With the NHL trade deadline less than three weeks away, general managers now face the decision whether to be a buyer or a seller come February 27. It’s a matter of whether you think you have a team that’s good enough to make a push for a deep playoff run, or if you’re missing a few too many pieces and the team would be better served to sell off some assets for immediate or future returns.
There are only a handful of teams that have earned the seller status thus far and a few teams that are on the fence, but should have made up their mind in the coming weeks.
The sellers that have emerged thus far include the likes of Columbus, Carolina, New York Islanders, Edmonton, Montreal and Anaheim. Teams that are on the cusp include Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Colorado. These three teams will have to make up their minds in the next 17 days and will most likely lean towards seller, but you never know what could happen.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for a GM — if you’re sitting 10th or worse in the conference at this point in the season, then you have to be pretty sure it will take more than one piece to be able to compete with the elite teams at the top of the standings.
Here are a number of players — all unrestricted free agents at the end of the season — that I believe will almost certainly have a new home sometime soon. Here’s a recap of their current numbers, contract values, and where they might end up.
Tuomo Ruutu – Carolina Hurricanes – $3.8 million
While Canes GM Jim Rutherford has been talking of trying to work out a deal with Ruutu, he is way too valuable an asset to risk losing in the off-season. Ruutu could garner as much as a first-round draft pick or a top prospect if traded. He’s an unrestricted free agent at season’s end with no guarantees he will stay in Raleigh. Carolina is in the basement of the East, which certainly makes them a seller.
The gritty winger would fit in with any team that’s looking to toughen up, but he also adds the ability to produce on the score sheet. Ruutu has 17 goals and 11 assists in 55 games this season and is coming off a career best 57 points in 2010-11.
Where he could end up: Potential suitors include just about everybody looking to add scoring. Expect the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Minnesota Wild to make an aggressive push for the Finnish winger.
Andrei Kostitsyn – Montreal Canadiens – $3.25 million
Kostitsyn has had an average season thus far. He has 12 goals and 12 assists in 45 games and averages just over 15 minutes a game. He’s on pace to reach his fourth 20-goal mark in just his fifth full season in the NHL. He will become a UFA following this season and will likely command somewhere in the $3-$4 million range. The Habs cannot afford that, since they are handcuffed with a number of high-priced, long-term deals.
Montreal is one of the true sellers, despite their position in the standings, and should be expected to be a huge player at the deadline. Expect veterans Hal Gill and Travis Moen to be making an exit as well. Kostitsyn thrives playing on a line with skilled players as we saw in his rookie season when he played with Alexei Kovalev, where he tallied a career best 26 goals. Wherever he ends up, expect that team to use him as a top-six forward.
Where he could end up: Teams that could be interested would be the Kings, Wild, Predators, and Panthers. Dallas or Phoenix could possibly show interest if they decide in the next two weeks to buy instead of sell.
Paul Gaustad – Buffalo Sabres – $2.3 million
The Buffalo Sabres aren’t exactly out of it yet but it would still take a huge run to leapfrog the five teams in front of them and make up 10+ points in their final 29 games.
After being one of the largest spenders this off-season, expect the Sabres to shed some costs down the stretch. Paul Gaustad has value for teams looking to increase their toughness and pick up a good penalty killing winger.
Other Sabres that could leave Buffalo include Derek Roy and Brad Boyes, who both earn four million per season. Boyes is a UFA, while Roy has one more year left on his contract.
Where he could end up: The Detroit Red Wings could be looking to bolster their toughness and their penalty kill as well. They are currently 25th in the NHL in killing penalties. Detroit is chalked full of young talent and have some room to manoeuvre under the cap, so they wouldn’t have to give up any of their current starters to acquire a player like Gaustad.
Bryan Allen – Carolina Hurricanes – $2.9 million
Another Hurricane that will be a UFA at season’s end, Allen could provide teams with veteran depth on the blue line. Don’t expect Allen to put up a lot of offense, but he could be a good fourth or fifth defenseman on most NHL teams.
Where he could end up: The Blues will be looking for a veteran defenseman to add depth to their squad.The Red Wings and the Rangers could also be interested parties and are in prime position to make a run at the Cup.
Evgeni Nabokov – New York Islanders – $0.57 million
The Islanders are most certainly a team destined to sell off some assets come deadline time. Although Nabokov isn’t making too much coin this year, he’s unrestricted at the end of the season and is highly unlikely to re-sign with the Islanders, who claimed him off re-entry waivers last season.
He’s the most affordable goalie option for any team, especially given his solid play of late where he allowed only eight goals in his last five games while posting a .952 save percentage and a shutout, earning him three wins. Expect the Isles to shop Nabokov for a prospect or draft pick.
Where he could end up: Interest likely will come from Tampa Bay (ranked last in goals against), Chicago, Phoenix, Florida, or just about any team that is looking for a veteran goalie to provide depth in a backup role.