With the Feb. 27 trade deadline less than a month away, the rumor mill will now roll into overdrive. Enjoy!
For my part, I offer you a list of 10 players (with expiring contracts) that figure to hear their names mentioned in a lot of deadline chatter during the next few weeks.
Trade talk aside, I figure each of these guys will be seeking out a good travel agent in the very near future.
Chris Campoli, D, Canadiens
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 13 | +/-: -3
It's been a very bumpy first half of the season in Montreal, highlighted by a coaching change and the trade of an unhappy top player in Michael Cammalleri
Currently nine points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, the Habs could go into seller mode if they don't make any progress in the standings by the time the deadline approaches.
A healthy scratch in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the visiting Sabres, Campoli figures to be among the first to get a ticket out of Montreal.
Signed late in training camp, Campoli has been hampered by injuries that have limited him to just 13 games. In that time, he has just a goal and an assist, averaging 16:15 minutes per game. The 27-year-old is viewed a second-tier puck-mover.
He'd bring with him the remains of his $1.75M salary/pro-rated cap hit.
Paul Gaustad, C, Sabres
After six-plus seasons in Buffalo, Gaustad appears on the way out of town. The four-year deal that he signed prior to the 2008-09 season is set to expire in the summer and the club has no plan to re-sign him at his current price tag ($2.3M cap hit/$2.5 million salary).
A playoff contender seeking help in the face-off circle might have interest. After all, Gaustad owns a 55.7 win percentage. After that, he provides depth, experience and energy, but little offense, scoring just 12 goals in each of his previous three seasons.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound pivot from Fargo, ND, will turn 30 on Friday.
Hal Gill, Canadiens
A veteran shutdown defensman like Gill certainly could be a valuable commodity come deadline day. Most GMs remember his defensive performances for both the Cup-winning Penguins and the Canadiens in recent years.
In 45 games, the 36-year-old Massachusetts native is a minus-11, but I don't think that's indicative of what he might be able to contribute in the right situation. The 6-7, 250-pounder possesses a wing span that makes him particularly tough to deal with in the defensive zone.
Interested teams need only pick up the remainder of his $2.25M salary and pro-rated cap hit.
Josh Harding, Wild
Goalie - MIN
GAA: 2.55 | SVP: 0.920
Any team seeking a goaltending upgrade should contact Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who'll likely be seeking to peddle his talented, but injury-prone, 27-year-old stopper.
Fletcher probably would consider dealing top goaltender Nicklas Backstrom
before Harding, but his $6 million salary through the end of next season makes him dramatically less appealing to other GMs.
That makes Harding, who can test the free-agent market in July, as the masked man most likely to leave Minny. If he finds a taker for Harding (hello, Tampa!), Fletcher can promote Matt Hackett
from the club's minor-league affiliate in Houston to fill the No. 2 role.
In 22 appearances, Harding is 9-7-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and a shutout. He would carry the remains of a very affordable $750,000 salary/cap hit to a new city.
Ales Hemsky, Oilers
A skilled, playmaking winger, the 28-year-old Czech has been something of an enigma to Oilers fans since arriving in Edmonton in 2002. They've long been bothered by Hemsky's different injury issues and his tendency to think pass before shot in most circumstances.
Despite those worries, there will be several teams interested in adding the first-round pick (No. 13, 2001), depending on what Edmonton is seeking in return. Any suitor would be responsible for the remainder of his $5 million salary (and pro-rated $4.1 million cap hit).
In 37 games, averaging 17:18 minutes per tilt, Hemsky has four goals and 16 assists for 20 points, playing to a minus-9 rating.
Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders
Goalie - NYI
GAA: 2.38 | SVP: 0.919
The long-time Sharks netminder has enjoyed a bit of a re-birth on Long Island. In 24 appearances, the 36-year-old Nabokov is 10-12 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage behind a suspect defensive team.
In fact, he has played so well that the Islanders just might be able to get a second-round pick or a decent prospect under the right circumstances -- a trading partner in real need of an experienced goaltender.
Nabokov is extremely affordable. He carries the remains of $570,000 salary/pro-rated cap hit. Would the Flyers want a third Russian-born goaltender? While that's a serious long shot, there are a couple of other teams that could use the crease upgrade.
Vinny Prospal, Blue Jackets
Columbus GM Scott Howson will be looking to clear his shelves before the deadline. I figure there might be an offensively challenged team or three that could use a veteran point producer like Prospal, who currently stands as the Jackets' second-leading scorer with 30 points (nine goals) in 50 games.
An interested club won't have to take on too much salary, just the remainder of his $1.75 million salary and pro-rated $2.5 million cap hit. A new team could be responsible for some additional bonus money (no more than $750,000) per his “over-35” deal he signed with the Blue Jackets. The Czech-born Prospal will turn 37 on Feb. 17.
Tuomo Ruutu, Hurricanes
In recent years, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has found ways to keep desirable players in Raleigh. Earlier in the week, for example, the savvy manager worked out a new four-year deal with defenseman Tim Gleason
, who many figured would be moved before the deadline.
Might he be able to do the same with Ruutu?
Well, if he can't, Rutherford will move him before the deadline, rather than risk losing him as a free agent in the summer.
In 52 games, the gritty Finnish-born forward has 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points and a respectable minus-3 rating, averaging just short of 17 minutes per contest.
The former Blackhawks draft pick (who might fit nicely back in Chicago) is due to remainder of his $4.4 million salary, but he carries a lesser cap hit of a pro-rated $3.8 million. He'll turn 29 on Feb. 16.
Andy Sutton, Oilers
A big, tough veteran defenseman could be on the wish list of many teams come deadline day. The 6-6, 245-pound Sutton, who'll turn 37 on March 10, definitely fits that description.
He will, however, have to stay on the right side of the League's law. Sutton has already missed 13 games due to suspension this season.
In the 30 games in which he has played, he has three goals and four assists for seven points, while being among the very few Oilers to play to a plus-rating (plus-1).
He carries the remainder of his $2.25 million salary and a pro-rated $2.125 million cap hit.
Ryan Smyth, Oilers
Left Wing - EDM
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 34
SOG: 128 | +/-: 0
A Cup contender might be interested in acquiring "Captain Canada" as a rental player for a playoff run. Smyth, who'll turn 36 on Feb. 21, is a hardened competitor who has made a living scoring goals from the "dirty" area in front of the net.
In 50 games with the young Oilers, he has 16 goals and 18 assists for 34 points. Oilers head coach Tom Renney is working him nearly 20 minutes per game. And, Smyth is playing to an even rating, which is impressive on a team that has struggled defensively during the last 30 games.
Clearly, Smyth's preference would be to stay in Edmonton, but with his contract expiring June 30, he could always return to the Oilers as a free agent in the summer. An interested party would take on the remainder of his $4.5 million salary and a pro-rated $6.25 million cap hit.