Playoff Bubble TeamsTuesday, February 14, 2012
The NHL trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and it is certain to be a busy one. But this trade season features only a handful of teams out of the playoff picture, meaning the sellers will undoubtedly set the market. Any buyers are certain to pay premium prices, and may look foolish doing so.
Let's take a look at a few 'bubble' playoff teams and what their plans could be heading into the Feb. 27 deadline.
Washington Capitals: The Caps are four points out of the Southeast Division lead and one point out of a postseason spot. Despite injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green and some underperformance, they've hung around, and I think they’ll be buyers when all is said and done. NEEDS: The Caps are sorely lacking a second-line center. Washington could also use a depth forward as well as a defenseman. OPTIONS: The Blue Jackets’ Jeff Carter would fit in nicely as a high-end center to take the scoring burden off of Alex Ovechkin. The cost could be steep, but the Caps also have two first-round picks in next year's draft to use, and GM George McPhee can take on salary. The Sabres' Derek Roy is also a very skilled playmaking pivot, but has struggled this season and has a year left on his deal. The Blue Jackets' Antoine Vermette has played better lately and also could be worth taking a chance on. In addition Washington lacks depth on defense and could give a stay-at-home guys such as the Hurricanes’ Bryan Allen or the Canadiens' Hall Gill a look. These are steady players with right-handed shots -- the Caps only have two. Forwards the Capitals could aim for include the Hurricanes' Tuomo Ruutu, who is gritty but has the skill to play on the second line. The Rangers' Wojtek Wolski has fallen out of favor in New York, but still has upside -- and the Rangers may look to unload his contract.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers haven't made the playoffs since the 1999-00 season, and GM Dale Tallon has already proven his willingness to make moves. Those two factors lead me to believe that the Panthers won't just sit still at the deadline. NEEDS: Their primary problem is that they rely heavily on their first line, which accounts for 40 percent of their goals. Tallon needs to add supplementary scoring (a top-two center, plus forwards), and his squad could also use a blueliner with Ed Jovanovski and Dmitri Kulikov on the shelf. OPTIONS: Even though Florida has a well-stocked farm system, it's hard to believe Tallon will part with anyone substantial unless he's adding someone like Bobby Ryan, who is unlikely to be moved at the deadline. It's more likely the front office will target incremental upgrades, so it could go after a number of Oilers. Someone like the talented, but often injured (and underperforming) Ales Hemsky could be a piece to add to the second line, while Ryan Smyth and his experience would be a welcom addition. Experts around the league believe Sam Gagner could become a No. 1 center in time; he'll be an RFA at the end of the year and will cost Edmonton a hefty price to re-sign. Might Florida be a trade fit? The Habs' Sergei Kostitsyn is due to become a UFA and is also bound for his fourth 20-goal season. And, again, Wolski could be looked at if they want to roll the dice. On defense, Florida could look at the experienced, the Hurricanes’ Jaroslav Spacek, Habs’ Hal Gill, Sutton or Allen.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are three points above the playoff cutoff, and quite possibly could be in the worst trade situation -- unless they're willing to make a huge splash. NEEDS: They're the league's lowest scoring team, with a 2.07 goals-per-game average. They're behind the eight ball because any small addition likely won’t do much to jolt an underperforming offense and any big piece requires them to overpay. Simon Gagne is also out with a concussion, making a top-six-forward add all the more important. NHL.com cites Jonathan Bernier as a logical trade chip, but it would necessitate a huge deal. OPTIONS: Rumors have surfaced that the Kings could be interested in Carter and reuniting him with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards. GM Dean Lombardi is said to be open to the idea of adding more than a rental. He has to at least find a winger to slot in alongside Richards, but he has to be leery about overpaying after last season's deadline move for Dustin Penner brought him nothing but pancakes (and seven goals). Hemsky could be an upside play there -- so long as he stays healthy and he's motivated. Ruutu is another guy who could fit in the second line, give Los Angeles some grit and pop in a few goals. The Kings have also been rumored to be interested in Maple Leafs wingers Nikolai Kulemin (RFA) and Clarke MacArthur (one year left), whose production has dipped this season.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Yotes are making things interesting because they have a number of guys (Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, Daymond Langkow, Michal Rozsival) with expiring contracts, yet their recent five-game surge has planted them firmly in the playoff race. GM Don Maloney is typically a very aggressive dealmaker, but you have to think Phoenix would get more bang for their buck of they moved their UFA's, instead of trying to buy at the deadline. NEEDS: The Yotes could use another offensive defenseman, some more scoring and even a more reliable back up. OPTIONS: The ideal addition would be the Ducks' Lubomir Visnovsky, who has veteran experience and would quarterback a league-worst power play. As cheaper depth guys, the Lightning's Pavel Kubina and the Wild’s Marek Zidlicky would also be enticing on the blueline. Phoenix needs more skill up front, so they will likely inquire about players like Ruutu and Hemsky. The Ducks' Jason Blake has played in only 19 games this year, but has nine points and may not be a bad gamble -- plus, Phoenix has the cap room to take on salary. The Coyotes' fortunes are so heavily tied to the play of injury-prone goaltender Mike Smith that they may look to add a more reliable veteran back up like the Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov, who could end up being too expensive.