DENVER — When Thomas Vanek started the season, his future residence was in doubt. We’re nearing the homestretch, and his hockey home remains a major question mark.
One thing is certain: A lot of teams will have a say in where he goes.
The first of two NHL trade deadlines comes this week, and Vanek is the top name on the market. The former Sabres forward has performed well for the New York Islanders — 15 goals and 38 points in 41 games — but the team is well out of a playoff spot.
It means the pending unrestricted free agent could be on the move for the second time.
While Vanek headlines the rentals (players with expiring contracts on non-playoff teams), he’s hardly alone. Buffalo fans are already well-aware of that as they prepare for the possible departures of Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson, Steve Ott and Henrik Tallinder.
Here are the names you’ll hear a lot in the coming week and month as the league prepares for a pair of roster freezes. No moves will be allowed during the Olympic break, starting Friday and ending Feb. 23. The normal trade deadline is March 5, just 10 days later.
Head of the class: Vanek. He’s remained focused during his move downstate, totaling 19 goals and 47 points in 54 games. He’s shown a trade won’t impact his production. His playoff experience is a bonus. Vanek put up 15 goals and 20 points in 36 games with the Sabres. The postseason is what rentals are all about.
Not far behind: Ryan Callahan, Rangers; Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey; Paul Stastny, Colorado; Mike Cammalleri, Calgary, Moulson.
Jagr continues to excel nearing age 42. He leads the Devils with 17 goals and 48 points, but that’s not what makes him special. This former hoister of the Stanley Cup has 78 goals and 199 points in 202 playoff games. That experience is immeasurable, but New Jersey still feels it can make a run.
Stastny makes the list despite being on a playoff squad. It’s not known if he’ll re-sign, and the Avalanche simply can’t allow him to walk away for nothing.
Cammalleri, like Jagr and Vanek, brings playoff experience. He has 17 goals and 32 points in 32 postseason games, crunch-time stats that should make a general manager’s mouth water.
New York has reportedly given teams permission to speak with Callahan’s agent about a trade and contract extension. The two-way captain would dramatically improve any lineup.
Also of interest: Ott; Ray Whitney, Dallas; Devin Setoguchi, Winnipeg; Brad Boyes, Florida; Olli Jokinen, Winnipeg; Ales Hensky, Edmonton; Lee Stempniak, Calgary.
Two types of teams will be intrigued by Ott. Clubs that don’t have a lot of playoff experience might want the captain for his leadership ability. Established clubs would love adding him for all-around depth, though he has just three goals and five points in 34 playoff games.
Whitney (53 points in 103 games) and Setoguchi (25 in 53) provide playoff experience.
Head of the class: Tom Gilbert, Florida. Obviously, it’s not a very strong class. The 6-foot-3 defenseman has offensive abilities with 24 points in 54 games. He’s also one of the Panthers’ leaders in Corsi rating, so he’s typically not a defensive liability. However, he’s played more than 500 games (mostly with Edmonton) and has just five games of playoff experience.
Not far behind: Tallinder; Kris Russell, Calgary; Andrew MacDonald, Islanders. Tallinder can make a case for the top spot. The Swedish Olympian has more postseason games than his four colleagues combined, skating 39 times under Cup pressure while putting up 12 points.
Head of the class: Miller. What is there to write that you don’t already know? He’s backstopped the Sabres to two Eastern Conference finals and led the United States to a silver medal. Although goalies historically don’t attract more than a second-round pick, he might make enough GMs salivate to drive a bidding war.
Not far behind: Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis; Anton Khudobin, Carolina, Brian Elliott, St. Louis.
The Blues are an oft-mentioned Miller suitor, which would make at least one of their goalies expendable. Despite folks saying Halak probably can’t carry St. Louis to a Cup, he has a 2.42 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 23 postseason games. Miller, by comparison, has a 2.47 and .917 in 47 games.
Khudobin is an interesting case. The 27-year-old has played well for the Hurricanes (12-4, 2.16, .927), but Carolina has Cam Ward locked up for two more years at $6.3 million per season. It’s unlikely it would be willing to commit to two big-dollar goalies, so a move is possible despite the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes.
Also of interest: Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders. He’s been mediocre, but his 86 postseason games are a bonus.
Dancing with words
I enjoy Ted Nolan’s interviews. The Sabres’ coach is insightful, forthcoming and honest (with the obvious exception of injury updates). He also talks really fast when the recorders are rolling, which can jumble the words and make for interesting comments.
When discussing meeting players’ parents the other day, Nolan meant to say you learn about the players’ quirks. What actually came out was, “You talk to the parents and find out some of the little twerks.”
Alas, Miley Cyrus was not on the trip.
On the fly
• Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren on the trade deadline: “It’s getting to the point where we need to see what we have, see what’s out there and make a move if we’re going to do it. … I firmly believe in the nucleus that we have here. That doesn’t mean if something comes up now and for the future that we wouldn’t think about it.”
• Why are the Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference playoff race after a slow start? Columbus is tied for seventh in scoring (2.87 goals per game) after finishing 20th or worse in 12 of the previous 13 seasons.
• During the second intermission of the Sabres and Coyotes, Phoenix showed a video of Paul Bissonnette talking about the Super Bowl with Shane Doan, who recently returned from a severe illness. Bissonnette, the resident comedian, cracked: “I’m sure you’re rooting for the Denver Broncos because you have Rocky Mountain fever.”