Today, From the Pressbox: Mid-January standings usually provide a pretty good barometer of the playoff contenders and those teams that are very likely not going to be in the race. For fantasy players it's a time where trade talks between contenders and non-contenders in keeper pools usually get started. We we look at a number of players on those bottom feeders and few other upcoming UFAs who could be sought after in the coming weeks.
The most likely team to be involved in trade talks is the team that is furthest from playoff consideration and that is the Buffalo Sabres.
In Buffalo, Ryan Miller is in the final year of his deal that carries a $6.5 M cap hit. He is no longer a good fit here as a young rebuilding team surrounds him, which means that the Sabres are, very likely, a few years from playoff contention. In looking around the NHL, I think it's best that he moves to a contending team, which is in need of a clear number one option. To me that team is the St. Louis Blues. They have relied on the steady tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Neither of these goalies is ranked anywhere near the top 10 goalies in the league and yet the Blues look like a legitimate Cup contender because they have impressive depth and quality among their forward and defense complement. This team is ready to challenge right now and would be a perfect fit for the addition of Ryan Miller. At the same time, Halak would be a sensible piece, along with some prospects or draft picks, going the other way to give the Sabres a steady hand to work with Jhonas Enroth.
The Sabres' team captain Steve Ott might also be considered as trade bait because he has really cleaned up the unsavory aspects of his notorious play and has instead concentrated on being that tough, physical depth center who can be counted on to check opposing first lines into submission on a nightly basis. He combines that with a nice scoring touch as a complementary offensive piece. Ott has further augmented his skill set by emerging as a team leader and a good teacher for younger players to follow in terms of his work ethic. He too is in the final year of a contract ($2.9 M) and the Sabres would do well to entertain offers for his services.
The Edmonton Oilers are last in the Western Conference and have a core of young offensive talent but they are, once again, not close to contending because that group has not gelled into the type of talent base that many have expected. To make matters worse, there is not much in the way of tradable commodities that the Oilers could use to try to improve their lot. There has been some talk about Ales Hemsky, a 30-year-old forward, in the final year of his contract ($5M) but he is five years removed from his last 20-goal season. Alternatively, Sam Gagner (24 years old; two years at a $4M cap hit) is touted as a center with an offensive upside, who is being squeezed out of top-line minutes here. The knocks on him are two-fold: he's not a big physical presence and he has never reached the 20-goal plateau in his seven NHL seasons despite his recognizable offensive skills. The name of former first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov (2012) is also being bandied about, but I have to think the Oilers may be reluctant to give up on him just yet. Besides, the market for a nine-goal scorer with an NHL low (-30) rating is probably very thin.
After these two clubs, you start to look around the league and find that the Colorado Avalanche have a real glut of skill at the center position. It would appear that they are and are obviously committed to Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon for the long haul. So they are left to decide between keeping one of pending UFA Paul Stastny (in the final year of a contract with a $6.5 M cap hit) and Ryan O'Reilly, whose contract ($5M) will also expire this year, though he will be a restricted free agent. All told that's four legitimate centers here and one of O'Reilly or Stastny must go. That conclusion seems inevitable since an experiment to play O'Reilly on the wing was a failure earlier this year. The Avs are surprisingly in a relatively comfortable playoff position at the moment and have clearly identified that they do need an upgrade in offensive talent on the blueline, so they are in front of the pack in clearly outlining their excess capacity (at center) and their most glaring need (offense from the defense) in seeking suitors for one of their expendable centers. Both Stastny (28) and O'Reilly (22) are young enough and have shown enough of their offensive skills that they should fetch a nice return for Colorado. The asking price should be the promise of a young, offensively skilled defenseman (Jake Gardiner in Toronto, perhaps?).
Sometimes a familiar name gets floated in trade rumors and you immediately respond with interest just because of the mental image that may conjure. That happened for me when I heard the name of Dustin Byfuglien in the rumor mill. It makes some sense that the Jets may listen to offers for him because they are sitting in last place in the Central Division and are currently playing Byfuglien at a wing position, as opposed to his usual defense spot, where he has been since they acquired him in 2010. His big, imposing size and skill combination have been an attraction since he played such a key role in Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup triumph. The recent shift in position is something of a surprise to some because he has been among the league's top point-scoring defenders throughout his time in Winnipeg. A closer look reminds us that they do have other defensemen who have offensive abilities, while their forward lines do not have that same depth. Byfuglien's versatility is therefore being utilized. His name may be on the trading block because of other issues as well. Regardless of what they may be, other teams should be checking in with the Jets to inquire.
In Boston, a season-ending knee injury to Dennis Seidenberg has robbed the Bruins of one half of their critical shutdown defensive pairing. Working alongside Zdeno Chara, they were always counted on to neutralize the opposition's top scoring lines and recently we have seen a spike in the goals allowed by Boston. You can bet that they are combing the NHL for experienced blueliners who fit that bill in order to assist them in another expected long playoff run. Opposing teams would be smart to try to pry loose a younger player or multiple prospect/draft pick combinations in exchange for the Bruins needs.
Though the NHL trade deadline is still almost two months away, talks are undoubtedly happening daily. The above-noted scenarios are but a sample of what I see currently and should cause the shrewdest of fantasy owners who should be looking around their own leagues to see which fellow owners are clearly identifiable as buyers or sellers. After that has been established, you need to identify your team's strengths and weaknesses and get to work. It's time for you to start the trade talks that could push you over the top this season (if you are in contention) or position you for next season (if you are out of this year's race). Either way, your goal should be to get out in front of league-wide trade talks to minimize the competition.
Get to work.