Let's all offer a word of thanks to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. Without his bold move last Friday night to acquire Ryan Miller and Steve Ott from the Sabres, the build-up to Wednesday's 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline in this cap-strangled world could have been a lot less interesting.
That's not to say we're anticipating a series of blockbuster deals, each more spectacular than the last. But when Armstrong went all in he dared the rest of the league to ante up. And given how many teams see themselves as Cup contenders, you can expect that his challenge will be met.
So, what lies ahead? We thought we'd have a little fun by matching up sellers with prospective buyers to see where there might be some common ground. And just to be sure that we're not veering wildly into fantasyland, we asked an NHL pro scout to give these proposals a once-over. Most, repeat most, passed the smell test, but there are a couple that he thought were "worse than what those message board guys come up with."
But then he added, "I can't figure out what's going on with a lot of [real] trades. Remember [Martin] Erat for [Filip] Forsberg? Nothing surprises me anymore."
With that thought in mind, here are 10 deals we'd like to see:
The Islanders send Thomas Vanek to the Kings for a 2015 first rounder, a 2016 second rounder, Hudson Fasching and Matt Greene: Islanders GM Garth Snow has to recoup some of the losses from his disastrous early season acquisition of Vanek. The Kings, looking to keep pace with the rest of the Western Conference, are the team most likely to help him dig his way out of that hole.
L.A. has the goaltending and (arguably) the defense to mount a serious challenge in the West, but with Dustin Brown and Mike Richards shooting blanks, it doesn't have the firepower to keep pace with the Blackhawks, Blues and Sharks. Vanek would give the Kings a legitimate top-six weapon on the wing. The 2015 first-round pick will be a tough one to part with -- everyone wants to hold on to those because of last year's change in the lottery rules -- but it will be the key to sealing this deal. Fasching is a promising power forward working on his game at the college level. Blueliner Greene is a cap dump.
The Islanders send Andrew MacDonald to the Sharks for Freddie Hamilton and a second rounder: The Sharks need a left-handed defenseman and MacDonald fits the bill. He's likely to be more effective in a depth role than he was playing top-two minutes for the Islanders, but that doesn't mean that San Jose sees him as being worth the first-round pick that Snow is looking for. Hamilton is a solid depth forward who is NHL ready, and a second-round selection gives New York a decent chance to pull something of value out of the draft.
The Sabres send Matt Moulson to the Canadiens for Louis LeBlanc and a 2014 first rounder: The Canadiens could use a boost for their 20th ranked offense and Moulson is a solid top-six option. The Sabres could add to their talent pool with yet another high draft choice and LeBlanc, a 2009 first rounder (No. 18). He hasn't been able to seize a regular job with Montreal, but he has great hockey sense and decent offensive instincts. He could succeed in a bottom-six role if his scoring doesn't come around at the NHL level.
The Sabres send Christian Ehrhoff to the Ducks for a 2014 first rounder, Frederik Andersen, and a 2015 third rounder: Not that the Ducks have any glaring weaknesses, but a legitimate upgrade to their top-four makes a lot of sense as a way to keep pace in the Western Conference arms race. Ehrhoff is veteran who brings size (6-foot-2, 203 pounds), elite skating ability and high-end puck skills ... and contract certainty. The length of his deal raises some concerns -- Buffalo would be responsible for a cap-recapture penalty if he retired early -- but that's easily addressed by Anaheim overpaying slightly on the return. The Ducks have two first rounders this year, so they can afford to cough up their own while holding on to the one that originally belonged to the Senators. Andersen would give the Sabres a promising young goalie, and leave Anaheim with top prospect John Gibson.
The Sabres send Chris Stewart to the Senators for Patrick Wiercioch: There are scouts who believe that Stewart might become a different player if he is given a chance in a system that's less restrictive than Ken Hitchcock's was in St. Louis. Maybe, maybe not ... but that's what makes now the time to move him in case he flounders down the stretch in Buffalo. The Senators are looking for help on the wings, but after trading away their 2014 first rounder, they're short of the ammunition necessary to grab one of the higher profile rentals. That means they may have to swallow hard and accept Stewart and his soft play. Wiercioch isn't getting much time on Ottawa's deep blue line, but his size (6-5, 210) and offensive upside could interest the Sabres.
The Sabres send Jaroslav Halak to the Capitals for Michal Neuvirth: After watching the Capitals' Sunday meltdown against the Flyers, I'm thinking that they have more issues on the blue line than in goal, but this deal allows Washington to add some veteran presence between the pipes for a possible playoff run and move a player who has made it clear that he wants out. The Sabres would get an NHL-ready puckstopper with some upside who can challenge Jhonas Enroth for playing time.
The Oilers send Ales Hemsky to the Penguins for a 2015 second rounder: The Oilers are looking for draft picks. The Penguins are hunting for a top-six forward to fill the void left by the injury to Pascal Dupuis. The perfect match, no? Hemsky has his flaws (he passes up prime scoring chances and appears uninterested at times), but there are more than a few people in the game who think he just needs a fresh start to get himself back on track. He scored a couple of beauties in Sochi to remind everyone just how dangerous he can be with the puck when he decides to pull the trigger.
The Sabres send Henrik Tallinder to the Penguins for Scott Harrington: If you happened to catch the Penguins' defense being eviscerated by the Blackhawks at Soldier Field on Saturday night, you know that Pittsburgh can't afford to wait for the league's deepest pool of young blue-line talent to mature. The time is now for the Pens, and Tallinder would give them some size and steadiness on the back end. Harrington is a classic stay-at-home defenseman who makes good reads, is hard on the puck and has some physical presence. His ability to make a solid first pass suggests that he could mature into a second-pair role, but at worst he's a great third-pair blueliner.
The Devils send Adam Larsson and a second rounder to the Oilers for Nail Yakupov: The noise out of New Jersey suggests that the Devils will be buyers with an eye on making the playoffs, but that feels like an out-of-character mindset for a team that's always taken the long view of things. That's why a deal along these lines might make more sense. New Jersey has depth on D, with Jon Merrill and Cam Severson in their system, but they really need a dynamic presence up front. Yakupov might need to recalibrate his defensive commitment in order to succeed with the Devils, but there's no denying his offensive potential. In return, the Oilers would get a highly regarded prospect who projects as a skillsy, top-pair minute muncher.
The Jets send Mark Stuart to the Bruins for Matt Grzelcyk and a third rounder: With the health of Adam McQuaid in limbo -- coach Claude Julien said on Friday that the defenseman is "day to day, week to week, month to month; I'm not sure any more" -- the B's need a wrecking ball to man their third blue-line pair. Stuart brings a limited skill set, especially in terms of puck movement, but he's strong, relentless and poised. Given protected minutes, he'd be a safe depth add. Grzelcyk is a small (5-9, 175), skilled defenseman (Boston already has plenty like him) but he could eventually step up to fill a Toby Enstrom-esque role for the Jets. He was arguably Team USA's best defender at the last World Juniors.
NHL trade tracker: All deals since Jan. 1 So, who won't be switching sweaters? Hurt feelings or not, don't look for Martin St. Louis to be sent packing. Not with the Lightning in position to stage a legitimate challenge for the Eastern Conference title. Ryan Kesler? His time is probably up in Vancouver, but given the ransom it will take to pry him from the Canucks, it's more likely that he'll be moved in June. Martin Brodeur? He might be useful in a backup role to a playoff team like the Wild or the Blackhawks, but he's no longer a significant upgrade (compare his .900 save percentage to the league average of .914) and he probably would get no more than a third-round pick in return. Not sure that's enough to justify allowing the greatest player in franchise history to finish his career in another team's jersey.