Injuries to key members of potential playoff teams have them scrambling to fill gaps. Unfortunately guys who aren't on the long term injured reserve list still count against the cap.
Players like Crosby and Enstrom aren't providing their teams with any cap space to pay for players to replace them in the line-up. Teams have spent salary for the first 60% of the season so they have less flexibility when it comes time to make a trade.
Conversely teams that are out of the playoff race are finding that some of the players they would like to move are hurt. A team in need of help right now is reluctant to make a move for an injured or fragile player. Ask the LA Kings how they're feeling about Marco Sturm right now.
It is hard enough to make meaningful trades in the NHL but the injuries prevalent now are just making it that much worse. This is happening while some injuries are making it imperative for teams to make a deal and make the playoffs.
The Atlanta Thrashers have had a spectacular first half of a season and stand on the cusp of their second playoff appearance in team history.
The Thrashers signed the young Swedish defenseman, Tobias Enstrom, to a four year extension back in the 2008 off-season. The diminutive puck mover has rewarded Atlanta with two quality offensive years in a row. He was having an all-star year until he broke his finger on his right hand on January 23rd. He is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with the injury.
Atlanta is currently in eighth in the east, the last playoff spot. They have a one point lead on division rival Carolina, but the Hurricanes have two games in hand on and one more win than Atlanta does.
The good news is that Atlanta has plenty of cap space with almost $15 million available. The bad news is that the last time the Thrashers were in a similar spot they made one of the worst dead-line deals in NHL history. They traded young up and coming defender Braydon Coburn for over the hill power-play quarterback Alexei Zhitnik. They lost in four straight in the playoffs and haven't been back since. Coburn still plays 80 games a year for the Flyers and Zhitnik has played for Moscow Dynamo for the last two years.
There are no Tobias Enstrom's out there to be traded for. Atlanta has had a good offense and good goaltending this season. The team though has given up the most goals against in the league 9166) so far this year and has the fifth worst goals against average (3.08). The team is tied with Anaheim, giving up the most shots on goal against in the league.
The Thrashers could be well-served by acquiring a good defensive defenseman to help stabilize the back-end while they let Enstrom recover. They just have to be sure not to trade away too much young talent to get a guy for defense and for depth purposes.
The Washington Capitals were ahead of Atlanta when they picked up veteran defensive defensman Scott Hannan for Tomas Fleischmann.
Chris Phillips in Ottawa should be available and his veteran presence might help settle the defense. At 32 he is slowing down. Ottawa would want to extract at least a second round pick for Phillips and he may not be worth it. Phillips has a no trade contract though the NHL is littered with deals made for players who waived their NTC's.
Robyn Regehr in Calgary would be another former first rate defenseman who could probably help Atlanta with his defensive leadership and nasty edge. Regehr is still only 30 but with him it's not the age it's the mileage. Calgary would want a lot in return and he has two more years at $4 million a year due him. He too of course has a no trade clause in his contract.
A smaller deal for a younger depth defenseman would probably serve the Thrashers better.
This Thrasher team could go places if they could just make the playoffs but they shouldn't mortgage their future to do it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are missing their two best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The two represent a quarter of the teams offense and 30% of the teams cap hit. Since Crosby missed his first game back on January 6th the team has gone 7-4.
The team has managed to go 7-1 in their last eight games.
Crosby has apparently been cleared for some light skating. He could still be a long way from ready to play. Malkin is supposed to play friday. The fear with him is that the knee may require surgery.
Both players are out but neither are on long term disability yet so their salary still counts against the Penguins cap. The Penguins need one of and probably both these players to compete with the better teams in the league. With both of them out the offense will suffer and the Penguins would likely slip in the standings.
They need to add some offensive talent and they currently have no cap space to do it with. Dustin Jeffrey can't be expected to carry the load at center for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately the Penguins have very few moveable assets outside the core of Malkin, Staal, Crosby, Fleury, and Orpik.
Until either Crosby or Malkin goes on long term disability the Penguins would have to move considerable salary to pick up any sort of talented offensive player. They sunk money in the defense when they picked up Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek in the off-season. Martin is said to have a limited no trade clause.
The Penguins are in a horrible spot with their two best players and no easy way to replace their offense. They're unlikely to drop out of a playoff spot but if either of these players are compromised for the playoffs will Pittsburgh even compete? The other side of the coin is who will you actually be able to trade for who will replace Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. This might be a wait and hope scenario for the Penguins.
The LA Kings are last in the Pacific Division and 11th in the Western Conference, but still only two points out of a playoff spot.
The Kings traded for the gimpy Sturm from the Boston Bruins in an early attempt to jump start an offense that hasn't been as good as hoped for. Sturm managed to get in 15 games for the Kings and produced four goals and four assists before hurting his knee again. He is expected to be out for three more games and never really rejuvenated the King scoring.
Miserable offensive performances this year from Alexei Ponikarovsky and Michal Handzus have the Kings desperate to plug in some more talent. Brayden Schenn who had such a break-out performance at the World Junior hockey tournament would be a logical player to promote to the second line. Unfortunately he is still recovering from a separated shoulder he suffered at the Christmas to early January tournament.
The Kings are another cash strapped organization that might have to demote another underperformer like Ponikarovsky to the minors in order to make room for an additional player. Handzus's no move contract forces the Kings to try to find a role for him to play. The next collective bargaining agreement might want to ask for an end to those contracts. You can't have a hard cap and no move/ no trade contracts.
LA has the organizational depth that should allow them to replace any faltering veterans over the next couple of years. It would still be worth their while to add a veteran scorer or playmaker to the team to help them into the playoffs and get their younger players some playoff experience. It would be nice to give the fans in LA a taste of the payoff to come.
The Sabres might be ready to let a UFA like Tim Connolly go for next to nothing. He could possibly be a short term patch in LA.
The Ottawa Senators seem ready to be in full sell mode. Unfortunately they're hamstrung by players' no trade contracts (Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza) and no move contracts (Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev). Throw in injuries this year to Kovalev, Spezza, Jarkko Ruuttu, Pascal Leclaire and Filip Kuba and there are suddenly not many players for them to sell.
All that leaves is aging power play specialist Sergei Gonchar, Milan Michalek, captain Daniel Alfredsson and perhaps puck moving defenseman Chris Campoli.
Daniel Alfredsson has 14 goals and 29 points in 51 games this year. The 38 year old is a talented guy who could make a contribution on a good team. He still has two years left at $4.875 million a year. A team that makes a move for Daniel needs the cap space, needs to have young talent or picks they're ready to give up and has to believe Alfredsson can be closer to a 60-70 point player with better team-mates than the 40-50 point player he is right now in Ottawa. Alfredsson would look good in LA this year. It just might not work out next year and the year after.
Gonchar can certainly still play that role on a good team. He's got another two years under contract as well at $5.5 million. The Thrashers have the cap space for him and Ottawa can't really expect to get that much for the 36 year old.
Michalek is speedy and young. His statistics have taken a real dip in Ottawa. He can probably still contribute on a real team. He has only been a half point a game player in Ottawa. He has three years left on a four and a third million dollar a year contract.
Detroit is expecting Pavel Datsyuk back this Friday and Dan Cleary has returned to the team after five weeks off with a fractured ankle. Still the Red Wings are missing defenseman Brad Stuart with a broken jaw, back-up goalie Chris Osgood with a hernia, Tomas Holmstrom with a broken hand, veteran Mike Modano out after wrist surgery and Datsyuk who has just about recovered from a broken hand.
Detroit has already tried to address their goaltending woes by negotiating a contract with former San Jose Shark and KHL returnee Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov had to clear waivers to return to the league and the Islanders claimed him.
Detroit is another team with very little salary cap room who would like to add a goaltender who could potentially start if the inexperienced Jimmy Howard continues to falter. Mike Smith was just waived by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The price is right but he is probably no improvement over what they already have in nets.
Now the Calgary Flames have muddied the waters when it comes to trades. At one point in the season an obvious seller desperate to unload veterans, the Flames are on a five game win streak that has them two points out of a playoff spot. This may prove to be a virtue in disguise as the Flames have 11 players under contract who have no move or no trade guarantees.
Constantly speculated to be on the move in a rebuilding scenario, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusof have no move contracts. Olli Jokinen, Daymond Langkow, Robyn Regehr, Corey Sarich and Alex Tanguay all have no move contracts. Matt Stajan and Rene Bourque have limited no trade contracts and Jay Bouwmeester and Ales Kotalik?? have absolute no trade contracts. Darryl Sutter's legacy will stay with the Flames until all these contracts have expired.
New General Manager Jay Feaster has a list of players he can't move and the team is in such a bad spot versus the cap he still has to get rid of some players. Daymond Langkow's long term disability eliminates him as a trade target but has provided Feaster with a means of balancing the cap. Waiving Ales Kotalik into the AHL after he provided 3 goals in 20 games for his $3 million was another attempt to get the payroll down to the cap limit.
Defensive defenseman Steve Staios is a player Feaster could move. Unfortunately he's looked slow on a defense that features Cory Sarich. He's currently out with a rib injury which makes him even less appealing. He's only gotten in 15 games this year and has often been a healthy scratch.
They might be able to move loose cannon Anton Babchuk who came over from Carolina in the Ian White dump has a big shot and is a hitter. He's also a poor skater and scary in his own zone. he could attract some interest and allow the Flames to add a player to help in their brand new playoff push.
The Nashville Predators are having another surprisingly good season. They are fourth in the west while having ten million dollars in cap space. A team whose current leading scorer is defenseman Shea Weber with 31 points in 51 games seems an obvious team to want to add some offense. Add in the fact that they are only three points ahead of the ninth place LA Kings and have potential scorers Mark Svatos, Steve Sullivan, and Matthew Lombardi on the shelf with injuries, and it's hard to imagine they won't try to add some scoring before the trade deadline.
The league leading Vancouver Canucks lost premiere defenseman Alex Edler to back surgery on January 31st. He's expected to miss 8-12 weeks. He joins defensemen Andrew Alberts (separated shoulder, returning Friday), Aaron Rome (sprained knee, back next week) and Sami Salo (torn achilles tendon,may miss the rest of season) on the injury list.
The Canucks need a more veteran defenseman for depth. Someone with playoff experience would be preferable. Vancouver is also a team with a lot of cap issues. They have to believe they have as good a shot at the Stanley Cup as any team this year and they're a team that might be expected to give up a first round pick for the right defenseman. Their pick right now would be 30th overall.
They've had trouble with their secondary scoring though they're hoping recent call up Cody Hodgson will help their offensive depth.
The Washington Capitals were the best team in last years regular season. The offensive juggernaut seems to have ground to a halt this year. While securely in a playoff spot the Capitals have been ordinary offensively and middle of the road defensively.
Injuries to Eric Fehr, Alex Semin and Tom Poti haven't helped. The Capitals have one of the youngest and cheapest goaltending duos in the league in Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. They might be well served by trying to deal for and spend their limited cap dollars on a veteran goalie who could back up the youngsters and take over if they faltered. A seasoned playoff goalie could prove to be a huge boon for a Capital team that has looked ordinary this year.
Since the institution of a hard salary cap in the NHL it's become very difficult for teams to make trades. That combined with over 125 no-move no trade contracts in the NHL and I'm starting to believe player movement may be reduced to the obscure and the insignificant this year on Trade Deadline day.
Throw in player injuries and it's almost impossible for teams to fill very real needs that they have. This in turn leaves the league with a series of flawed teams trying to make the best of their deficiencies. Players, arguably good enough to play in the NHL, are hidden in the minors to remove their crippling cap hit from the big team.
One solution for a cap strapped team was to trade expensive veterans for quality draft picks. They freed up room under the cap and added potential long term value. The Flames and the Leafs have made themselves into cautionary tales about the folly of trading first round draft picks. Teams are less willing to trade proven veterans for second or worse round picks which again makes it more difficult to make these kind of trades any more.
Despite my fear that trades were becoming obsolete some big ones were still made last year, most notably the Phaneuf-Stajan Leaf-Flame multi-player deal. Hopefully there are teams as desperate to improve or change their teams as these two were last year.
Mostly all I've seen is a whole lot of speculation and very few actual trades.