There is a lot of uncertainty in the Eastern Conference playoff race, as the March 5th trade deadline approaches, which means a lot can change in a short period of time before the March 5th trade deadline. Scott Cullen presents the 2014 Trade Deadline Playbook for the Eastern Conference.
It's been accepted that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins are clearly the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but there are so many teams still involved in the playoff race that buyers and sellers can't be easily differentiated without a few more results.
Buffalo, Florida and the New York Islanders are the three teams that can be considered sellers, but there are six teams between 61 and 64 points, with Detroit (64 points in 58 games) currently holding the final playoff spot. If a few more of those teams fall further behind than their current two or three-point deficits, that could help initiate more trade activity.
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, but other top prospects may be listed among other players of interest. Contending teams may be more likely to dangle a 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.
The Plan: The Bruins have been getting by just fine since D Dennis Seidenberg suffered his season-ending knee injury, but finding a veteran defenceman to eat up some of those minutes has to be a priority for a team that is expected to challenge for a title.
It's one thing to get quality minutes from Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, it's another to go into the playoffs with them taking prominent roles and Bartkowski has been playing about 21 minutes per game since the start of January.
The Bruins made some moves in the offseason, notably shaking up their right wing, but there is a lot of continuity on this roster, with a stable core that has enjoyed playoff success in recent seasons.
The Plan: New GM Tim Murray gets to put his stamp on the organization and has a challenging position to take right off the bat if he's going to deal G Ryan Miller, who has clearly been the Sabres' best player this season. But, Miller will be an unrestricted free agent and is attractive enough that he should bring a quality package in return.
There are several other Sabres veterans that could be moved, including LW Matt Moulson, C Steve Ott and D Henrik Tallinder, and it's easy enough to look at the Sabres and shed all veterans as they build for the future -- expecting that they are still a few years away from icing a competitive team -- but Buffalo will have to keep a certain number of vets around if only to reach the salary floor next season.
The Plan: Right on the edge of the playoff picture, the Hurricanes are too close to sell, so they could make a move to upgrade in the short-term while not surrendering future value because their crop of prospects isn't great.
The 'Canes have an excess in goal, carrying three on their NHL roster now that Cam Ward is healthy, and that could lead to a minor deal, shipping out Justin Peters. If G Anton Khudobin continues to hold the crease, it's also feasible that the Hurricanes might consider a new home for Ward, though that deal might be easier to orchestrate in the offseason.
The Plan: The Blue Jackets are in the playoff picture and have been there largely without much contribution from RW Marian Gaborik, so they could use Gaborik -- a pending UFA -- as a trade chip, or simply add him back into the lineup for a scoring boost.
The challenge, and it's an enviable one, with adding Gaborik to the lineup is that the Blue Jackets have a relatively deep and balanced group up front. Ryan Johansen is their one emerging star, but the rest of their forwards can be moved up and down the depth chart and it's worked well enough that maybe the Blue Jackets would be willing to part with Gaborik, but they're also a team that doesn't have game-breaking scorers and, while that hasn't been Gaborik's effect this season (scoring five goals and 12 points in 18 games), he has that pedigree.
No-Trade Clauses: Pavel Datsyuk (partial), Stephen Weiss (modified), Daniel Alfredsson, Mikael Samuelsson, Todd Bertuzzi (modified), Danny Cleary, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson (modified), Jimmy Howard, Jonas Gustavsson (modified).
The Plan: In a tough spot as it pertains to the playoff chase because leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg left the Olympics with a back injury and it's been tough sledding through injuries for Detroit this season already.
While injuries have contributed to the Red Wings' struggles this year, they have also allowed the next generation of Red Wings forwards -- including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan -- to play. If they're pushing for a playoff spot, the Wings always have assets that they can move for immediate help.
The Plan: There was a bit of a competitive stint after their terrible start, but the Panthers have fallen back again and are playing for next season.
There are several veterans to shop heading towards the deadline and young players should get ample opportunity to play big minutes in the final quarter of the season.
Perhaps the most interesting decision involves veteran D Tom Gilbert, a bargain free agent signing after he was bought out by Minnesota last year, who has had a fine year on the Panthers' top pair, which would figure to make him appealing as a trade chip, but maybe he's been good enough that the Panthers would rather have Gilbert as part of their defensive core for the next few seasons too.
The Plan: The Canadiens are in playoff position, so they're theoretically in the market to add, rather than subtract, but they're also saddled with the likes of Daniel Briere and Rene Bourque who aren't producing nearly enough to match their contracts.
Emelin endured a rough start to the year, but was making progress prior to joining Team Russia for the Olympics and Galchenyuk, the second-year forward, has been productive enough, though he could get a few more minutes if the Habs are going to take advantage of his high-end skill.
The Plan: On the fringe of playoff contention, the Devils have some bodies to move if they decide to go that way. Jagr has resisted trade talk, which is fair enough since he's been a bit of nomad since returning to the league, but he's had such a strong season that a team seeking an offensive upgrade would have to consider him (how about finally joining Tomas Plekanec in Montreal?).
Martin Brodeur says he hasn't contemplated a trade yet, but if the Devils are going to look ahead to the future, the guys on the north side of 40 don't have to be part of the plans. At the same time, if the Devils are going to move them, anything to upgrade the forward talent in the organization should be a priority.
No-Trade Clauses: Lubomir Visnovsky.
The Plan: The Islanders were already out of the playoff race before C John Tavares suffered a season-ending knee injury at the Olympics, but that makes their next moves all the more important as they try to ice a more competitive club in 2014-2015.
If D Andrew MacDonald isn't prepared to sign a team-friendly deal (and advanced stats suggest he should), then the Isles might as well deal him and add more assets for the future -- same as it ever was.
The Plan: The Rangers have gained ground after a slow start and have a team that can contend in the East.
While RW Ryan Callahan and D Dan Girardi are notable unrestricted free agents, the Rangers are would have to get roster players in return since a playoff team can't justify dealing prominent players for no immediate help.
The Plan: On the outside looking in at the playoffs, the Senators might have the talent to push for a berth, and while they are open to adding a power forward to play alongside Jason Spezza, it appears that the Senators wouldn't take on significant money in any deal. That shouldn't preclude a rental, but it also may not preclude the Senators selling if they lose a couple coming out of the break.
If the Senators are buyers, they have a solid farm team in Binghamton from which they could offer a prospect or two in order to find a winger that can improve their attack.
The Plan: Like the Rangers, the Flyers are playing much better after a slow start; they have enough talent to make some noise, though blueline improvements wouldn't hurt.
Philadelphia made their bed in goal with Steve Mason, and could live to regret it, but signing him to an extension likely precludes a notable change in that spot.
Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland (WHL)
Simon Despres, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Scott Harrington, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Brian Dumoulin, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Brian Gibbons, RW, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
The Plan: For a Stanley Cup contender, the Penguins do have some notable needs.
The search for Sidney Crosby's right winger (in the absence of injured Pascal Dupuis) continues and Pittsburgh might want to add immediate help on the blueline as insurance for D Kris Letang, who recently suffered a stroke.
Finding a winger to complement Crosby shouldn't be that difficult, but it's become bit of meme that Crosby is so difficult to play with. Drop in someone like Matt Moulson and see if he likes pulling the trigger on Crosby's setups.
Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, Ufa Salavat Yulayev (KHL)
Vladislav Namestnikov, C, Syracuse (AHL)
Brett Connolly, RW, Syracuse (AHL)
Slater Koekkoek, D, Windsor (OHL)
The Plan: Tampa Bay's big addition will be the return of C Steven Stamkos, but Lightning could go for help on defence if they are looking to capitalize on this season -- it's not every year that you get the goaltending they are getting from Ben Bishop.
One advantage that the Lightning have is that they have a well-stocked system, cultivated over the past few seasons, so they have some attractive assets to move, including forwards that haven't been able to crack the Lightning lineup, if they go looking for immediate help.
The Plan: Sitting in a playoff spot after a great run leading up to the break (but also due, in part, to nine shootout wins) the Leafs anticipate getting David Bolland back from injury, and while they are surely happy with the results they've been getting, the Leafs should never turn down the opportunity to improve their defence.
For all the progress the Leafs have made in the standings, their possession numbers haven't shown improvement, which means the team, as currently constructed, is going to need continued excellence from G Jonathan Bernier if they're going to hold their playoff position.
RFA in 2014: Dmitry Orlov.
The Plan: The Capitals haven't played all that well this year, yet are still in the playoff mix if they can finish strong (thanks, in part, to a league-high 15 shootout results).
Basically, they need someone other than Alexander Ovechkin to score and a goaltender that is able to take the reins and that could be enough to get into the postseason, but this isn't a good enough team to mortgage the future, either, so adding a veteran or two at minimal cost may be the plan of attack.