Reality is setting in for the bottom-dwellers. Since the lockout of 1994-95, no NHL team has overcome more than an in-season deficit of more than 13 points and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New Jersey Devils are currently 18 points out of eighth place in the East, while the New York Islanders are 21 back. Rebuilding teams in Florida (eight points out of the playoff picture) and Edmonton (eight back in the West) also need young NHLers, prospects and draft picks more than veterans at the end of their contracts.
The Devils and Islanders may look like bad teams right now, but that doesn't mean they don't have high-quality personnel who could be available at the trade deadline. Add in Florida and Edmonton, and it's not a bad market for buyers. The shopping list includes ...
Jason Arnott: The Devils traded a second round pick to Nashville for an encore with Arnott that doesn't appear to have a happy ending. On the last year of his contract, Arnott would still be a worthwhile add for a team looking for size, ability and Stanley Cup experience at the pivot.
Ryan Jones: After four years at Miami University and a pair in Nashville's system, Jones (seven goals in 30 games) is having a mini-breakout with the Oilers. Just 26 years old, Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini may look to sign the pending unrestricted free agent, but Jones could be available before the trade deadline.
Jamie Langenbrunner: Would Lou Lamoriello consider turning the page by trading the Devils' beloved captain? You'd have to think he would. Langenbrunner would not come cheaply, but would be re-energized by joining a contender and still has a few good years left. Langenbruner is on the last year of his deal.
Bryan McCabe: His long and expensive contract signed with Toronto finally comes to an end this season. McCabe remains an intense, skilled and respected defenseman who would be a luxury on the third pair for a contender.
Matt Moulson: The former Kings farmhand stunned the league by scoring 30 goals last season and is on track for another 25-30 in 2010-11. He was signed last summer to a one-year deal worth $2.45 million. The Islanders can begin negotiating with the pending UFA after New Year's Day. If progess is not made, GM Garth Snow would have to listen to trade offers. Since goal-scoring hands are a hot commodity in this league, Moulson could bring back a good return.
Dwayne Roloson: Don't look at the win-loss record or the age (okay, he's 41). Check the goals-against average and save percentage, and then watch the game footage. Teams passed on Roloson last year, perhaps not wanting the one season still left on his contract. This time he's UFA on July 1 and definitely worth the low cost to shore up a team's goaltending.
Jim Vandermeer: The Oilers defenseman is out for a week with an ankle injury, but he's not needed until March and beyond. A quality defenseman with character, leadership and grit, Vandermeer -- if not re-signed by Edmonton to assist in its exciting rebuild -- will be highly sought after by team's looking for depth.
Tomas Vokoun: Likely to be the best goaltender available in the trade market who could steal a team a playoff round, the Panthers' No. 1 goaltender will be a UFA on July 1.
James Wisniewski: A good player in Chicago and Anaheim who is struggling (minus-19) with the injury-depleted and undermanned Islanders, Wisniewski could use a change of scenery. If all a good team asked of him was to play solid and gritty D as a No. 4 or 5, Wisniewski would be a terrific addition for a playoff run.
Hero of the Week
Bravo, Dion Phaneuf. The Maple Leafs defenseman has luanched a charitable program called, "Phaneuf's Friends in the Captain's Corner" with Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Phaneuf purchased 20 suites for home games this season in order to host more than 300 youngsters who might normally be unable to attend an NHL game. "I want to help lift the spirit of these children in difficult times," said Phaneuf.
-- Brian Leetch has been solid in his first full season as an analyst on NESN and MSG Network, but does not rule out a career in coaching down the road. "I would certainly never say no to that," the Rangers Hall of Fame defenseman told FanHouse. "I love the game. It would be ideal to be involved in an organization with someone you respected, and you felt like everyone was on the same page. Who knows whether that will ever come up? Being a coach is even more time-consuming than being a player. You have to be prepared for that, and so does your family." Don't be surprised if Leetch aligns with Mark Messier in Rangers management in a few years.
-- Here's what you should know about the World Junior Championships. When it's convenient for an NHL general manager, he'll talk publicly about the invaluable experience his prospects will get at the tournament. When it's not, he'll talk privately about how the event is just a bunch of teenagers playing against each other with little value in the big picture. So here's my advice: enjoy this year's WJC in Buffalo for what it is -- one of the best international tournaments in the world in any sport.
-- Everyone knew the 2010-11 Blackhawks would not be the same, but how many people had Anaheim with a better record than Chicago after 32 games? I'm still not giving up on the Blackhawks.
-- San Jose GM Doug Wilson might not want to wait until the trade deadline to make a team. With enough talented young players in the Sharks' lineup and a few in-waiting, if Wilson has to give up more early-round draft picks, so be it.
-- NHL Elite Four -- 1. Philadelphia 2. Detroit 3. Pittsburgh 4. Vancouver
-- NHL Bottom
-- Today's Three Stars -- 1. Mike Gartner 2. Paul Gardner 3. Bruce Gardiner.