American Thanksgiving is usually the marker that NHL GMs use to properly evaluate their team, and where they stand after 20-25 games. They identify if they feel they are a contender, they evaluate whether or not they should start becoming a “buyer” or a “seller” and in the December-February period they make their roster adjustments.
This is precisely why it is right around this time that trade rumors start to dominate headlines across the many media outlets. Here is a brief summary on the 15 eastern Conference teams, and what they hope to accomplish from now until the trade deadline.
Atlanta – It’s all about Ilya in Thrasher land. Some reports indicate that Kovalchuk and the Thrashers are close to agreeing to a contract extension; while conflicting reports suggest that contract talks haven’t gone well thus far. Regardless; there are 2 things that are certain – Atlanta will do everything they can to re-sign their star & Atlanta will not let him walk as a UFA with nothing in return. Another rumor has the Thrashers entertaining offers for goaltender Kari Lehtonen, especially with the emergence of Ondrej Pavelec.
Boston – the Bruins re-signed Marc Savard to a 7-year contract extension earlier today, and they are essentially done for now. You can be sure that they will look to add some depth at the deadline, especially considering they have an extra 1st round pick this year thanks to Brian Burke.
Buffalo – as per usual, don’t expect Buffalo to be major players in the trade market. Depending on where they stand closer to the deadline, the Sabres will act accordingly. If they are in the playoff picture, they may add a veteran D-man. If they are out of it, they may try and unload some expensive contracts in exchange for draft picks, and make room for quality prospects like Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, Mike Weber or TJ Brennan.
Carolina – clearly in a transitional stage, the Canes are actively shopping some of their veteran players. Ray Whitney is a name that has and will continue to be floated around the rumor mill. Carolina has many guys with expiring contracts and playoff experience that can be useful to clubs looking to add depth. I fully expect Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman to join fellow-prospect Brandon Sutter at the NHL level by the end of the year.
Florida – Nathan Horton has been labeled as an underachiever in Florida, and a change of scenery is possible this year. Besides his lack of consistent production, he also comes with a 4 million dollar cap hit for the next 4 years, which will decrease his value on the open market. If Florida continues to be a bottom-feeder in the East, expect him to get moved at some point.
Montreal – The Habs have been hammered by injuries this year, yet they are surviving thanks to the recent stellar play of their goaltender Carey Price. Because of that, Jaroslav Halak will likely be traded at some point this year when the time is right. There are rumblings that the Habs are quietly putting out feelers for Scott Gomez. He is apparently not great in the room, and his reputation as a turnover machine hasn't helped. Teams that have been inquiring are Florida (Horton?) and LA (Frolov?). I can assure all readers that Gomez will not be traded, unless Montreal is certain that Tomas Plekanec can be re-signed.
New Jersey – much like Buffalo, I would be very surprised to see the Devils make any drastic moves. They are happy with the development of some of their young forwards, and under coach Jacques Lemaire, their “no-name” defense is more than ok. However, in the event that the Anaheim Ducks put Scott Niedermayer on the trading block, it would only be fitting if the Devils made a move to bring him back. The one thing to keep an eye on is the contract status of Paul Martin. He is one of the few young & elite D-men on the UFA market this summer, and would likely be out of the Devils’ price range if he goes to July 1 unsigned.
NY Islanders – due to the NHL’s rule that a team losing in OT gets a sympathy point, the Islanders look like a decent team this year. Identifying whether this team should be a buyer or a seller is difficult at this point. The only thing that appears likely right now is that Martin Biron will be moved once DiPietro is healthy. My best guess is that the Islanders will come back down to earth by early January and will probably ship out a few veterans at the trade deadline for prospects/picks.
NY Rangers – One of the strangest teams this year is the Rangers. Marian Gaborik has been spectacular, but the rest of the team has been inconsistent. There are 2 players that the Rangers would like to trade right now – Chris Higgins has an expiring contract and a digestible cap hit, making him a player that will end up elsewhere at some point in the next few months despite his poor play. The other is Michal Roszival, who doesn’t even come close to producing at the level of a 5 million dollar player. Glen Sather would be deserving of a medal if he could find someone to eat that contract.
Ottawa – The key thing to pay attention to is pending UFA Anton Volchenkov. Ottawa is a playoff team right now, so it would be very difficult to justify trading Anton Volchenkov. However, they can’t risk “pulling a Gainey” and let him walk for nothing. They either need to re-sign him soon, or trade him soon to maximize the return. Speaking of defensemen, the Senators have been disappointed with the development of Brian Lee, and they are rumored to be shopping him around. There are plenty of teams that need help on D, so it seems probable that he will be traded to a new team at some point.
Philadelphia – Philly is in a delicate situation, because they are a good team that is underachieving right now; and they need a shakeup but don’t really have any assets to move or cap space available. The one thing I could see them doing is trading for a young/affordable goalie, someone like Halak from Montreal, Harding from Minnesota, Schneider from Vancouver or Lehtonen from Atlanta. It’s not that Emery has been bad; it’s just that both of their goalies are UFAs, and they don’t have any NHL ready prospects that can step in next year. I would also venture to guess that in the offseason, one of Danny Briere/Simon Gagne will be traded.
Pittsburgh – The Penguins look like a well oiled machine. They have a good goalie in Fleury, their depth on defense is excellent and their star power up front is unmatched. The one area I could see them addressing at some point would be via trade for a veteran winger to add some secondary scoring. Also; even though contract talks haven’t really been initiated, Sergei Gonchar will likely want to re-sign with the Pens, and the Pens likely want to keep him in Pittsburgh as well.
Tampa Bay – Tampa is one of those teams that is a fringe playoff team, yet they are on the rise because of the development of their young players. I don’t anticipate tampa being a buyer or a seller; rather I see them riding out the year with what they have, and making some adjustments in the off-season. They are, however, still carrying 9 defensemen, and they also have prospects such as Ty Wishart and Vladimir Mihalik playing in the AHL. Given the current injury situation around the league, I would look for Tampa to move 1 or 2 of their D for a draft pick or perhaps some forward help.
Toronto – The only thing Brian Burke can really do right now is ship some expensive one way contracts to the minors and call up young prospects to have them developed at the pro level. It seems more likely that Burke will try and unload some expiring contracts at the deadline for draft picks, and continue his re-structuring of the franchise in the offseason when well over half of his current NHL roster becomes free agents.
Washington – Until they can unload Michael Nylander and his ridiculous contract, there really isn’t much the Capitals can do to improve their club. Regardless; they seem to be happy with their roster, to the point where I wouldn’t expect them to make any drastic moves even if they were able to rid themselves of Nylander.
The Western Conference version of “Talking Trades” will be up in the next day or so.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.