Given the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference, it's hard to rule out too many teams from playoff contention.
Toronto holds down last spot in the conference and has already shown that they are ready to deal. Presumably, they still have a few more moves to make as they try to build for next season.
Carolina has improved significantly after a terrible first half of the season, but they've already begun the selling process and Ray Whitney may be the premier target left for teams seeking a scoring forward.
Florida and the New York Islanders are slipping back as well and the Panthers appear poised to make significant changes as a result.
Atlanta has already traded Ilya Kovalchuk, but did so with the hopes of staying in the playoff hunt. They don't seem likely to add players, but within striking distance of eighth in the East, the Thrashers may not be selling too much more.
Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers, Montreal and Boston are all locked into battles for the final couple of playoff spots.
Philadelphia, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and New Jersey look like good bets to make the postseason, while Washington is pulling away from the pack.
That's a lot of teams -- perhaps as many as ten -- that figure to be in the mood to acquire players heading to the March 3rd 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, 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 haven't played ten NHL games this season. Other top prospects or those 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.
UFA in 2010: Vyacheslav Kozlov, Colby Armstrong, Jim Slater, Maxim Afinogenov, Eric Boulton, Pavel Kubina, Christoph Schubert, Mark Popovic, Johan Hedberg.
RFA in 2010: Bryan Little, Niclas Bergfors, Ondrej Pavelec.
Carl Klingberg, LW, Vastra Frolunda (SEL)
Jeremy Morin, LW, Kitchener (OHL)
Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, Texas (AHL)
Arturs Kulda, D, Chicago (AHL)
Patrice Cormier, C, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Others of Interest: Todd White.
No-Trade Clauses: Ron Hainsey, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Pavel Kubina.
The Plan: After dealing Ilya Kovalchuk, the Thrashers are still holding out hope that they can squeeze into the postseason, and at least have a home-favoured schedule the rest of the way to give them a fighting chance, but with so many pending unrestricted free agents on the roster, the long-range plan might be better with some more deals. If not re-signed, Colby Armstrong and Maxim Afinogenov are a couple of wingers that should be attractive enough to get a draft pick or prospect in return.
UFA in 2010: Mark Recchi, Steve Begin, Miroslav Satan, Shawn Thornton, Derek Morris, Andrew Ference.
RFA in 2010: Daniel Paille, Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka, Mark Stuart, Johnny Boychuk.
Joe Colborne, C, Denver (WCHA)
Yuri Alexandrov, D, Cherepovets Severstal (KHL)
Zach Hamill, C, Providence (AHL)
Jordan Caron, RW, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Tommy Cross, D, Boston College (HE)
Others of Interest: Dennis Wideman, Brad Marchand, Matt Hunwick.
No-Trade Clauses: Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard, Marco Sturm, Derek Morris, Miroslav Satan, Tim Thomas.
The Plan: The Bruins have stumbled along for most of the season, dealing with injuries to key performers, and sit on the playoff bubble though they are capable of doing some damage, even as a lower seed, in the postseason, particularly if they can add a finisher (or two). Boston is hanging onto the first-round pick that previously belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs; a pick that looks like a Top Three selection, but Toronto's second-rounder could also have some appeal to selling teams.
UFA in 2010: Mike Grier, Adam Mair, Matt Ellis, Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder, Nathan Paetsch, Patrick Lalime.
RFA in 2010: Clarke MacArthur, Tim Kennedy, Patrick Kaleta.
Jhonas Enroth, G, Portland (AHL)
Tyler Ennis, C, Portland (AHL)
Zack Kassian, RW, Windsor (OHL)
Mike Weber, D, Portland (AHL)
Luke Adam, C, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
Others of Interest: Drew Stafford, Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera, Chris Butler.
No-Trade Clauses: Ryan Miller.
The Plan: A recent slump has cost the Sabres their comfortable lead in the Northeast Division, revealing problems as the offence has underachieved for much of the season, defence has struggled at times and, lately, even Ryan Miller's goaltending has slipped. To rectify the situation a power play quarterback on defence would help; ideally one that could also handle top-pair minutes and ease the pressure on stalwart rookie blueliner Tyler Myers. Those don't come that easily via trade, so the Sabres may be left to patch holes if they can't make a blockbuster.
UFA in 2010: Ray Whitney, Scott Walker, Stephane Yelle, Joe Corvo, Aaron Ward, Manny Legace.
RFA in 2010: Jiri Tlusty, Alexandre Picard, Brett Carson.
Zach Boychuk, RW, Albany (AHL)
Jamie McBain, D, Albany (AHL)
Drayson Bowman, LW, Albany (AHL)
Zac Dalpe, C, Ohio State (CCHA)
Mike Murphy, G, Albany (AHL)
Others of Interest: Jerome Samson, Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov.
No-Trade Clauses: Ray Whitney, Scott Walker.
The Plan: The Hurricanes are paying the price for loyalty, with veterans like Rod Brind'Amour, Erik Cole and Sergei Samsonov all inked for another year beyond this miserable season, meaning that attempts to purge the roster won't likely get fully undertaken until the summer. In the meantime, however, the 'Canes have a number of young prospects on the way that can use the latter portion of the season to audition for full-time work next season and Carolina should be able to get a decent return for a veteran rental like Ray Whitney, whose power play ability will make him a nice fit for many contenders, and a healthy Joe Corvo could also be appealing to a contender needing a big shot from the point.
UFA in 2010: Dennis Seidenberg, Jordan Leopold.
RFA in 2010: Kenndal McArdle, Gregory Campbell, Kamil Kreps, Nick Tarnasky, Jason Garrison.
Jacob Markstrom, G, Brynas Gavle (SEL)
Keaton Ellerby, D, Rochester (AHL)
Colby Robak, D, Brandon (WHL)
Evgeny Dadonov, RW, Rochester (AHL)
Alexander Salak, G, Rochester (AHL)
Others of Interest: Cory Stillman, Rostislav Olesz, Steven Reinprecht, Bryan Allen, Ville Koistinen.
No-Trade Clauses: Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe, Tomas Vokoun.
The Plan: Falling off the playoff pace, the Panthers seem to have exasperated GM Randy Sexton and he's promised major changes, which will presumably involve more than trading Dominic Moore to Montreal. The Panthers have a decent young core, but need improved complementary scoring and could use improvement on the blueline (whether immediate or in the future) to help ease the burden on goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has been tremendous.
UFA in 2010: Tomas Plekanec, Dominic Moore, Glen Metropolit, Paul Mara, Marc-Andre Bergeron.
RFA in 2010: Sergei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Maxim Lapierre, Matt D'Agostini, Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak.
P.K. Subban, D, Hamilton (AHL)
Ben Maxwell, C, Hamilton (AHL)
Cedrick Desjardins, G, Hamilton (AHL)
Brock Trotter, C, Hamilton (AHL)
Louis Leblanc, C, Harvard (ECAC)
Others of Interest: Georges Laraque, Ryan White, Yannick Weber.
No-Trade Clauses: Scott Gomez, Roman Hamrlik, Andrei Markov, Georges Laraque.
The Plan: As long as the playoffs are within reach, Montreal figures to aim in that direction, without sacrificing top prospects. Pending free agent centre Tomas Plekanec, the team's leading scorer, could be difficult to re-sign when last summer's trio of acquisitions -- Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta -- are all taking in more than $5-million per season, but as long as Montreal is competing for a playoff spot, they can't unload their No.1 pivot. While there are rumours of the Canadiens shopping a goaltender, that kind of dramatic move might be better saved for the summer.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
UFA in 2010: Ilya Kovalchuk, Rob Niedermayer, Ilkka Pikkarainen, Dean McAmmond, Paul Martin, Mike Mottau, Yann Danis.
RFA in 2010: David Clarkson, Rod Pelley, Mark Fraser.
Mattias Tedenby, LW, VH71 Jonkoping (SEL)
Jacob Josefson, C, Djurgardens (SEL)
Jeff Frazee, G, Lowell (AHL)
Adam Henrique, C, Windsor (OHL)
Brandon Burlon, D, Michigan (CCHA)
Others of Interest: Vladimir Zharkov, Matt Halischuk, Matt Corrente, Tyler Eckford.
No-Trade Clauses: Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jay Pandolfo, Brian Rolston, Colin White.
The Plan: Once again challenging for top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Devils made a bold move by acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk for the stretch run, giving the Devils -- at least theoretically -- plenty of firepower up front. Ideally, New Jersey would still be able to secure the services of a defenceman which, combined with a presumably healthy Paul Martin, would have the Devils' D in fine shape entering the postseason.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
UFA in 2010: Doug Weight, Jon Sim, Richard Park, Tim Jackman, Andy Sutton, Freddy Meyer, Martin Biron.
RFA in 2010: Sean Bergenheim, Rob Schremp, Jeff Tambellini, Matt Moulson, Andrew MacDonald.
Travis Hamonic, D, Brandon (WHL)
Calvin De Haan, D, Oshawa (OHL)
Rhett Rakhshani, RW, Denver (WCHA)
Aaron Ness, D, Minnesota (WCHA)
Blake Kessel, D, New Hampshire (HE)
Others of Interest: Brendan Witt, Bruno Gervais.
No-Trade Clauses: None.
The Plan: The Islanders have fallen back in the race for a playoff spot, but with such a young squad, there is no reason to do anything but continue to build towards the future. They have some veterans who have some marketability, including Martin Biron and Andy Sutton.
NEW YORK RANGERS
UFA in 2010: Olli Jokinen, Vaclav Prospal.
RFA in 2010: Enver Lisin, Erik Christensen, Brandon Prust, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal.
Evgeny Grachev, LW, Hartford (AHL)
Bobby Sanguinetti, D, Hartford (AHL)
Derek Stepan, C, Wisconsin (WCHA)
Ryan McDonagh, D, Wisconsin (WCHA)
Chris Kreider, C, Boston College (HE)
Others of Interest: Dane Byers, Ilkka Heikkinen.
No-Trade Clauses: Chris Drury, Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival.
The Plan: The Rangers are outside playoff position, and have strong goaltending along with a capable young defence, but may need more an offensive upgrade than Olli Jokinen if they are going to stay in the mix or do any damage in the playoffs. Marian Gaborik is the only legitimate sniper and even if Jokinen improves the offensive output, the Rangers could also use a power play quarterback on the point and another winger who can finish.
UFA in 2010: Matt Cullen, Shean Donovan, Ryan Shannon, Anton Volchenkov.
RFA in 2010: Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester, Chris Campoli.
Jared Cowen, D, Spokane (WHL)
Robin Lehner, G, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Patrick Wiercioch, D, Denver (WCHA)
Jacob Silfverberg, RW, Brynas Gavle (SEL)
Kaspars Daugavins, LW, Binghamton (AHL)
Others of Interest: Jonathan Cheechoo, Zack Smith, Ryan Keller, Josh Hennessy, Brian Lee.
No-Trade Clauses: Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, Jason Spezza, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips.
The Plan: After goaltending was a problem for the first half of the season, the Senators have dramatically improved in the second half with Brian Elliott taking over the starting job and allowing Ottawa to make plans for the playoffs. Provided Elliott continues his strong play in net, the Senators can focus on other needs, like another solid defenceman, considering the defensive challenges that rookie Erik Karlsson and Chris Campoli have gone through at times this season. Bringing in veteran centre Matt Cullen, from the Hurricanes, provides a boost of versatility for the forward units and should help the struggling Sens power play.
UFA in 2010: Arron Asham, Blair Betts, Mika Pyorala, Mike Rathje, Ray Emery, Michael Leighton.
RFA in 2010: Daniel Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Danny Syvret.
Patrick Maroon, LW, Adirondack (AHL)
Marc-Andre Bourdon, D, Adirondack (AHL)
Joonas Lehtivuori, D, Adirondack (AHL)
Jonathan Matsumoto, C, Adirondack (AHL)
Andrei Popov, RW, Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL)
Others of Interest: Brian Boucher, David Laliberte, Andreas Nodl, Jonathon Kalinski.
No-Trade Clauses: Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen.
The Plan: An up-and-down season still has the Flyers in playoff position, but still looking to improve a talented roster. Maybe a depth defenceman would help, but the focal point for Philly is going to be goaltending, depending on the health of Ray Emery and, if he's not healthy, will the Flyers bring in a more established veteran puck stopper to take over from Michael Leighton?
UFA in 2010: Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Cooke, Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Jay McKee, Martin Skoula, Brent Johnson.
RFA in 2010: Kris Letang.
Luca Caputi, LW, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Eric Tangradi, LW, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Simon Despres, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
Keven Veilleux, RW, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Nick Petersen, RW, Saint John (QMJHL)
Others of Interest: Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Mark Letestu, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland.
No-Trade Clauses: Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik.
The Plan: Defending the Stanley Cup isn't easy and the Penguins are finding that out, with a midseason slump revealing some vulnerability that might not have been expected. There have also been numerous injuries to deal with and the Penguins can always use another scoring winger to complement their playmaking centres, but they have lots of talent in the organization to make such a deal if it's deemed necessary.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
UFA in 2010: Alex Tanguay, Jeff Halpern, Stephane Veilleux, Brandon Bochenski, Zenon Konopka, David Hale, Kurtis Foster, Antero Niittymaki.
RFA in 2010: Steve Downie, Nate Thompson, Paul Szczechura, Paul Ranger, Mike Lundin.
James Wright, LW, Vancouver (WHL)
Carter Ashton, RW, Brandon (WHL)
Dustin Tokarski, G, Norfolk (AHL)
Richard Panik, C, Belleville (OHL)
Blair Jones, C, Norfolk (AHL)
Others of Interest: Todd Fedoruk, Andrej Meszaros.
No-Trade Clauses: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis.
The Plan: Pushing for a playoff spot, the Lightning have an intriguing mix of young and veteran talent and really need Alex Tanguay to elevate his production in order to give them two quality scoring lines to stay engaged in the playoff hunt. Otherwise, Tanguay figures to be expendable. Given the young talent on the roster, the Lightning won't sacrifice the future just to contend for a playoff spot, but it's hard to imagine them sacrificing a chance at the postseason by shedding veterans.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
UFA in 2010: Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Wayne Primeau, Jamie Lundmark, Mike Van Ryn, Garnet Exelby.
RFA in 2010: Nikolai Kulemin, John Mitchell, Jonas Gustavsson.
Nazem Kadri, C, London (OHL)
Mikhail Stefanovich, RW, Quebec (QMJHL)
Keith Aulie, D, Toronto (AHL)
Jimmy Hayes, RW, Boston College (HE)
Jerry D'Amigo, RW, R.P.I. (ECAC)
Others of Interest: Jeff Finger.
No-Trade Clauses: Tomas Kaberle, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The Plan: With no picks in the first two rounds, the Maple Leafs will be interested in acquiring draft picks and prospects in any deals and still have some pieces to offer contenders, though Tomas Kaberle (who has a no-trade clause) is the only one that would figure to net a first round pick in return. The Leafs already made significant trades with Anaheim and Calgary that should provide long-term help, but it also leaves the Leafs short-staffed for the rest of this season, meaning young pros like Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson all should get an opportunity to audition for next season's squad.
UFA in 2010: Brendan Morrison, Quintin Laing, Brian Pothier, Shaone Morrisonn, Jose Theodore.
RFA in 2010: Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Tomas Fleischmann, Jeff Schultz.
John Carlson, D, Hershey (AHL)
Marcus Johansson, C, Farjestads (SEL)
Mathieu Perreault, C, Hershey (AHL)
Francois Bouchard, RW, Hershey (AHL)
Braden Holtby, G, Hershey (AHL)
Others of Interest: Karl Alzner, Michal Neuvirth, Anton Gustafsson.
No-Trade Clauses: Michael Nylander.
The Plan: The Caps could be Cup contenders if they shore up their defence and have a healthy Semyon Varlamov in goal. With the cap-saving trade of Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina to Columbus, as well as the waiving of Michael Nylander and his hefty contract, Washington has room to add salary and the blueline has to be the primary area to address. If a deal doesn't materialize to improve the defence, the Caps could look internally to youngsters John Carlson and Karl Alzner to provide a late-season boost.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.