After the Winter Olympics end, NHL teams will have just three days to tweak their rosters ahead of the March 3 trade deadline. Through ESPN Insider, ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek and Puck Prospectus evaluate every team's roster and the surrounding whispers from NHL Rumor Central. This is how the Southeast Division teams can improve in order to make a run at the playoffs, the Stanley Cup ... or for next season.
Washington's problem: The blue line
As mentioned by E.J., Semyon Varlamov's effort has been dubious since his return from injury, Michal Neuvirth is inexperienced and Jose Theodore's play is sporadic. Some believe the Capitals need to add a netminder before the deadline. Although the team's goaltending may be suspect, Puck Prospectus thinks the Capitals need some work on the back end. With Mike Green more than capable of contributing offensively, the emergence of the solid stay-at-home type Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti's resurgence, the Capitals have some pieces but still could use one more top-level defenseman. The issue is whether the team should add a stay-at-home blueliner or another offensive puck mover.
The guy to get: D Marek Zidlicky
The Wild have a fair number of offensive defensemen, especially after acquiring Cam Barker from the Chicago Blackhawks. With the addition of Barker, the presence of Brent Burns and the pending unrestricted free agency of Zidlicky, it appears Zidlicky could be available in the land of 10,000 lakes. The Czech defender is a proven puck mover who makes a great first pass, can quarterback the power play and can help the team's already dynamite transition game. He would make a fast team even faster while helping the team clear the puck from its own zone.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Washington Capitals as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Washington Capitals, click here.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay's problem: The penalty kill
The Lightning do not lack pure talent. With Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos leading the way, the Bolts' top six rivals many of the top groups in the NHL. With Tampa sitting only one point back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the team would do well to improve its 22nd-ranked penalty kill. As of now, the Lightning's top penalty killers in terms of minutes per game are newly acquired Nate Thompson, Jeff Halpern, Paul Szczechura and rookie James Wright. They could do a lot better.
The guy to get: RW Fredrik Sjostrom
Adding penalty-killing forwards is an interesting predicament. With so many teams still in the playoff race, the Lightning may look to acquire Sjostrom from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sure, the Leafs just added Sjostrom from Calgary, but Toronto has set its focus on the future, and if the team can add a draft pick to replace a penalty killer, it probably would be amenable to dealing him. The addition of Sjostrom would give Tocchet a reliable penalty killer who is willing to block shots, is quick and can take away passing lanes.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Tampa Bay Lightning, click here.
Florida's problem: The power play
The Panthers may be sitting on the outskirts of the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference, but the team probably would be faring a lot better if it had an improved power-play unit. So far this season, the Panthers rank 28th in the NHL with a paltry 15.4 percent success rate with the man advantage. With rumors of a purge of the current roster, some say the Panthers are shopping both Tomas Vokoun and Horton. Panthers fans are not sure whether to jump in for a playoff chase or watch their favorite players leave town. If Florida does not sell the farm, the group could use an offensive-minded forward with good power-play numbers.
The guy to give up: C Mike Comrie
It is unlikely the Panthers will add anything at the deadline, but if they do, Comrie could fit in well. He is playing on an awful Edmonton squad that has visions of top draft prospect Taylor Hall in the copper and blue. In Comrie, the Panthers can add a left-hand-shooting forward who makes only $1.2 million this season and will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. Comrie has missed most of the season with mono but returned recently and has been one of the Oilers' most creative forwards. With 4.84 points produced per 60 minutes on the power play, that number would place Comrie first on the Panthers.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Florida Panthers as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Florida Panthers, click here.
Atlanta's problem: Building for the future
Despite their proximity to the playoffs, the Thrashers are once again rebuilding, so the problem is not rooted in one specific aspect of the team's overall game. The Thrashers have to build for the future around players such as Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane, Tobias Enstrom and Bryan Little. With the trade of Kovalchuk already paving the way, it's not as if Waddell should worry about any further fan backlash. As a result, a number of the team's veteran pending UFAs should be given a one-way ticket out of Atlanta.
The guys to give up: RW Maxim Afinogenov, LW Slava Kozlov and D Pavel Kubina
All three should be traded from Atlanta in return for draft picks and prospects. As currently constructed, the Thrashers could use more forward prospects than defensive prospects, but the team is not strong enough to start choosing positional need in place of overall talent. The Thrashers should simply put all of the above-mentioned players on the market and trade each of them to the highest bidder.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Atlanta Thrashers as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Atlanta Thrashers, click here.
Carolina's problem: Even-strength production
The Hurricanes are certainly not an even-strength juggernaut. So far this season, the team ranks a lowly 26th in five-on-five goals-for/goals-against ratio. With such poor production at even strength, the streaking Hurricanes need to add a player who is capable of producing offense without the need for much power-play time.
The guy to give up: LW Ray Whitney
Whitney, who might be the top commodity on the trade market, was almost dealt to the Kings two weeks ago. The problem is Whitney is the Canes' third-most-efficient even-strength scorer, and Cullen was their fourth-best before he was traded. The Hurricanes won't be looking to add much salary at the deadline and will need to replace some of the skills they are trading away. As a result, they may target a player such as Luca Caputi out of Pittsburgh, as the Pens are rumored to be in on Whitney. Caputi is 22 years old, has produced at the OHL and AHL levels and would seem to be a good return for a player of Whitney's skill level.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on possible trade acquisitions for the Carolina Hurricanes as well as tradeable assets, click here.
For ESPN Rumor Central's take on possible trade targets for the Carolina Hurricanes, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Richard Pollock is Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve.