Uncertainty over the future of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter has been a black cloud looming over the Nashville Predators all season.
Both defender's contracts expire at the end of the 2011-12 season, with Suter becoming an unrestricted free agent and Weber a restricted free agent. They each are in the top-10 in points among all NHL defensemen, with Weber at 30 and Suter with 25. Weber has the second-highest goal total for defenders with nine, and Suter is second among skaters with 27 minutes of ice time per contest.
Despite missing four games with a concussion, Weber looks to be the front-runner for this year's Norris Trophy, which is awarded to the league's best blue-liner.
The NHL announced Thursday that both Weber and Suter are heading to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa, only solidifying their presence as two of the top defenders in this league.
As teams around the NHL have learned, Nashville's front-office doesn't necessarily like throwing money around—and can't. They boast the lowest payroll in the league—despite reaching the playoffs five out of the last six years.
Depending on the team's performance throughout the second half of this season (they're currently T-sixth in the West with 50 points), dealing either of these players may become an inevitability.
With that said, which teams have the best chance of landing these star-studded Predators if their time in Nashville is coming to an end?
The Philadelphia Flyers instantly became the center of speculation for Shea Weber after Chris Pronger went down for the remainder of the season with post-concussion symptoms. It's not hard to see why, considering Weber has displayed the same sort of defensive dominance, shot power and physical presence.
Pronger is also 37 and reaching the final stretch of his career while Weber, 26, could very well be the league's best defender for a number of years. I doubt they would go after Suter though, as replacement would be the Flyers' main motivation. Suter is a completely different defender than Pronger.
Bringing in Weber would also reunite him with former Predators teammate Kimmo Timonen, who is also an all-star this year and a candidate for the Norris Trophy.
After a slow start to the season, the Washington Capitals are on a tear and looking to take control of the Eastern Conference, as they did last year.
One of the premier teams in the NHL, the Capitals are letting in an ugly 2.88 goals against per game and will have to look at making a move for Suter or Weber. They also only have one defender with a plus/minus rating of higher than plus-one, while the two Preds players have a combined plus-21.
The Capitals have been trying to get rid of Alexander Semin, and I'd imagine the Predators front-office would at least consider a deal if they could snag him as well as a few prospects to bolster their scoring.
Having been fierce divisional rivals for a number of years, the Red Wings not only know how talented the Preds' two star defenders are, but they know how much worse their defense is without them on the ice.
The Wings have been more focused on Suter than Weber, and they have to be impressed with his ice time as well as his two-way play. Nabbing Suter would allow for a smooth transition from their aging franchise defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom to their new franchise blue-liner.
I don't see the Red Wings breaking up their team at the deadline to grab him unless if it looks as though he might land somewhere else before the offseason. They would love to snatch him up as a free agent, as it's almost certain that they could out-bid Nashville with their huge payroll.
Adding Weber or Suter to an already strong defense with Alexander Elder, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis would greatly boost the Vancouver Canucks, one of the Stanley Cup front-runners.
They don't have a defender in the top 30 in ice time per game, while Suter and Weber are both top-five in the category.
Hamhuis is also a former Predator and one of the players who mentored the then-up-and-coming Nashville defenders. He would greatly benefit from a move like this and could create another dominant defensive line for the Canucks.
The Ottawa Senators already have a dominant defender in Erik Karlsson, and we've seen how much both of these Predators have benefited from playing aside another great defender as their linemate.
The Sens have one of the weakest defenses from top to bottom among playoff contenders and also have a huge amount of offensive talent to offer the Preds if they were to work out a deal.
This may be the most far-fetched of the five teams mentioned, but it's far from impossible for Ottawa to bring in one of these stars.