While the NHL trade deadline does not arrive until March 5, the two week Olympic break will likely result in trades taking place well beforehand. On February 7, the NHL will implement a freeze on all trades. The freeze will be lifted on February 23. Teams will likely want to come back from the Olympic break ready to make their push for the playoffs, and get themselves prepared for a Stanley Cup run. Teams may not want to sweat it out from February 23 to March 5 and risk missing out on the market. Players who are not participating in the Olympics would be able to use those two weeks to settle into their new homes and come back for a fresh start once the winter games conclude.
While none of us can know for sure who would be on the trading block, there are certain clues we can factor in. You can ask questions like, which teams are out of the playoff hunt? Which teams are close to the playoffs, but need an impact player to get them to the dance? Which team needs another piece to make a run at the Stanley Cup? Which players are impending free agents on teams that are out of the race? All these questions can help you make an educated guess as to who will be on the market. Here is a list of 10 players who could possibly be dealt, arranged by their cap hit. While there are more highly-paid impending free agents such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Paul Stastny or Andrei Markov, their teams are holding playoff spots and there's no way they would be looking to sell off their top players while in a playoff race.
10 Olli Jokinen - Winnipeg Jets - $4.5 million
Olli Jokinen hasn't had much of a chance to prove how good of a playoff performer he is. He's made it just once, back in 2010 with the Calgary Flames and had a strong showing in his six playoff games, scoring five points. The Winnipeg Jets recently fired Claude Noel and replaced him with Paul Maurice. Perhaps they will wait a while to see how the team responds and whether they have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. If they don't turn things around in a hurry, perhaps several of their players will be shipped out of town.
While Jokinen is 35 and hasn't quite recaptured the scoring touch he had with the Florida Panthers, he's a big centreman who teams may see as a depth piece, and certainly one the Jets can part with. While Jokinen was overpaid in his contract with Winnipeg, not much of his salary is left and any team acquiring him can simply cut him loose in the summer. The only question is, would the Jets get any decent value for him?
9 Ray Whitney - Dallas Stars - $4.5 million
The trade market may not demand many 41-year-olds, but perhaps a team or two would like to add experience and leadership to their squad while making a playoff push. While Ray Whitney has been unable to match his production in Phoenix with the Dallas Stars, maybe he has some ounces of magic left in him for one more playoff run.
The Stars certainly aren't out of hope, as they are just six points out of the West's final playoff spot, but that could always change as we get closer to March. A slide may coerce the Stars to move some pieces out. Whitney scored 77 points in 2011-12 and added seven points in 16 playoff games, helping the Coyotes make a run to the Western Conference Final. He still has some value to playoff teams, as he could provide a veteran presence. He has always answered the bell come playoff time. If Dallas slips out of the race, someone will come calling for him.
8 Ales Hemsky - Edmonton Oilers - $5 million
The Edmonton Oilers find themselves in yet another disappointing season. They are dead last in the Western Conference, well out of a playoff spot. Ales Hemsky is an asset they have that could be of some interest to teams looking for some extra scoring help. While Hemsky has not been putting up the points we were accustomed to seeing earlier in his career, it could be pinned on the tumultuous losing environment the Oilers have found themselves in. Perhaps Hemsky could flourish in a new situation, one where he would be surrounded by a better team.
Hemsky has not surpassed 20 goals or 50 points since the 2008-09 season when he had 23 goals and 43 assists. His lone playoff run was a solid one, with his 17 points in 24 games helping to lead Edmonton to the Stanley Cup Final. The Oilers now need help in other areas. With Hemsky not having been on a playoff team in eight years, his patience for the Oilers to build into a winning team could be wearing thin. Edmonton might lose him in free agency this summer, so they could acquire other assets if they were to trade Hemsky this winter.
7 Dustin Byfuglien - Winnipeg Jets - $5.2 million
Dustin Byfuglien is the kind of player teams will be looking to add going into the playoffs; big, strong and able to score. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff surely must be getting some calls about the 6'5, 255 pounder, who has alternated between winger and defenceman.
Byfuglien's defensive play has been of some concern for the Jets, as he's been a minus player every year since being traded from Chicago. Byfuglien of course, had an incredible run to the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, notching 11 goals in 22 playoff games. He has the ability to hit 20 goals and maybe reach the 50-60 point range in a full season. Any team interested in him would take a cap hit of $5.2 million for an additional two seasons, but his upside is worth it.
If the Jets don't believe they're serious contenders, they could shop Byfuglien and get some good value. Teams looking to get bigger for the postseason would be happy to add him. While he's at a minus-16 for the Jets this year, he does have 10 goals and leads the team with 27 assists. As seen with perennial cup contenders around the league, size is important when making a run in the playoffs. It might also do Byfuglien some good to get a fresh start.
6 Mike Cammalleri - Calgary Flames - $6 million
Why wouldn't a natural sniper in his contract year on a lousy team be available? The Calgary Flames aren't much better than their Alberta neighbours, at second last in the Western Conference. Mike Cammalleri is in his final year of a contract the Flames inherited when they traded for him from Montreal. Calgary is another organization that has to stockpile for the future. Brian Burke is now running the show, and he'll want to set himself up nicely for the upcoming years. That means loading up on draft picks and prospects.
Teams are always looking to add offensive firepower heading into the playoffs. While he may be overpaid and is not a great two-way player, a new team would only be responsible for less than half of his annual salary. He's worth adding, as he's shown himself to be a playoff performer. Cammalleri led the Canadiens on an improbable run in 2010, scoring 13 goals in the playoffs, and added 10 points the following year in a seven-game series against Boston. Someone out there can sure use him.
5 Ryan Miller - Buffalo Sabres - $6.25 million
Is this the year Ryan Miller is set free? The Buffalo Sabres have never quite recovered since their 2007 run to the Eastern Conference final. They've made the playoffs just twice since then, losing in the first round both times. They find themselves dead last in the NHL this season and it doesn't look like they'll be Cup contenders at any point for Miller's best years.
Tim Murray recently took over as Sabres general manager and should be looking to make sweeping changes to rebuild the team. He has some assets, and can get some pieces to help the organization's future. Jhonas Enroth looks to have a promising future in the NHL, making the transition easier for Buffalo. At 33 years old, Miller can join a contender and contribute to a deep playoff run. The Sabres will definitely be active in the trade market and will certainly be sellers.
4 Cam Ward - Carolina Hurricanes - $6.3 million
Unlike many others on this list, Cam Ward is not an impending UFA. He's in his fourth year of a six-year deal with a cap hit of $6.3 million. While he has had a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in his career, the Carolina Hurricanes have been unable to be a consistent playoff contender. Ward's injury at the start of the season opened the door for goaltenders Justin Peters and Anton Khudobin. Both have stepped up in a big way for Carolina this season. The Hurricanes find themselves in the playoff race, and a deal for Cam Ward may make more sense in the summer.
However, you can't discount the fact that teams need great goaltending to make a run at the cup. A team that thinks they're close may give GM Jim Rutherford a most interesting offer. I certainly wouldn't rule out something happening.
3 Thomas Vanek - New York Islanders - $7.1 million
Thomas Vanek could very well finish this season having played for three teams. The Sabres traded him earlier this season to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson, a first round pick in 2014 and a second rounder in 2015. The move has not had the impact the Islanders hoped it would have, as they appear to be further from being a contender than they thought. Vanek has certainly done his part, with over 30 points since joining New York, but the team's results have barely changed.
They are only ahead of the Sabres in the Eastern Conference and if the season were to end today, they'd be well short of a playoff berth. If they find themselves in this same situation going into the trade deadline, or even the Olympic break, perhaps they'll try to cut their losses and regain some pieces they lost in trading for Vanek. They could try to resign him in the summer, but Vanek will likely command a high price and the Islanders will have lost him for nothing.
2 Marian Gaborik - Columbus Blue Jackets - $7.5 million
The Columbus Blue Jackets are still in the playoff race and should make a push with Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in nets, so this is a bit of a dilemma. The team traded for Marian Gaborik last year in order to help make that push, but Gaborik has had trouble staying healthy this season. He's played only 18 games, scoring five goals and seven assists.
He's expected to return from a broken collarbone in time for Sochi. He might be a risk for teams, but the reward could potentially be big, as Gaborik has had three 40-goal seasons in his career. He doesn't have too many offensive stars to work with in Columbus, so maybe a more talented team will want to add a player like him for scoring depth. GM Jarmo Kekalainen doesn't seem to be in any rush to re-sign Gaborik beyond 2014.
1 Dany Heatley - Minnesota Wild - $7.5 million
All signs point to Dany Heatley being on the downstroke of his career. He once established a reputation as one of the league's premier goal scorers. However, now he seems to wear out his welcome no matter where he plays. The 32-year-old has not reached 30 goals since the 2009-10 season in San Jose and he doesn't appear to be on his way to that kind of season this year. He has just nine goals and 17 points past the halfway point of the season. Plus, Minnesota holds the last wild card spot in the Western Conference. However, they have the signs of a one-and-done team unless they improve their roster.
Heatley has a cap hit of $7.5 million, but his 2013-14 salary is $5 million. Perhaps a team willing to take a risk with some cap room to spare will take a shot with him. He does have 70 playoff games under his belt, with 57 postseason points in his career. The downside for the Wild would be his lack of trade value at this point. Perhaps teams will get more desperate as we approach the deadline.
There's no way of knowing who's truly on the trading block. None of us are in an NHL general manager's office, but sometimes connecting the dots and taking some hints helps. Maybe all these players will be dealt. Maybe just a few will. Maybe none will. The bottom line is that teams will soon start to prepare for their playoff pushes, and these are arguably the most talented players that their respective teams may be willing to part with.
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