While the Eastern Conference seems more settled at this point in the season, the Western Conference is completely up for grabs, making it much more difficult to ascertain which teams are buyers and which are sellers as the February 28th trade deadline approaches.
Edmonton is the only team truly out of it in the West right now and that's no surprise, given how young they are, so the Oilers can continue their rebuilding plan if any deadline deals make sense for them, but after that, what?
St. Louis is in 14th in the conference, with 54 points, but they're seven points out of a playoff spot with four games at hand. Surely it's too soon for the Blues to throw in the towel, especially as they are getting healthier, but if the 14th place team in the conference could go either way on the buy or sell front, there's still much to be determined over the next few weeks.
Nevertheless, here's a look at each team in the Western Conference, in early February, and what their needs might be as the deadline approaches.
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 games in the NHL 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 Western Conference team might have at their disposal in order to make a trade leading up to the deadline.
UFA in 2011: Teemu Selanne, Todd Marchant, Aaron Voros, Paul Mara, Andreas Lilja, Curtis McElhinney.
RFA in 2011: Maxim Lapierre, Kyle Chipchura, Luca Sbisa.
Jake Gardiner, D, Wisconsin (WCHA)
Emerson Etem, C, Medicine Hat (WHL)
Nicolas Deschamps, LW, Syracuse (AHL)
Justin Schultz, D, Wisconsin (WCHA)
Peter Holland, C, Guelph (OHL)
Others of Interest: Joffrey Lupul, Brandon McMillan, Sheldon Brookbank.
No-Trade Clauses: Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Lubomir Visnovsky.
The Plan: While the Ducks patched together a serviceable defence corps this season, inking vets Paul Mara and Andreas Lilja on the cheap, they could use another bona fide top four defenceman if they are going to keep pushing for the playoffs.
There's enough firepower up front, when healthy, so there are no glaring needs there; maybe a veteran checker. G Jonas Hiller has been outstanding and the Ducks have signed Ray Emery as an insurance policy, so Anaheim should be in a buyer's position as they jockey for playoff position.
UFA in 2011: Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, Brendan Morrison, Steve Staios, Anton Babchuk, Adam Pardy, Henrik Karlsson.
RFA in 2011: Brendan Mikkelson.
Tim Erixon, D, Skelleftea (SEL)
Greg Nemisz, RW, Abbotsford (AHL)
T.J. Brodie, D, Abbotsford (AHL)
Ryan Howse, LW, Chilliwach (WHL)
Leland Irving, G, Abbotsford (AHL)
Others of Interest: Niklas Hagman, Mikael Backlund, Robyn Regehr.
No-Trade Clauses: Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, Miikka Kiprusoff, Matt Stajan (modified), Rene Bourque (modified).
The Plan: Six weeks ago, it was easy to write off the Flames' chances, but they've crept into eighth spot in the West, suddenly leaving the ranks of the sellers.
Considering their poor start to the season, the Flames would have to be ecstatic with a playoff berth, so they might be willing to add at the deadline, even if requires some cap creativity. Given the club's salary cap situation going forward, it seems safe to assume that the Flames won't take on any additional long-term contracts without shedding some that they already have locked in.
UFA in 2011: Tomas Kopecky, Fernando Pisani, Ryan Johnson, Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, Marty Turco.
RFA in 2011: Troy Brouwer, Viktor Stalberg, Jack Skille, Jacob Dowell, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford.
Dylan Olsen, D, Rockford (AHL)
Shawn Lalonde, D, Rockford (AHL)
Kyle Beach, LW, Rockford (AHL)
Stephen Johns, D, Notre Dame (CCHA)
Brandon Pirri, RW, Rockford (AHL)
Others of Interest: Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin.
No-Trade Clauses: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Marty Turco, Brian Campbell (limited).
The Plan: The defending champs sit three points out of a playoff spot, though they do have games at hand, so they definitely aren't at the level of last year's championship team, but that doesn't mean they can't be a formidable opponent.
Jammed up against the cap, the Blackhawks don't have a lot of flexibility since they're not likely to move any of their core players, so they'll need the complementary players already on the roster to perform well down the stretch to give them a chance to defend their title.
UFA in 2011: Milan Hejduk, Tomas Fleischmann, Peter Forsberg, David Koci, Adam Foote, Craig Anderson, Peter Budaj.
RFA in 2011: T.J. Galiardi, David Jones, Kevin Porter, Philippe Dupuis, Ryan Stoa, Matt Hunwick, Ryan O'Byrne, Kyle Cumiskey, Ryan Wilson.
Stefan Elliott, D, Saskatoon (WHL)
Joey Hishon, C, Owen Sound (OHL)
Calvin Pickard, G, Seattle (WHL)
Tyson Barrie, D, Kelowna (WHL)
Cameron Gaunce, D, Lake Erie (AHL)
Others of Interest: Brandon Yip, Jonas Holos.
No-Trade Clauses: Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, John-Michael Liles.
The Plan: Having added Peter Forsberg, combined with the possibility of Peter Mueller returning, the Avalanche should have the horses up front to compete, but if they don't get better goaltending, it may not matter.
Presuming that they're still inclined to stick with Craig Anderson, the best way to improve the goals against could be to add a defenceman as the in-season additions of Ryan O'Byrne and Matt Hunwick have brought mixed results.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
UFA in 2011: Chris Clark, Ethan Moreau, Andrew Murray, Jan Hejda, Mathieu Garon.
RFA in 2011: Jakub Voracek, Anton Stralman, Marc Methot, Grant Clitsome.
Ryan Johansen, C, Portland (WHL)
John Moore, D, Springfield (AHL)
David Savard, D, Springfield (AHL)
Cody Goloubef, D, Springfield (AHL)
Tomas Kubalik, RW, Springfield (AHL)
Others of Interest: Kristian Huselius, Nikita Filatov, Matt Calvert, Rostislav Klesla, Fedor Tyutin, Steve Mason.
No-Trade Clauses: Rick Nash.
The Plan: Now within six points of a playoff berth, with three games at hand on eighth-place Calgary, the Blue Jackets aren't quite in a seller's position - yet.
Any slippage could fling open the doors for business, though, and the Jackets have a lot of moveable pieces, from veteran defencemen like Jan Hejda and Rostislav Klesla to a disappointing prospect like Nikikta Filatov or even inconsistent young netminder Steve Mason.
Rebuilding can't go on forever in Columbus, so it's not like the roster should be gutted, but moves that will strengthen the team long-term have to be considered because even if these Jackets, against the odds, sneak into the playoffs, they're not ready to do damage against the best the West has to offer.
UFA in 2011: Brad Richards, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Sutherby, Karlis Skrastins, Jeff Woywitka.
RFA in 2011: Aaron Gagnon.
Jack Campbell, G, Windsor (OHL)
Scott Glennie, C, Brandon (WHL)
Philip Larsen, D, Texas (AHL)
Alex Chiasson, RW, Boston University (HE)
Reilly Smith, RW, Miami-Ohio (CCHA)
Others of Interest: Tom Wandell, Matt Niskanen, Mark Fistric.
No-Trade Clauses: Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Stephane Robidas, Mike Ribeiro (limited).
The Plan: Since Brad Richards is headed for free agency, his name gets tossed around as potential trade bait, but it would be a slap in the face to Stars fans for a division-leading team to surrender their leading scorer in the hopes of securing future value, effectively wiping out the value of the current season.
The Stars have a strong top six up front, as long as Jamie Benn is healthy, and their forward depth was aided by the acquisition of Jamie Langenbrunner, but a veteran that could fit among the top nine would still be desirable.
Dallas' most glaring need, though, is on the blueline, where they clearly need an upgrade in the top four if they're serious about contending this season.
DETROIT RED WINGS
UFA in 2011: Kris Draper, Mike Modano, Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Nicklas Lidstrom, Ruslan Salei, Jonathan Ericsson, Chris Osgood, Jimmy Howard, Joey MacDonald.
RFA in 2011: Jan Mursak.
Tomas Tatar, LW, Grand Rapids (AHL)
Brendan Smith, D, Grand Rapids (AHL)
Calle Jarnkrok, C, Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Jokerit Helsinki (FNL)
Gustav Nyquist, C, Maine (HE)
Others of Interest: Jiri Hudler, Jakub Kindl.
No-Trade Clauses: Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Brian Rafalski, Todd Bertuzzi (modified).
The Plan: So long as they can get healthy, the Wings will have a team capable of competing with the best, though their attempt to sign G Evgeni Nabokov might signal a lack of satisfaction with G Jimmy Howard, who hasn't been nearly as good as he was last year.
If the Wings are still in the hunt for a goaltender, they don't have a lot of room under the cap, so they may have to shed some salary in order to make that move.
UFA in 2011: Ryan Jones, Steve MacIntyre, Jim Vandermeer, Jason Strudwick.
RFA in 2011: Andrew Cogliano, Jean-Francois Jacques, Liam Reddox, Zach Stortini, Ladislav Smid, Theo Peckham.
Tyler Pitlick, RW, Medicine Hat (WHL)
Anton Lander, C, Timra (SEL)
Martin Marincin, D, Prince George (WHL)
Curtis Hamilton, LW, Saskatoon (WHL)
Teemu Hartikainen, LW, Oklahoma City (AHL)
Others of Interest: Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, Gilbert Brule, Tom Gilbert, Sheldon Souray, Nikolai Khabibulin.
No-Trade Clauses: Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Whitney.
The Plan: In last place overall, the Oilers are the rare Western Conference team that knows where they stand and can comfortably make plans to sell assets to contenders in an effort to acquire more value for the future.
If they get really bold, the Oilers could shop top scorers Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner, both of whom should hold appeal for teams needing an offensive upgrade, and could bring more quality young talent into an organization that may still be a few years away from being competitive.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
UFA in 2011: Michal Handzus, Justin Williams, Marco Sturm, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Peter Harrold.
RFA in 2011: Brad Richardson, Wayne Simmonds, Trevor Lewis, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez.
Brayden Schenn, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
Derek Forbort, D, North Dakota (WCHA)
Vyacheslav Voynov, D, Manchester (AHL)
Thomas Hickey, D, Manchester (AHL)
Tyler Toffoli, RW, Ottawa (OHL)
Others of Interest: Kyle Clifford, Andrei Loktionov, Davis Drewiske, Colten Teubert, Jake Muzzin, Oscar Moller.
No-Trade Clauses: Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, Marco Sturm.
The Plan: A talented enough team, though one that could use another scoring winger to shore up their top six and may want a veteran depth defenceman for insurance purposes, but it remains to be seen if this is the year that the Kings push the envelope rather than patiently building.
Not that there is anything wrong with patiently accumulating assets, but now that the Kings appear to have a team to be competitive for years to come, might they be inclined to deal a prospect or two in order to improve their chances now?
UFA in 2011: Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, John Madden, Jose Theodore, Josh Harding.
RFA in 2011: None.
Mikael Granlund, C, HIFK Helsinki (FNL)
Matt Hackett, G, Houston (AHL)
Jason Zucker, LW, Denver (WCHA)
Tyler Cuma, D, Houston (AHL)
Johan Larsson, LW, Brynas Gavle (SEL)
Others of Interest: Cam Barker, Clayton Stoner, Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman, Justin Falk.
No-Trade Clauses: Matt Cullen (limited), Marek Zidlicky (modified).
The Plan: Perhaps surprisingly within two points of a playoff spot (with three games at hand), the Wild have a solid, if not spectacular, group of forwards. Some minor additions might help, but the bigger need in on defence, where Marek Zidlicky has been injured, Cam Barker's been a mess and a cast of rookies -- Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella -- have been thrust into action.
The season could still go either way for the Wild, but if they're in the hunt as the deadline approaches, they could certainly become buyers on the defence market if there is a move that would help lift them into the postseason.
UFA in 2011: Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward, Marek Svatos, Marcel Goc, Wade Belak, Shane O'Brien, Alexander Sulzer.
RFA in 2011: Nick Spaling, Matt Halischuk, Cal O'Reilly, Sergei Kostitsyn, Shea Weber.
Jonathon Blum, D, Milwaukee (AHL)
Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor (OHL)
Taylor Beck, C, Guelph (OHL)
Roman Josi, D, Milwaukee (AHL)
Blake Geoffrion, LW, Milwaukee (AHL)
Others of Interest: Jordin Tootoo.
No-Trade Clauses: Martin Erat, David Legwand, J.P. Dumont, Steve Sullivan.
The Plan: Such is the logjam in the Western Conference that the Predators are at the top of the non-division leaders, with 63 points, leaving them in fourth, yet just five points ahead of 11th-place Chicago.
It would always help the Predators to add scoring, particularly down the middle, where they've gone without Matthew Lombardi for virtually the entire season and Cal O'Reilly is out for a ocuple of months with a broken leg.
As always, budget concerns could affect the Predators' acquisition plans, but GM David Poile has found a way in the past to bring in help and would seem inclined to do it again if the Predators need to tighten their hold on a playoff spot.
UFA in 2011: Radim Vrbata, Scottie Upshall, Vernon Fiddler, Eric Belanger, Ed Jovanovski, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jason LaBarbera.
RFA in 2011: Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Lauri Korpikoski, Keith Yandle, Sami Lepisto.
Brandon Gormley, D, Moncton (QMJHL)
Brett MacLean, LW, San Antonio (AHL)
Viktor Tikhonov, RW, San Antonio (AHL)
Maxim Goncharov, D, San Antonio (AHL)
Mark Visentin, G, Niagara (OHL)
Others of Interest: None.
No-Trade Clauses: Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, Ed Jovanovski, Michal Rozsival (limited), Derek Morris (limited), Adrian Aucoin (modified).
The Plan: The Coyotes currently hold down a playoff spot, but can't get overly excited about it yet considering most of the teams behind them have games at hand.
While they aren't blessed with great pure goal-scorers, offence hasn't really been a problem for Phoenix -- they're in the top half of the league in goals per game -- but they've surprisingly been far less effective defensively than they were last season.
So, the natural might be for an upgrade on the blueline, but it doesn't appear like there are any easy holes to fill unless young blueliners Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ssmi Lepisto are bumped aside and that's not likely to be in the long-term best interests of the franchise.
So maybe the answer is to snare another goal-scorer and push ahead with an improved attack and hope that the veteran blueliners can get it done down the stretch and into the playoffs.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
UFA in 2011: Ben Eager, Scott Nichol, Kyle Wellwood, Jamal Mayers, Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins, Antti Niemi.
RFA in 2011: Devin Setoguchi, Benn Ferriero, Jamie McGinn, Derek Joslin.
Charlie Coyle, RW, Boston University (HE)
Nick Petrecki, D, Worcester (AHL)
Taylor Doherty, D, Kingston (OHL)
Marek Viedensky, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
William Wrenn, D, Portland (WHL)
Others of Interest: Justin Braun, Frazer McLaren.
No-Trade Clauses: Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Niclas Wallin.
The Plan: After adding LW Ben Eager and C Kyle Wellwood, the Sharks have decent depth up front and G Antti Niemi has turned his season around, leaving the blueline as the primary concern for a Sharks team that has been mediocre for much of the year but is now in playoff position.
A bona fide top four (or even top pair) defenceman seems a necessity for the Sharks, who need stability on the back end and improved two-way play from their big line if they are going to make noise in the playoffs this year.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
UFA in 2011: Brad Winchester, Cam Janssen, Eric Brewer, Ty Conklin.
RFA in 2011: T. J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, B. J. Crombeen, Vladimir Sobotka, Matt D'Agostini, Roman Polak, Tyson Strachan.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, Novosibirsk Siber (KHL)
Jake Allen, G, Peoria (WHL)
Jaden Schwartz, LW, Colorado College (WCHA)
Philip McRae, C, Peoria (AHL)
Mark Cundari, D, Peoria (AHL)
Others of Interest: Brad Boyes, Stefan Della Rovere, Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian Cole, Nikita Nikitin.
No-Trade Clauses: Andy McDonald, Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman.
The Plan: Injuries have threatened this Blues season, but their forwards are relatively healthy now (David Perron aside), and not a moment too soon. The Blues are 14th in the West, seven points back of eighth, but also have four games at hand, so a decent couple of weeks leading up to the deadline could put them right back into the playoff mix.
If they can't jump in the standings, however, the Blues could become an intriguing seller, with a few veterans that could have appeal, whether it's a scoring winger like Brad Boyes or a veteran defenceman like Eric Brewer. Even backup G Ty Conklin could attract interest.
UFA in 2011: Raffi Torres, Tanner Glass, Jeff Tambellini, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrew Alberts.
RFA in 2011: Jannik Hansen, Alexandre Bolduc, Lee Sweatt.
Cody Hodgson, C, Manitoba (AHL)
Jordan Schroeder, C, Manitoba (AHL)
Anton Rodin, LW, Brynas Gavle (SEL)
Sergei Shirokov, LW, Manitoba (AHL)
Eddie Lack, G, Manitoba (AHL)
Others of Interest: Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Chris Tanev.
No-Trade Clauses: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Dan Hamhuis, Sami Salo, Roberto Luongo, Manny Malhotra (limited), Keith Ballard (limited).
The Plan: A Stanley Cup favourite, the Canucks don't have glaring needs, but may shoot for another top nine winger that can offer some offensive upside (unless they think they can get that from rookie Cody Hodgson).
When healthy, the defence is a strength, but Alexander Edler is out long-term and Sami Salo is due to return soon, but Salo is as injury-prone as any in the league. With Keith Ballard hurt currently, and having a relatively disappointing season anyway, it wouldn't be shocking for the Canucks to bolster their blueline, ensuring that Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome and Chris Tanev aren't forced to play big minutes on a team with title expectations.
* - 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.