The trade deadline is Feb. 29, four weeks away. It's not an exaggeration to suggest the trade landscape will change on an almost nightly basis as teams surge or swoon relative to the playoff picture. Here is a look at the buyers and sellers in the Metropolitan Division, from the division leader on down:
The Capitals are first in goals scored per game in the NHL, first in winning percentage, second in goals allowed per game, first in power-play efficiency and fourth on the penalty kill. In short, this team rocks, and you can make a good argument it is the most Stanley Cup-ready of any team in the league. General manager Brian MacLellan can afford to be choosy about what he wants to do leading up to Feb. 29, assuming he chooses to do anything.
One factor will be the play of Mike Richards. If the veteran center, who has played just four games for the Caps, looks like he can keep up and establish himself as a fourth-line center, the need to add up front will be negated. The other concern is the ongoing health issues confronting veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has not played since Nov. 10 because of a lower-body injury. If there is concern about Orpik's availability or durability down the stretch, look for MacLellan to pursue defensive depth.
The assumption is that the Rangers will be shopping Keith Yandle. They gave up a king's ransom for him a year ago, but he has not been a good fit. And he won't fit in terms of the salary cap after this season as he hits free agency. With Rick Nash banged-up and the team struggling with consistency, help up front makes sense. Would Eric Staal be a fit if the Rangers clear cap room by moving Yandle? Maybe, but it's hard to see this team doing another rental at this stage.
With contract talks regarding Kyle Okposo at a standstill, what is general manager Garth Snow going to do with his leading points producer? Can he afford to see Okposo walk on July 1 without getting anything in return? But can he afford to trade a top power forward when the team might face the hated Rangers in the first round? The short answer is that Snow can't afford to have either of those things happen, which means he must find a way to fill Okposo's void if he does move the winger. Adding another veteran defenseman -- especially if Snow finds a way to move Travis Hamonic, who has been looking to move West all season -- would be a priority, and there are a number of solid defenders who could be on the move by Feb. 29.
GM Jim Rutherford has already made significant moves to upgrade his team: firing coach Mike Johnston and replacing him with Mike Sullivan; acquiring Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi; and swapping unproductive David Perron for Carl Hagelin. Hagelin is playing with Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, and the Pens are back in the hunt for a playoff spot. Are there more moves ahead? Maybe for help along the blue line. But this also is a team that has been sending prospects and picks out the door for a number of years in the hopes of hitting the right combination for a Stanley Cup run, so it wouldn't be surprising if the Pens are less active this trade season.
The Devils have been a pleasant surprise by staying in the hunt for a wild card, but GM Ray Shero will be taking the long view with this team. He has a passel of older forwards who are pending unrestricted free agents, and it would be an option to turn a couple of them into picks or prospects. The other factor is that Shero does have cap room to play with if there is an opportunity to add a younger forward with term.
The Hurricanes also were not expected to be in the hunt, but there they are in the thick of it, which complicates life for GM Ron Francis. It seems unlikely that captain Eric Staal will be a fit for this team moving forward, but he has a no-move/no-trade clause, so he doesn't have to go anywhere he doesn't want to go. If the Canes falter, look for Francis to try to find a home for Staal with a team that has a better chance to win a Cup, perhaps the Rangers. And while it won't help Minnesota long term, the Wild are definitely a team looking to get better down the middle, and even if they are successful in getting Jonathan Drouin, they still need help now. Montreal, if it ever stops losing, could also use size and experience down the middle.
GM Ron Hextall has already been active, shedding the salaries of Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn, whom he sent to Los Angeles. And even though the Flyers are still in the discussion for a wild card, Hextall will not be dissuaded from his long-term vision, which is to get younger. Hextall could go right to the Hall of Fame as a general manager if he ever found a taker for Andrew MacDonald's contract.
The Blue Jackets have been active already, sending top center Ryan Johansen to Nashville for Seth Jones. The Blue Jackets are headed for a second straight season outside the playoff picture and -- let's be honest -- a chance at the first overall pick, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing with Auston Matthews in the mix.