There aren't too many teams that are completely out of the Western Conference playoff picture, meaning there are only a few pure sellers approaching the deadline.
Edmonton is in the Taylor Hall-Tyler Seguin Sweepstakes and Columbus, despite improved play since their coaching change, is probably too far back to seriously contend. After that, Minnesota is only five points out of eighth spot in the West.
That leaves the Wild, Ducks and Blues in a sort of limbo, just a bit outside of playoff position, yet close enough that they can't throw in the towel.
Calgary, Dallas, Detroit and Nashville are also locked into the battle for playoff positioning. Above that group, Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Vancouver appear headed for the postseason, so they'll be in acquisition mode as the deadline approaches.
San Jose and Chicago remain at the top of the heap, so that leaves a lot of teams in the West that would be leaning towards buying rather than selling before the March 3rd 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 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.
No-Trade Clauses: Teemu Selanne.
The Plan: Stuck outside a playoff spot, but charging in the West, the Ducks don't appear to be in a mood to throw in the towel when Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne could be making their last charge. After dealing with Toronto for Jason Blake, the Ducks have enough depth up front, or will once Ryan Getzlaf is healthy, so any moves approaching the deadline would have to be focused on improving a defence corps that has been shoddy at times.
RFA in 2010: Dustin Boyd.
The Plan: In a fight for a playoff spot, the Flames added some scoring help up front when they got Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman from Toronto, but may need something more if they are indeed serious about getting over the hump. Perhaps there would be a seller interested in a reasonably-priced David Moss or a prospect or pick in exchange for a proven playmaker.
No-Trade Clauses: Brian Campbell.
The Plan: An elite team in the league to this point in the season, the Blackhawks have already bolstered their defensive core with the acquisition of Kim Johnsson. Now the main question may be whether or not the Blackhawks have the goaltending to get the job done.
Colby Cohen, D, Boston University (HE)
Stefan Elliott, D, Saskatoon (WHL)
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Boston University (HE)
Ryan Stoa, C, Lake Erie (AHL)
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. Acquiring a top-pair defenceman would surely help, but may require some creativity. Frequent scratch John-Michael Liles might also be inclined to waive his no-trade clause.
The Plan: Columbus has a decent core of young talent, but somehow has to find the right mix of players. By firing Ken Hitchcock, the Blue Jackets are looking for a fresh start and improved play from goaltender Steve Mason alone can make a dramatic difference in their results. If the Jackets go into 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.
Others of Interest: Jeff Woywitka.
The Plan: The Stars are close enough to remain in the playoff hunt, though the addition of Kari Lehtonen begins a roster overhaul that has been due for a while. If they can find a taker for Marty Turco, the Stars will check out that option, but it could be tough to find a team with the combination of cap room and interest. While face of the franchise Mike Modano may not be going anywhere, an agitator like Steve Ott could have some appeal for a contender.
Others of Interest: Valtteri Filppula.
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's out with a broken hand and 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 most frequently mentioned in rumours being Andrew Cogliano.
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 weren't prepared to move roster players in order to get Ilya Kovalchuk, so they surely have enough prospects available to find alternative options at the deadline.
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 it may not be enough to make the postseason. Trading for Cam Barker is one step towards building for the future and more could be coming with several appealing veterans heading for free agency in the summer.
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.
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 may have a championship run in them, but could still augment their roster in order to finally get over the hump and more than just Niclas Wallin; perhaps 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, who could be offered to contenders, are in the twilight of their careers.
Others of Interest: Sergei Shirokov.
The Plan: Provided they can survive the second half of their Olympic road trip, the Canucks have what it takes to be a contender, but could add some pieces 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.