With the 2015 NHL All-Star Game now history and teams returning to action on Tuesday, the focus shifts toward the approaching NHL trade deadline on March 2. It's expected trade activity will increase over the next five weeks as more clubs fall out of playoff contention.
As the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch observes, only four teams – Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers – can be considered non-contenders and therefore sellers in the trade market. Between now and the trade deadline, Garrioch believes they will be joined by the Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.
Teams on the playoff bubble will become sellers or buyers, depending upon their performances leading up to March 2.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Florida Panthers find themselves seven points out of contention in the Eastern Conference, while the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs are 10 points out. In the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are hanging on to the final three playoff spots, with the Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild within striking distance.
The Panthers are among this season's lowest-scoring teams and that's jeopardizing their playoff hopes. GM Dale Tallon could be scouring the trade market for a scoring forward. If he becomes a seller, pending free agent forwardsTomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Kopecky could hit the trade block.
Like the Panthers, the Senators seek a top-six forward. If they become sellers, however, they could move out some long-time veterans. The Ottawa Citizen's Wayne Scanlan reports there's some interest around the league in veterans Chris Phillips and Chris Neil. Pending free-agent defenseman Marc Methot could be shopped if he and management fail to reach agreement on a new contract before the trade deadline.
After dropping nine of their last 10 games, the Maple Leafs are in free fall, sparking cries from Leafs Nation for team president Brendan Shanahan to blow up the roster immediately. It remains to be seen what Shanahan has in store.
If the Leafs become sellers, the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley speculates pending UFAs Cody Franson, Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli are most likely to be dealt. Bigger moves, possibly involving captain Dion Phaneuf and top scorer Phil Kessel, could wait until the summer.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News believes Sharks GM Doug Wilson must decide if he'll bolster his lineup, ship out pending free agents like Antti Niemi, Tyler Kennedy and James Sheppard for draft picks, or stand pat.
In the past, Wilson was willing to swing deals for playoff rental players. However, the Sharks are no longer considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Since their epic first-round collapse against the Kings in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs, speculation persists that their core could be shaken up. If the Sharks fall out of contention by the trade deadline, the much-anticipated changes could begin.
The Canucks' blueline suffered a serious blow when veteran defenseman Kevin Bieksa was sidelined by a broken hand. The Vancouver Sun's Iain MacIntyre reports Canucks GM Jim Benning will look within to replace Bieksa with young Frank Corrado. TSN's Darren Dreger claims the Canucks seek a top-six forward and could be among those pursuing Arizona's Antoine Vermette.
It's believed little-used winger Zack Kassian and either backup goalie Eddie Lack or Jacob Markstrom could be used as trade chips. Canucks president Trevor Linden made it clear, however, his club won't sacrifice its future for a playoff rental player.
Though the Flames have cooled down from their red-hot start to the season, they remain in playoff contention. Speculation persists they're among the club with interest in Buffalo Sabres winger Chris Stewart.
Flames GM Brad Treliving, however, recently told Sportsnet's Hockey Central panel he's not giving up young assets for rental players. That could take them out of the bidding for Stewart, who's an unrestricted free agent in July.
The Kings are defending Stanley Cup champions and no strangers to jockeying for one of the final berths in the Western Conference. With defenseman Slava Voynov suspended pending his upcoming domestic violence trial, it's believed they could use another top-two defenseman.
Salary cap space, however, is limited. There's widespread speculation they could try to trade fading center Mike Richards, but his $5.75-million annual cap hit through 2019-20 could prove a deal killer.
It's believed the Colorado Avalanche are gauging winger Ryan O'Reilly's trade value in hopes of landing a top-two defenseman. So far, there's no indication they're willing to pull the trigger on such a significant move by the March trade deadline.
The Stars, meanwhile, lack an experienced top-two defenseman and could use an experienced backup netminder. GM Jim Nill, however, seems willing to give his young blueliners an opportunity to play. If he goes into sell mode, expect pending UFAs Erik Cole and Shawn Horcoff to be dealt.
The Wild recently acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk to stabilize their shaky goaltending. What management does next will depend upon the Wild's performance. Should they fail to gain ground in the standings, management could become sellers. Pending UFA center Kyle Brodziak could hit the trade block.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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 The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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