There are two times of the year when NHL GMs truly earn the money for which they are paid: the free-agency period in the summer and the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
In the next few weeks, general managers and their assistants will be furiously working the phones. Some might be trying to find that missing piece for their upcoming playoff run. Others might be trying to get rid of horrible contracts or get a modest return for players who either request a change of scenery or will become free agents at the end of the season.
Everybody’s got an angle, a strategy, a way to play the game.
Almost every year, it seems like there's that one deal that sets off the arms race and prompts other teams to make a deal in order to keep pace.
Which team will make the first move? More than likely, it’ll be one of these 12.
Ryan Suter seems to be the key to the trade deadline aspirations of the Nashville Predators—at least according to EPSN's Pierre LeBrun.
On the Jan. 19 edition of the TSN Insider Trading panel, LeBrun mentioned that Predators GM David Poile is trying to obtain a top six forward in an effort to both improve the team's chances for the playoffs and the likelihood that Suter will agree to a contract extension before the deadline.
Although there are a few teams trying to obtain a top six forward, Nashville has a competitive advantage since it currently has the second-lowest payroll in the NHL and will be able to take on as much as $66.8 million in salary at the deadline.
Of course, if Poile is unable to find the necessary pieces for his lineup, he may instead focus his efforts on finding a decent return for Suter, who becomes a free agent in July.
Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks won't trade Bobby Ryan or Ryan Getzlaf before this year's deadline.
Perhaps GM Bob Murray will stand pat, largely because he's afraid of making another mistake that will break the camel's back and cost him his job.
Perhaps this group of players will pull things together themselves.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
The real problems with the Ducks started after last year's All-Star break when starting goalie Jonas Hiller went down with vertigo. He simply hasn't been the same since, though he has played better recently, winning his last three games (including one shutout performance against the Edmonton Oilers).
Murray may choose to ignore the vultures circling his team and stay the course. Then again, he may not, which could potentially have disastrous consequences for this roster. We'll have to wait and see how this saga unfolds.
Sell, sell, sell.
While that may not be Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford’s actual philosophy this year, it certainly should be.
Aside from Jeff Skinner, Cam Ward and Eric Staal, everyone on this roster should be made available in order to compile more draft picks and prospects.
Look, in order for there to be buyers, there have to be sellers. Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose might be a good fit on a playoff-bound team. If the Hurricanes are truly serious about improving their position as an NHL franchise and giving themselves a badly needed rebuild, one of these players will need to go.
Seeing Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd have successful years with Florida and Winnipeg has to sadden Chicago Blackhawks fans a little bit, but the good news is that GM Stan Bowman has left the Hawks in an excellent cap position going into this year's trade deadline.
The Hawks currently have about $4.8 million in cap space, which gives them the flexibility they need to go after a top six forward.
The main issue is that many of the teams with a top six forward to offer will likely ask for a core player in return, which doesn't make any sense for a team in a race for the first seed in the Western Conference.
The amount of teams trying to pursue a top six forward will likely drive up the asking price, taking less-desperate teams like Chicago out of the running; smaller moves are more likely.
Sorry in advance Wild fans, but no team has fallen harder and faster than the Minnesota Wild have this year. GM Chuck Fletcher knows it, coach Mike Yeo knows it and the fans definitely know it.
The biggest culprit for the Wild's troubles is their ability to score goals—or, more specifically, their lack thereof. In their last 10 games, the Wild have scored only 19 of them.
That's a team in need of a serious pick-me-up right now, preferably in the form of a big, young, strapping goal-scorer.
Paul Stastny would fit in very well here, but there's no way the Colorado Avalanche will deal him to a division rival (or will deal him at all, if their success continues—more on that later). Significant help in this case will likely come from the Eastern Conference bottom-feeders or the Columbus Blue Jackets, who, at this point, really have nothing to lose by dealing a player to someone else in their own conference.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has acquiring another top six forward on the brain—let's add him to the list of teams with that on their wish list.
Ansar Khan of MLive.com reports that the Wings will be trying to get their hands on Tuomo Ruutu (Hurricanes), Ales Hemsky (Oilers) or possibly Teemu Selanne if they can get him to waive his no-trade clause and agree to move to Detroit for one last kick at the Stanley Cup before he retires.
A more subtle move, like obtaining one of those players, seems more likely than a blockbuster move for Zach Parise. Age is always a question for this team, so holding onto prospects and aggressively pursuing Parise in the summer might be a better strategy.
By firing former head coach Scott Arniel on Jan. 9, it is implied that GM Scott Howson and/or ownership of the Columbus Blue Jackets thought one of two things:
1. It's the coach's fault that the team is in last place.
2. It's the players' fault that the team is in last place, but it's much easier to fire the coach than it is to get rid of certain players.
Either way, it'll likely be Howson's head on the chopping block next if he can't find a way to improve this team.
The period leading up to this trade deadline will help us find out if Howson still has the confidence of ownership or if he's just a lame-duck GM who will be replaced in the summer.
Last week's rumoured deal between the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs that would have sent James van Riemsdyk in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn shows us that GM Paul Holmgren is serious about acquiring some defensive help.
The one defenseman the Flyers covet most is Ryan Suter of the Nashville Predators, but the asking price might be too much.
There is still hope for the Schenn-van Riemsdyk deal, however, if van Riemsdyk comes back healthy. Realistically, though, a deal similar to this is what'll probably happen for the Flyers. The Preds have the cap space to pay Suter handsomely and will be aggressively looking to upgrade themselves.
After losing 5-0 to the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 16, a game in which he was pulled in the second period, Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller ranted to the media after the game that any changes in the Sabres’ fortunes depend on the guys currently in the locker room:
"If you guys really think there's going to be any kind of trade made anywhere that's going to affect this team any more than we can affect it in this locker room, you guys are just … I don't know what to think, because there's no such trade."
Fans and observers would be wise to take Miller's comments with a grain of salt, because GM Darcy Regier will likely make a deal or two before the trade deadline to try and plug the holes in this sinking ship.
Remember, owner Terry Pegula promised a Stanley Cup within three years. Whether or not this plan is realistic at this point, the pressure will be on Regier both internally from Pegula and externally both from fans and the media to make some moves.
Look for him to not disappoint.
It looks like Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster is a man of his word—Jarome Iginla isn't going anywhere, and the Flames are pushing for the playoffs.
Last summer, Feaster pronounced that the Flames were going to make the playoffs in 2012, and last week he reinforced his belief by dealing for Mike Cammalleri, a proven playoff performer with 32 points in 32 playoff games.
Right now the Flames are in a tight race (like, two points between them tight) with the Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Look for Feaster to make a few more deals before 3 p.m. on Feb. 27, if only to continue staying one step ahead of those close competitors.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has gained notoriety in recent years for making big deals before the trade deadline. Burke has hit home runs in two consecutive years, obtaining Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie in January 2010, and Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner in February 2011.
This time, Burke will likely have his sights set on a top six forward with size and toughness.
Unfortunately, those kinds of players are hard to come by.
Both Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks have been linked to the Leafs in trade rumors, but Ducks GM Bob Murray might be hesitant to make a deal with Burke since last year's trade didn't work out so well.
If Burke isn't able to find a player of the same quality as Ryan and Getzlaf, he may just try to find an affordable rent-a-player for this playoff campaign and seek out a more permanent solution in the summer.
If there is one general manager who is virtually guaranteed to be active before the trade deadline, it's Greg Sherman of the Colorado Avalanche.
There are three huge reasons for this:
First, the Avalanche are surging right now after a slow start to the season, and they are holding down the Western Conference's final playoff spot in a tight race with four other teams behind them—not to mention that the sixth seed is only six points away. A move or two might be necessary to plug some holes in the lineup and stay competitive.
Second, in the event that the Avalanche slip up and fall out of the playoff race between now and the trade deadline, it's possible that Paul Stastny could be traded to acquire draft picks and prospects for their rebuild.
Third, and most importantly, the Avs have 17 players up for free agency (including both RFAs and UFAs) after this season. This is the period where the Avs really need to think about the players they want to keep and those they don't. We've already seen Brandon Yip move to Nashville on a waiver claim.
Believe that there's more to come.