Darren Eliot
Monday March 2nd, 2009

With just hours of deadline shopping remaining, rumors run rampant as to which players might end up where. While speculation is titillating, it has little to do with the actual needs of the true contenders. With that in mind, let's take a top-down look as it pertains to reality.

First, let's be clear that in the Eastern Conference the current top four teams -- Bruins, Capitals, Devils and Flyers are clearly the best. Same thing out west where the Sharks, Red Wings, Flames and Blackhawks -- okay, throw in the Canucks, too -- comprise the true contenders. The rest of the teams vying for the postseason surely will make deadline decisions, but they shouldn't be rash. This isn't their year.

Here's a look at what's on the true contenders' shopping lists:

Like many contenders, a puck-moving defenseman capable of working on the power play seems to be GM Peter Chiarelli's greatest desire. Tomas Kaberle's name has surfaced as a target heading to Beantown although Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has told the Toronto Star that he's leaning toward holding his best trade chips unless he's utterly blown away by an offer. Chris Pronger has also been tied to deals involving Phil Kessel or Patrice Bergeron.

GM George McPhee is looking more for a veteran anchor on his blueline. The Caps have Mike Green from an offensive standpoint, but they need a foil to his free-flowing ways. Playoff experience on the backend is also part of the equation and a major reason that Pronger's name keeps coming up in DC. McPhee and the Capitals are dealing from a position of strength, with several appealing prospects that are NHL ready, including Karl Alzner, Sami Lepisto and Chris Bourque, and the Ducks are interested in young talent.

They're really looking to add depth to their blueline. Experience and skating ability are of prime concern and, of course, getting a player who would fit their well-established mode of operation and team code of conduct figures prominently in any decision. In this season of bringing back former Devils -- Brian Rolston, Bobby Holik and Brendan Shanahan are all in their second stints -- Scott Niedermayer certainly makes perfect sense on many levels. If the Ducks opt not to shop Niedermayer, then a player along the lines of Nik Havelid will do just fine.

They are healthy for the first time after returning forward Daniel Briere to the lineup after he missed most of the season. They don't have any wiggle room under the cap, so rental players aren't really an option. Any move that may be made will be a hockey trade -- roster player for roster player. In other words, if the Flyers do anything -- and I'm betting they won't -- it will be big and involve a goaltender.

They don't appear to need much of anything, but would like to add a depth defenseman -- a redundant wish at this time of the season. Having said that, Jonathan Cheechoo is a candidate to move and could garner an experienced blueliner of merit.

Same as above. They'd like to augment their already impressive blueline corps. Questions continue concerning the goaltending, but cap considerations and loyalty to Chris Osgood along with the organization's belief in his mental capacity to find his game for the playoffs, make a goaltending deal a long shot.

Darryl Sutter's team is big enough, tough enough, deep enough and with Miikka Kiprusoff in goal, solid enough to win it all. Are they fleet enough on the backend? That's not how they're built, so add the Flames to the category of "like to have, but don't necessarily need" when it comes to a mobile, experienced, depth defensemen. If Sutter deems one a must-add, centerman Matthew Lombardi could head east for any number of potentials along the lines of Toni Lydman or Filip Kuba.

This fun, fast, young bunch out of the Windy City is "ahead of schedule" according to GM Dale Tallon in terms of rebuilding. They will get much-needed experience with this spring's appearance, putting them in the same category as the Bruins, Caps and Flyers from last year -- rising teams that made the playoffs and used that to accelerate the maturity process. The Blackhawks need a centerman with some grit who can win faceoffs -- an area in which they've struggled all season. Players such as Dominic Moore or Marty Reasoner make sense here.

GM Mike Gillis played his hand early by bringing Mats Sundin into the mix. At this point, with goaltender Roberto Luongo rounding into form, tweaking is probably the course of action come Wednesday. Players already mentioned -- Kuba on the blueline and Reasoner up front -- are of the ilk Gillis is likely to target.

So, that's the view from the top. That's not to discount moves made by other playoff hopefuls. Not at all. After all, seven other teams will makes the playoffs and a host of others still have aspirations. A move by any of them may make the difference in getting into the postseason derby at all, or could mean moving up in terms of seeding. That's important stuff and the reason why the deadline has become such a pivotal day on the calendar.

Make no mistake, though, there is a class system at this time of year even among the trade deadline buyers: those seeking to win it all and those trying to ensure that they at least get to play an 83rd game.

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