Behind the top four teams, the Western Conference is wide open a month before the deadline, which could make it difficult for teams to deal until the playoff race starts to settle itself.
At the same time, it seems unlikely that nine teams will remain within six points up to the deadline, so when a few of those teams fall off the pace, that will help to better determine which teams are going to be buyers and which will be sellers.
Here is a breakdown of upcoming free agents, prospects and other players that may be among those discussed in trade talks leading up to the March 4 trade deadline.
A couple of notes about the following chart:
Restricted Free Agents (RFA) have contracts that expire this summer, barring a contract extension in the meantime, but their current team retains the right to match a contract offer so long as they make the requisite qualifying offer. While restricted free agents haven't moved a lot, but it's worth noting when decision time is coming on a young player's contract.
Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) have contracts that will expire this summer and, without a contract extension, they will be free to sign with whatever team they choose on July 1. These are the players that often move in "rental"-type deals, ideally providing a short-term fix with minimal commitment required.
Top prospects are the top five players in each organization that aren't currently with the NHL club. Other top prospects that are now with the NHL team may be listed among other players of interest. Contending teams may be more likely to dangle a top prospect or two as they try to find that final piece for their playoff mix, while it's safe to assume that young and rebuilding teams aren't going to move top prospects unless they get a significant long-term piece in return.
Other players of interest will include prospects who have spent some time in the NHL this season as well as players under contract for future seasons that may have some level of attractiveness on the trade market.
IMPORTANT: Just because a player is listed as being of interest, it doesn't mean he will be traded or should be traded. Some may just be of interest for teams looking to hit a home run when trying to swing a deal or they are players that may be considered to be underachieving for the money they are due over the rest of their contract.
Generally, then, here's a rough guide for which players each Eastern Conference team might have at their disposal in order to make a trade leading up to the deadline.
(Prospect ages as of Feb. 1, 2009)
(Prospect stats through Feb. 3, 2009)
(no-trade info. from www.nhlscap.com)
RFA: Mike Brown, Brett Festerling.
UFA: Brendan Morrison, Todd Marchant, Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Brad Larsen, Scott Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin, Bret Hedican, Steve Montador, Kent Huskins.
Eric Tangradi, LW, Belleville (OHL), 19
31-38-69, plus-30, 49 PIM in 43 GP
Mark Mitera, D, Michigan (CCHA), 21
0-0-0, 0 PIM in 1 GP
Jake Gardiner, D, Wisconsin (WCHA), 18
2-13-15, 10 PIM in 27 GP
Logan MacMillan, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL), 19
8-14-22, minus-12, 47 PIM in 28 GP
Matt Beleskey, LW, Iowa (AHL), 20
7-12-19, minus-4, 30 PIM in 26 GP
Other Players of Interest: Drew Miller, Andrew Ebbett, Ryan Carter, Chris Pronger.
No-Trade Clauses: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Todd Marchant.
The Plan: While the Ducks are in playoff position, it's been a relatively disappointing season so changes could be in order. With exceptional young talent to build around, the Ducks could still be contenders with some tweaking and with a massive list of free agents, it's likely worth one more shot with this current core. While the top young players aren't likely to get moved, if a prospect could yield more immediate veteran help, a decision will have to be made.
RFA: Dustin Boyd, Adam Pardy, Curtis McElhinney.
UFA: Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, David Moss, Andre Roy, Adrian Aucoin, Rhett Warrener.
Mikael Backlund, C, Kelowna (WHL), 19
4-8-12, plus-1, 8 PIM in 10 GP
Leland Irving, G, Quad City (AHL), 20
9-10-1, 2.34 GAA, .906 SVPCT in 22 GP
Greg Nemisz, RW, Windsor (OHL), 18
28-33-61, plus-39, 36 PIM in 50 GP
John Negrin, D, Swift Current (WHL), 19
8-34-42, even, 33 PIM in 47 GP
Keith Aulie, D, Brandon (WHL), 19
5-19-24, plus-5, 66 PIM in 45 GP
Other Players of Interest: Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust, Mark Giordano, Kris Chucko.
No-Trade Clauses: Adrian Aucoin, Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Robyn Regehr.
The Plan: Rising up to contend in the Western Conference, the Flames could still use a premier playmaking centre, but it's much more of a dream scenario rather than desperate need at this point. In any case, expect some minor tweaking for veteran depth unless a blockbuster falls into GM Darryl Sutter's lap.
RFA: David Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, James Wisniewski.
UFA: Martin Havlat, Craig Adams, Matt Walker, Aaron Johnson, Nikolai Khabibulin.
Kyle Beach, LW, Lethbridge (WHL), 19
18-26-44, plus-5, 124 PIM in 39 GP
Jack Skille, RW, Rockford (AHL), 21
15-19-34, plus-10, 37 PIM in 37 GP
Petri Kontiola, C, Rockford (AHL), 24
10-32-42, plus-3, 14 PIM in 49 GP
Niklas Hjalmarsson, D, Rockford (AHL), 21
2-12-14, plus-9, 43 PIM in 40 GP
Igor Makarov, RW, St. Petersburg (KHL), 21
7-6-13, minus-1, 55 PIM in 36 GP
Other Players of Interest: Dustin Byfuglien, Corey Crawford.
The Plan: Perhaps a little ahead of schedule as contenders in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks won't mortgage the future for a short-term run, but with a team this close already, Chicago could use a further push with a veteran centre. While Nikolai Khabibulin figured to be on the block early in the season, it's harder to justify moving him now, as he's been very effective paired with Cristobal Huet.
RFA: David Jones, Cody McCormick, Cody McLeod, Kyle Cumiskey, Peter Budaj.
UFA: Joe Sakic, Tyler Arnason, Ian Laperriere, Ben Guite, Brian Willsie, Jordan Leopold, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Andrew Raycroft.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Boston University (HE), 20
5-10-15, 24 PIM in 24 GP
Ryan Stoa, C, Minnesota (WCHA), 21
15-15-30, 64 PIM in 23 GP
Cameron Gaunce, D, Mississauga St. Mike's (OHL), 18
14-32-46, plus-17, 89 PIM in 49 GP
Colby Cohen, D, Boston University (HE), 19
3-18-21, 29 PIM in 24 GP
Nigel Williams, D, Lake Erie (AHL), 20
5-6-11, minus-2, 43 PIM in 42 GP
Other Players of Interest: Darcy Tucker, Marek Svatos, T.J. Hensick, Ruslan Salei, Kyle Cumiskey.
No-Trade Clauses: Adam Foote, Scott Hannan, Milan Hejduk, John-Michael Liles, Ryan Smyth.
The Plan: While the Avs aren't far from a playoff spot, inconsistent goaltending would have to be addressed if a playoff push was going to be part of this year's agenda, yet the Avs aren't good enough to justify sacrificing any of their up-and-coming talent just on the chance that they can sneak into the postseason.
RFA: Jiri Novotny, Alexandre Picard, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Marc Methot.
UFA: Jason Williams, Michael Peca, Manny Malhotra, Christian Backman.
Cody Goloubef, D, Wisconsin (WCHA), 19
4-5-9, 28 PIM in 24 GP
Andrei Plekhanov, D, Syracuse (AHL), 22
2-15-17, plus-3, 42 PIM in 40 GP
Tommy Sestito, LW, Syracuse (AHL), 21
7-8-15, minus-2, 117 PIM in 31 GP
Ted Ruth, D, Notre Dame (CCHA), 19
2-1-3, 36 PIM in 23 GP
Daniel LaCosta, G, Syracuse (AHL), 22
15-14-2, 2.58 GAA, .917 SVPCT in 34 GP
Other Players of Interest: Jakub Voracek, Raffi Torres, Maxim Mayorov, Jonathan Sigalet.
No-Trade Clauses: Mike Commodore, Fredrik Modin.
The Plan: After years of waiting, the Blue Jackets -- now buoyed by the out-of-this-world play from rookie goaltender Steve Mason -- are pushing hard for the playoffs. While blue-chippers like Nikita Filatov and Derick Brassard have to be considered untouchable, Columbus is likely willing to give up some youth if the deal will yield an impact player to push them over the playoff hump.
RFA: Chris Conner, Tobias Stephan.
UFA: Jere Lehtinen, Joel Lundqvist, Brian Sutherby, Mark Parrish, Landon Wilson, Sergei Zubov, Darryl Sydor, Doug Janik.
Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, Peoria (AHL), 20
3-9-12, minus8, 20 PIM in 40 GP
Jamie Benn, LW, Kelowna (WHL), 19
34-25-59, plus-11, 50 PIM in 38 GP
Ondrej Roman, LW, Spokane (WHL), 19
4-7-11, plus-9, 4 PIM in 10 GP
Richard Bachman, G, Colorado College (WCHA), 21
11-8-6, 2.60 GAA, .914 SVPCT in 25 GP
Perttu Lindgren, C, Lukko Rauma (Finland), 21
5-13-18, even, 10 PIM in 39 GP
Other Players of Interest: Niklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen, Andrew Hutchinson, Colton Sceviour, Tom Wandell.
No-Trade Clauses: Sean Avery, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards, Marty Turco, Sergei Zubov.
The Plan: After a horrible start to the season, the Stars (sans Avery) are back in the playoff mix, though they'll probably want to firm up the roster some before heading into the postseason; perhaps with a backup goaltender, a veteran scorer and a proven puck-moving defenceman.
RFA: Jiri Hudler, Ville Leino.
UFA: Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Johan Franzen, Darren McCarty, Tomas Kopecky, Chris Chelios, Ty Conklin.
Thomas McCollum, G, Brampton (OHL), 19
25-11-4, 2.09 GAA, .929 SVPCT in 40 GP
Brendan Smith, D, Wisconsin (WCHA), 19
7-11-18, 40 PIM in 21 GP
Jakub Kindl, D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 21
5-22-27, minus-13, 50 PIM in 48 GP
Justin Abdelkader, RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 21
14-13-27, minus-6, 59 PIM in 44 GP
Dick Axelsson, LW, Farjestads (Sweden), 21
9-16-25, plus-1, 16 PIM in 32 GP
Other Players of Interest: Darren Helm, Mattias Ritola, Evan McGrath, Jonathan Ericsson, Daniel Larsson.
No-Trade Clauses: Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski.
The Plan: The defending champs have a well-stocked roster and plenty of prospects that could be moved if any tweaking is deemed necessary. Goaltending and general team defence have been problems this season, so any moves before the deadline should address concerns regarding goals against.
RFA: Kyle Brodziak, Liam Reddox, Denis Grebeshkov, Ladislav Smid.
UFA: Erik Cole, Jason Strudwick, Dwayne Roloson, Dany Sabourin.
Jordan Eberle, RW, Regina (WHL), 18
27-27-54, plus-4, 12 PIM in 44 GP
Jeff Petry, D, Michigan State (CCHA), 21
1-10-11, 26 PIM in 28 GP
Taylor Chorney, D, Springfield (AHL), 21
3-9-12, minus-21, 14 PIM in 41 GP
Linus Omark, LW, Lulea (Sweden), 21
18-30-48, plus-14 in 47 GP
Theo Peckham, D, Springfield (AHL), 21
6-13-19, minus-4, 81 PIM in 43 GP
Other Players of Interest: Dustin Penner, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot, Ryan Potulny, Gilbert Brule, Rob Schremp, Riley Nash, Devan Dubnyk.
No-Trade Clauses: Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky.
The Plan: Right on the edge of a playoff position, the Oilers could use a few new faces to help push them over the top and if it costs a prospect or two to provide more consistent offensive support for Ales Hemsky, then it's probably worth the risk.
RFA: Jack Johnson.
UFA: Kyle Calder, Derek Armstrong, Denis Gauthier, Sean O'Donnell, Erik Ersberg.
Colten Teubert, D, Regina (WHL), 18
9-16-25, plus-12, 91 PIM in 43 GP
Jonathan Bernier, G, Manchester (AHL), 20
11-15-3, 2.68 GAA, .901 SVPCT in 29 GP
Thomas Hickey, D, Seattle (WHL), 19
10-23-33, plus-17, 22 PIM in 38 GP
Trevor Lewis, C, Manchester (AHL), 22
11-18-29, minus-7, 22 PIM in 42 GP
Teddy Purcell, RW, Manchester (AHL), 23
9-13-22, minus-2, 8 PIM in 28 GP
Other Players of Interest: Patrick O'Sullivan, Tom Preissing, Peter Harrold, Viatcheslav Voynov.
No-Trade Clauses: Michal Handzus.
The Plan: The Kings already have a deep crop of young players at the NHL level, with more quality prospects on the way, so if young goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg can keep them in the playoff hunt, the Kings may be willing to push (a little) for a postseason berth now. If not, the core is in place for this team to contend in the very near future, so there's no reason for any drastic moves.
RFA: Dan Fritsche.
UFA: Marian Gaborik, Stephane Veilleux, Krystofer Kolanos, Martin Skoula, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kurtis Foster, Niklas Backstrom.
Benoit Pouliot, C, Houston (AHL), 22
1-3-4, minus-2 in 7 GP
Clayton Stoner, D, Houston (AHL), 23
2-15-17, plus-8, 41 PIM in 35 GP
Tyler Cuma, D, Ottawa (OHL), 19
1-8-9, minus-7 in 20 GP
Marco Scandella, D, Val d'Or (QMJHL), 18
6-24-30, minus-12, 46 PIM in 42 GP
Maxim Noreau, D, Houston (AHL), 21
10-11-21, minus-3, 43 PIM in 48 GP
Other Players of Interest: James Sheppard, Owen Nolan, Kim Johnsson, Peter Olvecky, John Scott.
The Plan: The dominant issue for the Wild this season has been the contract -- and injury -- status of Marian Gaborik, who isn't expected back from hip surgery until after the All-Star break. It seems unlikely that the Wild could get a premier trade package in return for an injured Gaborik, so the best plan of attack may be to push for the playoffs this season and worry about getting something in return for Gaborik's rights before he hits free agency. In the meantime, anything to help out offensively would be most welcome.
RFA: Ryan Jones, Antti Pihlstrom, Alexander Sulzer.
UFA: Steve Sullivan, Radek Bonk, Vernon Fiddler, Scott Nichol, Joel Ward, Greg de Vries, Greg Zanon, Ville Koistinen.
Colin Wilson, C, Boston University (HE), 19
9-23-32, 34 PIM in 23 GP
Chet Pickard, G, Tri-City (WHL), 19
25-10-3, 2.43 GAA, .916 SVPCT in 38 GP
Cody Franson, D, Milwaukee (AHL), 21
6-22-28, plus-3, 22 PIM in 43 GP
Mike Santorelli, C, Milwaukee (AHL), 23
14-31-45, even, 18 PIM in 41 GP
Nick Spaling, C, Milwaukee (AHL), 20
9-14-23, plus-10, 14 IM in 47 GP
Other Players of Interest: Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Cal O'Reilly,
No-Trade Clauses: Jason Arnott, Jean-Pierre Dumont, David Legwand.
The Plan: Still close enough to the playoff race to consider adding much-needed scoring help, the Predators tend to (the Peter Forsberg trade aside) build from within, holding onto their best prospects and that figures to be the plan once again.
RFA: Enver Lisin, Daniel Winnik, Joakim Lindstrom, Steven Goertzen, Keith Yandle.
UFA: Steve Reinprecht, Derek Morris, Ken Klee, Mikael Tellqvist.
Chris Summers, D, Michigan (CCHA), 20
4-11-15, 30 PIM in 28 GP
Brett MacLean, RW, San Antonio (AHL), 20
15-11-26, even, 19 PIM in 48 GP
Kevin Porter, RW, San Antonio (AHL), 22
4-4-8, minus-4, 10 PIM in 14 GP
Nick Ross, D, Vancouver (WHL), 19
8-24-32, plus-13, 68 PIM in 53 GP
Josh Tordjman, G, San Antonio (AHL), 24
19-16-1, 2.45 GAA, .915 SVPCT in 37 GP
Other Players of Interest: Martin Hanzal, Joel Perrault, Jonas Ahnelov, David Schlemko.
No-Trade Clauses: Shane Doan, Ed Jovanovski.
The Plan: Teetering on the edge of a playoff spot, depending on the day, the Coyotes have such a good young core that they can continue to build towards next season. However, if they remain in the race, there is enough promising talent in the organization that a prospect or two could be moved to lift Phoenix down the stretch.
RFA: Ryane Clowe, Marcel Goc, Torrey Mitchell, Tomas Plihal.
UFA: Mike Grier, Jeremy Roenick, Claude Lemieux, Rob Blake, Alexei Semenov, Brian Boucher.
Logan Couture, C, Ottawa (OHL), 19
21-33-54, plus-12, 28 PIM in 44 GP
Nick Petrecki, D, Boston College (HE), 19
0-5-5, 112 PIM in 22 GP
Tyson Sexsmith, G, Vancouver (WHL), 19
30-4-2, 2.11 GAA, .902 SVPCT in 36 GP
Julien Demers, D, Ottawa (OHL), 19
7-24-31, plus-16 in 45 GP
Thomas Greiss, G, Worcester (AHL), 23
16-12-2, 2.65 GAA, .897 SVPCT in 30 GP
Other Players of Interest: Jonathan Cheechoo, Jamie McGinn, Lukas Kaspar, Steven Zalewski, Derek Joslin.
No-Trade Clauses: Dan Boyle, Mike Grier, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov (conditional).
The Plan: Likely the favourite in the Western Conference, the Sharks have a loaded lineup that may only require the smallest of tweaks for depth help leading into the postseason, particularly since the team's biggest need right now may be a checking centre and Torrey Mitchell should be able to fill that role when he returns from a broken leg that has kept him out all season.
RFA: Jay McClement, B.J. Crombeen, Jeff Woywitka, Roman Polak.
UFA: Keith Tkachuk, Andy McDonald, Dan Hinote, Brad Winchester, Mike Weaver, Manny Legace.
Alex Pietrangelo, D, Niagara (OHL)
5-16-21, plus-5, 12 PIM in 20 GP
Ian Cole, D, Notre Dame (CCHA), 19
3-10-13, 38 PIM in 25 GP
Lars Eller, LW, Vastra Frolunda (Sweden), 19
9-9-18, plus-5, 20 PIM in 40 GP
Jonas Junland, D, Peoria (QHL), 21
9-15-24, minus-3, 26 PIM in 40 GP
Ben Bishop, G, Peoria (AHL), 22
13-13-1, 2.81 GAA, .899 SVPCT in 27 GP
Other Players of Interest: Jay McKee.
No-Trade Clauses: Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman (limited), Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk.
The Plan: Injuries have made it a tough season for the Blues, but the upside is that St. Louis has seen tremendous development from their young players, so they know they have a group that they can build around for the future. To that end, veterans headed for free agency (Tkachuk, McDonald, Legace) may bring additional value to continue the rebuilding process.
RFA: Nathan McIver, Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood, Rick Rypien, Jannik Hansen, Shane O'Brien.
UFA: Mats Sundin, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Taylor Pyatt, Alexandre Burrows, Mattias Ohlund, Rob Davison, Lawrence Nycholat.
Cody Hodgson, C, Brampton (OHL), 18
31-32-63, plus-23 in 35 GP
Cory Schneider, G, Manitoba (AHL), 22
18-3, 1.66 GAA, .935 SVPCT in 22 GP
Sergei Shirokov, LW, CSKA Moscow (KHL), 22
15-21-36, plus-4, 24 PIM in 50 GP
Michael Grabner, RW, Manitoba (AHL), 21
19-9-28, plus-15, 12 PIM in 39 GP
Yann Sauve, D, Saint John (QMJHL), 18
4-24-28, minus-7, 50 PIM in 48 GP
Other Players of Interest: Mason Raymond, Kevin Bieksa, Alexandre Bolduc, Shaun Heshka.
No-Trade Clauses: Roberto Luongo, Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Willie Mitchell.
The Plan: With the Sedins potentially headed for free agency and Mats Sundin signed on for the second half, the Canucks have a sense of urgency to not only hold onto a playoff spot, but to make some noise when they get there. With room to move under the cap, that means the Canucks are in a position to deal.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca