With the 2014 Winter Olympics now in the rear-view mirror, the focus now shifts to the conclusion of the NHL season along with the upcoming trade deadline.
Because so many teams are seemingly in contention for a playoff spot, one might assume that big deals will be difficult to come by. Even so, a number of intriguing names are seemingly on the market, so the 2014 deadline could be one of the wildest in recent memory.
Of course, there is plenty to take into consideration when it comes to making moves at the deadline. Standing is obviously an important one, but contract status figures to play a big role in the coming days as well.
With that in mind, here is the latest buzz surrounding some of the biggest stars that could potentially change locales leading up to the March 5 deadline.
Not only is forward Ryan Callahan the New York Rangers' captain, but he also happens to be the heart and soul of the team. Even that isn't enough to prevail over business, as it seems more and more likely that the Blueshirts will do everything possible to move him prior to the deadline. Little progress has been made on the contract extension front, but there has been plenty of talk regarding his value on the trade market.
According to Boomer Esiason of WFAN, the Rangers have been in talks to acquire Tampa Bay Lightning winger Martin St. Louis in exchange for Callahan (courtesy CBS New York):
Now the only reason this deal wouldn't go through is if somebody gets cold feet or somebody lowers their contract demands ... I think the reality is that they have to get something for him. And why not go out and get a bona fide goal-scorer, and somebody who maybe is at the end of his career, but somebody still who has a lot left in the tank.
While such a swap could potentially make sense for both parties, there are some obvious stumbling blocks. The obvious one relates to Tampa's ability to sign Callahan to an extension. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the Lightning are unwilling to meet Callahan's reported asking price of $6.75 million per season.
If the Lightning and Callahan can get closer in monetary terms, then the deal could very well happen. Callahan is a decade younger than the 38-year-old St. Louis, and while St. Louis hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, conventional wisdom suggests that he only has a couple great years left at the most.
Callahan isn't as offensively gifted, but he is a gritty player who can play in all situations, and he would add an element that the Bolts are missing. This would be one of the bigger player-for-player trades in recent memory, and it could very well shift the NHL's balance of power if it goes down.
In addition to Callahan, the Rangers must also worry about defenseman Dan Girardi's status. He too is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and there is no question that he will get a king's ransom on the open market due to his reputation as an elite defensive defenseman.
The Rangers would likely love to keep him, but according to Bob McKenzie of TSN, the organization hasn't made any headway on the extension front:
NYR haven't, during OLY break, made any appreciable progress on new contracts for Ryan Callahan or Dan Girardi. Term still an issue on both.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) February 23, 2014
With the possibility of losing a hot commodity like Girardi for nothing growing by the day, a trade is something that New York must consider. Any number of teams could potentially put together a solid package for Girardi, but TheFourthPeriod.com is reporting that the Anaheim Ducks have shown the most interest and may be willing to part with promising young defenseman Sami Vatanen as part of the trade.
Also, the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers look to be in the running for Girardi's services. Dealing a player of Girardi's caliber wouldn't be an easy decision by any means, but the Rangers need to weigh the risk and the reward just as they must with Callahan.
If the Ducks are really offering a package that includes Vatanen, then the Rangers have to take a long, hard look at it because Vatanen has the potential to be a top pairing defenseman at the NHL level.
After seemingly experiencing a breakout season in 2012-13 that saw him rack up 38 points in 48 games, Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner's stock was quite high entering 2013-14. Unfortunately, he has been unable to build on that production and has just 24 points through 47 contests for the struggling Oilers. Gagner also happens to be a pending free agent, which means that no team is likely to offer any more than a rental price in exchange for him at the deadline.
Which player is most likely to be dealt prior to the NHL trade deadline?
Even so, Gagner could be an attractive piece as the 24-year-old center has yet to reach his full potential. A contending team that is starved for scoring could benefit from taking a chance on him, and the Los Angeles Kings would seem to fit the bill. The Kings struggled mightily heading into the Olympic break, and while Gagner may not answer all of their questions, he has been known to score in bunches.
According to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times, the Kings have inquired about Gagner, but their interest appears to be waning. It is unclear why, but perhaps the Oilers are asking an exorbitant amount in hopes that a desperate team will bite on deadline day.
Gagner could be a fantastic fit for the Kings, but he isn't worth mortgaging the future on, especially as a rental player. If Gagner can be had for a reasonable return, however, the Kings are definitely a team to watch.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.