Kukla's Korner

A Week to the Deadline: What Will Southeast Clubs Do?

NHL trade deadline fun is only a week away and the five Southeast Division teams have either joined the party already or will be late arrivals, taking part in the festivities before “last call” at 3:00 PM Eastern next Monday afternoon. None, I suspect, will sit idly by without at least some effort to tinker with their roster (further than they have already, in some cases) either for a playoff push or some more long-term planning.

With a week to go, today we’ll have a look around the division to try and gauge what each Southeast club might do, with an eye on where they sit in the standings currently, what they’ve done already and names that have been bantered about here and there.

Atlanta Thrashers
10th in the East with 22 games to play
Four points out of eighth
2-7-1 in their last ten
In an effort to jolt his struggling club, Atlanta GM Rick Dudley partnered up with trade-happy Boston last week, sending Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik to the Bruins for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. Atlanta gets younger in the Wheeler-for-Peverley end of the deal and adding the serviceable Stuart for Valabik, whose days have long been numbered with the Thrashers, is a win as well. What Atlanta needs most is some added scoring help up front but this team might not be in position to pay any considerable price for as much. They shouldn’t exactly be considered contenders to make a deep playoff push and have the cards stacked against them already to even qualify for the NHL’s second season. But they do have the makings of a nice nucleus in place and might be better served re-tooling for next year and beyond by moving some spare parts. The names of Niclas Bergfors and Nik Antropov continually come up in the rumor mill, though a big contract for the latter might stand in the way of getting any significant return there. Zach Bogosian’s name, somewhat surprisingly, has also been mentioned more than a time or two, though Dudley would surely have to be wowed to move 2008’s third overall selection. But rule it out? No. You can’t because Atlanta hasn’t. They may as well see what’s out there. Beyond that, Johnny Oduya would make for a nice addition to a playoff squad and what about Brent Sopel? I haven’t seen his name listed much as potential trade fodder but he’s an experienced d-man on an expiring contract and Stuart’s arrival gives Atlanta eight defenseman on the roster, though Freddy Meyer hasn’t played since losing consciousness against Calgary early this month.

Carolina Hurricanes
8th in the East with 22 games to play
Four points up on ninth place Buffalo
3-5-2 in their last ten
In two separate deals with San Jose last week, the ‘Canes moved Ian White and future considerations to the Sharks for Derek Joslin and a second round pick, saving some cash in the process and making White’s impending unrestricted free agency someone else’s problem. Still, one of the issues in Carolina (especially as a playoff-bound team, if today’s standings hold true) is that the Hurricanes could actually use an upgrade on defense (not sure that happened with White-for-Joslin). With that in mind, decisions made between now and next Monday won’t be as easy as starting with unloading Joni Pitkanen, another blueliner about to go UFA that teams will surely check in on, and going from there. Instead, would GM Jim Rutherford look to use an expiring forward contract as bait for some help on defense? Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose and Sergei Samsonov would all fit that bill and probably draw some interest and the Hurricanes could conceivably replace one lost in a deal with a younger player in the system or an additional asset brought back through some other move but, if you believe your club’s headed to the dance, you don’t exactly want to go plucking off key parts – an interesting spot for Rutherford and an interesting team to watch in the next week.

Florida Panthers
11th in the East with 24 games to play
Seven points out of eighth
3-5-2 in their last ten
A few weeks removed from shipping Michael Frolik and Alexander Salak to the Chicago Blackhawks for Jack Skille, AHLer Hugh Jessiman and junior forward David Pacan, the Florida Panthers are in prime position to play a major role at the deadline, with a combination of what looks to be another non-playoff year and some desirable hired guns at the ready. Now then, to give a little credit first, the Panthers have been a lot better than I’d expected this season. Kudos to a hard-working bunch and an early congrats on a promising rebuild. But with a hoard of UFA contracts to potentially unload, several of which will surely draw a reasonable amount of attention, GM Dale Tallon has the opportunity to speed the process along significantly. Of course, defenseman Bryan McCabe and goaltender Tomas Vokoun top the list. And of course, each carries a decent amount of stroke, armed with a no-movement clause but, with several teams getting after blueline help far ahead of the deadline, someone looking to keep up should be willing to meet Florida’s asking price on McCabe (the New York Rangers have been mentioned often). As for Vokoun, who needs a goalie? Well, one team or another (or more) will probably decide they could be in better shape in the crease (even after they’ve sworn otherwise, perhaps?) It’s hard to see a more effective netminder being dealt at this year’s deadline than Vokoun. Peddling both McCabe and Vokoun should net Tallon a fine return. In addition, Marty Reasoner should be in play and could help a playoff club. Cory Stillman and Radek Dvorak too. Stephen Weiss, whose contract runs through 2012-13, has been talked about a lot recently as well and could nab the Panthers another solid prospect or pick, or a combination thereof.

Tampa Bay Lightning
2nd in the East with 23 games to play
Eight points out of first, three up on Washington for Southeast lead
5-3-2 in their last ten
General manager Steve Yzerman probably made his slickest move back on January 1st, acquiring goalie Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders for defense prospect Ty Wishart, addressing a longstanding need for stability in goal for a club far ahead of where many thought they would be in year one under he and head coach Guy Boucher. On Friday, Yzerman jumped into the early market for defensemen, trading for St. Louis’ Eric Brewer in exchange for a third round pick and 2010 draftee Brock Beukeboom. Not much more is expected for the Bolts, though the addition of some veteran forward depth could make sense, with Ryan Malone out for an extended period of time with an abdominal injury. Even so, it would be hard to pull any of the Lightning’s current third and fourth line role players from the lineup, as they’ve been remarkably effective all season. As a safeguard to injury, however, an experienced grinder or two would make some sense. The team would probably like to move goaltender Mike Smith, sent to AHL Norfolk soon after Roloson’s arrival, but might find it difficult to find a taker. With Brewer on board, Tampa Bay has eight healthy NHL defensemen, though Boucher consistently goes with seven in the lineup, meaning there isn’t necessarily a surplus there.

Washington Capitals
5th in the East with 22 games to play
Five points out of fourth, three behind Tampa in the Southeast
4-5-1 in their last ten
The Capitals brought in veteran defenseman Scott Hannan early in the year from Colorado, with Tomas Fleischmann headed the other way but have done little else, transaction-wise, to this point this season. They might be wise to change course a bit before the deadline, with a roster seemingly screaming for some sort of shakeup for some time now. Still, Washington has managed to remain within striking distance of division rival Tampa Bay, three points in back of the Lightning presently with one more head-to-head showdown in exactly two weeks. The Caps are said to be seeking a second line centerman and, perhaps a defenseman with names like New Jersey’s Jason Arnott, Columbus’ Derick Brassard and Antoine Vermette and even Weiss out of Florida speculated upon in various media outlets, with regard to the forward need. On defense, while the likes of Ottawa’s Chris Phillips and Phoenix’s Ed Jovanovski had each been mentioned previously as possible Washington targets, the former has indicated a desire to remain a Senator (and wields the NTC that might help make that wish come true, if he so truly wishes) and the latter suffered a broken orbital bone recently, effectively crossing each off the rumor list. GM George McPhee will surely be looking and hoping that before the playoffs, whether he brings in any outside help or not, his Capitals recapture some of the trademark swagger that they seem to have very little of this year.

Very general predictions: Atlanta resists the temptation to do something major, selling off a spare part here and there and building for next year, Carolina makes their defense upgrade, moving a marginal prospect in doing so, Florida sells as much as possible (and makes the playoffs as early as next year), Tampa Bay does very little moving forward, happy with the moves they’ve made thus far and Washington goes far bigger than most of us expect them to, finally shaking up that room that and awakening a few of its stars.

(Or the exact opposite…)

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Filed in: Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink


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