Saturday, January 15, 2011

Possible Big-Name Rentals in 2011

I haven't found a great deal of sizzling rumours to spell out in the past few weeks, as there really hasn't been many hands tipped in that general direction. There have been a number of names churned through the rumour mill, but no names have really been attached to other names, so there is little we can actually play with. So, I thought I would have a crack at pointing out some of the possible rental players, that may or may not be available at the trade deadline at the end of February.

Generally, when you're talking about rentals, you are looking at players who are going to be unrestricted free agents in the Summer, which suggests a team can use the player's talents through the end of the regular season and hope they help during a long playoff run and then not have to worry about them on their books anymore.  Rental players are also coming from teams that have little hope of making the playoffs, in most cases, hoping to get something back, like draft picks or prospects, for players that might otherwise leave the team in the off-season anyways through free agency.  There are plenty of exceptions to these guidelines, but the discussion usually reverts back to the guidelines.

But of course, we'll start the post off with an exception to the guidelines, as Brad Richards' name keeps landing in the rumour mill and likely for good reason.  The Dallas Stars are still running into ownership issues, which suggests some serious cash flow problems.  Richards, a top 10 scorer in the NHL this season, has done a marvelous job with the team, but there are many questions abound as to whether or not the Stars will have the ability to re-sign him to the numbers he'll likely demand.

Richards' 2011 annual cap hit is $7.8 million and the Stars had committed to that contract long before the ownership issues came to pass.  That being said, there will be (or likely has been) a great deal of internal discussion as to whether or not the team can afford not to have him on their payroll, especially since they lead the Pacific Division standings with him in the line-up.

I really don't think it is a matter of 'can he get dealt?', rather it being a matter of 'will he get dealt?'

Next up on the list is our first goaltender of the bunch and there has been plenty of scuttlebutt surrounding Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers.  Vokoun will be an unrestricted free agent this Summer and has been having a mediocre season with the 11th place team in the East.  Teams looking to shore up their goaltending situation going into the playoffs may have a second or third look at Vokoun down this last stretch before the deadline, knowing full well that he can play some pretty good hockey.

The Panthers have a pretty good situation going for them in Florida at the moment, stocking up on some excellent prospects to go with some of their younger veterans, trying to build a solid contender.  Some of those prospects are also goaltenders, like Jacob Markstrom or Alexander Salak.  The sticking point for the Panthers would likely have to be whether or not they would like to have a guy like Vokoun for another season, waiting for their prospects to mature, or jump right into the young player game and let their prospects ride.

I'm sure there are a number of teams who are willing to look at the remainder of Vokoun's $5.7 million salary cap hit, just to give them some added security down the stretch, likely for a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick in the Summer.

Next up on the list sits Alex Tanguay, who may come in as a runner-up prize to the likes of Richards, in the sense that a team could be looking for a quality play-making forward.  Tanguay will also be a decent runner-up prize, because his annual cap hit is so much lower than Richards' at $1.7 million and going to a contending team should make it rather appealing for him to waive his limited no-trade/no-,movement clause, if he has to.

It's no secret that the Flames have definitely been struggling in the 2011 season and with new management in place to make some changes to the team, a guy like Tanguay is ripe for the picking, when it comes to making deals for future assets, like picks or prospects.  I could definitely see Tanguay go for a reasonably low set of draft picks.

The name that keeps popping up in trade rumours continues to be Tomas Kaberle of the Maple Leafs and despite his desire to stay in Toronto through this contract, the Leafs do have a very valuable asset on their hands, in terms of what they can get back via the trade market.

Kaberle has been having a pretty decent season in Toronto, despite their low scoring numbers, and that has to remain attractive to a playoff-bound team that is looking to increase their production from the back end.  The addition of Kaberle to most bluelines should be an easy fit and the value going back to Toronto could be adequate to calm some of the critics down.  Of course, the description of the package going back to the Maple Leafs would be a real indicator as to how the team will approach the 2012 season, but that's another story altogether.

I don't personally think that the chances of the Maple Leafs moving Kaberle are that good, but me saying that probably increased his chances by 15%.  If the Leafs get the deal that they really want out of Kaberle, I would imagine that there would be a relentless pursuit to force his hand and waive the clause, but so many factors are in the way before they get to that point.

Let's face it, the Devils have been terrible this year and they are in a good position to start selling off some of their unrestricted free agent assets, especially since they have already traded away their (former) captain, Jamie Langenbrunner to Dallas, this season.  Jason Arnott's name has popped up a few times already in the past weeks as a possible name to move and frankly, it makes sense.  Arnott is a quality forward with leadership qualities, he has a Cup ring and experience and he will be an unrestricted free agent in the Summer.

Arnott's numbers are down considerably in the 2011 season, but the New Jersey Devils have not been the best model of great offense throughout their line-up this season, to date.  With firepower like Zach Parise on the shelf for the bulk of the year and Ilya Kovalchuk underachieving, it should come as no surprise that the rest of the players are coming up a little short.  Still, at the end of the day, Arnott should garner some interest from a team that is in need of what he has to offer and should find a new home with a new opportunity.

Could the Ottawa Senators possibly move Alexei Kovalev in a deadline deal this year?  Well, it's hard to believe that anyone would take Kovalev on his merits from this 2011 season, but the NHL is a funny place sometimes and some managers seem to think that some players can still add something to their team, even if that player has had a bad run of things in the current season.  There might be hope for a guy like Kovalev, but his $5 million annual cap hit may have a lot to do with him staying in Ottawa for the duration of the season.

Kovalev does still have some talented hands on his side and the rumour mill does keep churning his name around, so there does seem to be a little bit of smoke around his name.  If I had to guess, I would think that Kovalev may be one of those secondary prizes at the deadline, as many teams will covet the same player, but only one team will get that top end player, forcing a team that still wants to make a move into picking up a guy like Kovalev.  If Kovalev does go, he might be a guy that goes for a cheap draft pick, near the end of the day on the 28th.

Whether or not any or all of these players are going to be traded remains to be seen.  The rumour mill will continue to churn out names that have potential to be moved, but it all really depends on the supply and demand of the teams involved.  Some teams may want way too much for players of this calibre to be moved, especially a team like the Dallas Stars, who may only part with Richards if the price meets their satisfaction.  I am definitely looking forward to the deadline this year... I might even have to take a day off for it.

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