The way I see it, there are three pretty equal groups for this year's trade deadline, which is just a little more than a month away.
1) The buyers: These teams have pretty much punched their ticket to the postseason. I figure there are 10 teams (six in the East, four in the West) that look like locks to make the playoffs.
2) The maybes: Eleven teams here. Based on how they play over the next few weeks, these teams will either look to add talent for the playoff push or ship out expiring contracts. There are four in the East (including Carolina) and seven out West.
3) The sellers: The nine remaining teams are already looking ahead to next season and beyond. Five from the Eastern Conference and four from the Western will be moving items out in return for prospects and picks.
1. Boston Bruins
Need: Not much. If they decide to upgrade, it will likely be at forward, where they could use insurance in case someone (Patrice Bergeron?) gets hurt.
Have: One very valuable asset in Manny Fernandez. With Tim Thomas playing Vezina-level hockey and Tuukka Rask ready to be at least an NHL backup, the B's would love to send Fernandez and his $4.75 million expiring contract elsewhere — preferably out West — in order to free up space for another skater.
2. Washington Capitals
Need: A third-line, point-producing forward or top-four d-man would be good moves for the Caps. Perhaps if Columbus is out of the race they'd deal Manny Malhotra or newly-acquired Jason Williams. Or Washington could shoot for the moon and try to add Nik Antropov from Toronto. On D, Jordan Leopold is in the final year of his deal and Colorado it's looking like they'll be on the outside looking in. If he's available, Radek Bonk could help the team in the faceoff circle.
Have: Their best moveable piece — outside of non-NHL assets — might be backup goalie Brent Johnson. Prospect Simeon Varlamov is ready for backup duty and Johnson likely won't be back in Washington next season. Otherwise it will be picks or prospects.
3. New Jersey
Need: The Devils could use an offensive upgrade on D. I don't think they have the cap space or assets to land Jay Bouwmeester (if Florida moves him), but a veteran like Mathieu Schneider or the cheaper Nic Havelid (both in Atlanta) might help. Buffalo's Jaroslav Spacek could be had if the Sabres become sellers. Tampa Bay's Cory Murphy could fit GM Lou Lamoriello's budget at just $875,000.
Have: Could Lamoriello move Brian Gionta ($4 million contract expiring at season's end) to try and get Bouwmeester or some other big piece? What about John Madden and his nearly $3 million price tag?
Need: With Robert Lang's achilles injury, Montreal will likely look to add a veteran center. The Islanders' Doug Weight or Mike Comrie could fit in nicely, or perhaps Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis. Could Erik Cole skate for a team he has haunted throughout his career?
Have: Virtually all of the Habs' roster is headed toward either unrestricted or restricted free agency this offseason. I don't think GM Bob Gainey would want to tip over the apple cart, but if the right player came along, he could move multiple players or prospects and still have enough depth for a legitimate run.
5. New York Rangers
Need: It's amazing the Rangers are in the position they're in. They could use help everywhere but goalie, and might look to make a big splash for a playoff run. But who?
Have: They would likely have to deal prospects (Bobby Sanguinetti? Artem Anisimov? Michael Del Zotto?) or high draft picks to get back any return. What about Gomez to Florida for Bouwmeester? Or would New Jersey take back Gomez if it meant shedding a contract (Madden?) and a good young player (impending RFA Travis Zajac)? Don't count on the two rivals making a deal like that any time soon, plus Gomez has a limited no-trade clause.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Need: Yes, I'm considering them in. The Flyers could use a top-four defenseman, but they are in massive cap trouble. When Daniel Briere gets healthy, Philly will have to do some maneuvering to stay under the salary cap. So unless they can move Briere, they might be stuck with their current lineup.
Have: Or Philadelphia could trade Joffrey Lupul and his long-term extension for cap relief. Scottie Upshall will be an RFA at season's end, and with James van Riemsdyk close to be NHL-ready, the Flyers could move Upshall to free up some room.
1. San Jose Sharks
Need: The Sharks look ready to make their run. Any additions would likely be role players or replacing any unforeseen injuries.
Have: The Sharks would likely move draft picks for any acquisition they made.
2. Detroit Red Wings
Need: The Red Wings might need a goalie (Toronto's Vesa Toskala, Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson or Fernandez come to mind, or maybe even Kari Lehtonen). Chris Osgood has had a difficult season, and while Ty Conklin has been good, can you trust him to win a Stanley Cup? The Wings could probably use one more D (Spacek, Leopold, Dennis Seidenberg, Filip Kuba could all possibly be available).
Have: Tomas Kopecky is stuck in a fourth-line role in the Motor City and a team might try to acquire him in hopes of signing him before he becomes a UFA at the end of the season. If a goalie were to come their way, they could possibly — but not likely — move Conklin. Otherwise, it will be picks or prospects.
3. Calgary Flames
Need: A good third- or fourth-line energy guy and a bottom three defenseman might help. Colorado's Ian Laperriere might be a nice fit up front. Or what about Tampa Bay's Mark Recchi? Seidenberg or Spacek might be good fits if they're available. Also, don't count out the team getting a backup goalie. Would Colorado part with impending UFA Andrew Raycroft?
Have: The Flames would have to move picks or prospects (kind of thin there) to make a deal because most current NHLers who might be moved are pretty key parts of the team's success.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
Need: The Hawks could use a third-line center and maybe a bottom-pairing defenseman. Of course, cap space is an issue. Weight is reasonably priced at $1.75 million a season, as is Michael Peca at $1.315 million. Dean McAmmond could be on the radar as a serviceable bottom six forward.
Have: Chicago could make cap room for a bigger acquisition by dealing Martin Havlat and his $6 million expiring contract, or even hitch their wagon to Cristobal Huet and find a home for Nikolai Khabibulin. What about rookie phenom Kris Versteeg, who will want a big RFA deal after this season and might not be in the team's long-term (financial) plans? Chances are they will hold on to all three and look at smaller moves.
1. Buffalo Sabres
Need: The Sabres could use a little more punch on the third line if they're in contention come the March 4 deadline. Recchi, Weight or Comrie could be a good fit, or perhaps they'll add a little grit courtesy Ottawa's Chris Neil. Dominic Moore is cheap ($900K) and productive.
Have: If the Sabres are buying, they'll likely move out picks or prospects. If Buffalo becomes sellers, they could have a lot of valuable assets to move. Maxim Afinogenov and Tim Connolly (at $3.5 million each) come off the books after this season, not to mention Ales Kotalik ($2.5 million). On the blueline, Teppo Numminen and the aforementioned Spacek could find themselves elsewhere.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Need: Carolina has the skill to score more than they have, so one wonders if it makes sense to add more talent. Perhaps someone like Laperriere could help provide a little more grit to an otherwise soft lineup, or Toronto's Moore could give a little more constant energy. Of course, don't count out Cole if the team looks like they're headed for the playoffs.
Have: If they're sellers, Carolina could look to move Seidenberg (UFA) or Anton Babchuk (RFA) to make room for some of their young defensemen. Chad LaRose has had a breakthrough year and might price himself out of the Hurricanes' budget next season. He could be valuable in a bottom six role somewhere. RFA Tuomo Ruutu would fetch a huge return, but one has to think Carolina will do whatever it takes to get him re-signed.
3. Florida Panthers
Need: The Panthers could use an upgrade on the first two forward lines or a third-line pivot. They have the cap space to add the Maple Leafs' Antropov, and if Buffalo becomes a seller any of their available forwards could fit (Afinogenov, Connolly, Kotalik).
Have: The Panthers biggest decision is whether or not to deal Bouwmeester, a UFA at season's end. The team has tried to sign him long term, but hasn't been successful and risks losing him for nothing. But if the playoffs are within reach, would Florida roll the dice and keep Bouwmeester in the hopes that a taste of the playoffs would change the young d-man's mind about a future in South Florida? If they're out of the race, the Panthers could move several other players: Richard Zednik, Radek Dvorak, Ville Peltonen, Nick Boyton, Jassen Cullimore, Karlis Skrastins and goalie Craig Anderson are all due new deals next year.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Need: First off, they need Sergei Gonchar back from injury. Second, they desperately need help up front. The best candidate might be ex-Pen Colby Armstrong, who had great chemistry with Sidney Crosby and is an RFA at the end of the season. One of the Sabres' expiring contracts could be a good fit, as would Tkachuk or Guerin.
Have: If Pittsburgh stumbles and has to sell off players at the deadline, Hal Gill, Phillipe Boucher, Rob Scuderi, Ruslan Fedotenko, Miro Satan and Petr Sykora could all be on their way out of the Steel City.
1. Anaheim Ducks
Need: The Ducks could use help at forward or on D. The problem is they have no cap space. Unless they can move out an expensive contract in a deal, it's going to be tough for them to take on anyone.
Have: There are some expiring contracts that might interest a Cup contender if the Ducks go into sell mode. Todd Marchant, Sammy Pahlsson, Travis Moen and Rob Neidermayer are nice role players. The entire defense outside of Chris Pronger could be available — would Scott Neidermayer be moved for one more run at the Cup?
2. Dallas Stars
Need: Dallas could use help everywhere. Marty Turco will be the starter, but a better backup would be nice. With Sergei Zubov hurt, the Stars could definitely use a puck-moving defenseman. But the combination of a cap crunch and few assets to move makes it hard to see the Stars doing anything significant.
Have: Jere Lehtinen isn't the player he one was, but if the Stars are going to be sellers, he could fetch them some much needed prospects or picks.
3. Minnesota Wild
Need: With Marion Gaborik out for the year, the Wild are missing their best offensive weapon and their top tradable asset. The team could perhaps use one more forward, especially one that can score (Guerin?), but chances are they'll play it conservatively like they normally do.
Have: As I mentioned, the Wild would've loved to get a return on Gaborik before he's unrestricted. If they drop out of the playoff hunt, Stephane Veilleux, Martin Skoula and Marc-Andre Bergeron could be moved. And what will become of goalie Niklas Backstrom? His contract is up after this year — would the Wild trade him to recoup some of the losses they have in not dealing Gaborik? Is Josh Harding ready to be an NHL No. 1?
4. Edmonton Oilers
Need: The Oilers need to do a better job keeping the puck out of the net and could score more, too. The blueline could use someone physical (Hal Gill?) and the offense needs some kind of tweak, but what?
Have: The Oilers biggest pieces if they become sellers are Cole and Roloson. There may not be a big market for Roloson, but Cole could fetch them a huge return, despite his disappointing season.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
Need: The Jackets already added Jason Williams to shore them up at center after the season-ending injury to rookie Derrick Brassard. They could perhaps still use an upgrade at wing, and certainly have the assets to make a move if they think they can make it through a couple rounds. Ruutu would fit in perfectly, and Kotalik or Antropov could provide a big boost.
Have: If Columbus fizzles out before the deadline, they have some well-priced players that could get them a nice return. Peca, Malhotra and Williams could all go, along with Christian Backman (though he's more expensive at $3.4 million). RFAs Jiri Novotny and Alexandre Picard are possibilities as well if they're not in the team's long-term plans.
6. Phoenix Coyotes
Need: The Yotes could use some playoff revenue. The team is ahead of schedule and the front office will be reluctant to give up too much. That being said, some help at wing could keep them in the playoffs. With all their cap room, they could take another team's big, long-term contract without giving up too much. What about Briere returning to Phoenix? Not likely (he has a no-movement clause), but not impossible.
Have: Stephen Reinprecht, Derek Morris and Ken Klee all have expiring deals. Klee's value is minimal, but Reinprecht and Morris could help further stock up the Phoenix cupboards.
7. Vancouver Canucks
Need: Everyone thought Mats Sundin was all the team would need to make a push. Thus far, that's backfired. There's not much left to be done as far as additions. They need to hope Roberto Luongo returns to form and Sundin rounds into shape.
Have: The Canucks have a lot they could move if they want to. The Sedin twins are set for unrestricted free agency, as is Matthias Ohlund. Alexandre Burrows, Taylor Pyatt and Kyle Wellwood have varying value, and Shane O'Brien will be an RFA.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
Have: GM Brian Burke would like to move Tomas Kaberle, but his recent injury and NTC could make that difficult. Burke needs to decide what to do with soon-to-be UFA Antropov, while Pavel Kubina and Toskala could garner interest despite having another full year on their pricey contracts. Moore could be a good acquisition for someone looking for an energy player.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Have: Recchi will be the main chip, and Gary Roberts could move if he's healthy. Matt Pettinger is in the final of year of his contract, as are Jamie Heward, Marek Malik and Cory Murphy. None of the latter would get the Lightning much in return.
3. Ottawa Senators
Have: Now that the coach is gone, so is another excuse. If the Sens don't improve, a major shakeup could come. As for players with deals expiring, the most attractive are Neil and Kuba. McAmmond could land Ottawa a late-round pick as well.
4. Atlanta Thrashers
Have: Ilya Kovalchuk still has another year on his deal, but if he isn't going to stay in Blueland it might be smart to move him now. The return would be monstrous. Regardless, the Thrashers have plenty to part with at the deadline. Here's the list: Marty Reasoner, Erik Christensen, Eric Perrin, Armstrong, Schneider, Havelid, Lehtonen. It could be a total rebuilding (again) in Atlanta.
5. New York Islanders
Have: The Islanders are on their way to a top pick, and they can likely land more picks by dealing away some of their scoring forwards. Guerin, Weight and Comrie are all due new contracts. Andy Hilbert, who makes just $700,000, could be a good third-line option somewhere.
1. Los Angeles Kings
Have: The Kings don't have anything great to sell, but they could get a little return on some of their assets. Forwards Kyle Calder and Derek Armstrong have deals that run out, while rugged defensemen Denis Gauthier and Sean O'Donnell could land them something in the trade market.
2. Nashville Predators
Have: I hate to count out the Preds, especially with Pekka Rinne playing well, but there are just too many teams to beat out for a spot. Steve Sullivan's contract expires, and with him finally back playing, he could be a wildcard for a playoff contender. Bonk is valuable faceoff man, but little else. The Gregs (defensemen De Vries and Zanon) seem likely to be moved given Nashville's organizational depth at the position, while Ville Koistinen could be a depth pickup for a playoff team.
3. Colorado Avalanche
Have: Injuries and age have caught up with the Avs. Expect them to begin their rebuilding movement with a selloff. Leopold could land them a nice pick or prospect, while Tyler Arnason, Laperriere and Raycroft could get them some lesser picks. Would they possibly move Joe Sakic if he's healthy? Don't count on it.
4. St. Louis Blues
Have: For the second time in two years, Tkachuk will be a big name in the deadline headlines. Expect the Blues to ask for at least a first-round pick for him (again). Three other players with expiring contracts could find a market: Andy McDonald, Dan Hinote and Manny Legace.