Playing trade deadline matchmaker
About 25 teams have a shot at the playoffs and will be seeking some kind of help
Based on need and availability, Chris Pronger would be a good fit in Boston
The Panthers can enhance their playoff chances by dealing for Tomas Kaberle
This is the time of year when I'm reminded just how difficult it is to carry out the duties of an NHL general manager . . . and how much fun it is to play one while seated comfortably in the ratty old armchair.
With the March 4 deadline fast approaching, 25 of 30 teams still have a shot at the playoffs. Probably nine have legitimate aspirations of winning the Cup. But every one is trying to figure out who could score a key power play goal, block a shot at a critical moment, come out of the press box and fit in seamlessly when injuries start to mount, or pull them out of a tough spot by virtue of experience -- and how to fit such help under the salary cap.
From this seat, here are some deals that make sense to me as I try to keep in mind the needs of the teams in question. But remember this, kids: most of these proposals are based on availability and need, but none are to be taken as insider tips on trades that are about to go down. This is just one armchair GM's blueprint for an action-packed and productive deadline day. At the end of the column, feel free to weigh in with feedback, your own proposals, or what you think will go down on deadline day.
You say you like blockbusters? Try this on for size: Adding Pronger to a blueline that already includes Zdeno Chara would give the Bruins a nasty one-two punch capable of powering the team to the promised land. He's signed through next season, which will create cap issues, but that's a problem for another day. It's time for the B's to go all in. Moen's the kind of gritty, battle-tested veteran who's at his best in the postseason. He'll provide valuable depth, especially in tight-checking contest.
In Stuart, the Ducks get a former first-rounder who's developing into a reliable physical presence with a C in his future. Yeah, the hot rumor is Phil Kessel in a Pronger deal, and the speedster with game-breaking skill is dogged by a reputation that he doesn't quite want it badly enough and is a high maintenance performer who needs the occasional reminder of his obligations, but he's still the team's leading goal scorer. I can't remember a top contender ever dishing off that kind of commodity at the deadline, even for someone with the impact potential of Pronger.
Kobasew is dependable two-way presence who'll help Anaheim fill out their roster while the entire third line is eligible for free agency. Colborne, last year's first-rounder, is a rangy center in his first year with the University of Denver. Along with another high pick, that's a lot of pieces to help rebuild the team in Bob Murray's image.
In public, Brian Burke says he doesn't want to deal Kaberle, a reliable puck-mover signed at a fair price for two more years, unless his doors are blown off. In private, I'm guessing Burke realizes that Kaberle's part of the transition, not the long-term solution. A mid-level first-rounder and Ellerby (10th overall, 2007) would expedite Toronto's rebuild. Ellerby has filled out nicely since he was drafted, adding 30 pounds to a now 6-4, 205 frame. He has the look of a solid, top-four blueliner.
Word out of Florida is that they're not inclined to take salary back -- they recently laid off some front office staff -- but any team appreciates good value. At $4.25 million, Kaberle is a relative bargain. And by dressing up the roster with Kaberle, the Panthers accomplish two goals: they set themselves up for a legitimate run at the playoffs and make themselves a more appealing long-term option for Jay Bouwmeester. Make that three: if Bouwmeester is deemed unsignable prior to the draft, his rights can be dealt, and Kaberle is in place as insurance.
St. Louis sends Keith Tkachuk to Boston for a 2010 second- and third-rounder
Sometimes the best bet is the most obvious one. Tkachuk's been a good soldier for the Blues, but it's time to let him realize his boyhood dream of pulling on the black and gold. His left shot makes him the ideal pickup for the young Bruins, who could use some leadership and experience as much as some scoring touch for the power play.
What Calgary really needs is a reliable backup for Miikka Kiprusoff, but at this point, why bother? If Kipper goes down, the Flames will fizzle faster than Mickey Rourke's pro wrestling career. Leopold is a more sensible approach, a former Flame who provides depth at a reasonable price, and who has demonstrated chemistry with Robyn Regehr. Chucko isn't the goaltender Colorado desperately needs, but he should mature into a serviceable depth forward with a nasty physical edge.
The time is now for the Jackets to make the playoffs, but their chances of holding on to a spot diminish daily with Manny Malhotra and Jason Williams as their top two centers. Connolly is a legitimate top-six forward whose passing skills seem tailor-made to take advantage of a finisher like Rick Nash. He's a UFA after this season, but the chance to play a spotlight role alongside Nash might make C-Bus an appealing long-term destination. Klesla can't match Connolly's impact, but he gives the Sabres a reliable minutes-muncher who is signed through next season at a reasonable $1.6 million.
Toronto sends Nik Antropov to Chicago for a first-rounder
The Hawks need immediate help with Patrick Sharp on the sidelines -- and depth down the middle when he returns -- but they can't afford to take on significant salary or give up pieces of the current puzzle. Antropov is big, he can be physical, and he can play anywhere up front, giving Chicago valuable depth for their first playoff run since 2002 . . . and all he'll cost is a pick.