The Chicago Blackhawks want to make one final, strong push with their current group, but GM Stan Bowman will need to fit any acquisitions under the cap. Meanwhile, the Flyers, Senators and Hurricanes could be the sellers to watch at the trade deadline.
The Chicago Blackhawks remain among this season's Stanley Cup contenders, but they face some difficult decisions regarding their salary-cap space for 2015-16. With nearly $65 million invested in 14 players and uncertainty over the projected cap ceiling, the Blackhawks face shedding salary in order to reach the 23-man roster limit.
Defensive depth has also become an issue this season for the Blackhawks. Though they possess the league's best penalty kill, they're 15th in shots-against per game. Sloppy defensive play has proven costly in several games, prompting speculation the Hawks could shop for a blueliner.
NHL.com's Dan Rosen believes GM Stan Bowman needs to add a fifth or sixth defenseman. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Blackhawks are among the teams interested in Carolina Hurricanes rearguard Andrej Sekera.
Concerns over the Blackhawks' limited cap space prompted some talk of moving Patrick Sharp or Bryan Bickell to shed salary while also adding blueline depth. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun dismisses that possibility and doubts Bowman will move any of his core players this season.
Bowman recognizes his team's defense needs a boost but also realizes this is the final opportunity for his current core to take a serious run at another Stanley Cup title. He won't move Sharp or Bickell now. The Blackhawks have over $1.2 million in cap space to add a third-pairing defenseman without having to move out a player.
FLYERS NOT MORTGAGING FUTURE AT DEADLINE
The Philadelphia Flyers' 5-1-4 record over their last 10 games has given life to their once-feeble playoff hopes. Though six points out of the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference, their recent improvement suggests they still have a shot.
It also has some observers wondering if GM Ron Hextall could become a buyer at the trade deadline to boost his club's playoff chances. Hextall dashed that notion, telling the South Jersey Courier-Post's Dave Isaac such a move will be too costly. He has no intention of sacrificing young talent for a quick fix.
The recent re-signing of blueliner Nick Schultz to a two-year, $4.5-million contract extension could result in one or two Flyers defensemen hitting the trade block before the deadline. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi suggests the Schultz signing increases the likelihood blueliners Braydon Coburn or Nick Grossmann will be moved.
Both have a season remaining on their respective contracts. Coburn's cap hit is $4.5 million and Grossman's is at $3.5 million. Given the uncertainty over the cap ceiling for 2015-16, Hextall could be forced to wait until the off-season to move either guy.
OTTAWA DEFENDERS ON TRADE MARKET
Playoff contenders seeking blueline depth should give the Ottawa Senators a call. The Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren observes their recent re-signing of Marc Methot give the Senators eight defensemen under contract for 2015-16. With their payroll pushing $60 million, they could move a rearguard by the trade deadline.
Warren suggests Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch as trade options. Cowen, 24, is signed through 2016-17 earning $3.1-million annually, while Wiercioch has a year remaining on his deal at a cap hit of $2 million.
The 6-foot-5, 228-pound Cowen hasn't blossomed into an imposing physical blueliner, but his size and youth could attract considerable interest. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch claims the Carolina Hurricanes could be a suitor for Wiercioch, whose contract and puck-moving ability could prove attractive in the trade market.
HURRICANES' SEKERA DRAWING MAJOR INTEREST
Speaking of the Hurricanes, they're reportedly getting inquiries regarding defenseman Andrej Sekera, who could be dealt by the March trade deadline.
The New York Post's Larry Brooks reports the New York Rangers join a long list of suitors for the 28-year-old Sekera. TSN's Darren Dreger believes the Los Angeles Kings could pursue the Hurricanes blueliner, while ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun speculates the Tampa Bay Lightning could have some interest. The Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings are linked to Sekera.
A sticking point, however, is the Hurricanes' asking price. ESPN.com's Craig Custance reports they're seeking a first-round pick for Sekera. He believes they'll have to include Jiri Tlusty or Jay McClement in the deal to land that return. Custance suggests a second-round pick and a prospect is what the Hurricane will eventually get.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.