The All-Star Game is this weekend and once that passes there won't be any major events between us and the trade deadline. We've already seen several trades of note and honestly I would be surprised if any transaction that happens at the deadline surpasses the Ryan Johansen-for-Seth Jones swap in terms of impact, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to see some more major moves. The question is who is on the block and answering that can be tricky, especially at this stage.
After all, in order to identify who is going to be shipped, we need to know who the sellers are and at this stage most teams still have at least an outside shot of making the playoffs. Carolina is a great example of one of those gray area teams as the Hurricanes weren't highly regarded going into the season, but they're just one point shy of a playoff spot going into the All-Star break. Are they likely to make the playoffs? No. That would likely involve surpassing at least one of the Capitals, Rangers, Islanders, or Penguins and now that Pittsburgh has moved past its early season struggles, I can't really say that Carolina is equipped to outperform any of those teams at this time. But the Hurricanes at least still have reason to be hopeful.
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If they managed to stick in the running, they might not be inclined to make significant moves at the deadline. After all, this is a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2009, so doing anything that would rob them of a chance to advance at this stage would be a tough pill the swallow. But if they struggle over the next few weeks, suddenly Eric Staal, Cam Ward, and Kris Versteeg might be on the market and that just the possibility of moving them would significantly define how this next month might go.
Winnipeg's another interesting case. The Jets are currently six points back in the playoff race, so they need to really hit the ground running in the month of February to avoid falling out of the hunt entirely. If they can't do that though, are pending UFAs Andrew Ladd or Dustin Byfuglien on the table? Calgary is in about as rough a spot as Winnipeg, so if the Flames fail to heat up then questions will rise about Jiri Hudler and Kris Russell's availability.
Now to be clear, I'm not suggesting that whether or not all those big name players are on the market or not isn't going to depend entirely on those team's place in the standings. In most of those cases, the team's preference would be to re-sign the veteran in question and we might see some of them agree to terms on fresh contracts over the next few weeks. But in other cases the team might ultimately decide that the gap between what they're willing to pay and the players demands are too great and make the tough choice to trade. That's the scenario where the team's place in the standings might be a factor.
There are other interesting cases that might have very little to do with the team's position though. For example, a few weeks ago Sportsnet's Damien Cox reported that Keith Yandle will be dealt before the deadline as the New York Rangers apparently won't be able to get him to re-sign. The Rangers are not a team that you would look at and think seller, but the Yandle move might be in the same vein of the deal involving Ryan Callahan and Martin St. Louis back in 2014.
Speaking of the Tampa Bay Lightning, what will happen with Steven Stamkos? It seems like a stretch to suggest that he'll be traded, but he'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Star players of his age and caliber almost as a rule do not make it to the unrestricted free agent market in the cap era, but then again, they usually never even get this close to their contract expiration date without getting a new one. So what's the hold up? Is it really possible that there is a price Stamkos could demand that the Lightning would balk at when push comes to shove? Is Stamkos ultimately not sure if he wants to stay in Tampa Bay? We obviously can't know what's happening behind the scenes, so to attempt to answer those questions would just be engaging in blind speculation, but I can say this much: The only thing worse that losing a player like Stamkos is losing him for nothing. If it does seem probable that he will become a UFA - and only Tampa Bay and Stamkos can know if that's a serious possibility - then the Lightning need to seriously consider moving him.
Stamkos speculation aside, we will start to get a better feel for this trade market in the coming weeks. One thing that is apparent at this time though is that February has the potential to be a very interesting month for hockey.