Trades could heat up before NHL Draft

The NHL’s 2011 Entry Draft takes place this weekend in St. Paul, Minn., with the first round held on Friday evening (June 24) and Rounds 2-7 the following day.

While it’s an exciting time for the world’s top junior players, who’ll anxiously await which NHL teams will be selecting them, it’s also a time when NHL teams begin wheeling and dealing, either to swap draft picks or move already established NHL players.

This year’s draft has the potential to see higher-than-normal trade activity. Here’s a look at several teams worth watching this week as the entry draft weekend approaches.

Philadelphia Flyers: Two weeks ago they acquired the exclusive negotiating rights of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, and are assumed to be close to signing him to a new, long-term contract, possibly worth between $5.5-6.5 million per season.

Before that, however, they’ll need to free up at least $5 million in cap space to absorb his new contract, in order to comply with the league’s salary cap “tagging” rule.

While center Jeff Carter’s name has been kicked around the rumor mill, it’s believed management wishes to retain him, meaning they’ll have to consider moving one or two other players to free up the necessary cap space. Winger Kris Versteeg and defenseman Matt Carle have been mentioned as potential trade candidates.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Reportedly attempted to pry Jeff Carter away from the Flyers earlier this month. GM Scott Howson needs to rebuild the Blue Jackets into a playoff contender, and is willing to offer up his first-round pick (8th overall) as part of the deal. It’s also believed former first-rounder Nikita Filatov might be available.

The Blue Jackets desperately need a first-line center for winger Rick Nash, plus a top-two puck-moving defenseman. Howson might try to find the latter via free agency, but given the lack of quality centers in this summer’s free-agent pool, he’ll probably have to turn toward the trade market to address that need.

Toronto Maple Leafs: GM Brian Burke informed his fellow general managers at the recent NHL Draft Combine he’d be willing to package one of his two low first-round picks (25th and 30th overall) along with his second-rounder to move up in the draft order.

Burke is also in need of a first-line center to play with wingers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. He could shop around for one if he decides not to get into a bidding war for Brad Richards’ services when the Dallas center becomes a free agent on July 1.

Phoenix Coyotes: Having dealt away Bryzgalov, the Coyotes will be in need of a quality starting goaltender next season.

GM Don Maloney earlier this month hinted his options could include free agency, where there isn’t much depth in starting goalies this year, or trading for either an established netminder or a promising young one. Maloney, however, has to ensure he finds an affordable fit, as once again he’ll be operating on a tight budget.

Washington Capitals: Management insists there’s no need to shake up their playoff underachieving roster, which could put to rest speculation winger Alexander Semin or defenseman Mike Green might be on the trade block.

They do, however, have a logjam in goal, with promising Braden Holtby set to challenge Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov for one of the spots on their goalie tandem. It’s assumed Varlamov, who because of injury lost his starter’s job to Neuvirth this past season, could become trade bait.

Colorado Avalanche: Like the Phoenix Coyotes, the Avalanche are in need of an experienced starting goaltender. While they’ve been linked to Florida’s Tomas Vokoun if he should test the free-agent market, his salary demands could be too rich for their blood, pushing them into the trade market.

The Avs could also use some experienced blueline depth, but it’s believed they could look toward free agency to address it. Still, one shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a trade.

New York Islanders: Having used their high first-round picks in four of the past five drafts to select notable youngsters John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and promising Nino Niederreiter, the Isles have made it known this year they’re willing to shop their first-round pick (fifth overall).

But don’t expect them to just give it away. They’re believed to be in the market for an established scoring forward who can help them right away, not in fading stars. They could target cap-strapped teams in need of dumping salary before next season.

Dallas Stars: It’s believed Stars management is trying to move the rights to Brad Richards before his eligibility for free agency on July 1.

Their asking price wouldn’t be much – perhaps a mid-range draft pick – so the possibility exists Richards’ rights could be dealt this upcoming weekend, though any team which gets them would have only about a week to get him under contract before he qualifies for UFA status.

Florida Panthers: GM Dale Tallon has loaded up with picks for this year’s draft, plus has a little over $18 million invested in 11 players for next season. With the salary cap “floor” expected to be around $48 million, Tallon will have to spend over $30 million to get comfortably above it for next season.

He’s expected to be very busy in this summer’s free-agent market, but don’t rule out the possibility of his packaging a couple of his high draft picks for an established young star. Like the Islanders, Tallon could target teams seeking to dump salary.

Carolina Hurricanes: With defenseman Joni Pitkanen and winger Jussi Jokinen headed to free agency, and contract talks going slowly with forwards Erik Cole and Chad LaRose, it’s possible the Hurricanes could look toward the trade market to replace one or more of these players

The primary need to be addressed is their blueline, which was struggling even with Pitkanen in the lineup last season.

Buffalo Sabres: The days of Sabres management operating under tightwad ownership are over, as new owner Terry Pegula has given GM Darcy Regier the green light to spend whatever is necessary to improve the team.

Regier is expected to invest mainly in the upcoming free-agent market, but he could also go the trade route for the right deal, perhaps to either add an experienced scoring center or another veteran blueliner.

Minnesota Wild: GM Chuck Fletcher recently claimed he’s willing to listen to offers for everyone but team captain Mikko Koivu. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s looking to blow up his roster, but it could make the Wild a prime target for clubs looking to make trades.

The Wild desperately need to add more scoring depth and it’s rumored defensemen Brent Burns and Cam Barker could be had for the right price. Fletcher would probably prefer to retain Burns, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and if he doesn’t see a future in Minnesota, that could force Fletcher to try to move him now.