Teams are going to be making some very important decisions in the next couple of weeks, and the current roster will obviously have an impact on what areas clubs look to address via trades.
The wrinkle can often be the return of injured players. There are lots of injured players out there right now, and the expected return date for some of them could have a big impact on certain teams and their activities this month. With that in mind, here's a look at a couple of groups of injured players.
The first group is guys who have been out for most or all of the season but have returned recently or expected back soon. These guys will be treated "like a trade acquisition" by some team officials/media members. The second group is guys who have been impact players this year but are hurt now.
GROUP I: "LIKE MAKING A TRADE"
*Vinny Prospal, New York Rangers
Prospal missed the first 53 games of the season because of a knee injury, but returned Feb. 3. The Rangers need a veteran defenseman, but how the soon-to-be 36-year-old responds to coming off major knee surgery could determine if GM Glen Sather is in the market for another forward as well. The Rangers have overcome a lot of injuries up front, but Prospal was a key guy for them last year and if he's productive that would be a huge boost to their chances of making a deep playoff run.
*Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks
Salo has yet to play this season because of a torn Achilles' tendon, but he is very close to being back. Salo is expected to be in the lineup Saturday, and the Canucks' defense corps can certainly use him. Alex Edler and Keith Ballard are injured and Dan Hamhuis was smarting after a hit from Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf last night. When (if) they all get healthy, the Canucks are going to face a cap crunch, but for now Salo could be the addition the team needs on defense.
*Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche
OK, Forsberg hasn't been a member of Colorado's organization, but his foot earns him a spot on this list because he'd have been playing in the NHL if not for the chronic problem. The Avalanche have slumped to 14th in the West, so maybe Forsberg's return will spark the club back into playoff contention. If the team keeps losing and he plays well, maybe Forsberg would be willing to move to a contender. There certainly will be a lot of eyes watching Forsberg when he returns in the coming days.
*Ray Emery, Anaheim Ducks
Emery is in the same group as Forsberg -- his hip has kept him out of the NHL but now he's healthy enough to try a comeback. He'll start the comeback in Syracuse with Anaheim's AHL affiliate, but he could end up as the No. 2 guy for the Ducks and is insurance for Jonas Hiller. That leaves one less team in the market for a goaltender, even if Anaheim wasn't going to be looking for a potential No. 1.
*Marek Zidlicky/Guillaume Latendresse, Minnesota Wild
These guys should be in Group II, but Wild GM Chuck Fletcher used the "like making a trade" phrase to describe their pending returns. Zidlicky has been out since December with a shoulder injury but has returned to practice. Lantendresse had sports hernia surgery in November and could be back in early March. Zidlicky would be a big boost and Latendresse would give the Wild more depth up front. Whether or not it keeps Fletcher from making a trade to improve the club remains to be seen.
GROUP II: IMPACT GUYS MISSING
*Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
His concussion is the most talked-about injury in the League. He said earlier today he expects to play again this season. The Penguins are already short one superstar center in Evgeni Malkin. If Crosby were to be shut down, would it be worth trying to replace both of them? If he is going to come back, expect GM Ray Shero to try and replace Malkin with a forward or two and keep the Penguins among the top Cup contenders.
*Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta Thrashers
The Thrashers are trying to hold onto a playoff spot in the East but doing so without their top defenseman (ice time) has been difficult. He's out with a broken finger, but he's close to returning after taking part in practice Wednesday. GM Rick Dudley has not been shy about his desire to make a trade. Getting a healthy Enstrom back might make it easier for him to focus on the team's problems up front.
*Brad Stuart, Detroit Red Wings
Stuart could be back by the end of the month from a broken jaw. Detroit just welcomed back Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom from injuries, and GM Ken Holland will have to decide if there is a cheap way to upgrade his team if he needs more depth on defense or if a goaltender with Chris Osgood out remains a priority.
*Tom Poti, Washington Capitals
Poti has had all kinds of problems staying healthy this season and has been limited to 21 games. He could be close to coming back from the latest lower-body ailment, but if GM George McPhee is worried about not being to keep Poti healthy (and if he doesn't spend all of his cap space on a center) it is possible the Capitals could look for a cheap veteran defenseman for insurance. Mike Green could play on Saturday, but if his head injury is worse than currently thought, then that could change things drastically in Washington.
*Mike Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are deeper up front this season than they were last year when Cammalleri carried the offense two a pair of playoff upsets. That said, he and Tomas Plekanec remain Montreal's top offensive players and the Canadiens will need him back in short order. Don't be surprised if Montreal is linked to a forward in the next couple weeks, even if adding a defenseman is probably the top priority.
*Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning
Malone has not scored at the rate expected of him this season, but he remains a key secondary guy behind the big guns in Tampa. The final diagnosis has not been delivered, but Erik Erlendsson reported he could miss 6-8 weeks with a torn abdominal muscle. Count the Lightning as another team that could be interested in adding a forward even with upgrading the defense as the biggest priority.