With less than three weeks until the March 9 trade deadline, there's already a pretty clear line separating the buyers (postseason contenders looking to acquire a missing ingredient) and the sellers (non-playoff teams trying to dump salary).
By my very unofficial count, there currently are 11 sellers -- not including the Minnesota Wild, who stand on very thin ice, especially considering a schedule that will have them on the road for 11 of 14 games between Feb. 26 and March 25.
If the sellers are smart, they'll have their pro and amateur scouts working overtime to ensure complete and up-to-the-minute knowledge of every team's organizational roster -- from the NHL and minor leagues, over to Europe and down to the junior and college ranks. After all, with the looming expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement and the league's uncertain financial future, it will be a buyer's market -- and they won't be offering blue chips in return. Instead, they'll be offering veterans that don't fit, young pros who aren't quite ready, minor league prospects and/or draft picks.
A shrewd seller wants to maximize his return -- even if it's only draft picks -- while getting out from under a contract or moving a player who can leave via unrestricted free agency during the summer.
Here's a look at my sellers and what they have to offer.
Last spring, GM Bryan Murray was buyer, picking up Steve Thomas and Rob Niedermayer at the deadline. Both players were a big help during the Ducks' surprising run to the Stanley Cup final. A year later, Murray finds himself on the other end of the equation. He will get some calls about the availability of forwards Petr Sykora and Steve Rucchin, as well as defenseman Keith Carney. It seems that it would take a pretty serious offer to get any of those three players. "I don't think I'll trade the core players we have," Murray said. "But if somebody offers me two real good prospects, I'll listen."
GM Don Waddell has publicly stated that he doesn't plan to sell off any of his players. "At this point, we're just going to try to win as many games as we can," Waddell said. "I think it's important for the franchise." Of course, if someone comes along with a great offer for a player like winger Shawn McEachern, Waddell might have to consider it. He would move backup goalie Byron Dafoe, if there were any interest. Dafoe doesn't figure in the club's future plans.
Two years removed from their magical playoff spring of 2002, GM Jim Rutherford is shopping a bunch of players. He'd love to move center Rod Brind'Amour, who's scheduled to earn at least $14M during the next three seasons. Unfortunately, with that contract, Brind'Amour is virtually untradeable. Defenseman Bret Hedican is another player who will be tough to move because of his long-term deal. Rutherford should have an easier time dealing veteran defensemen Bob Boughner, Sean Hill and/or Glen Wesley. If a buyer is desperate for a backup goalie, Arturs Irbe has recently returned from ECHL exile. Irbe is due $2.5M in the 2004-05 season (if there is one). At this point, Rutherford says he's not trading captain Ron Francis, and he'd have to get a serious offer to move right winger/center Jeff O'Neill.
With the exception of rookie Tuomo Ruutu, the Hawks will listen to offers for any of their players. They started their clearance sale by shipping center Steve Sullivan to the Predators for a pair of second-round draft picks (one in each of the next two drafts), then followed it up by trading center Alexei Zhamnov and a draft pick to the Flyers for defenseman Jim Vandermeer, a prospect and a pick. Former Avs pest Ville Nieminen and defenders Bryan Berard, Stephane Robidas and oft-injured Alexander Karpovtsev might attract some interest around the league.
Columbus Blue Jackets
GM Doug MacLean did a nice job moving Darryl Sydor -- and his big-ticket contract -- to the Lightning on Jan. 27. MacLean claims he won't be making many waves at the deadline, but it would make sense for him to try to move veteran defensemen Scott Lachance and/or Luke Richardson. Both players are under contract through the 2005-06 season. However, Lachance will earn $2M per season, while Richardson will pocket $2.75M each year, making it difficult to move either. MacLean should be listening to offers -- if there are any -- for forwards Geoff Sanderson and Andrew Cassels, who has been out since early January with a broken foot. Both Sanderson and Cassels also have two years remaining on their contracts.
Last spring, GM Kevin Lowe sent defenseman Janne Niinimaa and forward Anson Carter packing in separate deals. Who goes this year? Rumors suggest that Lowe has been listening to offers for left winger Ryan Smyth, but you can't always believe what you hear. Veterans Adam Oates and Igor Ulanov might attract some interest. Captain Jason Smith would be an interesting chip for Lowe. If another club made the right offer, he might be willing to move Smith.
If nothing else, GM Rick Dudley isn't afraid to shake up his roster. He does have five untouchables (Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester, Branislav Mezei and Roberto Luongo). After that, Dudley will listen to offers for anyone else on his roster, including Olli Jokinen, Viktor Kozlov and Valeri Bure, who is currently sidelined by a groin strain. Dudley will probably get a few calls about Lyle Odelein, though Dudley will be in a better position to move the veteran defenseman when some of his injured blueliners return to the lineup.
GM/head coach Glen Sather could begin the fire sale at any time. The Rangers, despite all the big names and big money, are going to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season. The most interesting name on their list is Brian Leetch, who has one more year on his contract ($6.4M), which does not include a no-trade clause. Leetch is a career Ranger who'd like to be part of a turnaround in the Big Apple, but Sather should get some interesting calls about the future Hall of Famer, who'd be a great fit alongside his former partner Sergei Zubov in Dallas. Right winger Alexei Kovalev, suffering through an off year, should garner some attention and could benefit from a change of scenery. D-men Tom Poti and Boris Mironov, as well as role-playing forwards Chris Simon and Matthew Barnaby, could help a playoff contender, and there are a few clubs that have expressed an interest in Mark Messier. But does Messier have an interest in leaving New York to make his first playoff appearance since 1997? It would certainly be nice to see No. 11 take one last turn in the postseason.
Now that he's moved goalie Sean Burke, GM Mike Barnett can move onto the next deal. He'd probably be willing to part with forwards Brian Savage, Chris Gratton or Mike Sillinger. Believe it or not, the Flyers might have an interest in re-acquiring Gratton because of recent injuries to centers Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau. At best, Gratton is a No. 3 center who is more effective in the Eastern Conference because of his size. Sillinger could fit on a team looking for some help in the faceoff circle.
Well, there's not much left in Steeltown. A club seeking some power play help might call about D-man Dick Tarnstrom. After that, veteran forwards Mike Eastwood and Kelly Buchberger could provide depth in different surroundings.
After moving Jaromir Jagr to the Rangers in a financially-driven deal on Jan. 23, GM George McPhee said any further dealing will be motivated by a desire to improve the club for the future. McPhee followed up the Jagr deal by trading the franchise's all-time leading scorer, Peter Bondra, to the Senators. But how much Brooks Laich and the 2005 second-round pick will help the team won't be known for a few seasons. Sergei Gonchar and Olaf Kolzig are next on the list of available veterans. Because of the premium on stud defenseman, Gonchar could be the club's most value asset. Gonchar, who is earning $3.65M in the final year of his deal, is healthy after missing three weeks with a shoulder injury. Any club acquiring him would have to qualify him to keep his rights. Also, Gonchar could opt for arbitration. Kolzig's deal, which will pay him $12.75M over the next two seasons, makes him the toughest to move. McPhee also might get calls concerning high-scoring center Robert Lang, as well as forwards Dainius Zubrus, Carter, Jeff Halpern and Mike Grier.