As the prime trading months of the 2011-2012 NHL season approach, the line between the trade-market sellers and buyers is clearer than ever. But the number of superstars up for sale is low, an imbalance that's quickly jump-starting interest in a different type of acquisition—the bargain players.
With typical playoff-bubble contenders Carolina, Columbus and Anaheim crashing through train-wreck seasons and longtime postseason qualifiers Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Montreal faring only slightly better, a large number of players could be on the market as these franchises prepare for rebuilding.
Those clubs on the decline could have trouble supplying the trade market with a sizable amount of high-end headliners, though. Except for Eric Staal with the Hurricanes and Bobby Ryan from the Ducks, few of those franchises seem willing to part with their valuable team cornerstones.
On the other hand, the market will be competitive on the recipient end. Florida, Toronto, Minnesota and Colorado are all making rare appearances in the playoff picture, leaving each club eager to make a few fine-tuning deals. Slumping powerhouses in Philadelphia and Washington could be interested in adding a few new sparks to their rosters, as well.
So where will the focus turn when the top targets are off the board? Quite a few indicators point towards the lower-salary group.
2012 appears, from all angles, to be the year of expiring contracts—especially regarding players in the second- or third-line range. For under $2 million a season, a variety of young, talented and relatively productive skaters and goaltenders are available.
Could several of those doomed teams be willing to part with them a few months early? Of course. And could they make a significant difference on a contending team? Absolutely.
All in all, the two months until the trade deadline promise frequent deals and eye-catching bargains. So let's look at 10 players in particular—all sporting cheap contracts, promising statistics and open-to-trading GMs—who might just find their way to a new club this season.