At the Halfway Mark: NHL Buyers and Sellers—Eastern Conference
Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter
Every year, NHL fans from coast to coast wait impatiently for the trade deadline. This year is no exception, and while it is only the halfway mark in the 2009-10 season, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Eastern Conference teams and which teams fall into the category of buyer or seller?
New Jersey Devils: Buyer
Through 41 games, the Devils are ranked 10th overall in goals scored per game, second in goals against per game, fifth on the power play and 11th overall on the penalty kill.
Led by the incredible goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the Devils have a record of 30-10-1. By all accounts, they should continue to play at a consistently high level, leading many to speculate that Lou Lamoriello will stand pat at the deadline.
Clearly, when you consider the incredible stats the Devils boast, there are no weak spots in the Devils’ lineup. The Devils have six players in double-digit scoring, with Zach Parise (18) and Jamie Langenbrunner (13) leading the way.
Defensively, the Devils have what many refer to as a “no-name defense,” which may be the only area the Devils look to upgrade before the playoffs commence.
If a veteran defenseman is available at the deadline, at a decent price, the Devils may get into the bidding. But don’t look for New Jersey to give up too much in return as they are amongst the most frugal franchises in the NHL.
Buffalo Sabres: Buyers
Expected by many “experts” to struggle to make the playoffs, the Sabres have defied the odds, currently sitting second overall in the Eastern Conference standings.
Much like the Devils, the Sabres are led by the stellar goaltending of Ryan Miller, who has stood on his head all season long. The Sabres sport a record of 27-11-4, and by all accounts are showing no signs of going into a downward spiral.
Historically, the Sabres have been sellers at the deadline with numerous big name players being sent packing due to salary cap and money restraints.
This year, the Sabres look to have a legitimate chance of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, so it would be great to see the Sabres ownership and management reward the fans with a nice pickup at or before the trade deadline.
Through 42 games the Sabres have four players tied with 11 goals (which leads the team) and two others with 10 goals apiece.
With six players in double digit scoring one would think that the Sabres would not require additional scoring to compete in the playoffs, that said, given the fact that the Sabres are ranked 15th overall in goals per game it’s safe to say they could use an injection of offense.
Look for the Sabres to go after a mid-level two-way forward and perhaps a player with scoring abilities. Toronto Maple Leaf Alex Ponikarovsky (who is a free agent at the end of the season) would fit the bill and he could likely be had for a second-round pick and/or a prospect.
Washington Capitals: Buyers
On the surface, the Capitals look to be a complete hockey team. Like many other Stanley Cup-contending teams, the Capitals may look to add some grit and depth, both at the forward and defense positions.
With a record of 25-11-6, the Capitals have met expectations, but they haven't necessarily exceeded them. The Capitals are ranked first overall in goals scored per game and 13th overall in goals against per game.
With Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison in the lineup, the Capitals are loaded at Centre. Look for the Capitals to keep their eye on a third line winger with some “jam” and/or another stay-at-home defenseman.
The Capitals may also opt to add another puck moving defenseman to off-set Mike Green—just in case he has another tough playoff run.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Buyer
Through 44 games the Penguins have had a bit of an up and down season. Injuries have contributed to their 27-16-1 record, which, by Penguins standards, is a bit of a disappointment.
The Pens have struggled on the power play. To date, the Pens PP is crawling along at a 14.7 per cent success rate, which ranks them 30th overall.
As puzzling as the Pens power play is, their offense has been decent averaging three goals per game, ranking them sixth overall. Defensively the Pens have been decent, averaging 2.68 goals against per game, which ranks them 10th overall.
The Penguins should be looking for a power play specialist, either at forward or on the back end. Special teams can go a long way in determining a teams success in the playoffs and, as it sits right now, the Pens are vulnerable there.
You have to think the Pens are kicking themselves for not exploring the possibility of signing puck-moving defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron to a contract.
In 38 games played with the Montreal Canadiens, Bergeron has 10 goals and 23 points. Six of his goals have come on the power play, four of his goals have been game winners.
If a player of Bergeron’s ilk is available the Pens should snap him up.
Boston Bruins: Undecided
The Bruins do not have a lot of flexibility salary cap wise, thus it is doubtful they will be able to pull off any major moves. Through 42 games the Bruins have a record of 22-13-7, a far cry from last season’s performance, but good enough to make them a top five team in the Eastern Conference.
Offensively the Bruins have struggled, averaging 2.52 goals per game, ranking them 25th overall. The Bruins would love to add another scoring forward, preferably one that could help their 17th ranked power play out.
Ottawa Senators: Undecided
Through 43 games the Ottawa Senators have a record of 22-17-4, good enough for sixth overall in the East. As it sits right now, the Senators occupy the 15th spot overall, which means they will have to pick up their play if they are going to make the playoffs.
The Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild, and, to a lesser extent, the Philadelphia Flyers are all making a push for the playoffs. All of these teams have the ability to pull off a big deal, especially the Flyers who have been a part of many trade rumors thus far.
The Senators could go either way, buyer or seller. The Senators made their big splash when they dealt Dany Heatley to the san Jose Sharks this offseason, leading me to conclude that any big trades are not in the cards for the Senators.
It is my belief that the Senators will fall off in the second half, miss the playoffs, and stay status quo.
Would anyone want to take a shot on Alex Kovalev? Don’t count on it, but if the phone rings and the NHL GM on the other end of the phone is interested in Kovalev, the Senators ought to make that deal. Kovalev is a floater and needs to be shipped out of town if possible.
New York Rangers: Undecided
Blessed with one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, if the Rangers are close to a playoff spot they will try to acquire some depth.
Free-agent acquisition Marian Gaborik is having a career year, leading many to believe that Gaborik, combined with some strong goaltending by Henrik Lundqvist, could steal a playoff series for the Rangers, two if they are lucky.
The Rangers are ranked 20th overall in offense, which has to have head coach John Tortorella concerned. The Rangers have a number of good prospects in their stable, so if they wanted to pull off a mid to high level deal they probably could.
Look for the Rangers to go after a rental player that supplies offense and grit if they can, something that will be no easy trick. More likely, the Rangers will try to add some depth in the form of Ray Whitney from Carolina or Lee Stempniak from Toronto, to name a few candidates.
Montreal Canadiens: Undecided
The storyline on the Montreal Canadiens is yet to be written. All-Star defenseman Andrei Markov has been exceptional since his return from injury. His presence makes the Canadiens a better team and gives the Habs a reasonable shot at the playoffs.
If the Canadiens are within striking distance of the playoffs they are sure to be buyers. If not, the Canadiens will try to unload some aging forwards, such as forward Glen Metropolit and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who, at 35 years old, may not fit into this young teams future plans.
Don’t be shocked if the Canadiens trade 24-year-old goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who, despite his strong play this season, has been on the block for a good portion of the season.
Halak could bring back a decent ransom, so, if the Habs are in the hunt, Halak may bring back enough for the Habs to make the final push needed to make the playoffs.
New York Islanders: Sellers
Despite a decent season, the Islanders should not lose their focus, which is that of a rebuilding team.
Through 44 games the Islanders have earned an 18-18-6 record. At .500 on the season, the Islanders are not quite good enough to make a serious run at a playoff spot, which may annoy the Islanders fans, but is in their best interest nonetheless.
The Islanders will likely be busy receiving offers on or before the trade deadline for the likes of Forward Doug Weight, defensemen Andy Sutton and Brendan Witt as well as goaltender Marty Biron, all of whom could help a number of teams looking to bulk up for the playoffs.
The Islanders did well for themselves by acquiring numerous draft picks last season. Look for the Islanders to stick with the long term plan and stock up on second and third rounders, the price they will be asking in return for their veteran trade-bait.
Philadelphia Flyers: Buyers
Call it intuition, hope, or an act of stupidity, somehow I think the Flyers are about to get hot.
The Flyers had one of their worst December’s in team history, going a paltry six and nine over 15 games, including a seven-game losing streak from Dec. 10-21.
It wasn’t so much the six and nine record that had me bothered, rather the way the Flyers lost the games that had me concerned. The Flyers seem to have turned the corner, bought into coach Peter Laviolette’s system—which is to roll out four strong lines and to rely on speed to overcome your opponents strengths.
By all accounts, the Orange and Black are having fun again, which should serve them well heading into the stretch run. Blair Betts, Darroll Powe and other gritty players on the Flyers’ roster are getting it done, so I suspect they will be safe, no matter what the odds of the Flyers making the playoffs are.
Ray Emery is expected back any day now, which should do wonders for the Flyers’ confidence. That said, the Flyers will need more offense if they are going to make the playoffs and, considering the Flyers are up against the salary cap, it may be tough for them to acquire such a player.
If the opportunity presented itself the Flyers could be players in the Ilya Kovalchuk talks, with Jeff Carter going the other way. The Flyers have several good prospects they can package off in a deal, which makes them one of the favorites to make a big trade if need be.
If the Flyers look to be out of the running look for them to offer up defenseman Ryan Parent, Dan Carcillo (who may very well bring back a handsome return) and Arron Asham in a trade scenario with draft pick’s coming back the other way.
Atlanta Thrashers: Sellers
It has always been my opinion that, even if they wanted to, the Thrashers would be wise to hold off on signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a new deal and trade the talented forward to the highest bidder.
If the Thrashers do manage to sign Kovalchuk, they will severely hinder their chances of surviving financially. And with little funds left available after the Kovalchuk signing, Atlanta all but guarantee it will not be able to supply the superstar forward with enough talent around him to be a successful franchise.
As many as ten teams would be serious bidders in any Kovalchuk sweepstakes with the Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers all expected to make serious bids for the talented Russians services.
Forwards Nik Antropov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Colby Armstrong, defenseman Pavol Kubina and goaltender Kari Lehtonen could also be traded, leading to a complete makeover and, given the talent they would get back, a bright future for the Thrashers.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Sellers
Steven Stamkos is the future in Tampa Bay. As such, the Bolts would love to trade the likes of Vinny Lecavalier and/or Martin St. Louis.
Lecavalier will be tough to deal as he is set to make $10 million in each of the next four seasons. St. Louis will have one year left on his contract at $4 million, making him attractive to a number of teams, not only for the playoffs, but as a valuable, and reasonably priced, addition to their 2010-11 lineup.
The Lightning may also offer up the likes of forwards Alex Tanguay and Jeff Halpren as well as goaltender Mike Smith, all of whom may bring back a decent return, including prospects and mid to high level draft pick’s.
Florida Panthers: Sellers
The Florida Panthers desperately want to make the playoffs, something they have not done since 2000.
Despite having a few bright spots this season, the team has struggled to find it’s consistency. Panthers fans are growing impatient, as such, a move to unload players will be very unpopular, yet necessary for the Panthers future success.
Hard Working forward Dominic Moore, and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold are all free agents in 2010-11, which makes them all expendable.
None of these players will bring back much in return, so, for Panthers fans, an exercise in patience will be the order of the day...again!
Toronto Maple Leafs: Sellers
Being a Leaf fan, I would love to see the Blue and White make a splash at the trade deadline.
That said, the Leafs have no shot at the playoffs this year, which leads me to believe that GM Brian Burke will be looking to unload a few players in an attempt to free up some valuable cap space so he can do some free agent shopping next summer.
Through 44 games the Leafs have managed to put together a 15-20-9 record, which, by all accounts, will not provide them with a decent enough start to parlay into a playoff spot down the road.
The Leafs badly need a playmaking centre, and upgrade on the wings and some goaltending depth. Considering how late Brian Burke came into the Leafs situation last season, this is year one of a lengthy effort to turn around the misfortunes of the Leafs, a process that may very well take another two to three seasons.
Free-agent forward Alex Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, defenseman Garnet Exelby and goaltender Vesa Toskala will all likely be on the block on or before the trade deadline, each one receiving mild interest from suitors.
Of the five players, Stajan, Stempniak and Ponikarovsky could all fetch good value as each one could be a valuable addition to any team making a push for the playoffs.
Avoiding a bottom five finish would seem to be a priority for the Leafs as, after trading their 2010 first-round draft pick to the Boston Bruins in the Phil Kessel deal, the Leafs would hate to be handing over a lottery pick to the Bruins.
That said, what’s done is done. Kessel will be a genuine 35 goal scoring threat for over a decade and there is no guarantee any of the players drafted in the top five will ever reach that status.
With that in mind, Burke will do what’s best for the Leafs, no matter what the consequences are in the standings.
Carolina Hurricanes: Sellers
After a tremendous playoff run last season the Carolina Hurricanes have fallen considerably short of expectations, which were to not only make the playoffs, but to compete for the Stanley Cup as well.
With a record of 11-23-7 through 41 games, the Carolina Hurricanes looked poised to finish in the “coveted” 30th overall position in the league, giving the Hurricanes a great shot at landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Given the Hurricanes overall record, it’s no surprise to see the Hurricanes ranked so poorly in every conceivable category. The ‘Canes are ranked 30th overall in both goals for and goals against per game and 26th on both the power play and penalty kill, respectively.
Outside of forwards Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty, defensemen Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen and Andrew Alberts and goaltender Cam Ward, no player would seem to be safe on the Hurricanes roster.
The Hurricanes would love to be able to part ways with Erik Cole, Ray Whitney, Sergei Samsonov and Matt Cullen, with each player bringing back various degrees of assets to the Hurricanes.
Despite their poor record, the Hurricanes may very well bounce back in 2010-11, once again playing the role of contenders instead of bottom feeders. In order for this to happen the Hurricanes will have to make a considerable amount of player movement, with salary dumps and acquiring draft pick’s being the priority.
Look for the Hurricanes to try to be very active at the deadline, but don’t be surprised if they have difficulty ridding themselves of their veteran contracts.
Check back with me on Bleacher Report for my Western Conference pick's, you may be surprised which teams will be selling.
Until next time,