NHL fans living in North America can rejoice. No longer will the alarm go off as early as 4am to watch a hockey game. The best players in the world have returned to their teams and now the run begins to the best yearly sports tournament, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There are five obvious sellers in the league. Everyone knows Buffalo wants to move veterans like Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. Joining them in the Eastern Conference will be Florida, who has a general manager on the hot seat. Newly guaranteed to the post-Olympic sellers list are the Islanders whose hope to get back in the race died with Jonathan Tavares’ MCL injury. Let’s see if Thomas Vanek comes to games with a suitcase already in hand each night.
The For Sale signs hanging in the Western Conference are in Alberta with the Oilers and Flames. Each team is in the middle of a rebuild, and you wonder how many veterans on those rosters are in play.
The next group that interests many the most are the so called fringe teams. These are teams within striking distance of a playoff spot, but can also be swayed to sell out some parts to get better in the near future.
The most intriguing team to me in this group is Nashville. The Predators come back only four points out of the final playoff spot, but having to leapfrog four teams. Nashville is truly at a crossroads in their franchise. They have made the playoffs in seven of the last nine seasons, but only have won two playoff series in that time. Barry Trotz still remains the only head coach the team has had since they entered the league in 1998 and rumors are slowly starting to bubble up that his job may be in jeopardy short of a playoff run this season.
When looking at the Predators roster you could make a case for them to be buyers and go for a playoff spot this season or to sell off some parts to have a quicker rebuild as soon as next season. Making it even tougher is the fact they play not just in the Western Conference but in the Central Division, the toughest in the league.
If they are going to sell, one would think David Legwand and Michael Del Zotto would be high on the list of wanted commodities. With both players becoming free agents after the season, their potential new team would not be saddled with long-term contracts.
If the Predators are buyers what do they trade for? The team has issues scoring, ranking 23rd in the league, and also can’t keep the puck out of their net, ranking 25th with a -34 goal differential. A big reason for their defensive woes lies on the hip of Pekka Rinne who hasn’t played since October. The Finnish net minder has been sent to the AHL for conditioning, but how much do they trust he will stay healthy. As crazy as it sounds Nashville could be in the Miller sweepstakes if they truly feel a goalie will get them over the hump. Otherwise, expect Miller to end up in Minnesota or St. Louis for the balance of the season.
Looking out east I expect Ottawa to be very active in the buy motion. It seems they need someone with veteran ability on their defensive core. Giving up 191 goals is not where anyone expected the Senators to be sitting at this point.
Anything can happen in the world of sports, but Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, Anaheim and San Jose are the only teams that can start thinking of fine tuning their team to improve playoff position. It would take huge losing streaks to not see these teams battling in the playoffs. As always these are the teams that if they make any trades they will most likely be classified as “depth moves.”
Using my fingers and toes that leaves 17 teams that haven’t even been addressed. There will be plenty of phones in use over the next week and every fan will be glued to media outlets listening for the next move. Each year we get one surprise trade and this year will surely be no different.
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