The Western Conference race remains fluid, as Chicago's recent losing streak and Anaheim's surge leaves seven teams within ten points, with three playoff spots to be decided among them.
Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers have left little doubt what their role will be as the deadline nears, but the Ducks' resurrection might make them less likely to sell than Minnesota, as the Wild have been slumping for quite some time now.
The usual suspects -- Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago (despite their slide) -- will be primed to add pieces for a championship run and the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks could be in that game as well.
What about the Nashville Predators or Los Angeles Kings? They're in playoff position and could add too, so expect some loading up as teams jockey for position..
While some fringe teams will surely decide that selling is their best option, Columbus and Edmonton can safely assume that they will field a lot of calls.
With 10 days to go before the deadline, the dealing business is about to pick up.
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. 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.
RFA in 2012: Nick Bonino.
The Plan: The Ducks were so far out of the playoff picture that it was easy to forecast them as sellers, but improved player over the last six weeks has them at least on the fringes of the playoff picture at this point.
Veteran winger Jason Blake figures to be the easiest piece to move and if the Ducks fade, maybe Teemu Selanne would like one last shot at a Cup, but if Anaheim keeps winning, they wouldn't seem inclined to sell. There has been enough talk about Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf being possible trade targets, but a move of that magnitude may have to wait until the offseason.
Others of Interest: Chris Butler.
No-Trade Clauses: Jarome Iginla, Michael Cammalleri (limited), Alex Tanguay (limited), Matt Stajan (modified), Olli Jokinen, Curtis Glencross, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich, Anton Babchuk.
The Plan: After acquiring Mike Cammalleri, Flames GM Jay Feaster insisted that the club would be pushing for a playoff spot and they're knocking on the door now, despite several injuries up front. Adding a playmaking centre has long been a need and remains one now.
The Flames recently dealt Brendan Morrison to Chicago and they've acquired Blair Jones from Tampa Bay and Blake Comeau on waivers from the Islanders earlier in the season, but if they are going big-game hunting, the Flames will have to dig deep in order to come up with the kind of package that it takes to land a centre that can lend support to Olli Jokinen, who is having a fine season.
RFA in 2012: None.
The Plan: It didn't take long to find out that Brendan Morrison wasn't the answer that the Blackhawks were looking for as a second-line centre and Chicago just snapped a losing streak, so that remains an area of need if they are going to upgrade for the playoffs.
Additionally, like any Cup hopeful, the Blackhawks would like to add on the blueline and have enough promising assets that they be significant players on the trade market.
No-Trade Clauses: Milan Hejduk.
The Plan: So long as the Avalanche remain in playoff contention, they can't very well turn into full-fledged sellers, but with so many pending unrestricted free agents, they could certainly offer solutions to teams that are looking for third and fourth-line upgrades.
Given the emergence of Ryan O'Reilly as an offensive contributor, the Avalanche may also consider dealing Paul Stastny once Matt Duchene returns to action. Of course any move of that magnitude would have to bring quality -- a scoring winger, a top-four defenceman? -- in return.
The Plan: This season's disaster in Columbus does make the Blue Jackets very intriguing as the deadline approaches because they have so few untouchables. Rick Nash is available, if the Blue Jackets can work out a deal with one of his approved destinations, and Jeff Carter figures to be shopped even more aggressively. Columbus' rebuilding effort pretty much demands that a goaltender be part of the haul for one of their top scoring forwards.
The rebuilding has to begin in earnest now; the good news is that the Blue Jackets need pretty much everything and should be as motivated as any team in the league to sell off extraneous parts in order to start remodeling the roster.
The Plan: The Stars have some interesting pieces, should they decide to sell, not least of all captain Brenden Morrow, but the Stars can't very well go into selling mode if they remain so close to a playoff spot.
It would make more sense for new ownership to do some tweaking in order to improve the Stars' chances at the postseason. A top-six forward should be the main priority if the Stars are bidding for a playoff berth, but upgrading their depth forwards could also be a reasonable area to address.
The Plan: As always, the Wings are contenders, so they should be looking to add some pieces before the deadline and can accomodate high-end skill or upgrades in the bottom half of the lineup.
The Wings also have a talented group of prospects on the way up, so they don't need to overpay in their attempts to land a top-nine forward or a depth defenceman, but given the age of Detroit's core players and their place at the top of the standings right now, there also should be some urgency to make a strong push for the Cup this season.
The Plan: Headed for another high pick in the 2012 draft, the Oilers have exciting young skilled forwards around which to build, but they need help, particularly on defence and, possibly, in goal.
Edmonton's most marketable commodity will be Ales Hemsky, their oft-injured winger who is having his worst year as a pro. Nevertheless, Hemsky will draw interest for teams looking for an upgrade in skill among their top six forwards and, since demand for top six wingers figures to outweigh supply, Hemsky should bring a decent return for the Oilers. Indications are that Ryan Smyth wants to stay in Edmonton, but he would fetch a few assets if he found an acceptable destination.
RFA in 2012: None.
No-Trade Clauses: None.
The Plan: Darryl Sutter has brought better results since taking over behind the bench, lifting the Kings into a playoff spot, but the Kings' lack of scoring makes offensive upgrades a high priority. A couple top nine forwards that might improve the Kings' offensive output would be most welcome. They've actually dropped two AHL call-ups onto Mike Richards' wings, so it's pretty easy to see where the Kings would be inclined to make a move.
Los Angeles has been mentioned as a suitor for Nash but, given the Kings' Philadelphia Flyers connections, maybe Jeff Carter would be more feasible. In any case, the Kings will have to acquire some scoring help if they are going to maintain a spot in the postseason.
The Plan: After stunning success early in the season, the Wild have been free-falling since. They're not out of the playoff race yet, but will have to reverse their trend rather dramatically if they're going to get back on the right side of the playoff threshold.
It would be premature for the Wild to sell off prospects in order to improve short-term, but it seems increasingly likely that veteran blueliner Marek Zidlicky, who has fallen out of favour but could provide a power play quarterback to another team, will be shipped out before the deadline.
The Plan: The primary concern for the Predators may be the status of defenceman Ryan Suter, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, but that's a concern for another time. The Predators are firmly in playoff position and have acquired Hal Gill to bolster their blueline, so that would seem to suggest a team that is pushing for results this season. The Predators can continue to improve their depth and, even though they're scoring enough, the Predators would still have to consider any opportunity to add a high-end offensive player. (There have even been rumblings, however fanciful, of an Alexander Radulov return.)
The Predators have tended towards making measured moves, like last season's addition of two-way pivot Mike Fisher, and the results have been generally favourable, while still allowing the Predators to keep a strong farm system.
The Plan: Though the Coyotes have climbed into playoff position, they're mentioned frequently as a target for contending teams, with veterans like Shane Doan and Ray Whitney holding appeal for many teams.
It's hard to imagine Doan in another sweater, but the perpetual uncertainty of the franchise, combined with his contract status, does at least lead to the possibility of a deal. Otherwise, Whitney and veteran defencemen Aucoin and Rozsival would be reasonable acquisitions. Of course, as long as the Coyotes are sitting in a playoff spot, it's not likely that they can justify selling assets that might hinder their chances to make the postseason.
The Plan: The way the Blues have played since Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach, they have to operate as a Cup contender this season, even if it's on a budget, which means filling in the holes so that they can make the most of the strong goaltending they've been getting from Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak.
While goals don't come that easily to the Blues, their lineup might be bolstered internally now that they have Andy McDonald back from a concussion (and await the return of Alexander Steen). Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund, have more to offer than what they've produced thus far, but Stewart might also be a viable trade chip if the Blues aim to make a more significant trade.
The Plan: The Sharks have denied rumours that Ryane Clowe could be moved, but San Jose does look like a team that could get involved in some deals, at least to upgrade their third and fourth lines and/or depth on defence.
The Plan:Now that the Canucks are finally healthy, they are as talented as any team in the league, with excellent depth, but it wouldn't be altogether surprising to see them target more toughness that they can include in their postseason lineup.
Last year's loss to Boston in the Cup Final, to say nothing of a possible matchup against Chicago, should emphasize the Canucks' need to get down and dirty when the situation demands it.
If Vancouver wants to make a blockbuster deal, Cory Schneider will be a blue chip to use, but that might be a deal more suitable for the summer, when the trade market will be more inclusive.