NHL

Atlantic Div. trade deadline preview

Hockey Primetime Bill Weisbrod
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NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Buyers or Sellers?: The Devils’ rumored pursuit of disgruntled Minnesota Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky indicates that the team is in “buy” mode. New Jersey has surged in the second half of the season, largely thanks to star forwards Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. While not among the Eastern Conference’s elite, the Devils can cement their status as a playoff team and perhaps load up for an extended run this spring.

Needs: The Devils need depth. They have high-end talent, especially up front, thanks to Parise, Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, rookie sensation Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac, when he returns to action. General manager Lou Lamoriello addressed forward depth by adding Alex Ponikarovsky within the past month, but New Jersey’s blue line corps is as thin as it has been in recent memory. Adding Zidlicky would go a long way in taking pressure off of Adam Larsson, who has performed well despite being asked to take on an inordinate workload for an 18-year-old rookie.

Surplus: These are not your older brother’s Devils. They are rich in offensive-minded forwards. However it is highly unlikely Lamoriello will deal anyone significant off the NHL roster, even captain Parise, who is going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Devils will likely use mid-round draft picks and B-level prospects if they are going to get a deal done.

In the System: Most of the Devils’ top building blocks for the future are already playing at the NHL level — Larsson, Henrique and center Jacob Josefson. Jon Merrill, a 2010 second-rounder currently at the University of Michigan, may be the franchise’s top prospect not in the big leagues. He has shown offensive prowess from the blue line and could make a great compliment to Larsson down the road, but he is at least two years away from making an NHL impact.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Buyers or Sellers?: The Islanders should not be confused by the fact that they are eight points out of a playoff spot. Three teams are in the way and the Isles should definitely be sellers with an eye on the long term.

Needs: With an uncertain future, given the lack of plans for a new arena, the Islanders need prospect depth and payroll flexibility. That means keep dealing for young players and draft picks, as the team has done so many times in the past. At least this time they have a legitimate franchise cornerstone in rising star John Tavares.

Surplus: The Islanders have some veterans that may be attractive to contenders. Forwards Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau are enjoying productive campaigns. Moulson especially could fetch a nice return if general manager Garth Snow decides to deal him. Mark Streit is also an established power-play quarterback, but as the team’s captain it is unlikely he is traded. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is probably the most likely to be traded, as Al Montoya and Kevin Poulin are capable enough to finish out the season and start in 2012-13.

In the System: The Islanders have a strong farm system, thanks to many years at the bottom of the NHL standings. Center Ryan Strome, a 2011 first-rounder, impressed in camp this fall and is currently with the Niagara Ice Dogs in the OHL. He has a chance to make the Islanders next season and could be a scoring-line center in the near future. Nino Niederreiter, currently in his rookie season, also has star potential at left wing.

NEW YORK RANGERS

Buyers or Sellers?: With the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers are setting high expectations for this playoff season. They will be looking to buy. The team should maintain cap flexibility to keep its current players down the road, and does not need to tinker much with the roster that has had some success so far this year. Despite rumors of a blockbuster deal for Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash, a smaller deal for a veteran rental is more likely for the Rangers.

Needs: New York needs help scoring, especially on the power play. Henrik Lundqvist and a stout defense are mainly to credit for the Rangers’ stellar record. But a player, either up front or running the power play, with playoff experience who can take some pressure of off Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, could make a difference.

Surplus: The Rangers have a lot of young forwards who are already established as NHL contributors. While they may not be stars, players like Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky have proven their ability to compete at the sport’s highest level and probably still have the best years of their careers ahead of them. Those are qualities general managers around the league covet.

In the System: Chris Kreider, a 2009 first-rounder, is a speedy winger in the midst of his third season at Boston College. The Rangers will try to persuade him to make the jump to the AHL next season. Center J.T. Miller, 2011’s first-rounder, is in the midst of a strong major junior debut season at Plymouth of the OHL. On the blue line, Tim Erixon projects as an offensive defenseman and is currently playing at Hartford. And Dylan McIlrath, at 6-foot-5, is known as one of the toughest defensemen in the WHL, where he currently plays for Moose Jaw. All could be trade chips.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Buyers or Sellers?: Philadelphia is in win-now mode, despite the fact that they have been having a hard time winning recently. With one of the league’s best players in Claude Giroux and mainly veteran supporting cast, the Flyers have no intention of being sellers.

Needs: With Chris Pronger out for the season, the Flyers needed to shore up their defense. Big, bruising defenseman Nicklas Grossman was brought on in a trade with the Dallas Stars. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has not been consistent this year, but Philadelphia has to hope he gets hot and save its trade commodities for other needs.

Surplus: Philadelphia has very young, very talented players already in the NHL in forwards Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn. General manager Paul Holmgren is unlikely to deal either due to the aged nature of most of Philadelphia’s top forward contributors.

In the System: Schenn, Couturier and defenseman Erik Gustafsson represent the Flyers’ long-term future and they are already in the NHL. At the lower levels, the cupboard is relatively bare.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Buyers or Sellers?: Even without Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh is one of the most talented teams in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins are a Stanley Cup contender without Crosby. With Crosby, they are one of the favorites.

Needs: Pittsburgh needs depth and scoring support in Crosby’s absence. Evgeni Malkin and James Neal are having outstanding seasons and Jordan Staal is finally back from injury, but the pool gets very shallow after those three.

Surplus: The Penguins have enough to get by at both forward and defense. Malkin can carry the team on his back, and Kris Letang would be a No. 1 defenseman on almost any team in the NHL. They also have a strong supporting cast on D, but trading any one blue liner would create a hole. Pittsburgh does not have a surplus at any one position, so it would likely have to deal prospects or picks to get a deal done.

In the System: Beau Bennett, a first-rounder in 2010, projects as an offensive winger. He is currently playing at University of Denver and could play in the AHL next season. Simon Despres, a 6-foot-4 defenseman drafted in the 2009 first round has skated in 14 games with the Penguins this year but is currently with their AHL affiliate. He projects as a two-way defender in the NHL.

Tagged: Stars, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Coyotes, Wild, Chris Pronger, Al Montoya, Ilya Bryzgalov, Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Adam Henrique, Tim Erixon

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