As the NHL schedule heads into a new year, the Feb. 27 trade deadline looms on the horizon.
Over the coming weeks we can expect trade activity to increase, along with media- and blogger-generated rumors.
Entering January, four teams – the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders in the East and the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks in the West – have fallen so far out of the playoff race they’ve become early trade targets for the other clubs still jockeying in the playoff race.
The Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche will join those four by late-January if they lose more ground in the standings. Some could also become “buyers” in hopes of bolstering their playoff hopes.
So which players could become available in the coming weeks?
Looking at the Blue Jackets, the obvious choice appears to be little-used center Derick Brassard, but rival teams could have more interest in 36-year-old center Vaclav Prospal, who can also play left wing, has years of experience on his side and is on pace for a 60-point season.
The Hurricanes are expected to have a “fire sale” near the deadline, looking to move out pending free agents such as defenseman Tim Gleason and right wing Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu has been involved in some rumors with Detroit already.
Ducks winger Bobby Ryan was the subject of several days of trade speculation prior to the club replacing Randy Carlyle as coach with Bruce Boudreau. That move has done nothing to improve the Ducks and while GM Bob Murray prefers to retain Ryan, the 24-year-old winger will pop up in the rumor mill again.
Veteran right wing Teemu Selanne has also been whispered as a trade candidate, though Murray insists the Finnish Flash will retire a Duck. Another veteran Finn, center Saku Koivu, is a possibility, given his free agent status this summer. Though 37 and with fading skills, Koivu might be willing to waive his no-movement clause to go to a Cup contender in need of depth at center.
Teams seeking a younger scoring center would find Buffalo’s Derek Roy a better option. It’s rumored the Sabres tried to move him at the 2011 draft and he’s faced criticism this season from fans and media over his performance. He has one year left on his contract beyond this year at a cap hit of $4 million and could benefit from a change of scenery.
Evgeni Nabokov of the Islanders will be a popular target for teams in need of goaltending depth. GM Garth Snow said a few weeks ago he wouldn’t shop Nabokov, but if the Isles continue to fall behind in the playoff race Snow will probably change his mind.
Management in Edmonton could decide to shop Nikolai Khabibulin if the Oilers continue their current swoon. Khabibulin’s enjoyed a resurgence and with only one season remaining on his $3.8 million contract he would be of interest for teams unable to wait for better goaltending options.
Right wing Ales Hemsky’s tenure with the Oilers could come to an end by Feb. 27. He’s struggled since returning from shoulder surgery, is an unrestricted free agent come July and appears to no longer fit into the team’s plans.
Avalanche center Paul Stastny has been frequently mentioned in trade rumors, but his big salary ($6.6 million through 2013-14) would prove difficult to move. Furthermore, if the Avalanche go into “sell” mode they could not shed too much salary as their current payroll of $50.8 million is close to the cap minimum of $48.3 million.
The Lightning are currently considered “buyers,” as they’re badly in need of a good starting goalie and blueline depth. If they should become deadline “sellers,” however, they won’t move stars such as Steven Stamkos, Martin St-Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. There would be a market for left wing Ryan Malone, though his $4.5 million per season contract and no-movement clause makes moving him a difficult proposition.
Flames right wing Jarome Iginla remains a favorite for rumormongers, but GM Jay Feaster maintains his captain isn’t available. A better trade possibility is pending UFA blueliner Cory Sarich.
A better option for teams looking for defensive depth are the Canadiens, where pending UFAs Hal Gill and Chris Campoli could be moved if the Habs fall out of the playoff race by the end of January. Fellow blueliner Josh Gorges is also eligible for UFA status, but the Habs hope to re-sign him. Winger Andrei Kostitsyn could also be available.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.