The March 5 NHL trade deadline is just days away now and it seems like more big names keep popping up in rumors. That doesn't change the fact that doing deals under a tight cap is going to prove difficult for a lot of teams, but they always seem to find a way this time of year.
With the names being thrown around of late, the drama leading up to Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET deadline should be thick. The questions for this deadline are no different than any other. How much will teams be willing to pay for a rental? Can contending teams find that missing piece? Can a struggling team find help? Can a rebuilding team land a prized prospect or first-round pick?
There seems to be a consensus about who is on the move, but the big question is, to where? There are a lot of teams that could use a player here or there to plug a hole, as there always is, but the market for big-splash trades doesn't seem terribly urgent even as the deadline approaches.
Here are the 10 most intriguing names to watch as the deadline approaches.
1. Ryan Miller, G,
Cap hit: $6.2 million (expires in 2014)
It seems that Miller is going to be moved before the deadline, but the question is if the Sabres can get a decent enough return for the veteran netminder. It's not every day a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie ends up on the block, especially one that is having a rather terrific season despite being on a bad team. There doesn't appear to be a large market among contending teams for goaltending help, but St. Louis, Minnesota and Washington are potential landing spots for Miller. He seems more than willing to move to a contender. The Sabres have to get something tangible to put toward their rebuilding process, but Miller is likely a rental for whatever team he ends up with. It's going to be a challenging deal for new Sabres general manager Tim Murray, but it's a hugely important one and it seems like one way or another, it's going to go down.
2. Thomas Vanek, LW,
Cap hit: $7.1 million (expires in 2014)
Had the Islanders' season gone to plan, Vanek would be a key piece for a playoff contender and one that could be headed for a longer stay with the club. Instead, he now looks like another chip for the Isles to move to try and pick up the pieces of another lost season. Vanek should be garnering a lot of interest (and reportedly already has) among general managers as he is a proven scorer who already has 40 points in 45 games this season. The Islanders may have to eat some salary in the deal, but if they can get some high draft picks and/or a big-time prospect, GM Garth Snow has to do whatever he can to get something out of Vanek. For the best offensive player available, it shouldn't be too hard.
3. Ryan Kesler, C,
Cap hit: $5 million (expires in 2016)
When Kesler's name got thrown into the mix as a potential trade chip, it seemed to raise a lot of eyebrows. There has been dispute as to whether or not he actually requested a trade from the Canucks. Reports say he did, Kesler says he didn't. But it seems that he could be available either way. Vancouver could bring in quite a haul for a player of Kesler's caliber, even though he's not the Selke-level defender he once was. With 20 goals already this season, Kesler could be a solid addition for a team looking for a top-six center (which could be a lot of teams right now). His annual hit of $5 million with two more seasons on the deal means a contending team gets help now and has some stability going forward. Whether you believe the reports or Kesler, he does have a no-trade clause in his contract, so this could be a complicated endeavor. Also, it's the Canucks, so you never quite know what kind of conclusion this situation will reach.
4. Matt Moulson, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Cap hit: $3.13 million (expires in 2014)
Though Moulson's numbers have predictably dipped since his move from the Islanders to the Sabres, his career track record as a goal scorer should have teams putting forth strong offers to acquire him as a rental. The Sabres probably would love to make Moulson part of their rebuilding process, but at 30, it would seem his value is higher as a trade chip. Moulson had an injury just before the Olympic break, but came back strong and has a point in each of the Sabres' first two games back since the break. The upside for teams looking to acquire Moulson -- with a fairly cap-friendly, expiring deal and names like Vanek and Kesler potentially softening the market for Moulson -- is pretty high. The Sabres are going to have to be firm on any offer, but it seems like it makes the most sense to get whatever they can from a team in dire need of scoring help.
5. Ryan Callahan, RW,
Cap hit: $4.275 million (expires in 2014)
The Rangers are in a bit of an uncomfortable position with their captain. With reportedly exorbitant contract extension demands from Callahan, it seems all the more likely he gets moved. Only problem is that the Rangers are very much in the thick of the playoff hunt and a player like Callahan makes them a better team going forward. GM Glen Sather doesn't seem to have the appetite for losing Callahan to free agency for nothing, however. The likelihood of Callahan moving seems awfully high and there's no doubt he would help a contending team. Though his offensive numbers are underwhelming, he brings a veteran presence, strong penalty killing and some toughness to a lineup without breaking the bank.
6. Dan Girardi, D, New York Rangers
Cap hit: $3.325 million (expires in 2014)
What's that old deadline cliché? It's hard to find good defense, right? Girardi and the Rangers appear to be at an impasse in extension talks and you would have to believe there would be a long line for a physical, veteran defenseman who can shore up a lot of blue lines. Like Callahan, the Rangers would be taking a huge risk by dealing a key player in the midst of a playoff run. But the good news for New York is the market should be pretty competitive for these two players.
7. Christian Ehrhoff, D, Buffalo Sabres
Cap hit: $4 million (expires in 2021)
A marginal bright side for the Sabres' struggles this year is that it shouldn't be terribly hard to ask players to wave their no-trade clauses. Ehrhoff reportedly has submitted a list of teams he won't accept a trade to. So the Sabres really could be going aggressive and shedding a defenseman with a light cap hit, but a painfully long contract for a player at his age. Some teams may see the opportunity to add a quality defenseman for multiple years as a good thing as the free-agent D market is going to be rather shallow in the offseason. There aren't a lot of two-way defensemen out there of Ehrhoff's caliber and he could easily jump to a team that needs to acquire some blue-line depth and special teams help. GMs probably will tread lightly due to the term, but Ehrhoff is an interesting name hitting the rumor mill late this week.
Here are a few other players to keep a close eye on as the trade deadline approaches:
Martin St. Louis, RW, Lightning: When it came out that St. Louis requested a trade before the Olympics and still wants one, it was a rather shocking revelation. St. Louis could be a game-changing player on the trade market. I'm not convinced he'll be moved though. The Lightning are in playoff position right now and St. Louis is obviously a big reason for it. This will be worth watching, but it could end up being anti-climactic.
Sam Gagner, C, Oilers: It seems like Sam Gagner always comes up in trade rumors and he never moves, but the Oilers are in need of making some changes and Gagner should be viewed as a valuable chip by teams looking for center depth. His offensive numbers have underwhelmed, but a new team could help change that.
Chris Stewart, RW, Blues: If the Blues are going to hop into the trade market and try to add those last few pieces to a Cup-contending team, Stewart seems like an expendable but valuable piece to move in any deal. He has a cap-friendly deal with a year remaining and a track record of being able to score. He's also just 26 years old.