The stretch run in the Atlantic Division is going be a demolition derby with teams crashing and banging toward the finish line. Florida continues to control the top seed, but Detroit, Boston and Tampa Bay are zeroing in. Here is a look at the Atlantic's buyers and sellers heading toward the Feb. 29 trade deadline, from the divisional leader on down:
The team's winning ways are not a fluke. As the Panthers battle to remain atop the Atlantic Division, expect general manager Dale Tallon to improve his team before the deadline. Florida needs a top-six forward, and the Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd keeps resurfacing as a possibility. Tallon and Ladd have a connection that dates to their Stanley Cup days with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Ladd, 30, has a cap hit of $4.4 million and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Bruins are still determining the best-case scenario for pending unrestricted free agent Loui Eriksson. They previously made a contract offer to the veteran forward, but the sides are still talking. If GM Don Sweeney decides to deal Eriksson, the Bruins will need a lot in return for this season. Boston's chances of earning a postseason berth and enjoying a deep run in the playoffs are better with Eriksson in the mix. The team also needs help on the blue line, but there's not a strong market for a top-four defenseman. Goalie prospect Malcolm Subban could have been a trade chip in a possible deal, but after suffering a fractured larynx, he will be sidelined for two months.
It starts from the net. Goaltender Petr Mrazek is playing well and should be the team's No. 1 moving forward, which allows GM Ken Holland to move goalie Jimmy Howard, who remains under contract through 2018-19 with an annual cap hit of $5.29 million and a full no-movement clause. Either way, the Red Wings need help on defense, and Holland could be in the market to add to the blue line as the team bids for its 25th consecutive trip to the postseason.
What a great move by GM Steve Yzerman this week when he announced the team would not trade captain Steven Stamkos before the trade deadline. It sent a clear message to the team and its fans that the Lightning are all to earn a postseason berth and another deep run. In the meantime, Stamkos and the Lightning will continue to negotiate a possible extension before July 1. Tampa still needs help on defense. Now that veteran Jason Garrison is sidelined for a minimum of three weeks with a lower-body injury, Yzerman should be looking to help the blue line. This is where packaging exiled forward Jonathan Drouin in a trade for defensive help could work.
At this point, GM Marc Bergevin should wave the white flag and start to focus on next season while getting goalie Carey Price 100 percent healthy. If Bergevin wants to make a splash, he could decide to move David Desharnais or Alex Galchenyuk. Pending unrestricted free agents Tom Gilbert and Dale Weise could be on the block, too. Bergevin could make a run at pending Arizona Coyotes UFA forward Mikkel Boedker, who has become a hot commodity in the weeks leading up to the deadline.
Even after the organization's blockbuster trade for defenseman Dion Phaneuf as part of a nine-player deal, GM Bryan Murray is expected to stay active in the market before Feb. 29. It's possible Drouin could be in the mix, but what about Eriksson? In the past, the Senators did not like dealing with the Bruins, but that was because of Peter Chiarelli, who left Ottawa to become the Bruins' GM in 2006. Now that Chiarelli is in Edmonton, maybe the embargo has been lifted. I'm sure Senators captain Erik Karlsson is pushing management hard to acquire fellow Swede and close friend Eriksson, who would add a much-needed scoring punch. The issue, however, is whether the Senators would sign Eriksson to an extension.
Finding a way to add depth to an already talented, young group is a sure way to solidify the future of the organization. With the recent suspension of Evander Kane for missing practice, it makes one wonder if GM Tim Murray would consider moving the talented forward. After this season, the 23-year-old has two years and $12 million remaining on his current contract before he comes an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season. Forward Jamie McGinn, 26, has drawn interest because he'll become a UFA after this season. The same could be said for veteran forward David Legwand.
Now that the entire league understands Stamkos is staying in Tampa at least until he potentially becomes a UFA on July 1, what will Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello do? He won't deviate from his blueprint, and that could mean acquiring assets in the form of draft picks. Toronto has plenty of decisions to make because 14 of the 23 players on the roster do not have contracts for next season. In a recent conversation, Lamoriello said he has been impressed with the organization's prospects in the AHL that will soon be ready for prime time.