After the Winter Olympics end, NHL teams will have just three days to tweak their rosters ahead of the March 3 trade deadline. Through ESPN Insider, ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek and Puck Prospectus evaluate every team's roster and the surrounding whispers from NHL Rumor Central. This is how the Northeast Division teams can improve in order to make a run at the playoffs, the Stanley Cup ... or for next season.
Buffalo's problem: Scoring
This season, the Sabres have been an average team with excellent goaltending (except in the last month, the opposite of Ottawa). This has masked their lack of offensive explosiveness, with their top goal-scorer, Thomas Vanek, clocking in at only 18 goals so far. As it stands, the Sabres don't have the offense to keep up with the Capitals; the Penguins; or the new, Kovalchuk-powered Devils.
The guy to get: LW Alexei Ponikarovsky
Aside from Ilya Kovalchuk, probably no player has appeared in more rumors than Ponikarovsky. Yesterday we described how he could also help the Rangers, but I think Ponikarovsky would fit great in Buffalo. Like many of the Sabres' forwards, Ponikarovsky is a forward who scores, plays decent defense and has done more with worse linemates than virtually any Sabre this season. His presence would give the Sabres two very dangerous lines. Ponikarovsky hasn't been to the playoffs since 2004 and would no doubt give his all, if for no other reason than to increase his value in the free-agent market this summer.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Buffao Sabres as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Buffalo Sabres, click here.
Ottawa's problem: The power play
It was goaltending. The full-season numbers say the Senators rank 22nd in goaltending with a team save percentage of only .905. However, much of that subpar performance came from Pascal Leclaire, and in the last month Brian Elliott has backstopped the team to 13 wins in 14 games with a .933 save percentage. The emergence of Mike Brodeur as a backup has also solidified this position. The Senators could focus on the power play, which has suffered from the departure of Dany Heatley. At 5-on-4, the Senators are 28th in the NHL, outscoring their opponents by only 4.14 goals per 60 minutes. But the arrival of Cullen and the return to form of Jason Spezza should help alleviate that concern. Still, the power play and, to a lesser extent, the penalty kill should be areas of concern.
The guy to get: D Joe Corvo
Affordable players who can play on the power play and penalty kill are few and far between. One of the best options out there is Carolina's Corvo, who used to play for the Senators and is familiar with the players. He'd likely also come cheaper than Robidas or Sutton.
Corvo has a great shot and scored 22 points on the power play last season. (He has only six this season, as he has battled injury.) Corvo also has playoff experience, having been part of the Senators' run to the final in 2007 and the Hurricanes' surprise conference final last season. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and the Hurricanes are sellers in the market.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Ottawa Senators as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Ottawa Senators, click here.
Montreal's problem: Size
E.J. has identified the problem as well. While size is a bit of an overrated metric in the NHL, it does matter, and no team exemplifies this better than the Canadiens. The Canadiens rank first in 4-on-4 goals in the NHL with 10 and first in 5-on-4 goal differential, with an incredible 8.88 goals per 60 minutes. But at even-strength the Canadiens' small forwards don't have the same space to maneuver, and the team ranks dead last with 1.76 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength time. This huge problem is why the Canadiens are fighting for their playoff lives.
The guy to get: LW Dustin Penner
The Canadiens' biggest trade assets are their two quality goaltenders, one of whom will eventually be anointed No. 1. Now that general manager Bob Gainey has stepped down, his protégé Price may be the next one out. While the club seems inclined to put off that decision, an example of a win-win blockbuster trade would be Price and a draft pick for Penner and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, giving the Oilers their goaltender of the future and the Canadiens a big man with skills who can score at even strength. Penner may be the only player who would have less pressure playing in Montreal, as he has never been able to overcome the weight of expectations that came with being Kevin Lowe's $27 million man in Edmonton.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Montreal Canadiens as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Montreal Canadiens, click here.
Boston's problem: Scoring, scoring, scoring
No team has seen a greater reversal of fortune this season than the Bruins, who have gone from the second-highest-scoring team in the NHL to dead last. The loss of Phil Kessel; injuries to Marc Savard and Milan Lucic; and regression from Michael Ryder, David Krejci and Dennis Wideman have all contributed to the Bruins' lack of scoring punch. There's no way to sugarcoat this: The Bruins' offense has been simply awful, and unless something changes, they will be either out of the playoffs or first-round food for Washington or New Jersey.
The guy to get: LW Paul Kariya
Since the Bruins are unlikely to be a playoff heavyweight, they shouldn't give up too much this season in their search for offensive firepower. One trade that should be inexpensive would be to acquire Kariya, who, along with the entire Blues team, has underwhelmed this season. While Kariya has slowed down with age, he's less than two years removed from a 65-point season and started last year on fire with 15 points in 11 games until a hip injury sidelined him. If the Bruins can find a way to fit the remainder of his $6 million contract under the cap, he could impress.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Boston Bruins as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Boston Bruins, click here.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto's problem: Scoring
Where to begin? While much was made of the Leafs' lack of scoring touch this year, in fact it was defense, and especially goaltending, that doomed their season, as the Leafs have by far the worst team save percentage, at .887. In particular, the penalty kill has been awful, with the Leafs allowing 56 shots per 60 minutes (29th in the NHL, ahead of only Atlanta) and their goaltenders stopping a league-low 83 percent of them. But all this calculus has been thrown out the window with the roster changes of the past month, as the Leafs have significantly upgraded their goaltending with Jean-Sebastien Giguere and their blue line with Dion Phaneuf. On the flip side, half of their scorers are gone, with Jason Blake, Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman all moved on to greener pastures. So Burke must now focus on rebuilding his top two lines.
The guy(s) to give up: LW Ponikarovsky, RW Stempniak, D Mike Komisarek
No single move will turn this franchise around. The Leafs should focus on getting a good return on their expiring assets, mainly Ponikarovsky and Stempniak. With Phaneuf added to Francois Beauchemin, they would probably do well to trade D-man Komisarek, who can still help a team but is signed to a bloated contract that will make him hard to move. It won't be easy, but with an upgrade in net and an infusion of young talent the Leafs could be back in contention sooner than expected. Look how well that recipe worked out for Colorado this season.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Toronto Maple Leafs, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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