Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Penguins have had a disappointing season, but the biggest moves might have to wait for the off-season. In Carolina, though, the Hurricanes will likely decide by the trade deadline their plans for Eric Staal and Cam Ward. The Rangers, too, will have decisions to make by deadline day.
The struggling Pittsburgh Penguins could be worth watching as the Feb. 29th trade deadline approaches. Currently sitting outside of playoff contention, management could attempt to swing a deal to bolster their chances.
Such a move, however, won't improve their Stanley Cup aspirations. Indeed, their window of opportunity to win a championship with their current core of talent has closed. Sliding further out of playoff contention will increase calls for a roster rebuild, perhaps by shopping superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, however, doubts either guy will be moved. He points out the club is currently up for sale, and dealing away Crosby or Malkin could affect its value. Friedman also believes it's up to ownership, not management, to make that decision.
Most importantly, there's the respective no-movement clauses of both players. If they're unwilling to waive them, there's no deal to be made.
If the Penguins decide to get started on a rebuild by the trade deadline, they'll likely start by shipping out pending UFAs like defenseman Ben Lovejoy and forwards David Perron and Matt Cullen. Bigger moves could take place in the off-season.
HURRICANES STILL DECIDING ON WARD, STAAL
With the calendar flipped to 2016, Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis must soon reach a decision regarding pending UFAs Eric Staal and Cam Ward. If he decides they don't have a part in the club's long-term future, both could hit the trade block leading up to the trade deadline.
Of the pair, the 31-year-old Staal has the most trade value. Despite the obvious decline in his production, some observers believe he could regain his offensive mojo on a deeper club.
Having helped the Hurricanes win a Stanley Cup, Staal will attract considerable interest from playoff hopefuls. Despite his no-trade clause, Staal indicated in late-November he won't stand in management's way if they no longer want him.
The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson wonders if the Anaheim Ducks could make a pitch for Staal, placing him on left wing alongside center Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. On paper, that's a dynamite first line. Like Staal, Getzlaf and Perry have struggled offensively this season. Putting them together could snap them out of their collective scoring slumps, providing the Ducks with a much-needed offensive boost.
However, the Ducks are currently mired near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Despite have considerable cap room, they're under a self-imposed ceiling. That could make it difficult to pick up the remainder of Staal's expensive cap hit.
If they're to make a move to bolster their scoring, it'll have to be done soon. Should they fail to gain ground in the standings, waiting until the trade deadline approaches could be too late to save their season.
BIG DECISIONS COMING FOR RANGERS
The New York Rangers are another struggling club that could soon face some tough decisions leading up to the trade deadline. Though still holding a playoff berth, their recent slump (winners of only three of their last 10 games entering January) has some observers pondering what moves first-year GM Jeff Gorten could make to improve his club.
Defenseman Keith Yandle's future is the main concern. A UFA in July, it's unlikely the Rangers can afford to re-sign him. Should the Blueshirts slide down the standings, Gorten could use the 29-year-old blueliner as a trade chip.
Newday's Steve Zipay wonders if a package of Yandle, a draft pick and a prospect might pry a top-six forward from a Central Divison team, suggesting the Winnipeg Jets or Colorado Avalanche as possibilities.
The Jets, however, have plenty of blueline depth, while the Avs won't give up assets for a defenseman they could lose to free agency in July. Both clubs also have key players of their own to re-sign.
If the Rangers fall out of playoff contention, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman wonders what draft picks Yandle or center Dominic Moore might fetch. If they want to go “really big,” he suggests testing winger Rick Nash's trade value, though he has a no-trade clause.
For now, expect Gorten to remain patient. Despite the Blueshirts' struggles, they're in no immediate danger of dropping out of playoff contention. However, if their slump persists throughout January, Gorten could be forced to seek reinforcements.
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.