There are those teams that draft well and there are those that develop well. We seem to see the same teams over and over again that are the those teams that can do neither any justice.
For NHL general managers, the NHL trade deadline has become one of the most critical times during a a season. Once thought of as a time to potentially add depth for the long Stanley Cup run, the deadline has evolved into a pinnacle part of any season.
While January might bring visions of NHL All-Star hoopla and, to many of the league players, a chance to have a break away from hockey, GMs plan meetings with their hockey operations personnel. Together they assess their clubs roster and organizational depth charts, while the pro scouts add their input and report on their findings in a more detailed manner based on the first half of the hockey season.
League wide prospects are charted and ranked, more input is then added from the amateur scouts who may continue to follow players after the draft while they are still playing major-junior or have moved onto college hockey.
A few things usually come out of these meetings. First off, the immediate and long-term needs of the parent club are identified or merely confirmed. There is an action plan made and one is maintained. The other is to identify value within other organizations—those players who might fit in to their clubs' system and be potential NHLers.
In other words, are there any blue-chip prospects available at the deadline in exchange for any veteran players your organization might be willing to move.
Another argument to be made is that it's a time for the struggling teams to off-load salary, take some much needed cash off of the books in anticipation of luring a top-end free agent in July. Other GMs are told by upper management to off-load salary depending on where the club sits in the standings. And let's not forget those that want to add salary to their teams as well.
It is also a time for a team to admit defeat, to close up shop and trade away assets and let the younger players of their organization have that valuable NHL time, all in the order of assessing their future NHL potential.
It has become a pivotal time in the NHL calendar.
Sometimes the price is a high one to pay for that missing element that teams feel they might need going forward into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Here are 10 big-time prospects that could be dealt at the deadline. In each case these are players that are borderline ready to make an impact in the NHL in the near future.
Thomas Hickey, Los Angeles Kings
Hickey is a highly-touted defenseman who the Kings and many other teams feel will be a very good NHLer. However the emergence of Alec Martinez and the free agent signing of Jake Muzzin could be the end of Hickey's time in the LA organization. With the Kings in a free fall, Hickey could be in play. The upside return could be very beneficial to the Kings.
Bill Sweatt, Vancouver Canucks
After signing the free agent this past summer who is now playing for Manitoba (AHL), Sweatt could very well be a piece that the Canucks move if they find the right player to add to an already powerful lineup. Quickly moving up the Moose scoring ladder, Sweatt has been property of the Blackhawks and Leafs prior to signing with Vancouver.
Jon Matsumoto, Carolina Hurricances
Brought in during a trade, Matsumoto has seen some spot duty with the young 'Canes. Many feel Matsumoto is close to NHL ready and that he might be the player that could eventually find top six minutes down the road. A very underrated player, Matsumoto will not be cheap to acquire, but could be the carrot the 'Canes use if they feel they can acquire a piece or two moving forward.
Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs
Not a lot in the Leafs cupboard, but teams continue to inquire about Kadri. His upside his still huge and his development might have been stalled by the Leafs. There is no question that a player of his abilities would be better suited developing along side other established prospects, but Kadri needs to add more strength and there are many teams that do this better than the Leafs.
Evgeny Grachev, New York Rangers
This kid has game. The recently recalled forward was re-assigned to Connecticut to play during the NHL All-Star break. The potential is there for Grachev to be an everyday NHLer, but the Rangers are expected to be players this trade deadline and Grachev has a big fan base around the NHL. It's up to Sather.
Zack Smith, Ottawa Senators
In a horrible situation in Ottawa, a total house cleaning is expected. Along with that one would think: why would a struggling team trade away one of its biggest prospects? The idea of trading Zack Smith is somewhat foolish, but Smith might be put into a package that could help the Sens now. That, along with the fact that Smith can't do it all himself, might be the reason that other teams look towards taking some Senators salary with the addition of adding a prospect like Smith.
Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers
He turned down the Panthers on an entry-level contract to start the season only to return to junior. Gudbranson has had an interesting season so far. The team Canada World junior defenseman played a solid tournament, but has had some "issues" with this junior club the Kingston Frontenacs. Gudbranson was briefly suspended by the club for "internal reasons." He has returned since and there is speculation that Gudbranson might be moved by Florida at the deadline. The Panthers are knocking on the playoff door and could use the big blue-liner to secure more scoring up front.
Andrei Loktionov, Los Angeles Kings
Currently seeing some time with the Kings. Loktionov is a dynamic player who finds himself behind others in the Kings system. Pegged to challenge for a roster spot to start the season, Loktionov starred in Manchester (AHL) and he could be moved (see Hickey) as the Kings have hit a huge funk. Kings GM Dean Lombardi is not likely to move any roster players unless that is the problem. Lombardi moved Teddy Purcell to Tampa Bay last year for veteran Jeff Halpern near the deadline. Loktionov could be this year's version.
Eric Tangradi, Pittsburgh Penguins
Many have thought that Tangradi would be an NHL regular by now. His potential is still huge and he would certainly be a welcomed by many teams. The "potential power forward" is being tracked by many teams as the deadline approaches. The Penguins would love him to be a regular NHL player, but chances are that it won't be in the black and gold. The Pens need scoring help on the wings, but it seems Tangradi doesn't fit into the system. Should Pens GM Ray Shero need a part or two, Tangradi could be one the move...again.
Mark Mancari, Buffalo Sabres
Another player who should be challenging for a regular NHL roster spot, Mancari has all the tools (heavy shot and size) and this late round draft selection is having a break-out season in Portland (AHL). The 25-year-old winger has been a solid scorer in the AHL over that last three seasons, but scouts are noticing him more now that he has refined his game. What seems to be more puzzling is that the Sabres have not recalled him, opting for other prospects within the system to recall.
Kyle Palmieri of the Anaheim Ducks, Simon Depres of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings, Jared Cowen of the Ottawa Senators. All are high end prospects that could be moved.
While some of these players might not qualify as big-time prospects in some people opinions, it should be noted that not many big-time prospects are dealt at the trade deadline.
That might begin to change this season as struggling teams like the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils and others may look to another route to freeing up salary and acquiring much needed talent.
With just about every team in the Western Conference still in the playoff hunt and only a few in the East that are out of the running, it could be an interesting deadline.
The NHL trade deadline is February 28 at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT.
Mike MacDonald is a Featured Columnist covering the Nashville Predators and the NHL