GLENDALE AZ - NOV. 23: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Edmonton Oilers walks off the ice after the end of the second period of the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on Nov. 23, 2010, in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Many teams in the NHL's Western Conference are still unsure if they're buyers or sellers at the 2012 NHL trade deadline, but those contenders atop the standings need somebody to deal with. Which players are available?
The NHL's trade deadline is quickly approaching, and while it seems as though it's going to be a slow day on Monday, Feb. 27, there are still plenty of teams interested in adding depth. But those teams need somebody to deal with, and there are plenty of bubble teams that can't decide on which side of the fence they sit.
There's a little more definition in the Western Conference than there is in the East, but there's still plenty up in the air here, unless you're the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Edmonton Oilers. Let's try to figure out where each club falls with a team-by-team look at the bubble teams and the pretenders out West.
The NHL's team in Glendale has again made an early deadline move, acquiring the underrated Antoine Vermette for some picks and an injured journeyman backup goalie. That move was made possible in part by Don Maloney's auction of Kyle Turris, which fetched not only David Rundblad but also the second-round pick used in the Vermette deal.
Still Need: An owner crazy enough to fund the team in Glendale.
Should Sell: More tickets. Seriously, Maloney's done a nice job again under trying circumstances. It will once again be a tough first-round draw for the Coyotes, but if the NHL can signal some ownership stability in time for the playoffs, fans will have something fun to watch. It's too late for things to turn south in time for the deadline -- the Coyotes are four points above ninth -- so the speculated auction of Shane Doan isn't happening.
Finally, a team that can sell players from their NHL roster! Somehow the whole is not measuring up to the sum of parts in Los Angeles. The Kings are supposed to be contenders this year, but two different coaches -- three, if you count interim bridge John Stevens -- have not been able to squeeze more offense out of them. Jonathan Quick bails out an unimaginative offense on a nightly basis. An asset reallocation is in order. As Kings blog Jewels from the Crown notes all too often lately, things aren't right in L.A.
Still Need: Offense, offense, offense. Some way, somehow. People suggest they get in on the Rick Nash/Jeff Carter sweepstakes -- actually, some insist they must -- but Carter in particular is the kind of contract GM Dean Lombardi is careful to consider. Both represent big contract risks, and Lombardi is better off searching the rental market for players like Ales Hemsky or P.A. Parenteau.
Last Year: Lombardi made what looked like a smart move last year, acquiring Dustin Penner in a non-rental deal. Yet the big winger has trended downward with the low-scoring Kings instead of recovering his best form. As with the risky-but-not-crazy pursuit of Ilya Kovalchuk, Lombardi's search for offensive help continues, and his best-laid plans defy him.
Should Sell: Jack Johnson is signed to a big contract thanks to his offensive talents obscuring his defensive woes. If Lombardi can move him in a big chip-for-chip deal, it's a worthy risk since the status quo isn't working. Otherwise, teams will be looking for young chips like Slava Voynov. The goalie market is depressed, but Jonathan Bernier might be a chip if Columbus is silly enough to take a goalie in their sell-off.
The Flames have several forwards expected to return from injury next month, but will it be soon enough for a team that is right on the edge of eighth place going into the deadline? And should it matter for a team that is attempting to rebuild amid a sincere effort to squeak into the postseason?
Still Need: Health. Better forwards. Flexibility. A plan for the future. Adding Lee Stempniak and the acquisition of Blake Comeau on waivers are the kind of free, low-risk moves Jay Feaster has swung while nursing this team through cap stress and a full two lines of no-trade clauses left by his predecessor. Converting Rene Bourque's contract into Mike Cammalleri was smooth.
Should Sell: Because the Flames have climbed back into playoff contention, it's hard to say they should dump pending UFAs like Stempniak (who's hurt right now anyway), Scott Hannan and David Moss. There are a lot of compelling arguments to deal Iginla while he still has premier value during his decline, but a playoff push is hardly the time.
The Avalanche have already dealt from strength in shedding Kyle Quincey for Steve Downie, although it's an open question whether Quincey was the right guy to deal and whether Downie was the right forward to add. Still, Downie adds to a collection of imposing young forwards -- including a healthy Matt Duchene -- so maybe the Avalanche sneak into the playoffs.
Still Need: A time machine to reverse the Semyon Varlamov trade. A new operating system for Erik Johnson. The Avalanche have gobs of cap space to upgrade at any position but refuse to use it. One can only conclude they are conserving resources for the future. Which means...
Should Sell: The Avalanche are not in position to do any damage in the playoffs even if they make it, so they should entertain offers for pending UFA forwards Jay McClement and Daniel Winnick and defensemen Shane O'Brien and Matt Hunwick unless they want to and are able to secure their future services.
The Stars are already in a state of realism, playing well enough to contend for that final playoff spot but honest enough to prioritize future seasons over two home playoff dates and certain first-round slaughter.
Still Need: Smart moves that position them for the future, when new owner Tom Gaglardi is likely to open his checkbook.
Last Year: Hung on to pending UFA Brad Richards and missed the playoffs anyway, lost Richards to the Rangers.
Should Sell: They already sold Nicklas Grossman to the Philadelphia Flyers for two draft picks. Steve Ott is somehow in trade rumors despite a no-trade clause and two years left on his contract. Radek Dvorak and Sheldon Souray are two UFA veterans who might fetch some scraps.
As fun as the unsustainable first-half rise was for the Minnesota Wild, so cruel has the regression been. It doesn't matter how or why they got here; the Wild need to focus on the future.
Still Need: Roster creativity. All 11 of their top 11 wage earners are signed through next season (including Guillaume Latendresse, but he's an RFA), so any additions will require clever wiggling.
Should Sell: The Wild should listen to all offers. Greg Zanon may be their only remotely attractive pending UFA. Getting someone to take the final year of Marek Zidlicky's contract -- who is a $4 million cap hit but hasn't impressed coach Mike Yeo -- would be addition by subtraction. If a buyer gets desperate for goaltending help, Josh Harding might draw a nibble.
Of all the second-half revivals in their history, this season's under Bruce Boudreau may be the Ducks' most impressive. Still won't be enough. Time to cut losses.
Should Sell: It would be sacrilege to ship Selanne away at this point, but he controls his fate and if he wants one last playoff run, grant him his wish. You would think Jason Blake, another UFA, could help a team late in the season when his $4 million cap hit is prorated downward.
Here we are again in Edmonton. Steve Tambellini will again be on the NHL's mid-April lottery show.
Still Need: A contract for Ales Hemsky. A blueline. But Andy Sutton's re-signing and the other contracts already in place make it look like they just might enter next season with as flawed a blueline as the one they brought into 2011-12.
Last Year: Same as it ever was.
Should Sell: The Oilers don't have desirable parts they should sell, but they'll probably dump Hemsky and ... is Sam Gagner's future still uncertain? If a team is enamored by Gagner's recent point surge, maybe the Oilers can sell high. But they need to retain quality forwards, and one wonders how the Oilers will replace Hemsky if they let him go.
What a disaster. Teams usually don't completely bottom out without a mixture of both poor management and awful luck, and Columbus has certainly had its share of both. Carter's and Kristian Huselius' injuries and James Wisniewski's lengthy suspension right off the bat fed an epic spiral made worse by the club's faith in Steve Mason.
Still Need: Everything, including a responsible center now that they sent Vermette packing. If Nash and/or Carter leave, the offensive holes get bigger. In goal, they need a plan and a determination not to risk the season on an unlikely rebound by Mason, who is nonetheless signed through next season.
Should Sell: Mason's contract is just the tip of the iceberg, as Columbus is weighed down by long contracts to too many players at too high prices. If Vermette was dumped to shed money then that's a bad sign, as his contract was shorter than those for Nash, Carter, Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin and R.J. Umberger, and as long as Marc Methot's (to say nothing of buyout of Mike Commodore).
But the Blue Jackets need to do something -- the trade deadline just might not be the ideal time to do it. For trade deadline junkies though, here's hoping the Blue Jackets make some noise.
Contract and free agency information for this post was found at CapGeek.
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