With the Columbus Blue Jackets' trade for Jason Williams of the Atlanta Thrashers, we can probably expect more rentals than an Avis coming down the pike in the next several weeks. Because nothing says "road to the playoffs" like overpaid mercenaries being discarded by their struggling teams.
Kevin Allen of USA Today offered his Top 10 rentals in the second half of the season, and here they are in order: Jay Bouwmeester, Keith Tkachuk, Mathieu Schneider, Andy McDonald, Nik Antropov, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Marian Gaborik, Maxim Afinogenov and Sean O'Donnell.
Which players in this lot can make a difference? Which ones will cost too much? A few thoughts, and a few other suggestions for quick fix veterans with impending free agency.
First, thinking about Allen's suggestions:
1. Jay Bouwmeester (Florida): With Marian Gaborik hurt, Bouwmeester is the big prize. He's an unusual case only in that there are teams that would like to acquire and sign him, and they might be willing to pay more if they can talk to him and get him on the dotted line. Otherwise, the Panthers probably will be looking for a first-round pick, a prospect and someone off the roster. The Thrashers got that for Marian Hossa last season.
Without looking, how many points are the Florida Panthers from a playoff spot?
The answer is one; right behind the Carolina Hurricanes, with one fewer win and two games in hand.
Trading Bouwmeester has been a given all season, but what if it's not? Is it more valuable to the Panthers to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, and maybe win a round for the first time since their Cup run in 1996, than to deal their best D-man even if he's leaving this summer?
That's assuming the Panthers stay in contention, of course. And assuming Jacques Martin, the GM behind the Olli Jokinen trade, doesn't flip J-Bou for an impressive return ... like the ones teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might provide, according to ESPN.
3. Mathieu Schneider (Atlanta): Many teams are looking for a puck-moving defenseman, and Schneider still has a big shot and knows how to move the puck effectively. He hasn't played sharply this season, but teams will factor in that he's with a struggling team. He seems like a good fit for Montreal. The Thrashers, looking to beef up their prospect list, will be looking for a younger player.
Would this move strike anyone as something greater than a trade for a name player at the deadline? Saying Schneider hasn't "played sharply" is like saying Mickey Rourke has had an "interesting life." He's a minus-17, and has exactly three points on the power play, which should be his bread and butter.
5. Nik Antropov (Toronto): He's essentially a 25-goal man and GM Brian Burke will be looking to begin aggressively re-tooling his team. He wants to start acquiring draft picks.
Agreed. Antropov could be one of the few players on this list that would be a dependable difference maker on the right team. Based on Behind the Net's stats, he's third on the team in points per 60 minutes with 2.56 (based on at least 20 games played). Depending on the kind of pick Burke wants, snagging him in a walk-year would be shrewd.
A couple of others on the radar, depending on the fortunes of their teams, status of their contract (i.e. movement clauses) and potential desire to remain where they are:
Bill Guerin, New York Islanders. Allen had him ranked seventh, behind his teammate Doug Weight, and that's a mistake. On the right team with a hole at power forward, Guerin's goal-scoring (he's got 13 on the year) and veteran presence could be a "last piece of the puzzle"-like move, depending on the price and his desire to relocate.
Martin Skoula, Minnesota Wild. His availability depends in several factors, with the Wild's playoff contention chief among them, but he's a bargain-level player who has been playing good hockey for Jacques Lemaire.
Jere Lehtinen, Dallas Stars. He's oft-injured and has a no-trade clause. He's also a UFA this summer after a $4 million salary this season, and has six points in 13 games while averaging 18:43 in ice time. He's also a guy with 49 points in 108 playoff games. Chances are he'll never move; but chances are the Stars would listen if the team falls too far behind the pack.
Filip Kuba, Ottawa Senators. The Senators probably don't want to trade him, but he's having a great walk-year and could garner interest from teams that need a solid puck-moving D-man.
Jordan Leopold, Colorado Avalanche. He's 27, not making a ton of dough and is having the second-best offensive year of his career (at the current pace). And it's not like he's endeared himself to the entirety of the Avs' fan base.
Dwayne Roloson, Edmonton Oilers. This is one is yet again contingent on playoff positioning, because Craig MacTavish will no doubt raise hell to keep his best goalie when attempting to keep his job. But Roloson has plenty of value in relation to what fellow impending UFA; and someone will overpay for his services this time 'round.