As the NHL trade deadline draws closer, speculation grows over which clubs could be buyers and which could be sellers.
Due to close playoff races in the standings the field of potential “sellers” is currently a small one.
In the Western Conference, only the dead-last Los Angeles Kings are considered out of the playoff chase. As of the all-star weekend, 11 points separated the second overall San Jose Sharks from the second-last Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s believed the Kings could shop impending unrestricted free agents like Ladislav Nagy, Scott Thornton, Brad Stuart and Jaroslav Modry by the deadline.
Nagy’s offensive skills and Stuart’s defensive experience could make them valuable on the trade market in the coming weeks, although they’re not without risk. Nagy has not proven to be a playoff performer whilst Stuart’s performance has been in decline in recent years.
Veteran defenseman Rob Blake would attract considerable attention if the Kings were to shop him, but he’d first have to agree to waive his “no-trade” clause, and then perhaps only to go to a Western Conference team.
The Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks are often mentioned as potential destinations for Blake, but it remains to be seen if either would be willing to pay what could be a steep asking price by the Kings.
Over in the Eastern Conference the race is no less tight, with an 11-point gap between the second overall Philadelphia Flyers and the 14th overall Toronto Maple Leafs, with only the Tampa Bay Lightning on the brink of falling out of the post-season race.
While rumormongers dream of a blockbuster trade involving one of the Lightning’s “big three” of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St-Louis and Brad Richards, the reality is those three aren’t going anywhere.
Like the Kings, expect the Lightning to shop impending UFAs. If the Bolts fail to gain any ground in the standings soon, forwards Vaclav Prospal and Chris Gratton, and perhaps defenseman Dan Boyle, could be playing elsewhere by the trade deadline.
To move Gratton and Boyle requires waiving their “no-trade” clauses, which they might be willing to do given their UFA eligibility, the possibility of going to a contender and if they no longer fit into the Lightning’s future plans.
It’s believed GM Jay Feaster would prefer to retain Boyle, whose absence for much of this season to a wrist injury was a significant factor in the Lightning’s struggles. To accomplish this, however, Feaster would have to free up some cap space, which could mean moving another defenseman.
One possibility would be veteran Filip Kuba, who has another season remaining on his current contract at a potentially affordable $3 million.
As for possible “buyers,” only three teams – the Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks – are known to be actively shopping thus far.
Senators GM Bryan Murray has been in the market for a top-six forward since pre-season, while Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford and Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon have been calling around for a veteran puck-moving defenseman since early December.
It’s rumored Murray could shop either defenseman Joe Corvo or checking line forward Antoine Vermette, which is what it might take to bring in a scorer.
Tallon would likely prefer to move a veteran forward like Yanic Perreault or Martin Lapointe, but they’re unlikely to fetch the return he’s seeking.
Young Blackhawks like Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have been mentioned in trade rumors, but Tallon is unwilling to part with them. If he were to move one of his young players it might be Tuomo Ruutu, who, due to his injury history, has had a disappointing NHL career.
Rutherford is thought to be interested in Colorado’s John-Michael Liles, but it might prove costly to pry him away from the Avalanche. Winger Erik Cole’s name keeps popping up in the rumor mill, which would certainly attract considerable interest, but Rutherford appears reluctant to part with him.
More teams should be joining this small group of potential buyers and sellers in the coming weeks, but it could be the Kings, Lightning, Senators, Hurricanes or Blackhawks making the first significant moves in February.
– The future of Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin should be decided this week.
Interim GM Cliff Fletcher is expected to meet with Sundin and his agent, where it’s believed Fletcher might try to convince the veteran Leafs captain to waive his “no-trade” clause.
The Leafs could receive a considerable return for Sundin if he agrees to be dealt. Detroit and Vancouver are among the clubs that could be very interested in him.
– It could also soon be decision time for Atlanta Thrashers forward Marian Hossa.
He’s eligible for UFA status this summer and Thrashers GM Don Waddell is trying to re-sign him, but it’s believed Waddell could start shopping Hossa if he remains undecided about signing a contract extension.
Teams rumored to be interested include Detroit, Boston, Dallas and the New York Rangers, as well as Hossa’s former team, the Ottawa Senators.
– Rangers defenseman Marek Malik has been an unhappy camper this season in New York, where he’s been the target of boo-birds as well as being a healthy scratch at various times this season.
Things came to a head last week when he refused to shake head coach Tom Renney’s hand following the Rangers’ 4-0 win over the Thrashers. He was a no-show at practice on Thursday and for the rematch with the Thrashers.
Malik is now reportedly available, but with less than half of the remaining $2.5 million left on his contract, combined with his problems in New York, he could prove a hard sell for Rangers management.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.