There's a wrinkle to the deadline this season. Next year's cap is going up significantly, so teams may be open to taking on long-term deals in exchange for rentals. In this way, both the team that is trading for immediate help and the team that is sending it can win these deals right now.
This is a unique trade deadline, and the deals we see will reflect it. Here are 10 potential trades that make perfect sense.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of CapGeek.com and are current through January 25, 2014.
The Penguins have very little cap space (just over $560,000), and Gagner is more expensive than Sutter. However, most of the contracts will be paid by the deadline. The Penguins should be able to incorporate the difference and remain under the cap. Gagner's injury has reduced his value, but he's a former lottery pick. The Penguins would likely have to include a first-round draft pick or quality prospect.
How the Penguins Will Improve
Gagner is a solid offensive player who is suffering through a difficult season. His power-play ability and passing skills are well-known, and he is best suited to playing the wing. Pittsburgh's impact centers offer a wonderful spot for any skilled winger, and Gagner should flourish.
How the Oilers Will Improve
Sutter is a two-way center with size, who takes a lot of own zone faceoffs, according to Behind the Net. Extra Skater reports his shot differential is poor, but that number is somewhat dictated by zone starts. The draft pick will give Edmonton only its second selection inside the top 100 in 2014.
Mike Weaver might be the perfect deadline acquisition. He's an effective veteran defenseman with an expiring contract, and his value far outweighs his cap number ($1.1 million). He will be in high demand if the Panthers decide to move him. The Flyers can easily add his salary and fit under the cap.
How the Flyers Will Improve
Philadelphia has been in a state of chaos defensively since Chris Pronger stopped playing. The addition of Weaver would give the team a calm, reliable defender who can get the puck out of harm's way effectively.
How the Panthers Will Improve
The Panthers grabbed Tom Gilbert off the scrap heap this year. He is a younger version of Weaver. The cash saved by sending Weaver away will allow the Panthers to secure Gilbert for the next several years.
New Jersey takes on a bigger contract in Bryan Bickell ($4 million), but they have the cap room. The Devils are getting a signed two-way forward in exchange for an expiring contract. Chicago offloads a player who has moved down the depth chart despite a terrific playoff one year ago and acquires a perfect- fit defenseman.
How the Blackhawks Will Improve
Mark Fayne is an ideal deadline plug-and-play defenseman. He'll fill a depth role, move up when required and give Chicago a proven veteran.
How the Devils Will Improve
New Jersey has enjoyed a good season, but its depth up front has been a problem all year. The Devils can give Bickell more playing time, and he should thrive with a larger opportunity.
How The Canucks Will Improve
Matt Moulson may be the best offensive player available at the trade deadline. For a team like Vancouver (and many others), he is an ideal fix to offensive woes.
How the Sabres Will Improve
The Sabres are in a rebuild, and the first-round pick has exceptional value for them. Buffalo could enter the draft with at least three first-round selections, with one of them in the top three overall.
Whitney is in the final year of his $4.5 million contract, and the Coyotes have more than enough room for the veteran. Dallas doesn't require a player in return, as Whitney's replacement is already on the roster.
How the Coyotes Will Improve
Whitney was outstanding in his last tour in the desert and is ideally suited to the Phoenix style. The club needs an offensive jump-start, and Whitney is a prime candidate to help.
How the Stars Will Improve
Dallas has enjoyed some outstanding performances from surprising sources. The numbers at NHL.com show Valeri Nichushkin, Ryan Garbutt, Alex Chiasson and Antoine Roussel are all grabbing playing time. The kids are ready in Dallas, and the Stars can recover some future with draft picks.
Ales Hemsky is in the final season of a contract that is paying him $5 million. The Kings have some cap room and will be able to satisfy the Hemsky deal.
How the Kings Will Improve
Los Angeles is a big, tough team. The Kings are long on size and strength but sometimes short on skill. Hemsky is no shrinking violet, and he can bring them a much-needed dose of offense without sacrificing toughness.
How the Oilers Will Improve
This is a tough deal for Edmonton to make. The draft picks won't help soon, and Hemsky has been with the team for more than a decade. General manager Craig MacTavish will trade him because Hemsky is not in the future plans, but the move will not improve the Oilers.
Mike Cammalleri makes $6 million on an expiring contract, which makes trading him a little more difficult. Anaheim has all kinds of cap room, and he is a perfect fit. His value is so strong that the Ducks will have to include a player with the pick, and it could be Patrick Maroon.
How the Ducks Will Improve
The Ducks would improve their aging and inconsistent forwards. Teemu Selanne and Dustin Penner have had struggles this season, and Cammalleri is an upgrade who can play anywhere.
How the Flames Will Improve
The Flames may sign Cammalleri, but if they deal him, a first-round pick would be essential. They are building for tomorrow, and the currency for rebuilds is first-round picks.
Thomas Vanek's contract is more than $7 million and will be the most difficult to fit under the cap this trade deadline. Montreal is one of the few teams with room to make a deal. The Canadiens also have the assets required, including a first-round pick and goaltending prospect Zachary Fucale.
How the Canadiens Will Improve
Vanek provide high-octane offense and is an immediate impact addition. Montreal is limping toward the deadline and badly needs an upgrade offensively. His skills address the Canadiens' issues.
How the Islanders Will Improve
The Islanders will attempt to sign Vanek, but failing that, they'll get a first-round pick and a quality prospect. Fucale would address an organizational weakness, and this move would give the team a quality prospect and a first-round pick.
David Legwand's reasonable contract and career year make him one of the most valuable players available. Boston will need to surrender a player like Spooner and an additional draft pick of value.
How the Bruins Will Improve
Boston has a chance to win the Stanley Cup this season with quality at center. Legwand can play anywhere in the lineup and give the team all kinds of options behind David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
How the Predators Will Improve
Nashville will get payment for an expiring asset, which it was unable to do with Ryan Suter. Spooner is an excellent young prospect who should grow into a solid NHL player.
The Ryan Miller transaction will be the deadline showcase trade. It may define two franchises over the next several years. His contract has a big cap hit, but the Blues have been frugal all year. The Sabres may prefer Allen for his potential, leaving Brian Elliott to be dealt in a separate deal.
How the Blues Will Improve
Ken Hitchcock won his only Stanley Cup with a veteran goaltender. It's ironic that his second championship may also involve the Sabres.
How the Sabres Will Improve
New GM Tim Murray needs to rework the goaltending quickly, and Allen is considered a quality choice. He's unproven in the NHL but is a bona fide prospect.