As the Stanley Cup Playoffs steamroll ahead, there are 14 teams that have already started their offseason evaluations. With the NHL Draft order set and the prospects being evaluated, the teams with the top picks are starting to consider how a teenager might play into their future.
Other teams are considering if it's time to move on with some of their elite veterans.
Perhaps the hottest name in trade rumors already is starting to be Calgary's Jarome Iginla. The Flames captain has been the face of their franchise for years, but they find themselves at an organizational crossroads and Iginla has told media members in Calgary that, if the right situation presented itself, he would waive his no-trade clause.
We've already seen the Flames move defenseman Dion Phaneuf this season for a package of veterans that will be contributing members of their roster in the future. The Flames were also aggressive in addressing their blue line last summer with a big-money deal to add Jay Bouwmeester (which undoubtedly played a role in Phaneuf becoming available).
So how does a team like Calgary move a superstar? With three years left on his current deal, and a $7 million cap number, the list of locations that could, and would, bring on that size of a salary are limited.
There are also rumors that the Florida Panthers are looking to clean house. There were rumors that they almost moved netminder Tomas Vokoun at the deadline, and have already cleared some cap space. The latest names swirling around the Panthers on the trade market now are Nathan Horton, Bryan McCabe, and Stephen Weiss.
Weiss, Horton, and McCabe were the Panthers' three leading scorers in 2009-10, but an effort to change the face of their franchise might mean they'll need to move younger players to improve the team. Obviously, the compensation would have to be significant if the Panthers were going to part ways with any of these three, especially Horton and McCabe.
However, because of the contracts they've already signed (especially those of now-backup goalie Cristobal Huet and defenseman Brian Campbell), they need to take salary off the books for 2010-11 to get under the salary cap.
There's a possibility that a three-team deal could take place that accomplishes the goals of all three teams. Let's make a deal!
To Florida: Brian Campbell, Patrick Sharp
To Calgary: Nathan Horton, Kris Versteeg
To Chicago: Jarome Iginla, Bryan McCabe
How would this deal work? And why would each of the three teams involved make the deal? Let's take a look.
The Panthers are trying to improve and get younger at the same time. Obviously, moving Horton wouldn't help. However, Campbell and Sharp would bring accomplished, playoff-tested veterans onto their roster.
Campbell is four years younger than McCabe, which is a bonus for the Panthers. He would also adequately replace McCabe's offensive contributions; McCabe had 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) in 82 games this year, while Campbell had 38 (seven goals, 31 assists) in 68 games.
The tricky part of this deal, and where a draft pick might need to be part of the package, is the swap of Horton for Sharp. Sharp had a nice season in Chicago, scoring 66 points (25 goals, 41 assists), better than Horton's 57 points (20 goals, 37 assists). But Sharp is five years older than Horton. The age trade-off between Sharp/Campbell and McCabe/Horton would be nearly identical.
The financial part of the deal for Florida is where the concern would arrive. Sharp makes comparable money to Horton (Sharp's cap number is $3.9 million to Horton's $4 million), and Sharp is under contract for two years to Horton's three. However, McCabe has just one year left on a deal with a cap number of $5.75 million while Campbell has six more seasons with a $7.14 million cap number.
While the Panthers would have money to spend on a forward one year earlier, the complication of adding the kind of commitment the Hawks made to Campbell would be the hardest part of the package for Florida.
Overall, the deal would likely improve the Panthers, but might not be easy to stomach.
This move brings perhaps the most intrigue for Calgary. In exchange for their captain and soul, they would add two young forwards with worlds of talent.
Horton and Versteeg, who will turn 25 and 24, respectively, in May would bring two 20-plus goal scorers to the front lines of the Flames in exchange for Iginla, who scored 32 this year and will be 33 in July.
The financial consideration for Calgary is break-even: Horton and Versteeg, combined, would carry a cap number less than $400,000 more than Iginla alone. Daymond Langkow isn't getting younger, and putting Horton and Versteeg on a line with Matt Stajan could give the Flames a young, dynamic top line.
Reality in Calgary is that the Flames are in a Western Conference loaded with deep offensive teams like San Jose, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Colorado. If the Flames want to compete in the near future, they'll need to not only get younger but also add depth. This deal would accomplish that goal for them.
While the deal would certainly sting initially for Flames fans, the other consideration is that neither Horton nor Versteeg has likely hit their ceiling yet; Horton has been playing with inferior talent in Florida while Versteeg has been stuck on the third or fourth line in Chicago because of their depth.
This deal works, and makes sense, for Calgary.
The Blackhawks are going to be forced to make a lot of tough decisions this summer, and making a deal like this would certainly be one of the hardest. Moving three contributing members off the NHL roster for two would be hard to handle, but their financial reality might make it necessary.
In this deal, the Hawks would cut $1.375 million off their payroll for next season. That is certainly not going to accomplish their goals (the Hawks probably need to cut between $6-8 million before next season).
However, the on-ice impact and future payroll implications are why the Hawks would make this move. Other moves would also be facilitated by this deal.
Consider, if you will, an offense that featured Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Jarome Iginla. As far as headliners go, that reads like something created in a basement on a PlayStation. Filling in the gaps with quality players like Dave Bolland, Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer and youngsters like Bryan Bickell and Kyle Beach could help the Hawks maintain their competitive edge.
Also, as we've already discussed, McCabe would easily cover the statistical loss of Campbell to the defensive group.
With Iginla under contract for three more seasons (one more than Versteeg or Sharp), the Hawks would be looking at fewer immediate concerns on their NHL roster, and the addition of his leadership would be a fantastic move for the Hawks. His cap number would essentially replace Campbell's on the roster, but for three fewer seasons.
The three fewer seasons of paying one player $7 million would be enormous in Chicago, as would the reality that McCabe's $5.75 million cap number has only one year remaining. Brent Seabrook's contract expires after next season, and with Duncan Keith already receiving a long-term extension it would be logical for the Hawks to look at locking up his partner as well. McCabe's money would come off the books at the perfect time.
The trickle down from this deal would likely include at least one no-brainer move: dumping Huet. The Blackhawks also have good organizational depth on the blue line, so moving Brent Sopel in another deal, or through waivers to the AHL, would also free the NHL club of his cap number.
Let's assume the Blackhawks, somehow, are able to completely unload both Huet and Sopel's contracts this summer. Adding Huet's cap number ($5.625 million) and Sopel's ($2.333 million) to the savings from this trade, the Hawks would take $9.331 million off their payroll next year, more than accomplishing their financial goal. When you look at 2011-12, with McCabe's number off the books, that's over $15 million in cap space.
To be conservative, let's also look at another potential reality for the Hawks. What if they are forced to buy out Huet's deal, cutting his cap number to $1.8 million (but extending that on their books from two to four years). The Blackhawks would still eliminate $5.506 million from their books for next season, and over $11 million the following year.
Either way, the Blackhawks are in a financial position to compete in the immediate while not completely exposing their long-term ability to remain near the top of the Western Conference.
For Chicago fans, many of whom love Versteeg and/or Sharp, this deal might not initially feel good, but adding Iginla might be another piece to make this team dominant for the next three years. The added financial flexibility created with McCabe's deal coming off the books after one season would give the Hawks more options in free agency as well.
Overall, this deal would carry significant impact all over the NHL landscape. The Panthers would add two proven commodities to their roster, the Flames would get younger, and the Blackhawks would maintain their on-ice quality while creating cap space in the process.
Considering the positions that these three teams are in, thinking this big isn't out of the question. Considering the histories of Calgary (unloading Phaneuf) and Chicago (adding Hossa), making a blockbuster isn't out of the realms of possibility, either.
Let's make a deal!