The NHL trade deadline is less than a month away, and the incessant rumors about which players have been dangled as trade bait are really starting to heat up.

The midway point of the NHL season has come and gone, and the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders, with a few teams caught in the grey area of neither being confirmed buyers/sellers.

In the pretenders group are the Colorado Avalanche, who have been rumored to be shopping everybody including the stick boy as they remain mired in the NHL basement and are out of the playoff picture, for all intents and purposes.

In the grey area are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who, while they are fun to watch, blow too many leads and leave points on the board. Same goes for the Detroit Red Wings, who have imperiled their quarter century streak of playoff appearance with mediocre play.

On the contender side, the Columbus Blue Jackets are a lock to make the playoffs after taking a run at at the all-time winning streak earlier this season, but they still carry a few bad contracts they’d like to shed.

Here then, are 15 players (with three groups of two) who, depending on demand and fit, might be wearing different sweaters by season’s end.

12. Ben Bishop, G – Tampa Bay Lightning

Might as well start with likely the biggest fish in the trade rumor pond. Bishop is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and the Lightning would do well to maximize his return, because they could very well lose him in free agency and get squat. They also have a nice insurance policy in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has held the fort admirably in Bishop’s absence. The Bolts have also recently recalled former NCAA standout Adam Wilcox from Syracuse, where his play has improved significantly from 2015-16 to now. So, which suitors could benefit from adding Bishop (who would have to waive his no trade clause, too), considering he will likely be a rental? Ottawa could be a destination, in that Bishop could help their playoff push measurably, even with No. 1 Craig Anderson back from his leave of absence to be with his cancer-stricken wife. The L.A. Kings, who are barely making do with Jonathan Quick out, also have the cap space and currently hold the last wild card spot in the West.

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

11. Jarome Iginla, RW And Matt Duchene, C – Colorado Avalanche

We’re quite sure that with the horrible season the Avs are experiencing — just 32 points, 28 points out of a playoff spot — that teams have deluged GM Joe Sakic’s phone, kicking tires on the top half of his line-up. Jarome Iginla, who is 39 and a UFA at the end of the season, has been linked to many teams, including Edmonton and Calgary. He’d have to waive his no trade clause and the Oilers could use his veteran savvy as they seem destined for the playoffs. Plus, they wouldn’t have to give up much more than a mid-round draft pick to get him. The best bait the Avalanche have to dangle is Duchene, who is still just 25, but has a prohibitive contract that will pay him $6 million a season through 2019. His name has surfaced quite a bit in rumors, so expect him to move. He has 15 goals and 17 assists and has won an astounding 61.7 percent of his face-offs, which makes him attractive to a number of teams looking for help down the middle, like the Montreal Canadiens.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

10. Ron Hainsey, D – Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have a glut of good, young and mostly American defencemen on a team not likely to reach the post-season. It stands to reason, then, that soon-to-be UFA Ron Hainsey should be moved, depending on which teams he has identified in his modified no trade clause. The 35-year-old still plays big minutes (over 22 per game) and would be a good fit on a few teams needing stay-at-home depth on the blueline heading into the post-season. The remaining dollars on his contract are also cap-friendly, in that he’s making a shade under $3 million ($2.833 million to be exact). The St. Louis Blues are on the edge of contention, sitting third in the Central, but with several teams nipping at their heels. Veteran Robert Bortuzzo already missed a chunk of the season with injury and other than “old man” Jay Bouwmeester, who is 32, they have a pretty young defensive corps with inexperienced D-men Brad Hunt and Joel Edmundson filling in. Stay tuned.

(AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

9. Cam Fowler, D – Anaheim Ducks

Sometime soon, the Anaheim Ducks are going to have to fish or cut bait when it comes to Cam Fowler. The young stud defenceman is on the second-last year of a five-year, $20 million deal and will be due a significant raise in 2018 when he is UFA. His name has gone round the rumor mill, though, and Anaheim already has three corps defencemen (Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Simon Despres) locked up long term. Those three eat up around $14 million in average salary per year, too. Decisions on cheaper young defencemen Josh Manson and Brandon Montour will also have to be made in 2018. So, the Ducks, who are fighting it out with San Jose for the Pacific Division lead, need some offence down the wings, which makes Fowler solid gold bait in that regard. Or, they could opt to move him for at least a first round pick and a prospect or two.


8. Thomas Vanek, RW – Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings are at a crossroads. In danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, they may have to seriously consider unloading assets to re-tool and move forward. Problem is, they have too many untradeable contracts, like the dubious one given to defenceman Jonathan Ericsson (six years, $25.5 million, expires in 2020). Therefore, a guy like Vanek, who is enjoying a decent year and is making just $2.6 million on a one-year hitch, is expendable. He doesn’t have a no trade clause and is currently second on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 22 assists. Where the Red Wings really lack, outside of 30-year-old defenceman Mike Green, is a solid young puck-mover. That is, Green’s 26 points are fully 17 ahead of the next rearguard, Ericsson. One team that could use the help down the right side is Edmonton, who have the cap space to absorb Vanek’s modest hit and have a couple good young offensive minded defencemen in their system, like Ethan Bear of the Seattle Thunderbirds.


7. Dennis Wideman, D – Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames have virtually no cap space and are in the thick of a playoff hunt. Their young corps of defencemen, including Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie, are locked up long term. Which leaves the fly in the ointment of Dennis Wideman’s expiring deal (with a no trade clause, which he would have to waive) that pays him $5.25 million. At 33, he is still valuable, playing 21 minutes per game, with 16 points in 49 contests. The Flames could really use some veteran depth in their bottom six forwards. Someone who could kill penalties, since the Flames are the most penalized team in the league (203 penalty kills already) and are 20th in percentage (80.3%) having given up 40 goals. Again, the St. Louis Blues come up as needing a veteran defenceman, and since they are fourth in penalty killing, may have an asset or two to give up, such as Kyle Brodziak, who is an Alberta native too.


6. Dmitry Kulikov, D – Buffalo Sabres

The Dmitry Kulikov experiment in Buffalo can officially be called a failure. After a decent season in Florida in 2015-16, the former first round pick has been a bust in Buffalo, with two points in 30 games and a -9. Pretty bad measured up against his last campaign, where he had 17 points in 74 games, was +8 and contributed another four points in six playoff contests. And since the Sabres won’t likely be able to unload perennial disappointment Evander Kane on anyone, Kulikov could be on the move. Buffalo is dead last in the Atlantic Division and barring a miracle, will miss the playoffs again. Kulikov’s career isn’t completely without hope, since he’s only 25, played on the Russian team at the World Cup of Hockey and is playing on a defensively suspect team. It would seem that a change of scenery to a contender could help get his game back in order, with a possible young winger coming back in return.


5. P.A. Parenteau, RW – New Jersey Devils

The Devils, after a fairly decent start, are scuffling and will likely have to shed a few players to reset the system. P.A. Parenteau, who is currently third in team scoring with 13 goals, is no stranger to being shuttled around and with his offensive flair could fetch New Jersey a prospect or mid-round draft pick in return. Better yet, his cap hit is very inexpensive, as he’s on a one-year pact that pays $1.25 million. A good destination might be across town to the New York Rangers. The Devils could use a good young defenceman in return or a depth centerman, such as the Rangers’ Oscar Lindberg, who could use an address change (just 10 points this season) after a breakout year in 2015-16 (28 points in 68 games).

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

4. James van Riemsdyk, LW – Toronto Maple Leafs

The rumor mill is in hyper-drive in Toronto, especially where veteran left winger James van Riemsdyk is concerned. And with the emergence of fine young rookies like Auston Matthews carrying the load in Toronto, he might suddenly be expendable. He is currently the third line right winger, but is being paid like a top six ($4.25 million annually until 2018). The Leafs are also in that grey area of contender/pretender, winning games to keep them in contention, but blowing late leads. They also are pretty hard against the cap and will have to free some money for the future to sign good looking kids Connor Brown (restricted this year), William Nylander (RFA in 2018), Zach Hyman (RFA this year) and Nikita Zaitsev (RFA this year). Therefore, finding a suitor for offensively gifted but defensively suspect van Riemsdyk might be a bit difficult, depending on the Leafs asking price — which is likely a good shut-down defenceman or high draft pick.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

3. Patrick Sharp, LW And Johnny Oduya, D – Dallas Stars

The Stars 2016-17 season could best be described as, pardon the overused expression, a dumpster fire. Nothing has gone right for the Stars this season and it starts from the net out. However, they will find zero interested trade partners for mediocre goaltenders Kari Lehtonen (UFA 2018, $5.9 million cap hit) or Antti Niemi (UFA 2018, $4.5 million cap hit). Thus, they need to offload some aging veterans on expiring contracts to stock the cupboard with youth. They may find willing teams ready to take Patrick Sharp, 35, off their hands, since he is an experienced playoff warrior. But, they’ll need him to waive his no trade clause to do so. He’s a UFA at the end of the season and has a $5.9 million cap hit, so the prospects may be limited. The other likely candidate to move is Johnny Oduya, who is also 35, and a valuable playoff hardened, stay-at-home defenceman. His cap hit is $3.75 million and he has a modified no trade clause, so hopefully for Dallas, there is a fit with his list of teams.


2. Scott Hartnell, LW – Columbus Blue Jackets

Why screw around with a good thing, especially in the wake of an epic winning streak? Because anything is possible. The Columbus Blue Jackets, who almost smashed the decades old longest regular season winning streak of 17 games, may want to tinker with a line-up that has a couple expendable pieces. One is Brandon Dubinsky, who is making top six money ($5.85 million until 2021) but producing at a bottom six rate (just seven goals in 52 games). However, he is still just 30 and has a few more years left in him than Scott Hartnell, who is 34. Hartnell, like Dubinsky, is being paid big bucks ($4.75 million until 2019) but is employed on the fourth line. Hartnell has seen his ice time shrink three full minutes under John Tortorella, which can’t sit to well with the veteran, who has 30 points in 54 games and is +12. He, like Dubinsky, has a no trade clause, so would need to waive it. A draft pick would be a likely return, as there are currently few holes in the Blue Jackets line-up.

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

1. Martin Hanzal, C And Radim Vrbata, RW – Arizona Coyotes

Even more so than their sorry brethren in Colorado, the Arizona Coyotes have a big “for sale” sign up and not many names are left off the list. Among the rumored trading block candidates are Mike Smith, Shane Doan, Michael Stone, Anthony Duclair, Radim Vrbata, and Martin Hanzal. Of those six, the two that would get the Coyotes the best return would be veterans Vrbata and Hanzal. Vrbata, 35, is on a one-year contract that pays him $3.25 million. He currently leads an awful hockey club with 11 goals and 25 assists in 53 games. Hanzal, 29, is on the last year of a five-year, $15.5 million contract and has 12 goals and nine assists in 44 games. The ‘Yotes have many needs and with those fairly friendly deals, teams will no doubt kick the tires in the desert. They need a reliable back-up goalie, some scoring wingers and younger defencemen. The Coyotes swap shop is open for business.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)