The 2011 NHL free agency frenzy has begun to settle, and many teams across the league are finished signing free agents. There is still some of the league's top talent (i.e. Steven Stamkos) that are without a contract as of right now, and you have to wonder if their current teams are pondering trades.
Two of the NHL's best (and most consistent) franchises every year in the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks shook the hockey world when they pulled of blockbuster trades this offseason. The Flyers traded their captain and assistant captain for younger, unproven players.
The Sharks traded snipers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi for Martin Havlat and Brent Burns. Both teams feel as if they are in a better position to win a Stanley Cup now, but what other teams should explore a possible trade or two?
Here are the top 10 teams in the NHL that would be better served improving through trades rather than free agency.
The Washington Capitals really took to Bruce Boudreau's new defensive system in 2010, and they looked like they would finally be a force in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That was not to be as they were bounced in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Alexander Ovechkin is one of the best players in the league, and he has shown that he can carry the Capitals on his broad shoulders when the games matter most. The problem is that Ovechkin can not do it alone.
Alexander Semin has been linked in numerous reports this offseason as the guy to be traded.
The Winnipeg Free Press had this to say:
"The Washington Capitals are said to be shopping Alex Semin with Montreal, Nashville, Toronto, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Jose, all said to be interested in the right-winger, who has 166 goals in the last five years. Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian has also had his name linked to Semin in various trade rumours."
The Capitals would be smart to move Semin and clear up valuable cap room that could land them another big winger and puck-moving defenseman. The re-signing of Brooks Laich to a six-year deal worth $27 million may have marked the end of the Alexander Semin era in Washington.
The Capitals need to get stronger and tougher to compete with the big boys of the Eastern Conference in the playoffs, and trading a valuable chip like Semin would help do that.
The Columbus Blue Jackets made some major news this offseason when they traded promising winger Jakub Voracek to the Philadelphia Flyers for Jeff Carter. The Blue Jackets have been searching for a top-line center to play alongside Rick Nash for years, and they feel that they have done so with the addition of Carter.
I'd say adding a guy that is third in goals scored since 2008 is addressing a need.
The problem is that top-six forward Kristian Huselius tore his pectoral muscle lifting weights and will be out for four to six months. The Blue Jackets are already at a franchise-record $58 million payroll and are clearly intent on making a push this season.
The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline lays out their options, which seemingly are a low-key free agent signing or finding a team willing to make a deal that won’t cost them a top prospect.
Even with the addition of Carter, scoring may be at a premium for the Blue Jackets in 2011. The front office is obviously worried as they signed 31-year-old Jonathan Cheechoo from the AHL last week.
The Columbus Blue Jackets need to make another big splash if they want to be taken seriously in the state of Ohio.
The Nashville Predators have two of the best players in the NHL today in Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Just as teams in baseball place a premium on pitching and defense, the Predators were smart to build their team around a great goalie and a top-three defenseman in the game.
Now it is time for the Predators to add some more scoring. Re-signing Sergei Kostitsyn was a necessity, but it is not enough to compete in the ultra-tough Western Conference.
The signing of Niclas Bergfors could prove to be a steal, but David Polle has said that he will continue to look at ways to make the Nashville Predators better, particularly at forward.
Nashville fans should feel confident that their GM will improve this team via a trade during the offseason.
The New York Rangers obviously had two goals this offseason: Sign a playmaker to play alongside Marian Gaborik, and rid themselves of the huge mistake that was the Chris Drury signing. The Rangers inked free agent Brad Richards to a mammoth nine-year $60 million contract, and Ranger fans must be holding their breath that they haven't made another colossal mistake.
Capgeek puts the Rangers at $53 million towards the cap with deals from Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan forthcoming. The Rangers have a lot of grinders on their current roster who would be coveted by many teams across the league.
Moving a winger for a top-four defenseman should be high on the Rangers to-do list moving forward.
The Colorado Avalanche have some excellent pieces in place with guys like Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene. The acquisition of 23-year-old stud Semyon Varlamov could pay immediate dividends for the once-proud franchise.
The Av's still have a ton of money to spend even after signing defenseman Jan Hejda from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Look for Colorado to be actively involved this offseason with teams that are up against the salary cap.
Alexander Semin would look mighty fine next to Matt Duchene.
Who expected Brian Rafalski to be the Detroit Red Wings defenseman to retire this past offseason? Anyone?
Niklas Lidstrom will be back in 2011, but the Red Wings have a serious need for a puck-moving D-man after Rafalski passed up $6 million to retire. As always, the Red Wings will have one of the deepest groups of forwards in the NHL but the defense may be a serious question mark.
Jan Mursak, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith and Jakib Kindl are all rookies just itching for a chance to shine in Detroit, but a Red Wings team with a ton of scoring and money to spend makes them dangerous on the trade market.
If the Red Wings can add a top-four defenseman and another player to kill penalties, they will be one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference again in 2011.
But should we really expect anything else from the team that represents "Hockeytown?"
Adding a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to any team would be huge, but the Pittsburgh Penguins still have a few glaring holes to fill this offseason. They lost their best penalty killer in Max Talbot to the rival Philadelphia Flyers and enforcer Eric Godard to unrestricted free agency.
The Penguins have Aaron Asham, Matt Cooke and Brooks Orpik who can handle themselves, but the Penguins need to add someone that can protect two of the brightest stars in the game. With teams like the Devils, Flyers, Capitals and Bruins all possessing some serious heavyweights, expect teams to be taking quite a few liberties unless a move is made.
With Sidney Crosby coming off of a serious head injury, the need for an enforcer is even greater in Pittsburgh.
GM Brian Burke vowed that the league's most valuable franchise (and possibly biggest disappointment), the Toronto Maple Leafs, would be very active this offseason. Bringing in John Michael Liles, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and Cody Franson thus far would qualify as active in my book.
The Maple Leafs were thought by many to be the favorite for Brad Richards, but he spurned some of the best fans in hockey when he chose the bright lights of New York City. The Maple Leafs still have a myriad of question marks that need to be answered before the season begins.
Does the additions of two injury-prone players like Lombardi and Connolly really make the Leafs offense more potent? Liles and Franson can move the puck extremely well, but are they tough enough on the back end to compete with the bigger teams in the East?
Don't be surprised if Brian Burke has another ace up his sleeve before the season begins.
The Montreal Canadians were one of many teams during free agency to stretch a bit for a player. Signing winger Eric Cole to a four-year $18 million deal may sound like a lot of money, but not when you consider the money being shelled out for players like Ville Leino and Brooks Laich.
Re-signing Andrei Markov was a necessity for the Canadians defensive corps, but do they have enough scoring to be a true Stanley Cup Contender? They still have one of the most un-tradeable contracts in the NHL in Scott Gomez, and that trade will continue to haunt this franchise until its duration.
The Canadians would be best served in trying to dump some of their terrible contracts (like Gomez) to teams like the Florida Panthers who are struggling to reach the salary cap minimum.
Heck, if Brian Campbell can be traded then why not Scott Gomez?
Philadelphia Flyers fans have been told for years now that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were the cornerstones of this franchise, and they would lead one of the most popular teams in hockey back to Lord Stanley.
I have had a hard time convincing myself that the Flyers are closer to winning the Stanley Cup now than they were two months ago, but I am trying my best.
I love that the Flyers have finally added a quality goaltender. In fact, I believe that Illya Bryzgalov will be in the top-three in save percentage and goals against average in 2011.
Brayden Schenn may be better than Richards and Carter ever were in three years, and Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are the type of grinding, tough wingers the Flyers missed dearly against the Boston Bruins in the playoffs.
Picking up the eighth overall draft pick from Columbus in the Jeff Carter deal landed lanky center Sean Couterier. By all accounts, Couterier will be a stud in the NHL for years to come when he is ready.
The Flyers may have overpaid for Jaromir Jagr, but the veteran will certainly improve one of the team's biggest weaknesses from last season in their power-play. Adding Max Talbot will provide invaluable experience and leadership in the locker room, and one of the game's best penalty-killers.
GM Paul Holmgren was able to acquire one of the game's best goaltenders and keep his terrific defensive corps in tact. Maybe "Homer" has been watching the Phillies across the street at Citizens Bank Park and realized that pitching and defense wins championships in baseball and goaltending and defense wins in hockey.
Now if only the Flyers could somehow pry Steven Stamkos from the Tampa Bay Lightning, then I'd say let's start planning our parade down Broad Street.
Until then, this season should be one of the most intriguing in recent memory for the orange and black.