Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter
Let’s face it folks, the Olympics have been a huge distraction for all of us NHL fans—a great distraction, but a distraction nonetheless. Once Sunday night's gold medal game is decided it will mark the point in which all NHL general managers will go back to work with the main focus being the trade deadline.
Going forward, every NHL GM needs to establish whether they are buyers or sellers. For some, identifying their direction will be a tough one, the NHL standings are extremely cluttered, making it tough for many GM’s to decide if they should be making a run at the playoffs or if they should unload.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference and which teams will be buyers, sellers or remain undecided.
Eastern Conference: Southeast Division
Atlanta Thrashers: Sellers
Heading into the Olympic break, Thrashers GM Don Waddell pulled the trigger on the much anticipated Ilya Kovalchuk deal, bringing back what many perceived to be a very average return to Atlanta (defenseman Johnny Oduya, forward Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first round draft choice in 2010.
Personally, I think Waddell did well in the trade, bringing in two legitimate NHL players, a tremendous prospect in Cormier and hope for the future with the first round draft choice in 2010. Was it everything Atlanta fans wanted it to be? Probably not, but, given the fact Waddell was under the gun, he did alright.
The other move Waddell made was trading oft-injured goaltender Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars in return for defenseman Ivan Vishnevsky and a fourth round draft pick in the 2010 draft.
Going forward, it would appear as if Waddell will continue to make moves with the intent of bolstering his roster for the long term on the mind. Waddell must now decided on the futures of forwards Nik Antropov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Maxim Afinogenov and, quite possibly his most prized possession for playoff teams—Colby Armstrong.
Armstrong could bring back a decent return, as could Antropov, while Waddell would expect less for the likes of Afinogenov and Kozlov. The good news is, the Thrashers have a good base of youth from which to build with, Waddell would be wise to add to it, and likely shall.
Carolina Hurricanes: Sellers
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford has already started to dismantle his roster, trading veteran forward Matt Cullen to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a second round draft choice.
Ray Whitney continues to be the subject of numerous trade rumors with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche and many other NHL teams believed to be in the mix for the veteran forward.
Holding up matters is Whitney’s apparent insistence on signing a new two year deal with the team that acquires him, handcuffing Rutherford’s efforts up to this point.
Other players Rutherford may consider moving include, Rod Brind’Amour (good luck trading him) and Chad Larose—a player that many teams may be interested in for the playoff run.
Florida Panthers: Sellers
The Panthers are a mess. As such, look for them to be very active at the deadline, peddling several players with the intent of building for the future...again!
Names like defenseman Jordan Leopold, forward Cory Stillman and even goaltender Tomas Vokoun are expected to be front and centre where the Florida panthers and trade talks are concerned.
As much as the Panthers would like to make big changes, it appears as if they will be quiet, unless they can get ownership to fork over some dough to make an impact deal.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Sellers
One of these days a deal for highly priced centre Vincent Lecavalier is going to get done, whether or not it happens at this years trade deadline is anyone’s guess.
The Lightning appear to be headed for another bottom 10 finish this season—perhaps even a bottom five finish if they play their cards “right”
Youngsters Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie and Victor Hedman give the Lightning a good base form which to build from, while veterans Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Mattias Ohlund, and Ryan Malone could serve as a nice complement to this underachieving roster.
Alex Tanguay will likely be moved, but don’t expect a lot in return for the struggling forward. Other potential players to be traded include goaltender Mike Smith, who may very well be expendable now that Antero Niittymaki has emerged as a strong goaltender.
Whatever the case may be, the Lightning are best to stay the course, rebuilding through the draft and, in due time, ridding themselves of their larger contracts in order to facilitate signing the likes of Stamkos and Hedman long-term.
Washington Capitals: Buyers
Like many of the top-tier teams, the Washington Capitals will not have a ton of cap room to facilitate any big moves, but they can and likely will “tweak” their roster.
Look for the Capitals to try to add some grit for the playoffs. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Raffi Torres would be a nice fit on the Caps fourth line, while a move for a depth defenseman would not be out of the question.
Let’s face it, the Capitals are a very special team, one that is poised to go a long way in this years playoffs, so don’t expect Capitals GM George McPhee to re-invent the wheel here, he has a good thing going here, no need to screw up the chemistry he already has.
There has been a lot of questions about Washington’s goaltending—as long as Semyon Varlamov is healthy they will be golden, otherwise, the Caps would be wise to look into acquiring some depth, say Nashville Predators soon to be free agent goaltender Dan Ellis, who will likely be available now that Pekka Rinne has signed a long-term deal with the Preds.
Whatever the case may be, Washington can stay with what they got or make a move, either way, they should be amongst the teams to beat in this years playoffs.
***To read about the Northeast Division, including what the Toronto Maple Leafs will do, use the link to check out my web site at: