With more than five weeks to go, there are, not surprisingly, a lot of teams still in the Western Conference playoff picture, with eight teams within a nine-point span between sixth and 13th place in the conference.
That leaves Columbus and Edmonton as the most obvious sellers in the group, but there will be others to land in that position in the coming weeks as the playoff picture starts to get clearer.
San Jose and Chicago are establishing some distance from the rest of the pack, making them obvious buyers, but with both teams going so well for much of the season, it's difficult to project a blockbuster deal that would overhaul such a strong roster.
Colorado and Vancouver are battling for the Northwest Division lead and while the Canucks have experience and proven talent on their side, the Avalanche have the exuberance of youth and a favourable home-heavy schedule down the stretch.
However, for surprising teams like the Avalanche, Coyotes and Predators, they would seem to be in position to add in moderation. rather than make moves that would sacrifice too much (if any) of their future.
As more teams fall back from playoff position, there will be a more balanced market, but this far ahead of the deadline, there are too many teams that don't know whether or not they are going to be buyers or sellers.
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 games in the NHL 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 Western Conference team might have at their disposal in order to make a trade leading up to the deadline.
Others of Interest: Joffrey Lupul.
The Plan: Stuck outside a playoff spot, but charging in the West, it remains to be seen which vets the Ducks are willing to purge if they can't get over the hump. Reportedly, Scott Niedermayer isn't going anywhere and Teemu Selanne would figure only to move if that's what he wants, so aside from those two, the Ducks' most marketable pending free agents would be Saku Koivu and Nick Boynton, both of whom may have some appeal, though neither is likely to yield an elite prospect or first-round pick in return. However, if a contender is looking for an offensive boost, a Koivu-Selanne pairing would surely help for a team that has the cap room to afford them. If the Ducks get into playoff position, then they might be able to do some tweaking for one last Niedermayer-Selanne era charge in the postseason.
The Plan: Suddenly in a fight for a playoff spot, the Flames have slumped lately and need to bolster their attack if they are going to make good on their strong start to the season. The league's 28th-ranked power play could use some help, as could the offence as a whole, since Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque are the only two Flames on pace to score more than 20 goals this season. Perhaps there would be a seller interested in a reasonably-priced David Moss or a prospect or pick in exchange for a proven finisher.
No-Trade Clauses: Brian Campbell.
The Plan: An elite team in the league to this point in the season, the Blackhawks don't need to make significant moves, yet as Cup contenders, it seems inconceivable that they wouldn't augment their roster by adding veteran depth on the blueline and up front, though a potentially tight salary cap situation could prompt a move that sees Brent Sopel or Cam Barker moved in the right deal.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Boston University (HE)
Ryan Stoa, C, Lake Erie (AHL)
Colby Cohen, D, Boston University (HE)
Stefan Elliott, D, Saskatoon (WHL)
Cameron Gaunce, D, Mississauga-St. Mike's (OHL)
Others of Interest: Tom Preissing.
The Plan: Even though the Avalanche have been one of the league's biggest surprises this season, this is a franchise that is building through youth, so there shouldn't be any dramatic moves involving young players or top prospects for rentals. If a mid-round pick or middling prospect can get the Avs some experience, then it might be worthwhile, but to secure a top-pair defenceman, the Avs may have to get creative.
The Plan: The playoffs are a longshot for the Blue Jackets now, as goaltending has been a problem and there hasn't been enough development of young talent. If the Jackets are in cost-saving mode, veterans Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger and Rostislav Klesla are paid quite a bit relative to what they provide, though they may not be easy to move due to long-term contracts. Columbus has a decent core of young talent, but somehow has to find the right mix of players for Ken Hitchcock's system, a system that seemed to alienate top prospect Nikita Filatov, who returned to Russia when he wasn't getting enough playing time early in the season.
Others of Interest: Jeff Woywitka.
The Plan: On the outside looking in at the playoffs, the Stars are close enough to remain in the hunt for now, but if they fall further away from eighth spot in the West, it could be time to begin a roster overhaul that has been due for a while. While face of the franchise Mike Modano may not be going anywhere, an agitator like Steve Ott might have some appeal for a contender and the Stars may want to consider a move to address their goaltending as 34-year-old Marty Turco does not appear to be the future between the pipes. With loads of cap room available, the Stars could (at least theoretically) acquire assets if they are willing to take on salary.
Others of Interest: Ville Leino.
The Plan: Still battling for playoff position, the Red Wings have been treading water while waiting to get healthy enough in order to mount a sustained charge towards the postseason. If the Wings get to full strength, they still have a roster capable of making a playoff run, but it certainly feels like a last charge for some of the elder statesmen, so Detroit doesn't figure to make moves that would sacrifice their most promising future performers.
The Plan: A disastrous season, combined with a quality list of prospects, puts the Oilers in position to rebuild by shedding veterans and going younger. Sheldon Souray has said he will waive his no-trade clause if a deal makes sense. Souray's hammer from the point could have some appeal, but he also has two years and $10.8-million left on his deal after this season, so the Oilers may not get much more than cap relief in a Souray swap. The Oilers would presumably love to move the salaries of veterans like Shawn Horcoff (which seems highly unlikely), Steve Staios, Robert Nilsson or even captain Ethan Moreau, though their appeal will be minimized by the remaining time and money left on their contracts. Defencemen Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov were more marketable last season and if the Oilers really want to shake things up, they could shop some of their upcoming restricted free agents, young players that haven't established that they have what it takes to get this team to the playoffs.
The Plan: After several seasons of building from within, the Kings are now in position to make some noise in the postseason, so it's worth sacrificing some of that future talent if it's going to help the Kings hold onto a playoff spot. The Kings have the organizational depth that they can be players for any marquee names that are offered at the deadline, including Ilya Kovalchuk.
No-Trade Clauses: None.
The Plan: Lurking on the edges of the playoff picture, the Wild have played better since a slow start under new head coach Todd Richards, but their play leading up to the trade deadline will determine if they are still in the playoff race or will be able to offer a variety of veterans who will be free agents in the summer. Getting Brent Burns back in the lineup should help, but there are only three defencemen under contract for next season, so there could be some blueline changes forthcoming if the Wild are inclined to sell.
The Plan: The Predators have overachieved, again, and are in the Western Conference playoff picture. That being the case, the Predators should be looking to bolster their roster around the deadline. While there's no shortage of cap room, how big and bold their additions -- some experience on the blueline and another proven scorer would be nice -- before the deadline will depend on the internal budget.
Others of Interest: Kevin Porter.
The Plan: Shockingly in playoff position, the Coyotes should, at least theoretically, be in position to add some help as the deadline approaches if it's deemed appropriate given the ownership situation. While there seems little likelihood that the Coyotes will surrender top prospects in a deal, they do hold two first-round picks and could definitely use some proven scoring help to boost the 24th-ranked power play.
The Plan: Cruising through the regular season, the Sharks have a championship run in them, but could still augment their roster in order to finally get over the hump, perhaps looking for some blueline help or a veteran forward that can play both ends of the rink and give the second line a boost when it needs a shake-up -- the kind of tweaking that Cup contenders make, rather than dramatic and desperate roster changes.
The Plan: Underachieving and out of the playoff picture right now, the Blues need to make a charge if they are going to get back into the race and they have been playing better under new head coach Davis Payne. An already young team, the Blues either need their young players like T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Perron and Erik Johnson to rise up and lead the way or have to find players capable of ultimately filling the leadership role as veterans Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk are in the twilight of their careers.
Others of Interest: Sergei Shirokov.
The Plan: Locked in a battle for playoff position, particularly when considering the daunting road trip that surrounds the Olympic break, the Canucks have what it takes to be a contender. The forward units got a boost with the return of Pavol Demitra, so if they wish to supplement their core, perhaps with a veteran defenceman to aid a unit that can't seem to stay healthy for very long, Vancouver will have to be mindful of the cap when it comes to acquisitions, but has enough young talent to offer in exchange.