This article is part of our From the Press Box series.
There are three tiers to the NHL's playoff structure as I see it this year. There are teams at the top of the conferences; teams who are below them, but in safe playoff standing; and teams battling for wild-card spots and just hoping to get in.
Teams at the top include the 'Hawks, Capitals, Panthers, Stars and the three California-based franchises. All of these clubs can be lumped into the class of Stanley Cup favorites, even though some will definitely not get past the second round of the playoffs owing to the tournament's structure. If they are serious about boosting their chances, they should all be active at the trade deadline.
That means they ought to be willing to give up prospects and/or top draft picks to acquire pieces that will bolster their rosters, either in top-line roles or for depth insurance. The fact is that the two-month playoff format is a war of attrition. There will be injuries, bumps and bruises along the way, requiring depth at all positions. We've already seen the Caps add a depth defenseman (Mike Weber) in a move that recognizes the inevitability of injuries when teams play every second night in these high-stakes contests. This is also the time when the Capitals expect to get the most value out of the addition of midseason signing Mike Richards.