As the March 5th trade deadline nears, there are only a couple of Western Conference teams (both based in Alberta) out of the playoff race, which means a lot can change before the deadline actually arrives. Scott Cullen presents the 2014 Trade Deadline Playbook for the Western Conference.
There is greater depth at the top of the Western Conference, however, which could lead to something of an arms race as St. Louis, Chicago, Anaheim and San Jose each have at least 80 points, Colorado is at 79 and even Los Angeles, well back with 68, has been a contender in recent seasons, so they're not likely to go quietly without doing something either.
Dallas is clinging to the final playoff spot at the moment, with 64 points, but there are still four others within four points, so there is some sorting to do before teams make their final call whether they are pushing their chips into the middle to go all-in, or folding for another season.
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 additional prospects 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.
The Plan: It's been a tremendous year to this point, but Ducks have relied quite a bit on their supporting cast so it would be entirely understandable if they might want to raise the bar by adding a left winger to play with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line.
If the Ducks are bona fide Cup contenders, and with more points than any other team in the league that's the position they pretty much have to take, they could bolster their blueline with another top-four calibre defenceman too.
Working in the Ducks' favour, if they are prepared to add before the deadline, is that they have enough prospects and young pros that can be included to make those kinds of deals happen.G Jonas Hiller has been mentioned at various times this season as a trade candidate, but with Viktor Fasth injured for most of the year, that hasn't been a viable option, yet this is a team that has so much depth that they haven''t been able to find regular playing time for Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly, so there should be some flexibility up front.
The Plan: It's been a tough year for the Flames, but that makes it easy enough to set sights on next season. Building for the future is the priority so at least a couple veterans should be moved out so that Calgary can acquire assets that will be part of the long-term solution.
Without a new GM to replace the fired Jay Feaster, team president Brian Burke will be making the calls leading up to the deadline, a day that he has decried as the source for many GM mistakes. Of course, if one GM makes a mistake, then that would be another general manager's good fortune, right?
In any case, once the Flames move out a couple of pending free agents, there should be opportunities for some late-season auditions and the Flames have some prospects that are ready for a look.
The Plan: The Blackhawks already added to their forward depth, at virtually no cost, getting Regin and Bouchard from Islanders and don't have to make dramatic moves to have a legitimate chance to defend their title.
There's still a reasonable argument to be made that the Blackhawks could use a better second-line centre, but they won with Michal Handzus logging those minutes last year, so it's not as though they can't press forward with what they already have in-house.
No-Trade Clauses: Alex Tanguay (modified).
The Plan: It's been a great turnaround season for the Avs, but if they are seriously going to compete with the best in the West, they could really use a top-tier defenceman, which is never easy to acquire, let alone trying to do it in-season.
RW PA Parenteau has found his name in trade rumours recently, and he could be used to help upgrade the blueline. With rookie Nathan MacKinnon emerging to take on a bigger role offensively, the Avalanche appear to have enough weapons that they could deal from that position of relative strength in order to bolster a blueline that lacks established talent behind workhorses Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda. Of course, with news that winger Alex Tanguay is done for the season, maybe the Avs would be better off holding Parenteau for the stretch run.
The Plan: Hanging around the playoff race, the Stars could still consider sending out a couple of older veterans in order to build for the long-term.
In the short-term, getting some more scoring help up front would be nice and, ideally another defenceman would offer some insurance in case Stephane Robidas doesn't recover soon enough from a broken leg to help a playoff push.
The Stars may be stuck in between being buyers and sellers, which could open up opportunities to do a bit of both. It's a new opportunity for first-time general manager Jim Nill and it will be interesting to see how he approaches the trading game.
Darnell Nurse, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Oscar Klefbom, D, Oklahoma City (AHL)
Anton Lander, C, Oklahoma City (AHL)
David Musil, D, Oklahoma City (AHL)
Martin Gernat, D, Oklahoma City (AHL)
No-Trade Clauses: Andrew Ference.
The Plan: It seems fait accompli that the Oilers will finally deal RW Ales Hemsky and, given his strong play in the Olympics, they may want to up the asking price because more than a few contending teams ought to be interested in adding Hemsky's offensive creativity.
Otherwise, anything that could provide long-term value on the back end -- ideally a top pair defenceman -- remains a worthwhile objective, if not necessarily an easy acquisition. The emergence of rookie D Martin Marincin and the possibility of adding top prospect Darnell Nurse next season provides some promise, but if the Oilers are going to take advantage of the prime years for their skilled young forwards, they need defence that can handle the tough minutes ASAP.
Sam Gagner's name has popped up as potential trade bait, but Edmonton's first-round pick this year could be the difference-maker, either at the deadline or at the draft, if they increase their efforts to land a top-pair defenceman.
No-Trade Clauses: None.
The Plan: While Los Angeles remains a dominant puck possession team, they need goals. Everything else about the Kings' wear-'em-down style of play can work in the playoffs, but they need more offensive production to provide a little wiggle room.
Prospect Tyler Toffoli can be one improvement in that respect, and he was playing a significant role prior to the Olympic break, but if the Kings are going to challenge for the Stanley Cup, they can dip into a pool of young guys on the way up, move one or two, along with picks, to land a premier finisher.
Additionally, and perhaps as companion to the idea of questionable options in goal, the Wild could improve their defence corps. Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon take on big minutes and Marco Scandella has played well too, but if an established top-four defenceman is available, the Wild should be interested.
The Plan: Though they are in last place in the Central, the Predators are but four points out of a crossover playoff spot. There are too many teams in the mix to go all-in on playoff pursuit, but the gap is close enough to not throw in the towel completely (especially if G Pekka Rinne can get healthy enough to play a part in the stretch drive).
Nashville has a terrific nucleus on defence, but need to upgrade their forward talent and it's not necessarily easy to land young forwards with scoring potential, but the Predators did it last season when they picked up Filip Forsberg from Washington.
At the same time, long-time Predators C David Legwand, who has a no-trade clause, figures to be an attractive commodity for contending teams that might want a second or third-line centre that can play both ends of the rink.
RFA in 2014: Jordan Szwarz.
The Plan: Since the Coyotes are currently in a playoff spot, they probably have to look at adding something before the deadline, a scorer most likely, though they don't appear to be ready to match the teams at the top of the conference.
But, this is also a team with new ownership and new owners tend to be more aggressive when it comes time to make decisions on player acquisition -- make a move, let 'em know you're there! Even if it means targeting second-tier additions, that's still the wise approach for a Coyotes club that has made its business around finding value year after year.
The Plan: The Blues could probably contend for the Cup with the roster as is, but if St. Louis is indeed that close, why not upgrade?
Are they satisfied with their goaltending? Could they add another forward? Surely, if you're in the championship discussion, those are additions that have to be considered.
Last season's leading scorer, RW Chris Stewart, has been mentioned in trade talks and it makes some sense, considering his reduced role this season, it's not easy to make big changes to a team that has the league's best points percentage and goal differential.
The Plan: A contending team that hasn't been quite the same once injuries hit, so their forward group could use some help, whether that's coming from Martin Havlat, a returning Raffi Torres or a new acquisition. A skilled winger, to effectively make up for the loss of Tomas Hertl, would be ideal.
The Sharks seemingly could always use help on the blueline, where longtime standout Dan Boyle has declined and there aren't any real stars. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is as reliable as they come and Jason Demers, Matt Irwin and Justin Braun have improved, but an upgrade wouldn't hurt the cause.
The Plan: Careening over a cliff before the break, the Canucks went from solidly in the playoffs to the outside looking in and have several injuries to deal with.
If number one C Henrik Sedin isn't healthy soon -- and he was unable to play in the Olympics -- the nthe Canucks might as well start selling because they could use offensive upgrades even with a healthy roster. Minus Sedin, that would be a pointless exercise.
Should the Canucks become sellers, perhaps their most attractive asset to trade would be a legitimate top four defenceman, though the quartet of Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Jason Garrison and Dan Hamhuis all have no-trade contracts.
The Plan: On the edge of the playoff race, the Jets might be a legitimate playoff team with improved goaltending, but if they remain committed to Ondrej Pavelec as their starter for the rest of the year, they ought to move out some of their non-essential veterans, including Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi.
If the Jets are of the mind to go for a blockbuster, and that doesn't seem likely given better results under new coach Paul Maurice, there are often rumours about the availability of LW Evander Kane or RW/D Dustin Byfuglien, both of whom would have many suitors, if made available.