With the NHL trade deadline just 17 days away on Feb. 28, now seems like as good a time as ever to start trying to figure out which teams in the Eastern Conference will be buyers or sellers as one of the season’s most exciting days approaches.
Here’s my take, in current standings order:
1. PHILADELPHIA (77 points) - Personally, I do not see Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren wanting to do too much to a stable roster that has played so consistently this season. But that doesn’t stop the rumors from flying, that Holmgren has already spoken to many general managers. This Flyers team doesn’t need any help on the blue line or in net, though a solid scoring winger with experience couldn’t hurt. Still, Holmgren isn’t going to shake up this team’s chemistry or move a decent piece to get one.
Verdict: STANDING PAT
2. TAMPA BAY (71 points) - Holding just a three point edge on Washington in the Southeast division, I’ve got to believe crafty first year general manager Steve Yzerman will do anything he can to bolster his team’s roster. Dwayne Roloson, back on Jan. 1, may have been his best pick-up so far. The Lightning could use some depth on defense and a couple scorers to sprinkle through their third and fourth lines to make them really dangerous.
3. BOSTON (69 points) - With Marc Savard on the shelf for the rest of the season, Peter Chiarelli’s club could use a replacement. But I don’t see that coming in the form of a high-priced rental acquisition. The Bruins have a strong mix up young talent and experience, meaning that it probably doesn’t make too much sense to mortgage the future to make a run this season, as they’re already a formidable foe. Perhaps Tyler Seguin can continue to step up. Boston’s glaring weakness is on defense, with Steven Kampfer and Adam McQuaid holding down the fort. Tim Thomas has made their defense corps look much better than they are.
Verdict: KICKING THE TIRES
4. PITTSBURGH (74 points) - Sidney Crosby will likely be out until March with a concussion. Evgeni Malkin (ACL and MCL tears) won’t be skating again until August. And Ray Shero’s squad has had a rash of other injuries up front to worry about. But with Malkin’s injury comes almost $9 million in cap space with which to play. Shero is going to have a field day piecing together all of the possibilities. Don’t be surprised if the Penguins take a stab at a few big names, making the Flyers work until the last day of the regular season for their first Atlantic division crown since 2004.
Verdict: SPENDING LIKE CHARLIE SHEEN
5. WASHINGTON (68 points) - It has been a disappointing season, in a lot of ways for the Capitals. They’re on pace to end their three-year run as Southeast champs, Bruce Boudreau has had to answer numerous questions about his job and the new, defensive oriented system he’s employed. Do the Capitals have the talent? Yes. Will the different look pay dividends in April? Maybe. But I’ve never been convinced that George McPhee believes in Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov in net, no matter how many times he says it.
6. MONTREAL (66 points) - The Canadiens have shown that they’re willing to drop the gloves and scrap for a playoff spot, one that they’re now almost assured to get. Carey Price has been excellent. Tomas Plekanec has been a great setup man. But even when healthy, Michael Cammalleri has been a big disappointment this season. It’s not like Montreal needs more experience, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, Scott Gomez and Roman Hamrlik have been around a long time. They need top-end scoring. And I don’t know where Pierre Gauthier is going to find that at this point in the season. But he’ll definitely be looking.
7. NEW YORK RANGERS (62 points) - Very quietly, the Rangers have shifted from very solidly in the playoffs to now being on the bubble, as just 5 points separates them from 11th place. They had been stalking the Flyers and Penguins all season in the standings so far. Trading Michal Roszival for Wojtek Wolski was a slick move that gave Glen Sather a little breathing room with the salary cap. And they wouldn’t be the Rangers if they didn’t spend every penny. More than anything, New York needs a former John Tortorella player that has won a Cup and can impart some of that wisdom in their locker room.
8. CAROLINA (59 points) - Despite the ridiculous rumors that have Erik Cole coming to Philadelphia, there is anything but a fire sale going on in Raleigh, where this is a make or break year for Jim Rutherford. The fan base in North Carolina is clamoring for a playoff berth after having just one appearance in the last four years after winning a Stanley Cup in 2006. The Hurricanes would be looking to pick up a piece or two at the deadline rather than move them.
9. ATLANTA (58 points) - Some of the hottest rumors have the Thrashers’ Rick Dudley wanting to re-unite even more of last year’s Chicago Blackhawks by bringing in Kris Versteeg from Toronto. This has been Atlanta’s best season in a while, and they could really use a playoff birth to try and jumpstart a dead hockey market and fan base. The problem is, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom lead the Thrashers in scoring - and they’re defensemen. That isn’t going to take a team from the bubble to the dance. They need more scoring.
10. BUFFALO (57 points) - One year after winning the Northeast division and gracefully bowing out of the playoffs, this may be a good time for the Sabres to gracefully bow out of contention and move a solid player like Jordan Leopold or Jason Pominville to stock picks and start building for the future under new owner Terry Pegula. It just may be hard to convince Pegula to do that from the start.
11. FLORIDA (53 points) - Each year, the Cats seem to scratch and claw until February before realizing that the just don’t have what it takes to play with the big boys in the East. Playoff hockey won’t be played in Fort Lauderdale for the 10th consecutive spring, the longest run in NHL history for a team in one city. The Panthers have already started selling, moving Michal Frolik just the other day. And that’s a shame, because I admire the job that Peter DeBoer has done as head coach. Veteran UFA Cory Stillman, a two-time Cup winner, could be a valuable piece for any team in the hunt.
12. TORONTO (52 points) - So, what is Brian Burke’s master plan, exactly? Was moving Francois Beauchemin for Joffrey Lupul earlier this week supposed to be taken as a sign that the Maple Leafs are buyers or sellers? It’s hard to figure what they’re doing up there. But rumor has it that the Leafs are interested in acquiring as much as they can handle for a playoff run, where fans in the league’s biggest market haven’t seen a meaningful game since 2004. Still, I think the focus should be on the future - because even if they get in, they’re not going far. No sense breaking whatever rebuilding plan was already in place already. There is a plan, right?
Verdict: WHO REALLY KNOWS?
13. NEW JERSEY (46 points) - After a brutal season, wouldn’t you love to be Lou Lamoriello right now? You have the chance to not only play spoiler, but also come back from the dead and make a run at the playoffs - which many believe will happen. No team wants to play the Devils right now. The best part is that the Devils don’t need to do anything, they just play with the roster they have and let the chips fall where they may on April 10. It will be fun to see if this already talented roster continues to play like they should have all along.
Verdict: ENJOYING THE RIDE
14. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (43 points) - Do we need to say anything more?
Verdict: SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE
15. OTTAWA (42 points) - It’s hard to believe that the Senators have fallen behind not only the Islanders but also New Jersey and Toronto. Many had this team penciled in as a low playoff seed back in September. Bryan Murray moved Mike Fisher to Nashville on Thursday for two picks, including a first rounder, which was a solid trade for both sides. And the Senators could end up with the number one pick anyways. Look for Jason Spezza and maybe even Chris Kelly or Alex Kovalev to move, if they can find a buyer at the deadline. Frankly, I’m just surprised that Murray still has a job at this point. There seemed to be no long-term plan in Canada’s capital city.
Verdict: FIRE SALE
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers
Get exclusive videos and analysis in our new app for iPhone and Android. Download it here.