As we approach one month remaining until the NHL’s trade deadline the dividing line between contenders and pretenders is becoming all the more evident. For owners, general managers and players it is a tumultuous day that is plagued with anxiousness. For fans, it is a veritable Christmas Day filled with excitement and nervous anticipation as contending teams add the gritty winger or depth defenseman that they think will put them over the top. On the other hand, some teams begin to dismantle and shed salaries as the draft approaches. Let’s take a look around the league and see what may be available to those that challenge for the Stanley Cup.
In the East, two teams have – essentially – formally announced that they intend to become sellers at the trade deadline: Ottawa and Florida. For Florida, this is not uncharted territory. The franchise has not been to the playoffs since 2000 and hasn’t won a playoff game since April 17, 1997. With a new GM at the helm (Dale Tallon), it’s time for Tallon to put his personal stamp on the team. Though the Panthers are just eight points out of a playoff spot at print time, fans have waited for a winning streak in February that has never come and end up acquiring draft picks for would-be playoff heroes.
Unrestricted free agents Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak, Marty Reasoner and Bryan McCabe may draw considerable interest at the trade deadline. Stillman and McCabe are tough contracts to swallow for some teams, but Marty Reasoner might be a fine depth addition for a team like Vancouver that could make all the difference. Star goaltender Tomas Vokoun has been the talk of the town recently as Scott Clemmensen and even Jacob Markstrom have been getting into the crease. Vokoun is in the waning days of a $5.7 million per year contract – a hearty helping even prorated – but would be an upgrade in goal for most NHL teams. If Florida does somehow pull together a string of wins that gets them into the playoff picture, there would be a chance that Vokoun is extended (if he so chooses) otherwise he’ll be packaged up and sent to the highest bidder.
But there are names that are not so obvious to be moved that could be sent packing in blockbusters. Center Stephen Weiss is attracting a considerable amount of interest around the league and the cap-friendly contract is a part of
that ($3.1 million until 2013). Rostislav Olesz, paid on potential at $3.125 million until 2014, has not delivered the expected return on investment. With just three goals and 12 points this season, the interest in Olesz might not be very high but he could end up being a player of interest in Florida ever wanted to inherit a big salary.
One of the biggest surprises at the deadline could involve a deal that sees left wing David Booth leaving South Florida. It’s speculatory at this point, but there has been some scuttlebutt about the former Michigan State Spartans’ departure. The 30-goal, 60-point effort from 2008-09 seems like a moderately-distant memory at this point and it might quickly become time for a change – despite that long-term contract.
The plan to rebuild was announced after another embarrassing shellacking and is, frankly, overdue. The organization needs to be torn down and rebuilt starting with GM Bryan Murray and head coach Cory Clouston. It’s hard to say who’s untouchable on Ottawa besides Erik Karlsson and Robin Lehner. Franchise player Daniel Alfredsson is unlikely to be moved even if it’s for sentimental value. That number 11 will hang from the rafters some day in the not-too-distant future and wouldn’t it look strange for Alfy to don a Flyers jersey or Penguins jersey? Perhaps about as strange as Mike Modano lacing up his skates under a winged wheel.
Ottawa has some mastodonic contracts to shed and Murray will have his work cut out for him to be sure. Alexei Kovalev’s $5 million has been relegated to lower line duty at times and won’t garner a lot of phone calls next month. Milan Michalek is looking at four and a third million per year until 2014 and the offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL is noticeable this season. Center Mike Fisher has turned down his truculence this year and it is sorely missed on a listless Senators club. At more than $4 million per year and two additional years on the deal, he might be a tough sell at this point as well.
The prize pig for the Senators is former first overall pick Chris Phillips. The blueline stalwart has a relatively friendly contract situation and will be heavily sought after at the deadline. A lot of teams will have interest, Washington may head up that list – they have prospects to spare and a need for a rock solid, experienced defensive defenseman like Phillips.
Don’t rule out the idea of a complete overhaul that involves shipping out Jason Spezza. A team like Columbus with cap space and a need for a center might want to part with enigmatic center Derick Brassard for a player of Spezza’s caliber. Merely speculation at this point as to whether Columbus wants to commit major dollars to a player that is not homegrown however.
Pending unrestricted free agents are fairly obvious movers, but don’t be surprised if these teams make larger, more involved deals between now and the draft that could change the face of their respective clubs.