There is no more mentally exhausting time in the hockey season than the trade deadline.
Teams must evaluate themselves. Do they have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup? Do they even have what it takes to make the playoffs? Do they need to scrap all hope of a Stanley Cup now and make moves that will bring them closer to the goal in the future?
The trade deadline has teams weighing the present and future, money, and ambition, the value of one individual versus the value of a group of prospects or draft picks.
This year at the deadline, we will see a few players switch uniforms, but most of the big names will remain where they are.
Still, the trade deadline gets the gears in our brains turning. How much is one player really worth, especially a very good player? If the top players in the NHL were on the trading block, how would their age, contract lengths and values and versatility affect their trade value?
This list will explore and rank the purely hypothetical trade values on hockey's top stars. Highly-talented players with big contracts aren't quite as valuable as cheaper players with similar talent, or who are younger in age.
Practically none of these players will be traded this year. Few will be traded even in their contract years. Many of them will never be traded at all.
But if everyone were on the trading block, who would be the most valuable?
Contract information via capgeek.com.
The Good: Thornton is an experienced player and one of the best setup men in the league. Matched with the right scoring winger, he is still capable of putting up 100 points in a season.
At age 33, Thornton isn't as likely to leave and test the waters of free agency the way a younger player might.
The Bad: His contract expires at the end of next season and will cost $7 million in cap space before it expires. That's a huge chunk of the cap to devote to a player who has been unable to get the Sharks over the playoff hump.
The Verdict: Thornton's trade value would be low because of his big-in-dollars, small-in-length contract. The Sharks wouldn't be able to cash him in for a major immediate haul.
The Good: Shattenkirk is young and cheap, and his talent clearly exceeds the dollar amount of his contract. Entering Wednesday night's games, he was tied for fourth among defensemen in assists.
The Bad: Shattenkirk is a rental player who doesn't fit the mold of a rental player. His contract expires at the end of this season, and while he is coming into his own, like most 24 year-olds, Shattenkirk is a long-term project.
The Verdict: If ever the Blues wanted to trade Shattenkirk, they wouldn't get much for him unless he were part of a package deal. His $1.3 million salary is about to bounce up in a big way, and teams wouldn't want to risk their investment being a short one.
The Good: St. Louis is a leader and a difference-maker, and would serve as an ideal rental for a team gearing up for a run at the Stanley Cup. He still has two full seasons on his contract after this year, which will take him through age 39.
The Bad: Because of St. Louis's age, he wouldn't grab the attention of other teams the way a younger player might. His $5.6 million cap hit is very reasonable now, but it will look a lot bigger when taking up cap space in 2014-15.
The Verdict: He might become a rental player one day, but for now, even for all his abilities, St. Louis is simply too old to build your team around.
The Good: Vanek is absolutely on fire. Despite Buffalo's mighty struggles, Vanek has 31 points in 27 games this season, playing arguably the best hockey of his life. He is also in his prime at 29 years old.
The Bad: Vanek comes with an expensive price tag ($7.1 million against the cap) and is only inked through 2014. If he keeps up his current rate of production, he'll be a major draw in free agency and that doesn't bode well for any team that gave up a king's ransom to get him on their roster.
The Verdict: Vanek's value is hurt by the pending expiration of his contract. Unless traded to a team that has plenty of money and cap space to play with, potential trade partners wouldn't be enthusiastic to give up as much as they would for players of an equal skill level who have more time left on their current contracts.
The Good: Lundqvist is a goalie, and reliable goalies are a rarity in the NHL. He doesn't have a Cup yet, but he is a definitive superstar in the net.
Goalies, as individuals, are more valuable to a team than anyone else on the ice.
The Bad: Like Vanek, Lundqvist is only signed through 2014 and would likely be intrigued by free agent markets that tend to overpay netminders. Someone out there would be willing to offer Henrik seven years, a risky proposition for a team looking for a goalie, so potential suitors could be turned off by the idea of a short stay.
The Verdict: King Henrik would undoubtedly attract offers were he on the trading block, but teams would be more hesitant to pull the trigger than you might think. Uncertainty surrounds goalies in the long term, and many teams feel safer developing their own talent than investing maximum contracts or trade chips for older goalies.
The Good: Daniel basically comes as a package deal with brother Henrik, so if you've got one, you probably get both.
The Bad: Then again, it may be so impossible to trade for one without the other that the price tag would simply be too high.
The Verdict: As long as the potential buyer can afford to land both of the twins, the Sedins can certainly be considered to have a high trade value, though splitting that value in half at the end of things waters it down a bit.
The Good: As is the case with Daniel, Henrik Sedin comes at a low cap hit and presumably brings his twin and linemate with him when traded.
The Bad: The early expiration date of their contracts (2014) makes the Sedin twins a big risk, big reward acquisition.
The Verdict: It seems ludicrous that any team could afford to trade for both of them at the same time, but if the buyer could somehow pry one of the brothers from Vancouver, Henrik would be slightly more valuable due to his more versatile role as the setup man.
The Good: The reigning Hart Trophy winner is still among the best in the league when it comes to scoring, and he is still very young. During Sidney Crosby's concussion issues, Malkin proved he can play without his captain and carry the team himself.
The Bad: As is the case with Lundqvist and Vanek, Malkin's contract expires at the end of next year. It is scary for teams to gamble on trading everything but the kitchen sink to sign a player like this long-term, even with the advantage of the player only being able to sign an eight-year deal with his current team and a seven-year deal with any other.
The Verdict: No doubt, a team would trade for Malkin and immediately get to work on an extension. There is simply a hesitation when it comes to players whose futures are very uncertain.
The Good: Any team could use a player like Chara. He is a defensive stalwart with the hardest slapshot in the league. At 6'9", even as he loses a step in his speed, his size is still an amazing advantage.
The Bad: The biggest concern is Chara's age. At 36, he is one of the oldest on this list, and his cap hit will be $6.9 million no matter how much his play declines.
The Verdict: Barring injury, Chara's size will prevent his age from showing for a long time. He would be a worthwhile investment for any team needed to shore up the blue line.
The Good: Staal is only 28 years old and is an excellent leader. He has found a resurgence on the score sheet as well, thanks in part to his talented winger, Alexander Semin.
He is locked up through 2016, so a potential suitor could consider Staal an investment, not a rental.
The Bad: Staal's $8.25 million cap hit is very high. Though he is a talented player, he is making elite money and may not quite be worthy of it. Devoting big money to Staal and, in all likelihood, big money to a Semin-like winger to maximize Staal's productivity leaves little room to round out the roster.
The Verdict: Young captains locked up for a few years are never a bad thing. If the Hurricanes put Staal on the market, they would likely get back his value in prospects, draft picks and role players.
The Good: Like Eric Staal, Zetterberg has seen his production increase this season and he has taken nicely to the captain's role in Nicklas Lidstrom's absence. He is also locked up through 2021 with a very reasonable $6.1 million cap hit.
The Bad: Zetterberg isn't quite a superstar. He is an excellent role player all over the ice but needs to be playing on a good line for his talents to really show through.
The Verdict: Zetterberg has high trade value and it is getting higher with his performance this season. If nothing else, he is reliable, and teams love reliability.
The Good: Letang has consistently been one of the best defensemen in the NHL and at 25, he is only getting better. He also comes cheap for the time being, taking up only $3.5 million in cap space.
Not a bad price for a guy who could easily lead all defensemen in scoring as long as Erik Karlsson is out.
The Bad: That $3.5 million cap hit is going up, and more importantly, it's going up soon. Letang becomes an unrestricted free agent in July of 2014 and could easily be the hot commodity on the market, and not simply among defensemen. Trade for Letang, and you could be S.O.L. in just over a year.
The Verdict: He's took good for a team to pass on him if given the opportunity, but that trade would be a risky one. Any suitor would need to be able to afford big bucks and the full eight years in order to keep Letang around.
The Good: Giroux and Letang are a center and a defenseman cut from the same cloth. Both are specialists on all parts of the ice, both are young, and both come with cap hits under $4 million per year.
Giroux is a part of the up-and-coming class of NHL superstars and the whole league knows it.
The Bad: Like Letang, Giroux's contract will expire at the end of 2014, meaning that his future with a potential suitor is not exactly ensured. A team could waste a lot of draft picks and prospects on a guy who may just leave after one full season or less.
The Verdict: Giroux would still be a great catch for an interested party. Unlike, Letang, Giroux is a restricted free agent, meaning the team that acquired him has the final say in keeping him or letting him walk.
The Good: As of early this week, Corey Perry is as wise an investment as a team can make in a player. He is signed for a maximum of eight years, a contract length that would have been unavailable on the open market, keeping his contract in effect until 2021.
The Bad: Perry's contract is an expensive one. Sure, he's a former Hart Trophy winner, and that alone may be worth the $8.6 million cap hit over the next eight years. But if his production never matches the level it did in 2010-11, that cap figure will look mighty imposing as the years go by.
The Verdict: Most teams would have been willing to make a play for Perry in unrestricted free agency, and most would be willing to trade for him if the opportunity arose. Perry would bring the Ducks a good haul if they every felt crazy enough to trade him.
The Good: No player in the NHL is signed for a longer period of time than Weber, thanks to a 14-year offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers matched by the Nashville Predators. In fact, thanks to the new CBA, it will be six more years before a team signs any player to a contract that lasts past Weber's.
The Bad: A contract this large and long has all the makings of becoming an albatross. If Weber doesn't continue to play at a high level, the team owning his contract is completely stuck with him for a very, very long time.
The Verdict: You want a powerful defenseman who isn't going anywhere anytime soon? As soon as he becomes available to be traded this summer, Shea Weber is your guy. Teams able to invest the time and money will pay for one of the best in the league at his position.
The Good: Suter is signed through 2025, meaning he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He is in his prime at age 28 and any team that acquired him would run no risk of losing Suter to free agency one day, the way Nashville did.
The Bad: As is the case with Wever, there are reasons to be hesitant to take on a contract this long. Suter is one of the best in the league as his position, but his $7.5 million cap hit is a major blow to build into a roster for the next twelve seasons.
The Verdict: Reliable defensemen are hard to come by, and when he find one, you take a gamble on him. Suter is productive on all areas of the ice, and it would take some major missteps not to justify his big contract.
If Suter were available, teams would pay.
The Good: Rask is a young goaltender who has spent the last four seasons proving his worth in both the starting and backup role. He is one of the top netminders in the league this season, evidence that he has broken through to an elite level of play.
The Bad: Rask's attractive $3.5 million cap hit will certainly go up at the end of the season as he is due to become a restricted free agent in July.
The Verdict: Trading for Rask is still the right idea. As a restricted free agent, the team owning Rask's rights could and would match any offer given to him by another team. He'll be expensive to trade for and expensive to sign, but no player is more important than the goalie.
The Good: After a few years letting his party-boy antics affect his on-ice play, Kane and the Blackhawks have returned to form this year and he is proving he is one of the best. Entering Wednesday's action, Kane had 16 goals, 21 assists and 37 points, good for fifth in the league.
The Bad: Kane's contract will expire in 2015, not immediate, but certainly not a long-term investment for a trade partner to the 'Hawks. His $6.3 million cap hit will also rise at the time, especially if he continues his outstanding play.
The Verdict: Goal scorers like Kane are hard to come by, and if one becomes available, you take him. Kane will be productive for two-plus years, and then the team would look to use the eight-year contract as leverage to get him signed though 2022-23.
The Good: Karlsson is in a class of his own when it comes to offensive defensemen, and with a contract worth $6.5 million per year running through 2019, he would become a mainstay on any team's blue line. He might not be the league's best d-man in his own zone, but his offense is on par with most forwards, giving his team a unique weapon.
The Bad: Assuming that Karlsson recovers from his severed Achilles tendon, the only real concerns are his defensive abilities. As long as the team builds their other five defenders around a stay-at-home philosophy, Karlsson is a steal.
The Verdict: Most any team would trade the farm to acquire Karlsson. He is only 22 and is as high-octane as defenders get when it comes to scoring.
The Good: Playing for the defending champion Kings, Anze Kopitar has become as important to the team as Jonathan Quick. He is a responsible two-way forward but excels on offense, playing over 20:00 per game and tallying a point-per-game this season.
The Bad: When Kopitar becomes a free agent in 2016, he will be 28, eligible for unrestricted free agency. It is conceivable that the team that owns his contract in 2015-16 will be unable to keep him from testing the open market.
The Verdict: Kopitar is a character guy who is capable of exceeding 30 goals and 50 assists in a full NHL season. That kind of offense is hard to come by, and at age 25, he has many good years ahead of him. Teams would chomp at the bit to bring him on board.
The Good: Stamkos is the NHL's top goal scorer, bar none. His work on the power play is unmatched and he has a knack for scoring big goals in big moments.
The Bad: Stamkos carries a $7.5 million cap hit that takes him through 2016, certainly not a short length of time, but a major price to pay for three full seasons of service. And if the market for Corey Perry is any indication, Stammer will be bringing in over $10 million per year when he has the chance to renegotiate his terms.
The Verdict: There is one major advantage to the length of Stamkos's contract: he will be in his last year of restricted free agency when it expires. This means that the team owning his contract would be able to match any offer to re-sign him, making it likely that his three remaining years will be much, much more for the team that owns his contract.
The Good: Toews has led his team to a Stanley Cup Championship, he is recognized as one of the best two-way centers in the game, he is very impressive offensively and he is only 24 years old. And at $6.3 million per year, all of that comes at a ridiculously reasonable price tag.
The Bad: The only downside to Toews is the length of his contract. It expires in 2015, and because Toews was born in April of 1988, he will be 27 years old and eligible for unrestricted free agency that year, instead of becoming an RFA.
The Verdict: You would be crazy not to trade for Toews if the Blackhawks offered him. He brings everything you want in a player and has until 2015 to decide to stay in your city long-term.
The Good: Rinne is a reliable goaltender, a rarity in the NHL these days. The big Finn covers the net well, never posting a save percentage below .911% in his NHL career.
He is signed for seven years at $7 million per season.
The Bad: Seven years is a lot to invest in a goaltender, but if anyone in the league seems like a safe bet, it's Rinne. The contract length might make a few teams nervous, but not many.
The Verdict: The Predators would have their doors knocked down by GMs if Rinne were on the trade market. No team should or would pass up on the opportunity to land a 30 year-old goaltender locked up for seven years, as long as he is as good as Pekka Rinne.
The Good: Crosby won't become a free agent until 2025, and he carries a cap hit of $8.7 million per year.
That total is slightly higher than the cap number on the contract signed this week by Corey Perry. Given that Crosby is the top player in the game today, $8.7 million is going to become a ridiculously affordable cap hit in the coming years.
The Bad: The only downside is that $8.7 million is still a lot to pay a player, even one as talented as Sidney Crosby. Assuming he stays healthy, he'll be taking up a chunk of cap space for a long, long time.
The Verdict: No matter how much teams dislike Crosby, they would all be willing to trade for him.
The Good: John Tavares has 31 points in 29 games this season, entering Wedneday's action. He makes players around him better, he is only 22 years old, his contract runs through the 2017-2018 season and best of all, his cap hit until then is only $5.5 million per year.
Few players are better. No player is worth more per dollar in the entire league, for the next five seasons.
The Bad: Tavares is not signed as long as Crosby is and will become an unrestricted free agent when his contract expires at age 27.
The Verdict: Tavares is the most valuable trade asset in the league. His age, cap hit, contract length, skill level and leadership make him practically invaluable. Any team would want to build their franchise around John Tavares if given the opportunity.