The Atlantic Division standings continue to grow tighter, and it is only going to get tougher from here out to earn a postseason berth. Here is a look at the Atlantic's buyers and sellers heading toward the Feb. 29 trade deadline, from the divisional leader on down:
Could this be a case of don't fix what isn't broken? The Panthers sit atop the division and seem poised to earn a postseason berth. They have a solid mix of veterans and talented young players ready for primetime. Goaltender Roberto Luongo has been outstanding, which is a key factor for a team's potential deep playoff run. General manager Dale Tallon needs to go all-in before the deadline, and he's the type of guy to do just that. One name that has been churning the rumor mill is Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who has a connection with Tallon dating back to their days with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Panthers could use another top-nine forward and a veteran defenseman. If Tallon can acquire a third-line forward, then Quinton Howden can be moved back to the fourth line, along with Shawn Thornton and Derek MacKenzie. Forward Brandon Pirri did not play the final three games before the All-Star break and seems to be on the outside looking in at this point. Tallon might consider moving the 24-year-old center.
What the Lightning needed was for Jonathan Drouin to be a superstar. Instead, the 20-year-old forward might never play for Tampa Bay again, as he was suspended indefinitely for failing to report to a game with AHL Syracuse. GM Steve Yzerman will make sure he has the right deal in place before making a trade, and until then, Drouin will remain in the minors after his agent made their November trade request public last month. With Drouin out of the mix, Tampa Bay could use another point-producing forward, along with a skilled defenseman. As currently constituted, the Lightning are beginning to show signs of the team that reached the Stanley Cup finals a season ago. They are 8-2-0 in their past 10 games and are second in the division. Oh, then there's that matter of Steven Stamkos' contract. It remains to be seen whether or not an extension is in the works for the pending unrestricted free agent, and it seems unrealistic that the captain will be traded, especially since he has a no-movement clause; but crazier things have happened. If the Lightning are poised for another deep playoff run, Stamkos will be needed.
Looking for the organization's 25th consecutive postseason appearance, GM Ken Holland could look to add depth on offense and defense. While rookie sensation Dylan Larkin should be a top candidate for the Calder Trophy, Detroit could use help in the point-production department if it wants an extended playoff run. Goaltender Petr Mrazek gained valuable experience during last seasons Stanley Cup playoffs, but the Red Wings lost in the first round to the Lightning. Also, defenseman Niklas Kronwall remains sidelined at least until mid-February after having knee surgery on Jan. 18.
The fate of the Bruins this season could come down to Loui Eriksson. The veteran forward becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the chatter around the league is whether first-year GM Don Sweeney signs Eriksson or trades him. The sides have had preliminary talks about Eriksson's expectations for an extension, and it's believed the Bruins made an official offer a while back to no avail. Eriksson could earn upward of $6 million on the market. He said on Monday that he would like to stay in Boston, and coach Claude Julien admitted he also would like Eriksson to remain, too. If Sweeney did trade Eriksson, the return would have to be substantial and impactful for this season. Other than Eriksson, the Bruins could use help to shore up their defense.
These are strange and trying times for the Canadiens. Montreal is circling the drain with a 2-8-1 record in its past 11 games and is currently out of the playoff picture. Since losing goaltender Carey Price to a lower-body injury on Nov. 25, the Canadiens have struggled with a 7-19-2 record. His return is not imminent, but Montreal desperately needs his services. GM Marc Bergevin recently placed all the blame on himself and said coach Michal Therrien's job is safe. If the Canadiens can't turn it around immediately following the All-Star break, the offseason will come early for this team. How about this: The Canadiens should call up the most popular player in the game right now in John Scott to spark Montreal's resurgence. His presence in the room and on the ice could be exactly what this team needs. All the focus would be on him and not the team. If that's not an option, Bergevin should figure out a way to add depth offensively and defensively.
The better question in regard to the Senators is, what don't they need? To begin, a top-four defenseman and a top-six forward could help push Ottawa back into the playoff picture. Senators top D-man Marc Methot has been sidelined since Jan. 16 with an undisclosed injury. It also doesn't help that fellow blueliner Patrick Wiercioch has zero goals and four assists in 43 games this season. Third-pairing defenseman Mark Borowiecki is solid, while Jared Cowen is someone Bryan Murray could trade. On the offensive side, the Senators are without the services of forwards Clarke MacArthur and Milan Michalek, both of whom are on injured reserve. Center Kyle Turris has missed five games due to an ankle injury.
In the midst of a rebuild, the Sabres are playing better than most expected. The emergence of rookie phenom Jack Eichel has been a major boost With four weeks before the trade deadline, the Sabres are looking for reinforcements in the way of returning players from injury. Defenseman Josh Gorges, sidelined for five of the past six games due to an upper-body injury, and forward Nicolas Deslauriers, who has missed the past 11 games with a lower-body injury, are both expected to return this week. Forward Tyler Ennis has missed the past 13 games due to an upper-body injury and hasn't returned to practice. Forward Sam Reinhart, sidelined the past three games due to an upper-body injury, should also return this week.
The race for Auston Matthews is in full-sprint mode. After an offseason rebuild, the Maple Leafs were expecting another difficult season. Toronto is again near the bottom of the standings, along with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers. The Maple Leafs have eight pending UFAs and no doubt will be sellers before the trade deadline.