The biggest story of the 2013 NHL trading deadline is all written but the epilogue. The prevalent theme of that chapter shall surround the moves or attempted moves by teams other than the most logical Stanley Cup favorites.
With less than five days remaining until the deadline and a sustained lopsided discrepancy between prospective buyers and sellers, "attempted" will be appended in many cases. However, even with a shallow quantity of results, the buildup need not lack any compelling or competitive element.
Barely a handful of teams are either good enough to not require significant additives or shriveled enough to be as good as eliminated from playoff qualification. Even sellers, though, can have needs that they might as well begin to address late this season as a means of early preparation for 2013-14.
Whether they fall into one of those extremes or the populous middle ground, the state of every NHL team on the cusp of the trade deadline is assessed as follows.
All statistical information for this slideshow was found via nhl.com, and all free-agent and salary-related information was found via capgeek.com
The recent addition of Ben Lovejoy gives the Pacific Division-leading Ducks another option in case of an injury or maddening slump to one of their other six NHL-caliber defensemen. The same could be said up the middle with the acquisition of Dave Steckel.
It might not hurt to pursue one more piece for a similar purpose, but it hardly looks like an urgent necessity. The Ducks have enviable balance both in the sense of widespread reliability in each position and a mix of fresh youth (e.g. Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri) and exemplary, hungry veterans (Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Sheldon Souray, etc).
Recent reformations to all of the offensive lines underscore a season-long bout of inconsistency for the majority of the Bruins but particularly Milan Lucic. His experimental replacement among the top six, Daniel Paille, will likely not last in that position, either.
The solution is to find a more dependable striker, such as a Jaromir Jagr, and let him work with Nathan Horton and David Krejci while keeping the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-Tyler Seguin troika intact. Lucic, in turn, would be able to stay on a checking unit with Chris Kelly (once he is healthy) and Rich Peverley while Paille would stick with his usual colleagues, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
In light of the February firing of longtime bench boss Lindy Ruff, it might not be wise for the almost equally long-tenured general manager Darcy Regier to go into explicit fire sale mode. Then again, maybe it won't matter either way for his job security.
Regardless, the Sabres certainly need to continue to reshape their look on and behind the bench. That process began with the summer acquisition of Steve Ott, continued with Ruff's dismissal and may still go a little further.
One sign is the recent healthy scratch of longtime Sabres forward Jochen Hecht, who had never previously endured such relegation in his time with Buffalo.
The Sabres need not export every familiar face, but Hecht is one pending free agent whose export could come at an optimum time with this year's trading deadline. Defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr are two others.
Note: The paragraph below describes what was the Flames' foremost need before they dealt Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Anything else that could possibly enter their list of priorities for this homestretch is negligible by comparison, unless Jay Bouwmeester or Miikka Kiprusoff somehow end up on the block as well.
The longtime captain and face of the Flames recently divulged a short list of suitable suitors. It is now on general manager Jay Feaster to learn from ex-Columbus GM Scott Howson's arguably costly blunder with the transaction of Rick Nash and ensure a comprehensive return package.
The Hurricanes entered their Thursday night tilt with Toronto having dropped three straight 4-1 decisions.
Whether they are leaning on Justin Peters to keep them afloat or eventually, banking on the comparatively seasoned Dan Ellis and Cam Ward, they can do more to help their goalies help them. An effective addition to the blue-line brigade is a must to cut back on the quantity (nightly average of 31.5) and quality of shots reaching the Carolina cage.
Recent injuries to Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa should motivate the Blackhawks to at least rent somebody to fall back on in case there are multiple strikers either sitting out or lagging due to an ailment come playoff time.
Other than that, though, it is hard to find much cause for concern on a team that has as much hard-earned collateral as the league-leading Hawks.
A mere two of the Avalanche's 82 goals this season have been scored by a defenseman with one apiece via Tyson Barrie and Ryan O'Byrne.
Last season's top goal-getter from the blue line, Kyle Quincey, is no longer on the team and had only five strikes in 2011-12 to begin with. Meanwhile, Erik Johnson continues to perform like anything but a first overall draft choice.
It likely won't do much for this season, but if Colorado could acquire a productive point patroller now and let him acclimate to the new environment in April, it could have gratifying implications come next autumn. There was recently a proposition in The Fourth Period that the Avs swap Paul Stastny to Phoenix in exchange for Keith Yandle, which does not seem very likely to come to fruition but could be a good deal on Colorado's end if it ever did.
One of the pleasant surprises of late, the Blue Jackets are knocking on the playoff door, currently in a footrace with the likes of Nashville and Dallas to try to lasso San Jose at the bottom of the Western Conference's top eight.
One complication to that endeavor is a modicum of offensive output. Columbus has mustered three goals in only four of its last 13 games, and despite fostering an impressive hot streak in that span, going 8-1-4, some of those regulation ties could have been wins if they flexed a little more firepower.
Had they finished off their opponents in two or three of those four eventual shortcomings, they could be in the top eight right now. Naturally, though, the fact that they are deep in the hunt means it is not too late to become a buyer and shore up the nightly average of 2.15 goals that they carried into Thursday's action.
Other teams might come calling for Jagr or Ray Whitney, especially after Brenden Morrow was dealt. But to serve their best interest and sustain any chance of surmounting St. Louis, San Jose and Nashville for a long-elusive playoff spot, the Stars must stand pat and keep their age-defying scorers.
Jagr, naturally, leads the team with 14 goals and 25 points, meaning he has had a hand in 28.7 percent of Dallas' 87 goals, directly inserting 16 percent himself. Whitney has missed time this season but since returning to the lineup on March 12, has a 3-4-7 scoring log in his last eight games.
Two hefty forwards in Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson, both exceeding six feet in height and 215 pounds in weight, have each mustered only three appearances this year and are still on the injured reserve list. Among their fellow forwards on the Red Wings, only Justin Abdelkader and Johan Franzen rival their size.
Franzen has had a decent regular season with 18 points, but Detroit could use more than him to ensure they match the opposition's intensity and physicality in the climactic phases of the season. Going into Thursday's action, they were second-to-last in the league with 567 hits and the only team to trail them in that category, Chicago, looks fit to get away with that shortcoming.
David Staples of the Edmonton Journal summed up at least one critical aspect impeccably when he led off a Tuesday column with this sentence: "It’s no secret that the Edmonton Oilers have the wrong mix on their top lines, that they’ve got plenty of skill, but not enough crash."
Besides that, though, the majority of those skilled players Staples refers to are short on NHL experience. Even the comparatively seasoned Sam Gagner, a sixth-year veteran, is lacking in battle-tests in that he has never been to the playoffs.
The Oilers do still have the 37-year-old Ryan Smyth, but with a 2-6-8 scoring log through 31 games, he may be too washed up at this point to significantly bolster Edmonton's hopeful rise.
If they are going to follow through on their recent sneakiness, let alone make any waves in the playoffs if they actually make it, they need to acquire a specimen of good balance between Smyth and the youth movement.
The Panthers entered Thursday night's action dead-last in the conference, four points behind the Flyers for second-to-last place and 11 points behind the Rangers for the final playoff seed with only 14 games remaining. If there are any clear-cut sellers heading into Wednesday, this team is it.
For Dale Tallon, the web of questions consists of which pending free agents are to be kept as a hopeful foundation for a bounceback campaign in 2013-14 and which can be expended to bring in new pieces for that very replenishing process.
Dustin Penner, a pending free agent, has tallied two goals and 10 points in 24 appearances this season. His continued inability to turn in the same output with the same consistency as he did in Anaheim and Edmonton could become a liability in L.A. if and when the time comes for those other than the usual suspects to step up.
Now would be the ideal time to let Penner go elsewhere and convince his new employer to give the Kings a fresh face for their own line chart in exchange for giving Penner and the other party a clean sheet.
The Wild have won each of their last seven games, nine of their last 10 and 12 of their last 15. Their only three shortcomings in that span have come via the only two Western Conference teams who started Thursday with a better record, namely Anaheim and Chicago.
Minnesota has gone 1-4-0 on the year against those two bigwigs, with the win over the Blackhawks requiring a shootout to complete. But remember that this team is playoff-caliber for the first time in a long time and need not risk tripping itself by trying to accelerate its rise.
Case in point: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the costly pending free agent, has snapped out of his struggles to post nine points during this win streak. As long as he and the team are hot, future decisions can wait.
The Canadiens were recently active on the waiver wire, lassoing the services of Jeff Halpern after he was cut loose by the Rangers. Depending on how well he responds to the change of scenery, he ought to give them a valuable extra option in case one of two rookie forwards, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, are not quite ready for the rigors of the playoffs.
That aside, the Habs are gratifyingly balanced in every position, which means almost anyone can bail anyone out as needed at virtually any time. A perfect example was Wednesday night's come-from-behind, 6-5 shootout triumph in Boston that kept them a point ahead of the Bruins for first in the Northeast Division.
Keeping up with the Penguins (more on them later) for Eastern Conference supremacy is another matter, but at this point, Montreal's greatest need in that regard will have to come from within the dressing room. In the event of a postseason encounter, will head coach Michel Therrien, an unfulfilled ex-Pittsburgh skipper, have extra incentive up his sleeve to instill to his pupils?
As of Thursday morning, the Predators ranked No. 24 on the NHL's team offense leaderboard and No. 28 in terms of power-play success.
Although they have recently picked up the pace in overall output, tallying at least three goals in all but one of their last eight outings, steps should be taken to ensure that it lasts. General manager David Poile can take that step by inserting a scorer who can produce in all situations, thus providing insurance in case too many current players' streakiness flares up at an inopportune moment.
Barring any changes to his prognosis, the heavily leaned-on Ilya Kovalchuk will be out until around sometime between April 7 and April 21 with a shoulder ailment. When he does return, he may or may not be in full form.
It doesn't help to have also been missing Alexei Ponikarovsky and Dainius Zubrus up front, either.
Accordingly, the Devils must pursue a rental who can lend them a little extra offensive depth to compensate for any potential loss in productivity. That could be done by dealing one of the eight NHL-caliber defensemen currently on their salary chart.
Any harm done to the team as a result of Kovalchuk's injury and how the rest of the team responds just might make or break their playoff viability.
The Isles are the anti-Blue Jackets in that they are sneaking up on the top eight in the Eastern Conference but could ensure a more assertive follow-through on their threat with better defense.
Before the start of Thursday night's action, the Islanders were two points behind the Rangers for eighth place. Each of their previous four losses and five shortcomings (the fifth being a 2-1 overtime falter against the Rangers) have come at the hands of teams currently ahead of them in the standings.
In those four regulation losses, they brooked a cumulative 20-8 scoring differential. Granted, two of those losses and 10 of those goals were dealt by the Penguins, but just as it is with Columbus, every point is precious and no room should be left for excuses.
The Isles need to deepen the moat in front of their net if they are to pilfer any points from the bigwigs, and they must pilfer points from the bigwigs to ensure a surprise berth in the 2013 playoffs.
Getting everyone in the upper echelon of the chart to start consistently playing to their full potential would be a great start to renewing the Rangers' persona as a certifiable Cup contender. But beneath that, are they sure that youngsters Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller and the minimally skilled likes of Arron Asham and Darrell Powe, both of whom have been even colder than in past years, are enough to supply sufficient depth?
Bringing in another forward who packs seasoning and skill into one body would be nothing shy of prudent for this team. Besides the potential tangible impact, such an acquisition just might shake up and perk up all of John Tortorella's current pupils.
Milan Michalek is barely a week removed from surgery and Jason Spezza is two months removed from his last appearance in game action. Meanwhile, going into Thursday's tilt with the Rangers, Sergei Gonchar had been multi-tasking between anchoring the most efficient defense in the NHL (2.06 goals-against per night) and leading the Senators' offense with 20 assists, good for 22 points to tie Kyle Turris atop that leaderboard.
Other players, such as rookies Jakob Silfverberg and Mika Zibanejad, have stepped up as well. But Ottawa could stand to draft an insurance policy that will relieve those youngsters, and the team in general, of the ongoing burden of filling in for Michalek, Spezza and two-way defender Erik Karlsson.
Few teams are fettered by the cap, both this year's and next, more than the Flyers. Lately, they have been grinding through the $70.2 million ceiling with one "buried" player in goaltender Brian Boucher.
Their current CapGeek projection for next season reads over $62 million with a $64.3 million maximum limit.
That will likely be alleviated, to an extent, with the deletion of current stand-ins who give the team 16 rostered forwards and 10 defensemen. But with re-signings and new summer acquisitions to think about, Philadelphia should seek a head start by deciding whether Boucher or Michael Leighton is the ideal backup.
If nothing else, they can trade away the other to get back under the current cap and try to reel in a draft pick or similar compensation.
Prior to Thursday's action, the Coyotes were tied with Ottawa for 22nd with 2.48 goals per night. They need netminder Mike Smith back in 2012 form and an added layer of firepower to support him.
The Igloo birds were the early birds at this year's deadline, tacking on a dose of defensive insurance in Douglas Murray and a layer of upfront veteran presence in Brenden Morrow.
Oh, yeah, and they just won the Iginla derby, as noted in the Calgary slide.
The fact that they added those pieces in the midst of a 13-game winning streak that bolstered their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference standings signaled clear intent on GM Ray Shero's part to ensure the dressing room sustains its hunger.
In addition, it should equal another way of compensating for the recent absences of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and bracing the Penguins for any other injuries down the road.
Other than maybe adding an extra depth defenseman for good measure, the Blues should not have to rely on the front office to prepare to build on last season. They just need their balanced collection of skaters and goaltenders to gel back together.
Whether it directly brings in a new offensive asset or just creates room on the roster for someone else, the Sharks should be bent on shoring up their underachieving offense by casting off the personification of that underachievement.
Since he finished the 2011-12 regular season with 17 goals, the fifth double-digit finish in that column during his NHL career, Clowe has been nursing a 32-game drought that has spanned last year's regular-season finale, all five playoff games and his first 26 appearances this year.
The best-case scenario for all parties would have Clowe departing the San Jose dressing room and subsequently reinvigorating himself with a new employer while a new face takes the same effect on the Sharks as a whole. The individual and the team both need a new vibe to work with.
The Lightning have two goaltenders in Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon each nursing a goals-against average in the 2.8 range and a save percentage each barely exceeding .900.
Lindback, who is 24 going on 25, can still be the masked man of the future, or he might be nudged aside by Cedrick Desjardins at some point.
Either way, the Bolts need to swap out the aging journeyman Garon in favor of a crease-time competitor with more in his tank.
That search will most likely need to wait until the offseason, but with Garon nearing free agency, it would not hurt to try to cast him off now while he can bring in a return piece. Even if it is merely a minor leaguer or a draft pick.
Not since Feb. 21 have the Maple Leafs confined their opponent to a single goal or posted a shutout. In four out of eight games between March 9 and 25, they dropped a point via the shootout, which brings up the same point that was addressed with the Blue Jackets and Islanders.
Like those franchises, Toronto has a chance to put in its first playoff appearance in recent memory. And it could have a slightly more promising outlook if it had warded off the opposition a few more times and thus averted a few shootouts while taking the only two points offered on a given night.
As promising as rookie Jake Gardiner might be, the here and now calls for a little more seasoning and certified shutdown capabilities. That is what the Leafs, whose only rostered defender older than 27 years of age is the 185-pound John-Michael Liles, need to pursue in the coming days.
This author has raised this issue multiple times already, but it's just that pressing. Ryan Kesler or not, the Canucks need to ensure that they have someone other than the Sedin twins posing a scoring threat if they are to finally transfer their regular-season success of recent years to the playoffs.
It is even important that they win a derby for reinforcements during the remainder of the 2012-13 regular season now that the Minnesota Wild have emerged to make the Northwest Division race a noteworthy contest for a change.
The dilemma is a naturally hot topic as the pricey Ribeiro has helped to give the Capitals some better-late-than-never hope.
If they do not want 2012-13 to end up a step back from previous seasons, he is a must-keep for the rest of this ride.
If, however, Ribeiro cannot be worked into Washington's future plans, then upper management must make that decision firm and fast for their best chance of making his departure worth the return package.
With the help of the Hurricanes' recent struggles, the Jets are approaching the homestretch with more breathing room atop the Southeast Division. To ensure that they sustain that lead and cement a playoff position, though, they should add extra bodies to offset the adverse effects of fatigue and injury.
Already, as noted by Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press, the Jets have been plugging without the input of defensemen Ron Hainsey and Mark Stuart. The final slice of the schedule could leave other players prone to ailment.
Beginning with Thursday night's visit to Pittsburgh, the Jets are cramming their last 14 games within a span of precisely four weeks, culminating on April 25. On April 4, the night after the trade deadline, they will have played six games in six cities, including five on the road in another time zone, within a span of eight days.
The good news is there will later be a six-game homestand lasting two weeks from April 6 to April 20. Winnipeg must take full advantage of that and also store up on spare skaters up front and on the blue line to keep everyone fresh during the sandwiching travel periods.
They need not go overboard with the transactions, but they do need to verify their appreciation for this opportunity to defy logic and earn bonus action during their second season as a geographic misfit.