Though the Vancouver Canucks are in post-season contention, there's concern they could be poised for a second-half swoon similar to that which killed last season's playoff hopes.
After playing reasonably well during the first half of the season, the Canucks entered Friday's matchup against the Buffalo Sabres having won only eight of their last 20 games. They sat only one point ahead of the ninth-overall Los Angeles Kings.
The Vancouver Province's Jason Botchford believes it's time for the Canucks to make a trade if they want to clinch a playoff spot. He notes the club lacks speed, youth, scoring depth and size at forward.
Unfortunately they don't have much to offer up from their roster as trade bait. Rumors have dogged little-used winger Zack Kassian for weeks, but his declining performance is hurting his trade value. There's also a fear among Vancouver fans (call it “Neely Syndrome”) the Canucks will give up too soon on Kassian and he'll blossom into a power forward elsewhere.
First-year GM Jim Benning is restocking the Canucks' prospect cupboard. The Vancouver Sun's Iain MacIntyre recently reported team president Trevor Linden claimed his club won't sacrifice its future for immediate help.
The Canucks possess goaltending depth to draw upon for a possible trade. Starter Ryan Miller isn't going anywhere. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch recently reported goalies Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom could, along with Kassian, be used as trade chips.
ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reports Markstrom, who's playing for the Canucks AHL affiliate in Utica, was believed available earlier in the season. LeBrun claims Markstrom's development this season is so impressive that they've decided to keep him.
Given the Canucks limited trade options, it appears Lack and perhaps the struggling Kassian could be shopped to boost the club's playoff fortunes. On their own or packaged together, however, it's unlikely they'll fetch a return which saves the Canucks' season.
O'REILLY RUMORS KEEP COMING
Trade rumors continue to swirl about Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly. For the past several weeks there's been talk of the Avalanche shopping the 23-year-old Lady Byng Trophy winner in return for help on their blueline.
The Denver Post's Terry Frei recently added his voice to the chorus. Responding to a reader's question about a major move by the Avs at the trade deadline, Frei acknowledged the possibility O'Reilly could be dealt for a top-tier defenseman.
“Could be” and “will be”, however, are different things. The Avalanche could move O'Reilly at the trade deadline for the right price. Because the winger also has a year remaining on his contract, they can also wait until the off-season if they don't get an offer they like by March 2.
Losing top defenseman Erik Johnson for three-to-eight weeks to arthroscopic knee surgery, however, could pressure Avalanche management to find a deal soon. The Avs are on the playoff bubble, sitting just four points out of the final wild-card berth in the Western Conference heading into Friday's game against Nashville. Johnson's absence could be a significant blow to their post-season hopes unless a suitable replacement is found soon.
Despite the recent increase in media trade speculation, only three notable deals took place in January. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired winger David Perron from Edmonton and dealt Marcel Goc to St. Louis for Maxim Lapierre, while the Minnesota Wild shipped a third-round pick to Arizona for goalie Devan Dubnyk.
SABRES WANT TO MAKE DEAL
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray lamented the lack of trade chatter, telling WGR 550 it's been “very, very quiet.” Murray voiced his surprise, adding he expected a small number of teams would be active well ahead of the trade deadline
It's no secret Murray is willing to ship out some of his pending unrestricted free agents. One of them, winger Chris Stewart, has been a fixture in the rumor mill since November. It's believed Murray's high asking prices for those players has stymied his attempts to deal.
Earlier this season, the Boston Bruins were rumored to have strong interest in Stewart. The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa recently reported the Bruins haven't ruled out the 27-year-old winger as a trade target, provided Murray is willing to lower his price.
At this point Murray has no choice but to wait for for the trade market to improve. With the trade deadline only weeks away, he should soon get more inquiries about his available players.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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