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February 23, 2011
Deadline Deals
Northwest Division

by Kent Wilson

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Hockey Prospectus is taking a look at the NHL division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline. Tuesday, we continue with the Northwest Division.

Feb. 28 marks the NHL's trade deadline and every team in the league -- both playoff-bound and those likely for the draft lottery -- has needs to address. To prepare for the final flurry of transactions, we're going team by team to see which players can help fill some holes on contenders or provide some foundational stability for teams building for next season and beyond.

One statistic you'll come across in the analysis below is GVT, the main player valuation metric used by Hockey Prospectus. For a detailed explanation of GVT, click here.

Vancouver Canucks

The problem: As is their custom, the Canucks have seen their blue-line depth completely depleted, thanks to injuries to Alexander Edler (back), Dan Hamhuis (concussion), Keith Ballard (leg), Kevin Bieksa (foot) and Andrew Alberts (wrist). Vancouver is currently employing Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and five guys from the Manitoba Moose on the back end for the time being, with a high probability that the fragile Salo will be back in the infirmary any minute.

The solution: 32-year-old defender Chris Phillips has been playing the hard minutes for the Ottawa Senators for the better part of a decade. He's doing it again this season with an offensive-to-defensive zone-start rate of 48.6 percent, the most difficult among Ottawa's defenders (hence the negative GVT on this year's woeful team). He also leads the Senators in short-handed ice time, with a per game average of 3 minutes, 24 seconds.

Offensively, Phillips adds nothing to the Canucks, but his ability to capably face first-line players at even strength and on the penalty kill would make him a valuable short-term rental in Vancouver's quest for its first Stanley Cup.

Phillips: -1.8 GVT

Calgary Flames

The problem: The Calgary Flames eternal lament? A first-line center. Despite acquiring Olli Jokinen (twice) and Matt Stajan in the past two years, the Flames have nevertheless been running with 35-year-old Brendan Morrison between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla. Jokinen and Stajan have proven to be adequate support centermen so far, and Morrison has certainly provided value for his $725,000 contract, but if the Flames want to make the playoffs and challenge elite teams in Detroit and Vancouver they're going to need a much more formidable top end than what they currently boast.

The solution: Former No. 4 overall pick Stephen Weiss is a two-time 60-point scorer, despite playing for a rather offense-starved Florida Panthers club. Weiss isn't merely a strong puck distributor and power-play center. He can also play at both ends of the ice and is frequently skates against other teams' best players. This is essential for anyone centering Iginla, given the level of competition he typically faces. This is also the reason guys such as Jokinen and Stajan have failed in that role.

Weiss has two more years left on a contract with a $3.10 million cap hit, which would make it manageable for the Flames going forward, particularly with Daymond Langkow on long-term injured reserve. New Florida GM Dale Tallon has already showed a willingness to move players who are more than mere rentals by dealing Michael Frolik to the Blackhawks earlier, so it's possible Weiss is available for the right price. And given the average age of this Flames roster, 29.47 years, it's likely a price worth paying.

Weiss: 5.1 GVT

Minnesota Wild

The problem: The Minnesota Wild have struggled with marginal scoring depth since they were an expansion team, and it's a weakness that haunts the club to this day. Outside of Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the suddenly emergent Cal Clutterbuck, the Wild's offensive forward talent is puddle deep. Minnesota is 25th in the league in terms of goals per game (2.56) and looking to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the dogfight that is the Western Conference. A few more goals could go a long way, but short on assets they'll need to find someone that won't cost too much.

The solution: Although not the most prolific scorer in the league, Dainius Zubrus is an established (albeit mediocre) top-six forward who can chip in 35-45 points a year, similar to free-agent signee Matt Cullen. The New Jersey Devils are essentially out of the playoff race and will be looking to free up cap dollars to re-sign RFA Zach Parise this coming offseason, so they would no doubt be willing to part with Zubrus for a minimal return. A single mid-round draft pick would likely be enough to pry him out of New Jersey.

An easy addition such as Zubrus would be a boon for a Wild team that will have to keep one eye on the future, despite trying to win in the present. Zubrus is signed until 2012-13 and would therefore be a more permanent addition. The club also can't afford to deal quality futures, owing to their lackluster prospect depth, so a more high-profile rental player is likely not in the cards.

Zubrus: 2.0 GVT

Colorado Avalanche

The problem: The Avs were routinely outshot last season but rode a wave of high shooting and save percentages to their postseason berth. This year the Avalanche continue to give up more shots than they generate (minus-1.3 per game), but the bounces have gone the other way. The regression has hit hardest in net, where Craig Anderson has gone from a Hart candidate last season (38 wins, .917 save percentage) to a replacement-level puck-stopper this season (13 wins, .897). An excellent goalie can hide a lot of warts, but a bad one exposes them. Anderson's true skill level probably lies somewhere between the two extremes, though that's of little interest to the Avs now that he's been dealt to the Senators for Brian Elliot.

The solution: Patience. Although they made the dance in 2009-10, the Avalanche are still very much in the middle of a rebuild. Their focus at the deadline should be moving UFAs they don't plan to retain and collecting more future assets in return. Milan Hejduk is the most likely player to demand a significant return, given his 10 straight seasons of scoring 20 or more goals. He would make an excellent "final piece" to high-end teams looking to make a long run in the postseason, but it doesn't seem the Avs will make him available. If the team changes its collective mind, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings and even the Phoenix Coyotes would be good targets. Look for the Avalanche to demand a package including a top-60 draft pick and at least one quality prospect.

Edmonton Oilers

The problem: The Oilers remain the worst team in the NHL. They have problems at every position: defense, forward and goaltending. Although guys such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Pajaarvi have been reasonably good in their rookie seasons, Edmonton is still a year or two away from legitimately competing for a playoff spot. They'll be looking to accrue young talent and picks before Feb. 28.

The solution: The Oilers will likely focus on dealing either Ales Hemsky or Dustin Penner at the deadline if each or both are perceived as long shots to re-sign with the club next summer. In fact, we advocated trading Penner to Anaheim in Monday's look at the Pacific Division.

Penner and Hemsky are capable top-six wingers and could fetch attractive packages. In addition to the Ducks, the Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes would likely line up for a chance at improving their top-end talent, particularly since each guy has another year left on his deal. The Los Angeles Kings, who are in desperate need for one more scoring winger, would also likely be in the mix.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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