The NHL’s trade deadline is fast approaching, but a severe shortage of obvious sellers makes it hard to see whether it’ll be possible for Cup contenders to make necessary upgrades. In this lockout-shortened season, teams are bouncing in and out of playoff position on a daily basis; it’s telling that the Eastern Conference’s 14th-place team (Flyers, next-to-last) is only five points behind the eighth-place team (Carolina). And in the Western Conference, the last-place Colorado Avalanche are only six points behind the eighth-place San Jose Sharks. Betting on hockey has never been more challenging, with the shortened season and ever-increasing parity creating an environment where the results – whether for a single game or for the entire regular season – are completely unpredictable. Even the Chicago Blackhawks, who have lost only three of 30 regular season games, find themselves only three measly points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks in the race for the top spot in the West.
The primary architect of that Blackhawks team – Dale Tallon – is now running the show in Florida, where the last-place Panthers have won only nine of 31 games and are the NHL’s only obvious deadline sellers. This represents a seemingly terrific opportunity for Tallon to spike the Panthers’ rebuilding efforts, and with the new CBA allowing teams to trade cap dollars, Tallon is in a position to move older, high-priced veterans for an additional influx of youth. Unfortunately, it’s painfully obvious that Sunrise, Florida isn’t a magnet destination for elite free agents. Tallon has clearly had to egregiously overpay veterans to get them to sign, and consequently, whatever market advantage Tallon might have is completely mitigated by a tragic dearth of attractive chips to offer.
Here’s a look at some veteran Panthers and the likelihood that they might be dealt in advance of the deadline… as you might expect from their position in the standings, the pickings aren’t pretty.
Filip Kuba, Defenseman
At a relatively reasonable $4 million for this season and next, Kuba could be a nice addition as a third-pair veteran rearguard. He isn’t very far removed from a 2011-12 season in which he scored 30 points and posted a plus-26 rating for the Senators, and it stands to reason that Kuba should be amongst the most sought-after Panthers as the deadline approaches. In fact, excepting for the possibility of absorbing 50% of Campbell’s salary, Kuba is the Panther who’s likely to yield the biggest return for Tallon at the deadline. If Kuba isn’t moved for something of value in the coming days, Tallon will have missed out on an important opportunity.
Odds He’s Dealt – 2:1
Tomas Kopecky, Forward
The Panthers’ leading scorer, the 31-year-old Kopecky has scored 12 goals and 20 points in 31 games, and his minus-eight rating isn’t bad considering his supporting cast. Trading Kopecky will increase the likelihood that the Panthers pick first overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, and his $3 million salary shouldn’t be too much of an impediment to a deal (particularly if the Panthers take on some of the cap burden). The Bruins’ offense has struggled badly at times this season, and Kopecky could be the needed elixir for their secondary scoring woes.
Odds He’s Dealt – 3:1
Brian Campbell, Defenseman
Campbell is the prototypical puck-moving defenseman, capable of quarterbacking the power play and putting up big points from the blue line. Unfortunately, he’s also a defensive liability, posting a team-worst minus-18 rating that suggests he’s as much the Panthers’ problem as part of the solution. In the right situation, Campbell could reemerge as a valuable piece. But with over $7 million committed to the 32-year-old rearguard through the 2014-15 season, it’s unlikely that there will be many suitors unless the Panthers are willing to absorb the maximum 50% of Campbell’s deal. But if they were to do so, a contender would likely view Campbell in a far more favorable light, as perhaps the most valuable trade chip on the Panthers’ roster.
Odds He’s Dealt – 4:1
Tomas Fleischmann, Forward
Fleischmann’s a good second-tier scorer, with 19 points in 31 games, but his salary ($4.5 million/year through 2014-15) will be an impediment to a deal. He’s unlikely to be a critical building block for the Panthers in the future, making him a reasonably valuable trade chip if the Panthers are willing to absorb his salary.
Odds He’s Dealt – 5:1
Ed Jovanovski, Defenseman
At a cap hit of $4.125 million over the next two seasons, the Panthers’ captain is hardly a bargain. Unfortunately, his return to the ice from an injured knee on March 16th lasted fewer than two periods, and given that Jovanovski’s only managed one assist and a minus-four rating in the six games he’s played this season, the Panthers will need to take on most – if not all – of his salary if they’re to convince a contender to take a chance that “Jovo-Cop” could re-emerge as a difference-maker come playoff time.
Odds He’s Dealt – 20:1
José Théodore, Goaltender
Théodore tore his groin a few weeks ago, and where he might have offered a contender some stability as a solid back-up (only $1.5 million salary), his trade value has all but dissipated. For all intents and purposes, Théodore is now un-moveable, where he might’ve yielded a decent draft pick or prospect pre-injury.
Odds He’s Dealt – 50:1