Each year, we talk about the NHL trade deadline in great detail with regard to players that are aging or are coming to the end of their contracts with their respective teams. These players, affectionately known as "Rent-a-Players," can often be the deciding factor in whether or not a team is a contender or a pretender.
While we generally associate them as being veteran talents, there is the other side of the NHL trade frenzy that involves the younger, less established stars of the league.
For these players, they are treading water in their current systems and can't seem to catch a break. An impending contract arbitration, the first chance to test unrestricted waters, or just lackluster play can contribute to any young gun becoming borrowed goods by late February.
If anything, these deals are some of the most outrageous, unbelievable trades that create the most buzz in the league. Phil Kessel to Toronto? The Great Chicago Fire Sale of 2010? The Revenge of Ville Leino?
Still stranger things have happened and could be on the horizon.
With that in mind, here are 10 NHL stars sorted in reverse order that could be on the bubble for their respective franchises. Say what you will (and I know you will) about the status of each within their franchises and how "no team could lose that player," but don't be surprised if some fall to the axe.
After all, anything can happen.
Drafted: First Round, 25th Overall in 2005 (by Edmonton)
Career Stats: 268GP-48G-6A-116P,-98 PIM
This Season: 22GP-2G-3A-5P-25 PIM
Current Contract: $1,000,000 (Restricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
When the Edmonton Oilers entered the 2010-11 NHL season, they was great hope that the incredibly deep crop of young stars (headed up by rookies Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi) could create new opportunities for the team.
But plans don't always come to fruition that quickly, and a good number of the young talents have drastically underachieved.
Perhaps the time is now for the Oilers to act and shed themselves of some "busts" within the system. One such player, Cogliano, hasn't produced much of anything this year and is on pace for a measly 20 points overall. That would amount to his third consecutive dip in points for a season, keeping him far from his impressive rookie year in 2007-08.
The Oilers have seemingly run out of patience with the young forward after last season, when they tested him at every forward position to attempt to find the groove.
Cogliano was drafted ahead of Steve Downie, James Neal, and Paul Stastny, all of whom are having greater success than the budding center. In his fourth season, he's had ample time to mature and may now give up his slot to someone even younger.
Drafted: First Round, 21st Overall in 2002 (by the Chicago Blackhawks)
Career Stats: 191GP-26G-43A-69P-84PIM
This Season: 23GP-3G-5A-8P-14PIM
Current Contract: $1,400,000 (Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
Would it be fair to have an entire list of Calgary Flames on the hot seat available at all times? Anyone watching the NHL over the past few seasons has seen the destruction of Calgary coming, yet a player like Anton Babchuk may easily be an innocent bystander. After all, he's already been dealt once this season by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Babchuk still has a lot to offer, but his youth is running out, and so are his chances to be a top-tier defender. After staying healthy for a prosperous year in 2008-09, his year out brought him back down to the underwhelming side of things.
His time in Calgary, all six games, aren't exactly memorable, nor are they forgettable.
But the love/hate affair GM Darryl Sutter seems to have with all of his acquisitions (Olli Jokinen, anyone?) makes one wonder just what he can get for Babchuk as the season goes on.
With already $56.7 million of his $59.4 million of cap committed to the roster next year, it would be ridiculous to think they squeeze Babchuk in under the bar.
Drafted: First Round, Sixth Overall in 2005 (by the Columbus Blue Jackets)
Career Stats: 243GP-34G-42A-76P-127PIM
This Season: 21GP-3G-1A-4P-25PIM
Current Contract: $1,850,000 (Restricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2012)
When you're drafted just five picks after Sid the Kid, you better be damn exceptional. Gilbert Brule is proving that he simply isn't, and the Oilers have themselves yet another lowly youngster who is watching players younger than him (he's only 23) play superior hockey.
Brule's play last season showed that he might finally be ready for the big time, but his regression this year back to bare-bones, checking player makes even the diehard fans cringe.
Brule is just terrible in regards to the expectation placed on him, and unlike his teammate on this list, Andrew Cogliano, he still has a year more to play after this one.
That said, he's inexpensive enough for a team to take a chance on him and hope that Brule can turn it around. He averaged a point a game or better playing in the WHL during his junior career, yet he hasn't come full circle at the NHL level.
Change of scenery, anyone?
Drafted: First Round, Fourth Overall in 2003 (by the Columbus Blue Jackets)
Career Stats: 388GP-107G-141A-248P-211PIM
This Season: 23GP-8G-1A-9P-8PIM
Current Contract: $2,000,000 (Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
For the price, Nikolai Zherdev isn't an underachiever. But for the career and the history, Zherdev may well be the definition of the word.
Zherdev was projected to be a blue-chipper from the get-go who was incredibly savvy with his head and his hands. Zherdev could have been the next great Russian superstar in between Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin. Instead, Zherdev got into more conflicts with his coaches and management than any one player should before he left the NHL altogether in 2009.
After a year away, Zherdev signed with the Flyers for dirt cheap and lit up the preseason. But he's been slower than molasses on the production scale since, and though his eight goals look good, he's not getting the passes in as often, and the Flyers are winning with or without his help.
When it comes to adding a veteran to help for the impending Cup run, Zherdev is the kind of bargain piece that would easily go the other way for that former contender.
Drafted: First Round, 10th Overall in 2006 (by Florida)
Career Stats: 182GP-46G-55A-101P-71PIM
This Season: 21GP-4G-9A-13P-6PIM
Current Contract: $1,275,000 (Restricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
To set the record straight, the Florida Panthers will have no less than 16 players without contracts after June 2011, committing only one third of their salary cap to any roster players at that time. Michael Frolik is one of those players who won't have a contract unless he signs an extension to be a part of the core of the rebuilding for the Panthers.
Frolik was expected to be a star from the start, but this season has been especially difficult on the young winger, as he's been benched and slumped despite being a prolific goal-scorer. Frolik didn't score a goal in his first seven games of the season and hasn't potted one in his last nine.
So, basically, he's only had four or five really good games this season and isn't showing he has what it takes to carry the team.
When Nathan Horton departed, Frolik was slated to step in as one of the top forwards for the organization. But one can't help but think of the arbitration headache his entry level contract will become by season's end, meaning he could become bait for a few other players that new GM Dale Tallon prefers.
Drafted: First Round, Eighth Overall in 2005 (by San Jose)
Career Stats: 216GP-64G-61A-125P-69PIM
This Season: 21GP-2G-5A-7P-17PIM
Current Contract: $1,800,000 (Restricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
Well, he might as well have the name "Cheechoo" stitched onto the back of his sweater. After all, the decline of top draftee Devin Setoguchi has been all-too-familiar to Sharks fans in recent years.
After starting up hot with a full season of 31 goals and 34 assists in 2008-09, Setoguchi's production declined sharply in each passing year. Things aren't getting much better for Setoguchi, as his contributions are overshadowed by the teammates and role players meant to support his efforts.
After a 20-goal campaign last season, Setoguchi can't seem to hit water if he fell out of a boat. He's on pace for just 10 goals this year, and likely a trade to Ottawa, followed by his subsequent contract cut.
Oh wait, that's Jonathan Cheechoo again. But the similarities? Ever present.
Drafted: Second Round, 32nd Overall in 2004 (by Chicago)
Career Stats: 180GP-30G-55A-85P-124PIM
This Season: 20GP-1G-4A-5P-16PIM
Current Contract: $3,375,000 (Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2014)
This is where you can call me crazy if you'd like, but Dave Bolland might be in trouble if he can't get his production to pick up soon. The tough-playing forward can't find the back of the net at all this year and is inked long-term to a team still sorting out the cap issues it struggled with during the 2010 offseason.
Bolland fits well with the Chicago roster and plays aggressively enough to create opportunities in the offensive zone. But things in Chicago are not the same sunshine and rainbows as they were last year, and the Hawks are still trying to pull it all together for a run at the top of the conference.
As of this printing, the defending Stanley Cup Champions were only 13-11-2.
That said, Bolland could fetch a high draft pick or prospects if there were any seriousness behind such a deal. But at the moment, especially for this guy, it is all speculation.
Perhaps a brief scoring streak will erase even that in the coming weeks.
Drafted: Second Round, 49th Overall in 2003 (by Nashville)
Career Stats: 342GP-66G-108A-174P-289PIM
This Season: 22GP-2G-6A-8P-22PIM
Current Contract: $4,500,000 (Restricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
Come into this discussion with the mindset you should have when talking about any player in this organization: The Nashville Predators can stay successful without you.
Such may soon be true for Shea Weber, whose huge restricted free agent contract may only get larger by the end of the season.
Weber showed the offensive spark as the top defender on the team two seasons ago, but since then, he's taken a backseat on such affairs to a more physical, shutdown style of hockey. But the writing is also on the wall for Weber that his value, and subsequent price tag, are typically out of the range for players wearing the Nashville sweater.
He's an enormous talent with still an even more enormous upside and could fetch huge compensation for any team wanting a game-changer.
Thus, the recycling plan Nashville always seems to be on would be complete without worrying about re-signing him to another expensive deal.
Drafted: First Round, Fifth Overall in 2004 (by the Phoenix Coyotes)
Career Stats: 184GP-43G-48A-91P-111PIM
This Season: 21GP-4G-4A-8P-12PIM
Current Contract: $2,200,000 (Restricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
As unlikely as it seems that the consistently good Boston Bruins would ship away any forwards while they struggle to put pucks in the net, taking Blake Wheeler out of the picture may actually do a world of good. Wheeler, acquired for peanuts from the Coyotes by Boston just a few seasons ago, has been great.
His natural progression over the past two years made it look as if Wheeler would be the kind of player who could help soften the blow of Boston losing players like Phil Kessel thanks to cap issues. And as the Bruins continue to battle the monetary monster, Wheeler has taken a step or two backwards.
He's on pace to finish with slightly less goals and points than he had last season, a move that makes his impending contract renewal a little harder to swallow. Boston simply can't afford to lose a big scoring threat, but they also can't afford to keep Wheeler if he doesn't live up to that potential.
One thing really working in his favor, though, is the impending expiration of the contracts of his teammates, Marco Sturm and Michael Ryder. Now if only he performs back to the level he was speeding towards, all will be right in Beantown.
Drafted: First Round, 17th Overall in 2003 (by New Jersey)
Career Stats: 419GP-163G-178A-341P-145PIM
This Season: 12GP-3G-3A-6P-6PIM
Current Contract: $3,125,000 (Restricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2011)
Well, this is a surprise. And certainly, many of you will disagree and be baffled by the selection of Zach Parise as number one on this countdown. How could Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils organization ever possibly part with their most talented young scorer? Actually, it isn't as hard to fathom as you might think.
Parise has been dynamite throughout his career with New Jersey. He's easily one of the best American-born players in the NHL today, shooting at will and scoring with ease. Parise's speed and skills give defending goalies nightmares. And as a four-time 30-goal scorer, he's no fluke. In fact, he's here to stay.
But where exactly is here? The climate in New Jersey is changing in a most bizarre way, and this season has been unfavorable to Parise in oh so many ways.
With the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk for the next 500 years, Parise has been thrust out of the spotlight by a competing winger. The two had poor chemistry with one another on the same line, and once Parise went down with a long-term injury, Kovalchuk excelled, if only briefly.
The money factor could play a huge part in this situation as well. By signing Kovalchuk for longer than a teenager's glory days, Lou Lamoriello and the Devils strapped on $50 million of their $59.4 million cap for the next season. And while $9 million leftover will easily keep Parise, it may not satisfy him for long, nor will it allow much wiggle room to keep an entire locker room from mutiny.
Parise is due to make at least $6 million for the rest of his career. In order to keep him next year, the Devils would likely have to part with Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, thus crippling the depth at the forward position.
And is it exactly wise to place so much money on your top two forwards when you have an unstable goaltending situation about to erupt as Martin Brodeur deteriorates and eventually retires?
I'm not saying that Zach Parise should be traded, but if the example Rick Dudley set with the Atlanta Thrashers is any indicator after he shipped away Kovalchuk, then perhaps Lamoriello could pull off his biggest steal by scooping up a ton of parts for the incredible winger.