Wednesday marks the final night of action before the all-star break, which means it's also the final meaningful night of action before the pre-deadline frenzy begins.
Over the next month leading up to the Feb. 25 trade freeze, teams will begin to finalize their plans and strategies for deadline day. For those in playoff or wild-card contention with Stanley Cup aspirations, it will be time to scour for the market for the last piece that they believe can put them over the top. Those too far outside the playoff hunt to even pretend to have a shot at a post-season appearance will begin the process of testing the market for assets that aren't part of the long-term picture. And for a number of teams somewhere in the mushy middle, the difficult decision will have to be made to stand pat, roll the dice and be comfortable with the result, be it a surprising playoff berth or an unexpectedly and disappointingly early off-season.
So, where does each team fall one month out? Here's a look at where the 31 teams stand entering the break:
Boston Bruins: Depth scoring is going to be the big one for the Bruins. Boston has one of the most effective top lines in the NHL, but supplementing it with some additional scoring is going to be a worthwhile pursuit, particularly when running up against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Toronto Maple Leafs in the post-season. If the Bruins really want to shore things up, a depth defensemen wouldn’t be the worst addition, either.
Calgary Flames: The funny thing about the Flames is that they’re a buyer that doesn’t need to buy all that much. Dominant offensively, sound defensively and getting decent goaltending from David Rittich makes Calgary a playoff-ready outfit. If they wanted to shore things up, though, how about an experienced bottom-six piece? Really, though, the buying should be minimal for the Flames, and that’s a good thing.
Colorado Avalanche: Generally, the rule should be that if you’re a fringe playoff team that only sneaks in, you stand. But the Avalanche don’t necessarily need to buy big to cause some problems in the post-season. Adding a middle-six talent would be one way to bolster the lineup, and it might be worth checking in on a second-pairing defenseman, as well. The Avalanche might be able to dangle their own first-round pick as a trade chip, too, given they have the Ottawa Senators first-round selection this summer.
Nashville Predators: Nashville’s situation is similar to that of Calgary. Need to buy? No. Will buy? Probably. So, where do the Predators add? To really put them over the top, you’d love to see Nashville add another pure scorer and some additional bottom-six help. Obviously, the defense is in perfect shape for a deep run, so no need to chase blueliners.
Pittsburgh Penguins: As long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are playing for the Penguins, chances are they’re going to need to buy at the deadline. This year is no different. All it takes is getting to the dance and a case of both players — as well as goaltender Matt Murray — getting hot at the right time for Pittsburgh to be a Stanley Cup threat. The Penguins are going to need to address their bottom six and maybe shore up the blueline. Kris Letang needs a breather.
San Jose Sharks: As tight as the cap situation looks, CapFriendly projects the Sharks to be able to spend on players valued at around $6.7 million come the deadline. That’s not bad and should be more than enough for San Jose to add depth scoring. They should seriously consider addressing their crease, too, with a steady backup. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have struggled, so checking in on a rental keeper might not be the worst idea.
Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s almost inconceivable that Tampa Bay could actually add a piece or two and get better, but that’s an option. GM Julien BriseBois is going to have to get creative but maybe there are a few pieces he can move around to bring in a defenseman who can turn an already strong club into a post-season juggernaut.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs need a blueliner and they need one in a bad way. It’s the only fault on an otherwise ridiculously well-built roster. Despite their current slump, the Maple Leafs are a franchise ready to take a step in the post-season. Offense isn’t a concern, nor is goaltending, as Frederik Andersen has been otherworldly for Toronto.
Vegas Golden Knights: Oh-so-close last season and icing an arguably better group this time around, the Golden Knights should use the picks they’ve built up and add ahead of the post-season. The key areas of need are a top-six scorer — not a single Golden Knights has 20 goals yet — and a third-pairing rearguard that can round out the D corps. They didn’t expect to be buying so soon, but fate has looked kindly upon Vegas.
Washington Capitals: The defending champions have to be active. The Stanley Cup window is open right now and there’s no guarantee that will be the case much longer. There are holes to be patched in the bottom-six up front and the bottom half of the blueline could use some addressing. Moving Andre Burakovsky is going to have to be the starting point, though, as ridding the books of his $3-million cap hit is necessary to open up spending room to tweak the lineup.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets seemed destined for the Stanley Cup final after downing the rival Predators, but Winnipeg fell short in the Western Conference final. What the Jets need is a Paul Stastny replacement. Their big-ticket acquisition last deadline paid huge dividends down the stretch and in the post-season, and it feels as though Winnipeg has been missing his presence since he departed as a free agent. Returns of Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers might end up being the biggest deadline adds, however.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes aren’t a seller in the traditional sense. Carolina doesn’t need a teardown. But with free agent-to-be Micheal Ferland garnering some attention, the Hurricanes should ship him off to the highest bidder. It might be worth dangling Dougie Hamilton out there, as well, who could be an intriguing addition to a team seeking an offensive blueliner for the stretch run.
Chicago Blackhawks: Sell, sell, sell! Of course, there are untouchables such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Fat chance youngster Henri Jokiharju gets moved, too. But the rest of the group? Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman should be prepared to field offers from any and all suitors on the rest of his group. The big-ticket items are Artem Anisimov and Erik Gustafsson.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Another non-traditional seller, but one that has to keep an eye on the future of their franchise. Both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin become free agents this summer and Columbus can’t lose both without netting a return. If neither sign deals by the deadline, the Blue Jackets have to consider shipping out both to the highest bidders no matter what it means for the post-season prospects. Now’s the time you’ll get the best return.
Dallas Stars: There’s too much dead weight in Dallas. Jason Spezza could make a useful third-line piece on a contender if he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause, Roman Polak will probably draw some interest from a team looking to add a stay-at-home defender and there might even be some interest in goaltender Anton Khudobin. Get back what you can now and start building around your core instead of trying to supplement it with free-agent additions.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings are prime sellers. At the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Detroit has several rentals available. Gustav Nyquist is a scoring winger that will draw interest, Thomas Vanek is a veteran hand worth snapping up, defenseman Nick Jensen could be a bottom-pairing fill-in and Jimmy Howard is about the best short-term insurance a team could get in goal right now.
Edmonton Oilers: With Peter Chiarelli out as GM, the Oilers are going to have to start the process of refreshing the roster around Connor McDavid. That begins with the deadline and shipping out rental players such as Alex Petrovic, Kevin Gravel and netminder Cam Talbot. The best budget buy might be Alex Chiasson, though, who has flourished with the Oilers this season on a $650,000 contract. Better yet, his deal expires at season’s end.
Florida Panthers: There’s far too much ground for the Panthers to make up for them to trick themselves into believing they’re a contender, so why not look ahead? If Florida was bold, they’d float Mike Hoffman out there. He’s a goal-scoring winger who could be a post-season differnce-maker if he finds the right fit. Teams searching for additional scoring might be willing to offer up a decent return to land a player of that ilk.
Los Angeles Kings: Among the players who should be shipped out are Carl Hagelin, Nate Thompson and, for the right price, Tyler Toffoli. No team needs to get younger faster than the Kings, and the best way to do that is to add futures when that’s what most teams will be willing to offer up at the deadline. If GM Rob Blake can execute a fire sale of sorts, he should seriously consider it.
New Jersey Devils: Last year’s surprising success has been followed by this season’s step backwards. That’s OK, though. These are growing pains. The plan in New Jersey should be to move out veteran pieces on expiring deals such as Brian Boyle, Drew Stafford and Ben Lovejoy. Get what you can. It would be especially bold to move Marcus Johansson. If he isn’t inked by the deadline, the Devils might lean further towards shipping out the pending UFA.
New York Rangers: So long, Kevin Hayes. Goodbye, Mats Zuccarello. Sayonara, Adam McQuaid. Any piece that can be moved should be moved by the Rangers. New York isn’t in position to contend this season, next season or at any point in the next handful of campaigns. The best bet is to build a bigger and better prospect pool and begin to start anew in New York. Poor Henrik Lundqvist.
Ottawa Senators: It’s contingent on how contract negotiations are progressing, but if Mark Stone and Matt Duchene aren’t signed by mid-February, the Senators might have to seriously test the market. Meanwhile, Ryan Dzingel’s tenure is all but over in Ottawa. There might also be reason to see what a player such as J-G Pageau or Zack Smith could fetch if the Senators are serious about rebuilding this thing from the ground up.
Philadelphia Flyers: There’s no reason to wait. Sell now. Wayne Simmonds is going to fetch a nice return, a team might be willing to pay a late-round pick for backup support from Michal Neuvirth or Brian Elliott and Michal Raffl or Jori Lehtera might be able to fetch a similar, late-rounds return. Like others, this isn’t a teardown, but it’s time to shuffle the deck.
Vancouver Canucks: No one expected this from the Canucks, but that doesn’t mean they need to buy into the excitement and needlessly buy only to fall short. Check into what you can get for Alex Edler. See what the return for Chris Tanev looks like around the league. Consider your options and keep your sights set on a three-year plan. Vancouver has potential. Don’t spoil it now.
Anaheim Ducks: While GM Bob Murray has made a few moves, none have really been from the standpoint of a buyer or a seller. The Devin Shore-Andrew Cogliano swap fits into the so-called “hockey trade” category, and other deals were of minor-league caliber. With the deadline approaching, though, Murray shouldn’t make any rash decisions. The Ducks aren’t going far in the post-season even if they sneak in, and Anaheim’s most meaningful work is going to be done this summer.
Arizona Coyotes: Given that a simple playoff berth would be a step forward for the Coyotes, Arizona might be tempted to buy. Given how banged up the Coyotes roster is, though, there isn’t much sense in moving out assets to try to bring aboard expiring pieces. This team has taken a nice step in the right direction. Be happy with that and hope for better health next season. That might lead to Arizona’s first season as a buyer in some time.
Buffalo Sabres: A red-hot November had the Sabres primed for a run into a wild-card spot, but they’ve slipped back to the pack and out of a playoff position entering the break. So, why stand? Because Buffalo has more to gain from retaining its own free agents — Jeff Skinner is a top priority — and building on the base that it has in place. Moving out assets to chase a first-round exit would be incredibly misguided.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild could add in an effort to surprise some teams in the Central. They could sell with UFAs-to-be such as Eric Staal, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Nate Prosser and Alex Stalock on the roster. But most likely the Wild will just be patient and let the deadline pass. This is the season for GM Paul Fenton to take stock of what he has, and if he’s going to get aggressive one way or the other, chances are it’s not until the off-season.
Montreal Canadiens: Let’s take Marc Bergevin’s word for it. The Canadiens’ GM said he wasn’t going to be buying rentals at the deadline. If he does make any moves, they’re going to be with the future of the franchise in mind. It’s a smart move, too, because in a seven-game series, few are going to take Montreal to get by Toronto, Boston or Tampa Bay. Just be content with the play this season and continue steering the ship on the right path.
New York Islanders: It’s likely no one in New York is going to agree, but the Islanders should be honest with themselves. As well as they’ve played, are they winning the Stanley Cup this season? Not likely. This is a long-term build, so stay the course. If anything, New York should lean towards selling a few pieces, particularly those that aren’t part of the long-term plan with new contracts due to Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and Robin Lehner come next summer. Ensure you have the cap space to sign them.
St. Louis Blues: There are some clamoring for the Blues to blow it up, but it might be wise to exercise some patience. If St. Louis does feel the need to shake up the roster, let it be during the summer when there are more potential trade partners. Also, the Blues have a roster that’s capable of surprising if they sneak into the playoffs and the Western Conference wild-card somehow remains wide open.