Less than three weeks to go until the trade deadline, and injury issues are muddying the waters in the Metropolitan Division. Here is a look at the Metro's buyers and sellers heading toward the Feb. 29 trade deadline, from the divisional leaders on down:
Veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik is getting closer to returning, which will help general manager Brian MacLellan formulate a plan. If Orpik returns from a bone injury without issue, it takes the pressure off adding a depth defenseman, although the Caps might still want to add an insurance chip either up front or along the blue line, as long as it is at a modest price. You have to think Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin might be a nice fit for the Caps.
The Rangers have injury issues to contend with as Rick Nash remains out with a bone bruise and captain Ryan McDonagh suffered a concussion after an altercation with Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds. Losing McDonagh long-term is a problem for the Rangers, who have started to get back into a groove. Does McDonagh's injury make GM Jeff Gorton rethink his position on defenseman Keith Yandle? The potential unrestricted free agent is believed to be in play as he does not fit with the Rangers financially in the long term. Both McDonagh and Yandle are left-handed shots, so that might be a consideration. Still, look for the Rangers to try to add depth up front and for Yandle to be on the move.
The Islanders dipped briefly outside the playoff bubble last week before throttling the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. The return of defenseman Johnny Boychuk from injury helps take the pressure off GM Garth Snow, but he still has a couple of outstanding issues to deal with before Feb. 29. Travis Hamonic would like out, but he'll go only if Snow can find a similar asset to replace him on the blue line, which is easier said than done. And it appears as though Snow will be content to keep Kyle Okposo, even though Okposo seems destined to hit the market as a free agent in the summer. That's a fine strategy if you can fill that hole in the offseason. That job becomes a bit easier with a nice long playoff run, assuming the Islanders stay in the top eight.
The Penguins are playing as well as they have all season and captain Sidney Crosby is cooking (he was named the first star of the week on Monday). But the Pens also have injury issues, including the current absence of Evgeni Malkin, who was among five forwards recently sidelined. The biggest loss is two-way center Eric Fehr. He is out long-term but team officials say he is not done for the season. The bottom-six forward group is key to a long playoff run, but having upgraded the lineup with the addition of Trevor Daley on the back end and Carl Hagelin up front, GM Jim Rutherford will only add depth pieces if they fit his budget within the salary cap and will not further drain the team's taxed farm system.
The Devils continue to confound skeptics by staying within a point or two of the playoffs. Could GM Ray Shero add assets by moving a guy like Lee Stempniak, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer but is leading the team in scoring? Sure, although it's also possible Shero keeps Stempniak and looks to re-sign him in the summer. With that said, if there is a hockey move to be made that could add some skill up front moving forward, there's no doubt Shero would entertain it. Although the Devils have a number of forwards whose contracts are up this summer, the one defenseman that might create some interest trade-wise is David Schlemko, who has six goals for the Devils.
Carolina began the week two points out of the last wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference, but it has played more games so that stat is a bit deceiving. Bottom line is that GM Ron Francis needs to keep rebuilding from within, which means moving assets, including captain Eric Staal and possibly Kris Versteeg, who has had a nice season and is also coming to the end of his current contract. In fact, wouldn't Versteeg be a nice fit for the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he won two Stanley Cups? Or how about another go-round with the Florida Panthers? Of course Staal only goes where he wants to go because of his no-movement clause, so stay tuned on that front.
The Flyers, like the Canes, are hanging around the playoff discussion far longer than anyone expected. The long-term loss of Sean Couturier (out for three to four more weeks with a lower-body injury) puts a big hurt on the Flyers' playoff chances. But don't look for GM Ron Hextall to do anything but stay the course, which means not adding salary or age.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen will be looking to offload assets, and we've already mentioned that veteran defenseman Tyutin might be a nice fit with the Caps, but you could say that about any number of teams looking to shore up their blue line. Tyutin has two years left on his deal with a $4.5 million cap hit, but it's likely the Blue Jackets would eat some of that to clear salary-cap space and perhaps add a midrange draft pick or two. One interesting player to watch is Scott Hartnell, who has been in and out of head coach John Tortorella's doghouse but has been producing offensively and is second on the team in goals. Hartnell, 33, has three years left on his deal at $4.75 million annually against the cap. That's a lot of term. So do the Blue Jackets believe Hartnell can be a part of the leadership group going forward? Or does he represent a long-term answer to some other team -- perhaps Nashville, where Hartnell started his career and would be reunited with a coach he thrived under in Philadelphia, Peter Laviolette?