Line it up and skate it hard to the net. The Olympic sportsmanship is all over now. Time to get nasty, get down and dirty and make that stretch run to the ultimate goal, silver. Yes, gold is not the ultimate prize in the NHL. The ultimate prize is 35 pounds of pure silver! Okay, it is actually made out of nickel, but the glimmer of the silver on the Stanley Cup is what all NHL players aspire to hoist over their head since gliding on the pond all those years ago. The players are responsible to fight for it and the GM's are responsible for giving their teams the players to get there. So, what challenge lies ahead right now for NHL teams and GM's? The challenge to make the playoffs. What better way to solidify your team then by making a big deal at the trade deadline to shore up some uncertainty in your team's lineup? A scoring winger to add some offense, perhaps a shut down D-man to make sure no one gets close to your net, or of course, someone to guard the net from elusive pucks that can mean the difference between the next round or swinging the flat stick on the putting green.
At this time of year, there are teams that are looking to make their move because they believe that they have what it take for a deep run in the playoffs. Other teams have long since "thrown in the towel," even though they will never admit it publicly. The teams looking to make a run may be looking for one piece to throw them over the top or they can always stand pat if the deal they are looking for isn't right.
So who are they looking to get these players from? These teams want to build up assets and go for a run in three years from now. They're looking for prospects and draft picks. Who's moving and who's staying, these things can never be answered in advance. There are many factors that can make a trade including fit on the team and especially on the teams salary cap. So which players are worth looking at?
5 Matt Moulson, $3.13 Million, Age 30, UFA in 2014/2015
For a rental player, Matt Moulson would be a good fit. He is not earning too much money at the moment, at only $3.13 million and for a team with their sights set on the long playoff haul, a second line winger can be attractive. Moulson has 35 points in 53 games this season, with 16 of his points being goals. Remember, he plays for the Buffalo Sabres. Not exactly a powerhouse in the NHL. Moulson, however does have the appeal of hidden talent that is fairly obvious from seasons past. He has shown flashes of brilliance when playing with elite level players, mainly John Tavares of his former New York Islanders. When playing with Tavares, Moulson was almost a point a game player. That is pretty impressive considering he was never touted as a high caliber prospect. On a team like the Kings, who need some scoring prowess and have the talent to set up a guy like Moulson, he could be the link that puts them over the top. A second line winger who can play with talent and add some depth to the roster.
4 Thomas Vanek, $5.7 Million, Age 30, UFA in 2014/2015
It really is not that surprising that the first two players on the list have been traded for each other earlier this season. With slightly higher stats and a bigger contract coming your way, Vanek really is a top line guy that a lot of teams would need. Vanek would come in with a $5.7 Million contract but bring the numbers to back it up. 50 points in 57 games while he plays on a team that does not exactly break the red goal lights at the Nassau Coliseum. Granted, he took Moulson's spot along side Tavares, but still, Vanek has all but proven his worth in the NHL. With some of the slipperiest of hands you will ever see and a knack for finding the back of the net, Vanek would make any contending team a threat. He can fit in on any top line and if a team is stacked up front, why not go to him on a second line as extra insurance?
He is an UFA at the end of the season so it would probably cost a team a bit less than someone who is already under contract. Rumor wagons already have him pegged for Minnesota after the season ends because of family reasons, but a team like the Blues may want to dump a prospect in the lap of the Islanders in order to say, we will suffocate you with defense but if we are ever down one, this game breaker is the guy who can get us to OT. They do, of course have T.J. Oshie, but it isn't in the Stanley Cup playoffs where four shootout goals will get you a win!
3 Ryan Miller, $6.25 Million, Age 33, UFA in 2014/2015
The last rental on the list is veteran Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Miller has been on his way out of Buffalo for what, six years now? Or so it seems. The Sabres always seem to find a way to keep him around. This year is different, because at 33 years of age and on the last year of a contract, re-signing him would not be a good idea for the Sabres who are in no position to win in the near future. If Miller does not want to leave, the Sabres should make him leave. His numbers have slowly been declining in recent years, yet he is still a great goalie capable of helping a team with a solid core of defensive hockey. Knock knock, St Louis! Not that they want to get rid of Jaroslav Halak, but perhaps if they think this is their time to rise above the Sharks and especially their nemesis, the Kings, they may want to part ways with Halak and go with amore reliable keeper. As a goalie who has enjoyed no team success in his career, Miller must be chomping at the bit to get into some serious playoff action. If a team other than the Sabres come knocking, it would be a good idea to go see some new horizons. After all, he is a free agent come summer, and if he really loves Buffalo, he can always go back. It is time, however, for Miller to show the NHL that with a decent team, he may be able to push them over the top.
Update: Ryan Miller has been moved to St.Louis.
2 Sam Gagner, $8 Million, Age 24, UFA in 2015/2016
The first non-rental on the list makes Sam Gagner a very attractive asset. At a very young age, Gagner would be a good fit on many teams who are looking to push themselves over the hump. He can score, he can skate and he can be that perfect depth player who always seems to score timely goals. With only 24 points on the season, Gagner's stock is very low which can be another reason for him to be attractive to an active buyer looking for offense. The Oilers, who are desperate for any help on the backed short of calling back Paul Coffey, would certainly consider a high draft pick or a decent defensive prospect. They can take almost $5 million off their books and with a bevy of young forwards, Gagner is just the odd man out. Any team like the Penguins or even the Blackhawks who are set with scoring, need depth to add that extra sense of doubt into an opponent. Sure we have to check Sid and Evgeni all night, but what if Gagner lets loose? That drop of doubt can be a teams downfall in a playoff series. Not to mention the fact that Gagner can also help a team increase their positioning in the standings should that team be faced with many shootouts on the road leading up to the playoffs. Gagner does not have to lead a team, but at his young age and with two years left on his deal, he can certainly become an important cog in an already well oiled machine.
1 Ryan Kesler, $5 Million, Age 29, UFA 2015/2016
Ryan Kesler has to be the most attractive trade bait out there. His cap hit is low for the next two years and he is only 29 years of age. When this deal is done, he will only be 32. Of course, whether the Canucks are willing to trade him is a different story. They are on the decline since their 2010 Stanley Cup final appearance and all their key players are getting older. Perhaps it is time to settle down and re-tool. With Re-tooling comes sacrifice, and someone who would be a terrible sacrifice but bring great value is Ryan Kesler. For teams looking at him, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. He is a big body who plays a real big body game. He can check with the best of them in the game and what's better? He knows how to pick up points as well. His versatility is endless. He can play on your second line or third line if he needs to, as his ego never seems to get in the way.
He is born to be a checking center, but as the NHL saw in the playoffs for the last few years, Ryan Kesler really steps up his game and turns it on. He has 38 points in 57 career playoff games including 19 points in 25 games on the cup run of 2010. This man knows when its time to turn on the afterburners and turn on the hustle, and surely, being one win away from the Stanley Cup has made him hungry to get one. Hunger cannot be overlooked when looking for a playoff performer who can help you long term and not cost you very much on the cap.