Every year as the trade deadline approaches, the quest to bolster depth on defense begins.
Teams throughout the NHL seek to add defensemen as the postseason beckons, and more often than not the demand outweighs the supply. Veteran defensemen who can be counted on to eat minutes in high-leverage games are a precious commodity, so expect many stories about teams pursuing additions for their blueline corps in the coming weeks as the 2011 NHL trade deadline nears.
For each of the past two seasons, Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle's name has been at the forefront of trade deadline discussion. Kaberle has a no-trade clause as part of his contract, and he has been one of the biggest names reportedly available but not traded each year.
This is the final season of Kaberle's contract, and the speculation about where, if anywhere, he could end up has already begun.
"Obviously, I haven't heard anything about that yet," Kaberle told The National Post. "Every year it's the same. There's going to be a lot of talk towards the end ... I just want to focus on the game."
Kaberle has 2 goals and 31 points for the Maple Leafs this season. Toronto has $16.25 million in cap space on the books for defensemen next season, and Luke Schenn is a restricted free agent. Kaberle's deal is worth $4.25 million.
Toronto general manager Brian Burke has been very clear about his stance on no-trade clauses -- he won't go to a player and ask him to waive it. Whether Kaberle is willing to waive his or not has been a contentious storyline during the past two seasons.
"If something comes up, we can talk. ... That's what my agent is for," Kabrele told the Toronto Star.
Kaberle is probably the biggest name, but there could be several defensemen from the Northeast Division on the move this month. He might not be the only Toronto defenseman in play.
NHL analyst Bob McKenzie mentioned another Maple Leafs defenseman who could spark interest from other teams during his segment Tuesday on NHL Network.
"The Toronto Maple Leafs are not trying to get rid of Francois Beauchemin, but a defensive defenseman with his playoff pedigree is always in demand," McKenzie said. "He could move for the right price."
There could be a lot of phone calls to Ontario this month, and not just to Burke. The Ottawa Senators are three points behind the Leafs and in last place in the Northeast. General manager Bryan Murray may be willing to move some veterans to start remodeling his franchise.
One guy who is likely to draw interest if he's available is Chris Phillips. The No. 1 pick in the 1996 Entry Draft, Phillips has spent his entire career with the Senators but the soon to be 33-year-old defenseman is an unrestricted free agent at season's end.
He has only 3 assists and is a minus-25 this season, but his $3.5 million cap hit (his cap hit for another team would currently be $1.26 million and decreasing by the day) and resume should make him an option for teams looking for help.
"[Phillips] could be a key rental player and obtained for a draft pick," McKenzie said on NHL Network. "He has not played well this season, but a change of scenery could be just what's needed for a renaissance of sorts."
Another member of Ottawa's blue line that could garner interest is Filip Kuba, but he has an extra year left on his contract at $3.7 million. Other rentals McKenzie mentioned as potential trade targets included Calgary's Anton Babchuk and Steve Staios, Radek Martinek of the New York Islanders and Atlanta's Brent Sopel. Non-rentals mentioned included Atlanta's Ron Hainsey, Edmonton's Kurtis Foster and Calgary's Robyn Regehr.
Last season there were plenty of defensemen traded at the deadline, and the most popular form of compensation was a second-round pick. Andy Sutton, Denis Grebeshkov, Jordan Leopold, Niclas Wallin and Joe Corvo were all dealt for a second-rounder (the Washington Capitals also sent Brian Pothier and Oskar Osala to Carolina for Corvo).
A couple of Northeast teams could be on the other side of those talks looking to add defensemen this month. The Montreal Canadiens will be without Andrei Markov and Josh Georges for the rest of the season, and could acquire another defenseman in addition to James Wisniewski.
Division leader Boston could also be on the lookout for another defenseman. The Bruins are deep at forward and in goal, but an addition on the blue line could make them one of the top candidates to win the Stanley Cup.
"The Boston Bruins look like they are willing to part with depth defenseman Mark Stuart as they look for an upgrade at that position," McKenzie said.