As the Blues storm to Cup contender status, a trade for Sabres goalie Ryan Miller would be key. (Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
With the salary cap strangling most of the league -- 11 teams have no space, and another nine have less than $2 million to play with -- the trade market has been sluggish, but intriguing rumors keep bubbling. Twelve scouts attended Buffalo's game on Tuesday night--not surprising considering the yard sale the Sabres are setting up--but the team that might be watching them the closest was at the other end of the ice.
No matter how well Jaroslav Halak has played for St. Louis (and to be fair, he was great on Thursday night in Boston), there's a sense that he's more like long relief than the closer. Ryan Miller, arguably the best goalie in the league this year, might be the guy who can get the Blues over the hump.
Now you have to think the Sabres have made/will make an effort to convince Miller to stick around now that there's new management in place. If that fails--and assume it will because it's hard to imagine him wanting to stick around for a rebuild at his age (33)--the Blues make some sense.
St. Louis does have a couple of intriguing prospects in Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie, and one of them could be key to getting a deal done. The trick for the Blues will be the cap. St. Louis is only $396,859 under the ceiling. Miller's hit is $6.25 million, so even if the Blues included Halak and his expiring $3.75 million hit, they still wouldn't have enough room. That means the Sabres would have to be willing to eat some money as they did in the deal that sent Thomas Vanek to the Islanders last month, and for the right prospect/package, they might.
Then we have the Rangers and Stars. I noticed that there were no scouts in attendance on Thursday night when Dallas hosted the New York, and that seemed kind of odd. First, because the Stars have been regularly bird-dogged this season, with three-to-five interested observers on hand for most of their games. And second, because both teams have a player who appears to be up for grabs.
Michael Del Zotto was back in New York's lineup after spending a couple of games in coach Alain Vigneault's doghouse, but the young defenseman looked like a player who needs a change of scenery. He's still a terrific skater and his coverage was decent, but he made a couple of decisions with the puck that screamed lack of confidence.
When he's on his game, Del Zotto can be a slick offensive catalyst, but he's struggling to find his attack mode on both sides of the puck under Vigneault's system. And with the Rangers having a couple of interesting options in their system (Conor Allen or Dylan McIlrath), they might benefit from flipping MDZ for some scoring help up front.
They're not in any hurry, though, and neither are the Stars, despite a reported plea from center Vernon Fiddler to send him somewhere he can play a more offensive role. The team is taking his request seriously--grabbing Dustin Jeffrey off waivers from the Penguins seems like a decision geared toward filling Fiddler's role--but there's no telling if there's a market. That's not so say there shouldn't be. Despite his age (33) and history (he's never scored more than 11 goals at the NHL level), Fiddler is an interesting commodity. He's versatile, has good wheels, his motor consistently revs high, and he has target="_blank">some tools.
Is he maybe the sort of player the Rangers could use?
Maybe. The Rangers are in more of a win-now mode where a vet like Fiddler would be valued, but it would take more than the pending UFA to pry Del Zotto out of their hands, even with his value at an all-time low. A promising defensive prospect like Jyrki Jokipakka might help bridge the gap.
Florida defenseman Dmitri Kulikov is said to be available, although I don't believe that he's being actively shopped...at least, not now. He's an RFA at the end of this season, and there's a sense that Panthers GM Dale Tallon isn't interested in making the sort of significant investment that the 23-year-old will be looking for. The Oilers, Hurricanes and Wings are said to be interested, but the best fit might be in Anaheim. The contending Ducks have to be concerned about their defensive depth--Sheldon Souray is being held together with twine and bubble gum and could break down at any moment--but they have extra bodies where the Panthers need help. Either Kyle Palmieri or Emerson Etem would fill an obvious need on the wing with Florida, but Tallon might be more interested in a long-term goaltending option like Frederik Andersen. The Ducks could afford to move him with John Gibson tearing up the AHL, and the Panthers obviously have concerns about Jacob Markstrom's prospects.
The Panthers and Canadiens have been circling each other for the past few weeks. With Francis Bouillon struggling, Montreal might have some interest in Kulikov as well, but it's a better bet that they're looking at big center Shawn Matthias. The Habs are deep down the middle, but Matthias would give them a dimension they lack--a strong forward willing to drive the net and compete on every shift.
Florida's in no rush to deal, though. Mathias is signed through next season and demand is likely to rise as the deadline approaches and teams look to add some size. But Montreal needs size now, and they may be willing to pay a premium to fill the need early in order to stay in the playoff mix in the Atlantic.