The Eastern Conference playoff picture is relatively clear, making it easier to determine which teams will be buyers and sellers as the February 28th trade deadline approaches.
Sure, teams like Atlanta, Buffalo and Florida may still harbour playoff hopes, but if they're on the bubble, those teams can go in either direction over the next couple weeks, possibly making at least a couple of them more likely sellers.
Otherwise, Toronto, New Jersey, Ottawa and the New York Islanders would figure to be sellers based on their place in the standings, though some will be more inclined to make dramatic moves than others.
Certainly Ottawa appears to be a team ripe for the picking and Florida figures to make moves that would fit with GM Dale Tallon's long-term rebuilding plans, but any team can make moves based on their situation -- contenders take on rentals in the hopes that they can make the difference down the stretch and through the playoffs while teams out of the playoff mix continually make moves for the future, hoping that, at some point, their accumulation of young talent will end their cycle of mediocrity.
With just under three weeks to go before the deadline, let the trade talks begin!
A couple of notes about the following chart:
Restricted Free Agents (RFA) have contracts that expire this summer, barring a contract extension in the meantime, but their current team retains the right to match a contract offer so long as they make the requisite qualifying offer. While restricted free agents haven't moved a lot, it's worth noting when decision time is coming on a young player's contract.
Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) have contracts that will expire this summer and, without a contract extension, they will be free to sign with whatever team they choose on July 1. These are the players that often move in "rental"-type deals, ideally providing a short-term fix with minimal commitment required.
Top prospects are the top five players in each organization that haven't played ten NHL games this season. Other top prospects or those that are now with the NHL team may be listed among other players of interest. Contending teams may be more likely to dangle a top prospect or two as they try to find that final piece for their playoff mix, while it's safe to assume that young and rebuilding teams aren't going to move top prospects unless they get a significant long-term piece in return.
Other players of interest will include prospects who have spent some time in the NHL this season as well as players under contract for future seasons that may have some level of attractiveness on the trade market.
IMPORTANT: Just because a player is listed as being of interest, it doesn't mean he will be traded or should be traded. Some may just be of interest for teams looking to hit a home run when trying to swing a deal or they are players that may be considered to be underachieving for the money they are due over the rest of their contract.
Generally, then, here's a rough guide for which players each Eastern Conference team might have at their disposal in order to make a trade leading up to the deadline.
UFA in 2011: Fredrik Modin, Chris Thorburn, Eric Boulton, Brent Sopel, Freddy Meyer.
RFA in 2011: Andrew Ladd, Niclas Bergfors, Nigel Dawes, Anthony Stewart, Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien.
Carl Klingberg, LW, Timra (SEL)
Spencer Machacek, RW, Chicago (AHL)
Arturs Kulda, D, Chicago (AHL)
Paul Postma, D, Chicago (AHL)
Julian Melchiori, D, Kitchener (OHL)
Others of Interest: Patrice Cormier, Chris Mason.
No-Trade Clauses: Ron Hainsey (modified), Nik Antropov (modified).
The Plan: Early-season success made it look like the Thrashers could be buyers heading towards the deadline, but now that they have slipped from a playoff spot, it's tough to justify a move that would sacrifice future value just for a shot at making the postseason this year.
At various times, young players like Niclas Bergfors and Zach Bogosian have been healthy scratches, but if they are going to be considered in deals, they had better bring a significant return with long-term value.
Failing a blockbuster along those lines, veterans like Modin and Sopel may have some appeal as depth for contenders, but wouldn't bring huge value in exchange, or cost-cutting could come by way of shopping Ron Hainsey and Nik Antropov, the highest-priced defenceman and forward, respectively, though both will have some say in the process due to their modified no-trade clauses.
UFA in 2011: Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, Mark Stuart.
RFA in 2011: Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand.
Joe Colborne, C, Providence (AHL)
Zach Hamill, C, Providence (AHL)
Colby Cohen, D, Providence (AHL)
Jamie Arniel, C, Providence (AHL)
Matt Bartkowski, D, Providence (AHL)
Others of Interest: Daniel Paille, Jordan Caron, Steven Kampfer, Adam McQuaid.
No-Trade Clauses: Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Mark Recchi, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg (limited), Tim Thomas.
The Plan: The Bruins were already in the market for a quality puck-moving defenceman, even with strong play from rookie Steven Kampfer, but shutting down Marc Savard for the rest of the season would also figure to increase the need for an offensive forward.
Fortunately, the Bruins have assets to move, whether that includes draft picks (including Toronto's first-round pick this year), prospects or young players, so there is every reason to think that Boston will be active approaching the deadline. After all, when your 36-year-old goaltender is having a career season, it only makes sense to try to take advantage of the situation.
UFA in 2011: Tim Connolly, Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer, Craig Rivet, Steve Montador, Patrick Lalime.
RFA in 2011: Drew Stafford, Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera, Chris Butler, Mike Weber.
Zack Kassian, RW, Windsor (OHL)
Jhonas Enroth, G, Portland (AHL)
Mark Pysyk, D, Edmonton (WHL)
Brayden McNabb, D, Kootenay (WHL)
Marcus Foligno, LW, Sudbury (OHL)
Others of Interest: Jochen Hecht, Shaone Morrisonn.
No-Trade Clauses: Mike Grier, Ryan Miller (modified), Jason Pominville (limited).
The Plan: Within striking distance of a playoff spot (five points with two games at hand), the Sabres aren't in a position to start selling off their free agents just yet, but if they can't close that gap before the deadline, there are vets like Rob Niedermayer and Craig Rivet that have loads of playoff experience, while enigmatic Tim Connolly has the skill to handle a second-line centre role with a contender.
Should the Sabres remain in the playoff hunt and they can't reasonably shed some of their veterans along the way, they still don't seem likely to invest heavily in this season; after losing top center Derek Roy for the season, anything resembling a competitive finish to the campaign is practically a bonus.
UFA in 2011: Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov, Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Carter, Pat Dwyer, Joni Pitkanen, Ian White, Jay Harrison.
RFA in 2011: Brandon Sutter, Jiri Tlusty, Troy Bodie.
Justin Faulk, D, Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA)
Brian Dumoulin, D, Boston College (HE)
Oskar Osala, LW, Charlotte (AHL)
Riley Nash, C, Charlotte (AHL)
Bobby Sanguinetti, D, Charlotte (AHL)
Others of Interest: Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe, Chris Terry.
No-Trade Clauses: Eric Staal, Cam Ward.
The Plan: The Hurricanes have climbed into playoff position and, while they don't seem likely to take on massive salaries, they do have enough prospects available that they could further bolster their roster.
If the 'Canes somehow fade from playoff contention, they have a bunch of unrestricted free agents that they could shop, but with a decent mix of veterans and youth on the current team, Carolina could be a dangerous lower seed, particularly if they could add another proven scorer into the top six.
UFA in 2011: Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak, Chris Higgins, Marty Reasoner, Darcy Hordichuk, Bryan McCabe, Tomas Vokoun.
RFA in 2011: Steve Bernier, Michael Frolik, Shawn Matthias, Byron Bitz, Mike Santorelli, Keaton Ellerby.
Jacob Markstrom, G, Rochester (AHL)
Erik Gudbranson, D, Kingston (OHL)
Quinton Howden, LW, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Alex Petrovic, D, Red Deeer (WHL)
Drew Shore, C, Denver (WCHA)
Others of Interest: Bryan Allen.
No-Trade Clauses: Stephen Weiss, Bryan McCabe, Tomas Vokoun, David Booth (limited).
The Plan: Long-term thinking has to guide the Panthers, who sit six points out of a playoff spot at the moment, which means pending free agents like D Bryan McCabe and G Tomas Vokoun could be among the most sought-after commodities at the deadline. Both vets have no-trade clauses, but if the Panthers are going in full rebuilding mode -- and the organization's prospect depth has increased significantly since Dale Tallon took over as GM -- it could be possible to move them to contenders for more pieces with future value.
Stephen Weiss also gets mentioned as a frequent trade target, since his two-way skills make him a fit for just about any team, but if the Panthers are going to consider moving him, they had better get a massive return. Otherwise, there is no reason for a team to give up its best skater who is signed to a reasonable contract for two more seasons.
UFA in 2011: Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche, Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Hal Gill, Alex Auld.
RFA in 2011: Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Tom Pyatt.
Louis Leblanc, C, Montreal (QMJHL)
Danny Kristo, RW, North Dakota (WCHA)
Aaron Palushaj, RW, Hamilton (AHL)
Ben Maxwell, C, Hamilton (AHL)
Alexander Avtsin, RW, Hamilton
Others of Interest: Lars Eller.
No-Trade Clauses: Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov (limited), Scott Gomez (limited), Mike Cammalleri (limited), Tomas Plekanec (modified), Jaroslav Spacek (limited).
The Plan: With defencemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges out, the Canadiens could use another veteran on the blueline; if that player could provide a physical presence, all the better.
Additional depth up front wouldn't hurt either, but once Mike Cammalleri returns, the Canadiens could have a decent top six forwards, depending on what they can get from Andrei Kostitsyn and Max Pacioretty, but a forward with some size that can score a little has to hold appeal.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
UFA in 2011: Jason Arnott, Adam Mair, Andy Greene, Johan Hedberg.
RFA in 2011: Zach Parise, Vladimir Zharkov, Tim Sestito, Matt Corrente, Anssi Salmela, Matt Taormina, Mark Fraser.
Jacob Josefson, C, Albany (AHL)
Jonathon Merrill, D, Michigan (CCHA)
Alexander Urbom, D, Albany (AHL)
Eric Gelinas, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
Adam Henrique, C, Albany (AHL)
Others of Interest: Dainius Zubrus, Henrik Tallinder.
No-Trade Clauses: Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, Jason Arnott, Anton Volchenkov, Colin White, Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg.
The Plan: Well this season has gone anything but according to plan for the Devils, so even though they are playing better lately, it's asking a lot for them to make up the 16 points they need to catch eighth place in the conference.
While he has a no-movement clause, and has definitely slowed down in recent seasons, Jason Arnott may have some value for a team looking for a forward with size and playoff experience.
Defenceman Andy Greene, who has proven to be effective as a puck-mover that can quarterback the power play, could also have some suitors as playoff contenders look for blueline depth.
Neither Arnott nor Green figures to bring a huge bounty in return but, as unrestricted free agents, they don't seem likely to be part of the Devils' plans for next season and any moves, at this point, should be geared towards putting together the best possible roster for 2011-2012.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
UFA in 2011: Doug Weight, Zenon Konopka, P.A. Parenteau, Trevor Gillies, Radek Martinek, Nathan Lawson.
RFA in 2011: Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Rob Schremp, Blake Comeau, Jeremy Colliton, Ty Wishart, Bruno Gervais, Dylan Reese, Jack Hillen.
Nino Niederreiter, LW, Portland (WHL)
Calvin De Haan, D, Oshawa (OHL)
Rhett Rakhshani, RW, Bridgeport (AHL)
Casey Cizikas, C, Mississauga (OHL)
Matt Donovan, D, Denver (WCHA)
Others of Interest: Trent Hunter.
No-Trade Clauses: None.
The Plan: The Islanders are once again in contention for the first pick overall as the team continues to stockpile young talent and there's no incentive to deviate from that plan.
It might be nice to get something in exchange for the likes of Zenon Konopka, P.A. Parenteau or Radek Martinek if they are going to hit the free agent market in the summer anyway, but the primary focus has to remain getting reps for the young players already on the roster so that, just maybe, the Islanders can be more competitive in 2011-2012.
NEW YORK RANGERS
UFA in 2011: Alexander Frolov, Vaclav Prospal, Ruslan Fedotenko, Steve Eminger.
RFA in 2011: Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Matt Gilroy, Mike Sauer.
Chris Kreider, C, Boston College (HE)
Dylan McIlrath, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Evgeny Grachev, LW, Connecticut (AHL)
Ethan Werek, C, Kingston (OHL)
Christian Thomas, RW, Oshawa (OHL)
Others of Interest: Erik Christensen, Michael Del Zotto.
No-Trade Clauses: Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Sean Avery (limited).
The Plan: The Rangers are holding down a playoff spot, but aren't exactly home and cooled out either, having played more games than any team in the league to this point.
With the forward ranks bolstered by call-ups (Mats Zuccarello), trades (Wojtek Wolski) and players returning from injury (Vaclav Prospal, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan), the Blueshirts have enough depth up front to compete, though may want to deal from that depth in order to acquire a veteran defenceman that can handle big minutes.
UFA in 2011: Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu, Ryan Shannon, Chris Phillips, Pascal Leclaire.
RFA in 2011: Zack Smith, Chris Campoli, Brian Elliott.
David Rundblad, D, Skelleftea (SEL)
Jared Cowen, D, Spokane (WHL)
Bobby Butler, RW, New Hampshire (HE)
Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Brynas Gavle (SEL)
Erik Condra, RW, Binghamton (AHL)
Others of Interest: Milan Michalek, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, Brian Lee.
No-Trade Clauses: Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, Mike Fisher (limited), Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips.
The Plan: Poised for an overhaul if they can find takers for many of their veterans, the Senators are in a strange position of being totally prepared to be active at the deadline, yet GM Bryan Murray remains the one in position to make those deals, even if he's not necessarily going to be the general manager next season.
Darren Dreger has reported that Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson are effectively the only untouchables on the roster, so the Sens should be busy re-tooling their roster for the future and could really make dramatic changes if they find the right deal for centres Jason Spezza or Mike Fisher.
Veteran D Chris Phillips has endured a brutal season, but his experience as a shutdown defender would figure to make him desirable to many teams, provided he's willing to waive his no-trade clause.
UFA in 2011: Nikolay Zherdev, Ville Leino, Sean O'Donnell, Brian Boucher.
RFA in 2011: Dan Carcillo, Andreas Nodl, Darroll Powe.
Joacim Eriksson,G, Skelleftea (SEL)
Kevin Marshall, D, Adirondack (AHL)
Erik Gustafsson, D, Adirondack (AHL)
Mike Testwuide, RW, Adirondack (AHL)
Brendan Ranford, LW, Kamloops (WHL)
Others of Interest: Oskars Bartulis.
No-Trade Clauses: Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen.
The Plan: Boasting a very deep lineup already, the Flyers don't need to do anything more than minor tweaking, especially since it seems that rookie G Sergei Bobrovsky has the goaltending situation under control.
A veteran forward and/or defenceman doesn't hurt the cause for a Stanley Cup contender, but the Flyers don't have a ton of room under the cap so any moves will have to be completed with financial considerations kept in mind.
UFA in 2011: Pascal Dupuis, Maxime Talbot, Michael Rupp, Eric Godard, Arron Asham, Craig Adams, Chris Conner, Mike Comrie.
RFA in 2011: Tyler Kennedy.
Simon Despres, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
Robert Bortuzzo, D, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AHL)
Beau Bennett, RW, Denver (WCHA)
Tom Kuehnhackl, C, Windsor (OHL)
Carl Sneep, D, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AHL)
Others of Interest: Eric Tangradi, Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy.
No-Trade Clauses: Matt Cooke (modified), Paul Martin (limited), Zbynek Michalek (limited), Brooks Orpik (limited), Marc-Andre Fleury (limited).
The Plan: The expectation would have been for the Penguins to need a few minor adjustments so that they, too, could be thrust into the mix of Stanley Cup contenders, but as they have lost Evgeni Malkin for the season and have no definitive timetable on Sidney Crosby's return from a concussion, the Penguins might need to be more aggressive just to ensure a strong finish.
If rookie C Dustin Jeffrey can help shore up the holes in the middle, the Penguins could always use a scoring winger (or two) in an effort to provide a balanced attack in the postseason. Without Malkin, and with Crosby coming back from a long layoff, having others capable of putting the puck in the net wouldn't hurt.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
UFA in 2011: Simon Gagne, Sean Bergenheim, Adam Hall, Randy Jones, Dwayne Roloson, Mike Smith.
RFA in 2011: Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby.
Brett Connolly, LW, Prince George (WHL)
Carter Ashton, RW, Tri-City (WHL)
Richard Panik, RW, Guelph (OHL)
James Wright, C, Norfolk (AHL)
Johan Harju, LW, Norfolk (AHL)
Others of Interest: Dana Tyrell, Mattias Ritola.
No-Trade Clauses: Vincent Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Pavel Kubina (limited), Mattias Ohlund (limited).
The Plan: Surging towards the top of the conference, the Lightning have already addressed their most glaring need by dealing for G Dwayne Roloson.
While their forward depth is already strong, though not so strong as to pass up veteran depth, the Lightning could certainly use an upgrade on the blueline. Even if Marc-Andre Bergeron provides the power play quarterback that they are seeking, he adds risk to a unit that could use more stability.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
UFA in 2011: Fredrik Sjostrom, Tim Brent, Joey Crabb, Tomas Kaberle, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
RFA in 2011: Tyler Bozak, Clark MacArthur, John Mitchell, Darryl Boyce, Jay Rosehill, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson, James Reimer.
Jussi Rynnas, G, Toronto (AHL)
Keith Aulie, D, Toronto (AHL)
Brad Ross, LW, Portland (WHL)
Jerry D'Amigo, RW, Kitchener (OHL)
Greg McKegg, LW, Erie (OHL)
Others of Interest: Kris Versteeg, Jonas Gustavsson.
No-Trade Clauses: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tomas Kaberle, Phil Kessel (limited), Mike Komisarek (modified), Francois Beauchemin (modified).
The Plan: Nine points out of a playoff spot, it looks like another postseason on the sidelines for the Leafs, which means making plans for the future, again.
If Tomas Kaberle elects to waive his no-trade clause, there will be a market for the power play quarterback, but given Kaberle's control over the situation, the Leafs can't expect to maximize value on any deal -- if one happens at all.
Others like Kris Versteeg and Francois Beauchemin have been mentioned more frequently in rumours and would figure to bring value in return since they are signed through next season, but it may take some creativity if GM Brian Burke is going to shoot for another blockbuster, like the deal that netted them Dion Phaneuf last season.
It's possible that there would be a market for a playoff-tested goaltender like Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but even if he waives his no-trade clause, his $6-million cap hit isn't easy for teams to absorb, even late in the season, and his play hasn't been good enough to bring the Leafs something significant in return.
UFA in 2011: Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks, Scott Hannan.
RFA in 2011: Mathieu Perreault, Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL)
Dmitri Orlov, D, Novokuznetsk Metallurg (KHL)
Cody Eakin, C, Kootenay (WHL)
Braden Holtby, G, Hershey (AHL)
Stanislav Galiev, Saint John (QMJHL)
Others of Interest: Eric Fehr, Marcus Johansson, Tyler Sloan.
No-Trade Clauses: Scott Hannan.
The Plan: The Caps aren't nearly the scoring juggernaut that they were last season, and some of that could be rectified with an upgrade to the second-line centre spot, where Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson may have some potential, but aren't ready to handle that responsibility for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
While they might seem like a natural target for a team with a veteran goaltender, the Caps seem set with their young goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, and the Caps already added Scott Hannan on the blueline so, barring injuries, there may not be a lot of movement on the blueline.
* - Contract information comes from www.capgeek.com
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.