By Steve Silverman
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Serious plans for the NHL's March 2 trade deadline are being made right now, and it's all about making the best possible deal.
The Rangers and Islanders are both legitimate Eastern Conference contenders, and like every other team that has a legitimate chance at chasing Lord Stanley's chalice, they need improvements.
The Rangers' need for a defenseman has been well-publicized to this point, but depth forwards are also on the market, as well as a high-end scorer, courtesy of the woebegone Toronto Maple Leafs.
Here's a look at the top candidates who have a chance to be moved prior to the deadline:
Andrej Sekera, Defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes – A free agent at the end of the season, the 29-year-old may be the top blueline target available. He is making $2.75 million this season, and the final two months will just be a veritable drop in the bucket. Sekera is a strong defenseman capable of playing in short-handed, power play and even-strength situations. Any coach can feel comfortable putting him in a top or middle pairing. He is a strong puck mover who does not panic when the opponent has the cycle game going.
Antoine Vermette, Center, Arizona Coyotes – Vermette has been mentioned as one of the top trade candidates since November. It's clear that the Coyotes have to tear down the house, and Vermette is a valuable scorer and playmaker who could fit in with at least 10 of the 16 playoff teams. Vermette has 13 goals and 35 points and his 16.3 shooting percentage indicates that he can find the corners at key moments.
Phil Kessel, Right Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs – Nearly every member of the lowly Leafs could find himself traded, but general manager Dave Nonis would love to move Kessel because he has been the team's centerpiece and the team has floundered. Kessel's whistling wrist shot is a very dangerous weapon, but he has been a pouter throughout his career. He needs to go to a team with strong leadership that can roust him out of his sleepy ways on the ice. Kessel is clearly productive, but he is not responsible on the defensive end and his pouting ways will remind many of Chicago Bear quarterback Jay Cutler.
Keith Yandle, Defenseman, Arizona Coyotes – Yandle is a smart, talented and consistent offensive defenseman. He has one year remaining on his contract after the current season comes to a close, so he will cost more than a player like Sekera. Yandle can play the role of power play quarterback and he is a first-pairing defenseman who can be counted on to play 23-plus minutes per game.
Chris Stewart, Right Wing, Buffalo Sabres – A team that is in search of a big-bodied forward who has some nastiness to his game will consider making a strong move for Stewart. He has not had the best of seasons with the Sabres as he has just nine goals and 13 assists, however he will crash the net and is tough to move once he gets in front of the goalie. Stewart will be a free agent at the end of the season, and Buffalo general manager Tim Murray may be looking for quite a bit in return. However, he will almost certainly have to settle for less than he is expecting since Stewart is a role player and he's not elite.
Dion Phaneuf, Defenseman, Toronto Maple Leafs – The only teams that can consider adding Phaneuf will have to clear salary cap space. He is under contract through the 2020-21 season, and that's obviously a huge commitment. Is Phaneuf worth it? That's debatable because he takes a lot of unnecessary chances and makes too many mistakes. When he is on his game, he is a hard-nosed defender and a solid puck mover with a plus shot.
Jaromir Jagr, Left Wing, New Jersey Devils – Jagr wants to get moved to a contender so he gets one more chance to play for a team that is capable of winning the cup. While he doesn't have much speed at this point in his career, he is smart, strong and knows how to put himself in a position to make important plays. Since he will be a free agent at the end of the season, the Devils should be able to move him even though his cap hit of $3.5 million may be a bit much.
Jeff Petry, Defenseman, Edmonton Oilers – I will admit that you have to think long and hard before considering adding a defenseman from the lowly Oilers, but Petry is an experienced right-handed defenseman, and that's a rarity in the NHL. Petry can play in the second or third pairing, and he will have a calming influence. He has an above average shot from the point, and having a chance to compete on a playoff team should help his mindset.
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