We have almost reached the quarter-mark of the 2013 NHL season, and it's time for general managers to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their rosters to determine if they will be buyers or sellers in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
League sources told the Sun Tuesday it's going to take at least another week before the market shakes loose and there's enough separation between the top and the bottom-feeders for teams to start having serious trade talks.
Last year, there were more buyers than sellers at the trade deadline, and the result was no blockbuster trades going down on deadline day since the prices for elite players were so high.
This year could be different, because there are so many star players eligible for free agency this summer, and the salary cap being lowered to $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season could force teams to make "salary dumps" before July.
Here are some predictions on the teams that will most likely be buyers and sellers before the April 3 trade deadline, and on which players and positional needs will be coveted on the market.
The Flyers will certainly explore all possibilities to upgrade their scoring depth and to add another defenseman. As long as the Flyers don't fall out of the playoff race with a lengthy losing streak over the next few weeks, expect them to be buyers before the deadline.
Philadelphia ranks 22nd in goal scoring, and its power-play has been awful. Over the last five games, the Flyers have scored four goals on 20 power-play opportunities. Teams that play well at even strength and dominate defensively (such as the Boston Bruins) are able to overcome power-play struggles, but the Flyers are not one of these clubs.
The team's blue line has been average at best for the majority of this season's games, and unlike last year, the Flyers don't have the offensive depth to score enough goals to make up for their lackluster defensive play.
General manager Paul Holmgren has to find a top-six winger who is a reliable goal scorer, in addition to a top-four defenseman who has a solid two-way game.
According to Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it doesn't seem like Holmgren will make a move in the immediate future.
Sam Carchidi @BroadStBull
SOURCE: Only a slim chance #Flyers make a deal before Hartnell returns.2/6/2013, 5:03:35 PM
There are plenty of targets for Holmgren to consider, and the three that make the most sense are Dallas Stars forward Michael Ryder, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel and Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle. All three players would add high-end offensive skill to the Flyers' roster.
Needs: Top-four defenseman, top-six winger
Everybody is waiting to see what Canucks general manager Mike Gillis will do with star goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is playing well this season but has been linked to trade rumors for many months, because Cory Schneider is the team's No. 1 goalie of the present and future.
If Gillis is going to move Luongo, which seems likely, he would be wise do it soon, because as the trade deadline approaches, there could be more goaltenders made available around the league (such as Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier and Calgary Flames star Miikka Kiprusoff) that have more attractive contracts and/or are younger than Luongo.
The market for the 33-year-old veteran already isn't very big due to the enormity of his contract (nine more years with a salary cap hit of $5.33 million) and his struggles in the playoffs.
While Gillis works on a Luongo deal, expect him to pursue a third line forward that will add some offensive skill, but more importantly, some toughness and grit to the lineup.
Vancouver won't be able to compete with Eastern Conference teams such as the New York Rangers or Boston Bruins in a possible Stanley Cup Final matchup if they don't add another physical forward or two to its roster.
The Canucks would also be smart to find another goal scorer, even if Ryan Kesler returns to the lineup soon and plays well. Only four Canucks players have scored more than one goal this season, and only three of those players have scored more than twice, so Gillis needs to find another top-six forward to address his team's scoring depth concerns.
Expect the Canucks to be busy around the trade deadline as Gillis attempts to build a roster that is capable of making another Stanley Cup run.
Needs: Top-six forward, third/fourth-line tough guy
The Predators' roster underwent several changes in the offseason, but one thing remained the same, they still have real difficulties scoring goals.
Nashville ranks 28th in goals scored, and without star goaltender Pekka Rinne's impressive performances thus far, this team would probably be near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
General manager David Poile has a few young, talented, defensive prospects to dangle in a trade for a top-six forward, which is his team's biggest need before the deadline.
Before last year's trade deadline, Poile sent the Buffalo Sabres a first-round pick for gritty center Paul Gaustad, which turned out to be a foolish move.
It would be surprising if Poile used his first-round pick in the 2013 NHL draft in a trade unless he was getting an elite offensive player in return, but as we have seen throughout his career, he's not afraid to make a bold move to bolster his roster for the playoffs.
As long as the Predators are in the playoff race, expect them to be buyers, because they are a top-tier forward away from being a surprise contender in the West this season.
Needs: Top-six forward, depth defenseman
Even after losing top scorer Ray Whitney during the offseason, the Phoenix Coyotes still rank in the top half of the league in scoring, but adding another top-six forward has to be a top priority for general manager Don Maloney.
Luckily for him, he has two offensive defensemen to dangle at the deadline in two-time All-Star Keith Yandle and talented prospect David Rundblad. With nearly every team in the league needing more depth on the blue line, Maloney could acquire an impact forward if he were to make Yandle available.
His team's abundance of quality defensive prospects allows him to move Yandle for a top goal scorer and not have to worry about his blue line having sufficient talent and depth for a lengthy playoff run.
The Coyotes don't have an elite offensive player who can take over games and dominate in the playoffs, and until they add more high-end skill to their top-six forward group, they won't make it back to the Western Conference Finals.
Needs: Top-six forward, depth at center
The Capitals will likely attempt to make a few moves to contend in the Eastern Conference this season, but if the team's struggles continue, general manager George McPhee could go into selling mode really quickly.
Veteran center Mike Ribeiro, who is in the final year of his contract with a $5 million salary cap hit, could be moved for young players and/or draft picks. He's one of the few Capitals players living up to expectations this season with three goals and eight assists in 11 games. The 32-year-old forward would be a great addition to a contender that needs a second-line center with playoff experience.
McPhee could also move defensemen Mike Green and John Carlson. Both players are often a liability in the defensive zone, but their impressive offensive skill would be a solid addition to a team that needs more scoring from its blue line.
Washington still has the worst record in the league, and will probably become a seller if the team doesn't improve dramatically in the next two weeks.
Players Who Might Become Available: John Carlson, Mike Green, Mike Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer
The Panthers' bad start has given them a lot of ground to make up in the playoff race, but with a few key players returning from injury, expect general manager Dale Tallon to give his team a little time at full strength to turn its season around before making a major deal.
In the likely event that Florida becomes a seller close to the deadline, veteran forward and upcoming UFA Stephen Weiss could be pursued by a number of playoff teams that need scoring depth down the middle.
Weiss' $4 million salary and small $3.1 million cap hit would likely be attractive to a lot of teams with very little room under the salary cap. At the moment, there are 10 teams with less than $6 million in cap space, per Capgeek.
The Panthers will probably try to contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They energized their fan base by making the postseason last year, but fell out of the race. Becoming a seller at the trade deadline seems inevitable since they don't have the talent or depth to compete with the top teams in the conference.
Players Who Might Become Available: Stephen Weiss, Dmitry Kulikov
The Dallas Stars are in a tough situation right now, because they are hanging on to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but have a roster of aging veterans who could have a lot of value on the trade market.
Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney have been a big part of the Stars' success on offense this season, but if Dallas can acquire a good prospect or a first-round pick for either player, trading these veterans would be a smart move if the team is out of the playoff race.
Michael Ryder, who is an upcoming UFA and a pure goal scorer at right wing, could also be moved before the deadline since so many teams are looking for depth on the wings because of injuries. Ryder's history of performing at a high level in the playoffs also makes him an attractive trade target for many teams.
The Stars have a surplus of top-six forwards that they could move before the deadline to add some depth to their organization and/or to stockpile draft picks for a deep, talented 2013 class.
Players Who Might Become Available: Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, Michael Ryder, Derek Roy, Stephane Robidas
It's almost time to panic in Calgary as the Flames have started the season with a 2-3-2 record and currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Luckily for the Flames, they have played the fewest amount of games in the conference, but there's no reason to believe that this team will make the playoffs.
If the Flames fall out of the playoff race, which could happen in the near future, general manager Jay Feaster has a few valuable trade chips to help his team build for the future.
The decision to re-sign or trade captain and veteran forward Jarome Iginla seems to be holding up the decision on which direction the Flames are going to move towards after this season.
He's in the final year of his deal, and it wouldn't be surprising if a few teams were interested in Iginla at the deadline. He's still a top goal scorer and could add some tremendous depth to a contending team's top-six forward group.
Miikka Kiprusoff has one year left on his contract, and as an elite goaltender, he's the most valuable trade asset on the Flames' roster. Trading the 36-year-old goalie would help accelerate the team's rebuild by helping the Flames acquire a top prospect and maybe a first round pick.
Calgary is going nowhere this season and needs to make the difficult decision to end the Iginla era and work toward a brighter future with a proper rebuild.
Players Who Might Become Available: Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jay Bouwmeester
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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