GM Brian Burke happy. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf has been rumored to be destined for Toronto, but it may take more assets than Burke wants to surrender in the midst of a playoff run. Columbus’ Jeff Carter’s name comes up, too, although some have pointed out Burke’s allergy to long-term contracts like Carter’s. The most recent rumoree is, according to Bob Mitchell of The Toronto Star, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone.
Washington Capitals — Injuries to two core players — Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green — have slowed the Caps. Getting Backstrom back from his concussion would be the best scenario, but he’s still not skating, so a short-term fix at center could be in the works. Top defenseman Green, however, is skating again and could be back from his sports hernia surgery within a couple of weeks, which would answer a big need. Pending UFA Mike Knuble (a healthy scratch last week for the first time this season) has been bandied about recently as trade bait by Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington, who also mentioned defenseman Jeff Schultz, a frequent healthy scratch, as expendable. Alexander Semin’s name has long been thrown around, although his chemistry with Alex Ovechkin would be hard to give up as long as Backstrom remains out of the picture.
Winnipeg Jets — Talk has died down about Teeme Selanne returning to the ‘Peg for the postseason, and the playoffs are far from a sure thing. The Jets may not be sellers at the moment, but just what will they be as the deadline draws near? They have a six-game homestand that finishes the month and extends into March, and that will tell the tale. Scoring has been a problem all season. (They currently rank 13th in the East.). They’re defense corps also could stand an upgrade. If the Jets still think they’re in it, their problem is that they probably won’t want to offer any of their younger assets in order to make a meaningful addition in those areas. Whether they decide to be sellers by the deadline, they have eight pending UFAs on their roster, so some movement is possible. If they take a run at the playoffs, they have lots of cap space. If the playoffs are not their priority, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has two veteran blueliners, Johnny Oduya (one of the UFAs) and Ron Hainsey, who could be of interest for clubs needing help on defense.
Here’s a look at the Western Conference teams, what they are looking for and what they have to offer a dance partner before or at the trade deadline.
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