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More leasing than buying expected as teams look to improve for playoffs

National Hockey League teams in search of a playoff spot or a berth in the Stanley Cup final like to rent rather than buy when the trading deadline looms.

With fellow unrestricted free-agent forward Ilya Kovalchuk already dealt last month by the Atlanta Thrashers to the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes veteran Ray Whitney, who turns 38 in May, and the Columbus Blue Jackets' Raffi Torres are the most sought-after players before this afternoon's deadline.

There are many more buyers than sellers heading into today's NHL trade deadline, meaning a less-than-star player like Raffi Torres of the Columbus Blue Jackets (shown above) is in high demand. Associated Press file photo

Edmonton -

National Hockey League teams in search of a playoff spot or a berth in the Stanley Cup final like to rent rather than buy when the trading deadline looms.

With fellow unrestricted free-agent forward Ilya Kovalchuk already dealt last month by the Atlanta Thrashers to the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes veteran Ray Whitney, who turns 38 in May, and the Columbus Blue Jackets' Raffi Torres are the most sought-after players before this afternoon's deadline.

Nashville acquired defenceman Denis Grebeshkov from the Edmonton Oilers for a second-round draft pick on Monday, and that could accelerate the trade of Predators' unrestricted free-agent blueliner Dan Hamhuis.

Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun has also sparked considerable interest, but the deal would have to blow the socks off the Panthers, who are looking to move half a dozen players.

There are more buyers than sellers because 13 teams are still in the playoff mix in the Western Conference, with the Minnesota Wild only five points back of the eighth-place Calgary Flames. Only the Blue Jackets and the Oilers are counting down the days until the season ends.

In the Eastern Conference, there are 11 teams in the hunt, with only Florida, the New York Islanders, Carolina and Toronto Maple Leafs realistically looking to dump player contracts. The Panthers are only six points out, but Florida general manager Randy Sexton is backing up the moving van, tired of a team that hasn't had a playoff game in 10 years.

Here's what teams might need and what they might be offering:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

San Jose Sharks

They could use one more depth defenceman, although they dealt for Carolina's Niclas Wallin last month. The bottom end - Kent Huskins, Jay Leach and Jason Demers - is a little shaky.

Chicago Blackhawks

Same boat as the Sharks. They moved Cam Barker's $3-million US salary for Kim Johnsson, an unrestricted free-agent blue-liner last month, but they could use a better No. 6 than Brent Sopel.

Vancouver Canucks

With Willie Mitchell's concussion worries, they are suddenly in the hunt for a defenceman. Mitchell is their prime shutdown guy. They are also looking for a third-line defensive-type centre, somebody with more upside than Kyle Wellwood.

Colorado Avalanche

Want to unload defenceman John-Michael Liles's $4-million salary, and maybe Ruslan Salei on the back-end. Winger Marek Svatos is in play, too. They could use a winger with some scoring punch, also a stay-at-home blue-liner.

Los Angeles Kings

If Justin Williams (broken ankle) was healthy, they wouldn't be in the Whitney chase. But they need one more gun up front with Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown on the wings. They might move Alex Frolov, an unrestricted free agent in July, because he's a third-liner now.

Nashville Predators

They have a crying need for a top-six forward and need someone to win a faceoff, too. They are ranked 20th on faceoffs and 24th on the power play in the NHL. It wouldn't be a surprise if they were in the Whitney chase, too.

Calgary Flames

They're probably done after getting forwards Ales Kotalik, Chris Higgins, Nicklas Hagman and Matt Stajan in two separate deals, although coach Brent Sutter has always liked his former Red Deer Rebels disturber, Atlanta Thrashers forward Colby Armstrong, who is an unrestricted free agent.

Detroit Red Wings

They've got an extra defencemen - Derek Meech or Bret Lebda - to move, and wouldn't mind a fourth-line forward with Kirk Maltby (shoulder) out.

Dallas Stars

Goaltender Marty Turco was a trading chip, but after putting backup Alex Auld on waivers (he was claimed by the New York Rangers), they're going to ride their unrestricted free agent. They need a puck-moving defenceman and have liked Tom Gilbert of the Oilers for a long time, although not necessarily his dollar figure ($4 million).

Minnesota Wild

Defenceman Marek Zidlicky, just signed to a long-term deal, is out of the mix. The Wild are woefully short of prospects.

Anaheim Ducks

If they were out of the playoff picture, captain Scott Niedermayer would be in play, but not now. They sorely need help on defensively and would like to move U.S. Olympic defenceman Ryan Whitney for something better.

St. Louis Blues

They would like to move winger Paul Kariya, who has $1.5 million left on his $6-million deal, before he's unrestricted. The Predators might be interested in retrieving their former player.

Columbus Blue Jackets

They can't re-sign Torres, so about 10 teams are looking at him. They would certainly deal injury-prone forward Fred Modin, too. They need a defenceman who can work the power play.

Edmonton Oilers

Almost everybody is in play. Obviously, Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios and Fernando Pisani are most likely to go if there are takers, with the Oilers likely having to take back a contract for the first two veterans. Sheldon Souray, although he can't play because of a broken hand for several more weeks, is also in the picture, but the Oilers would again be taking on salary. Teams are calling about unrestricted free-agent defenceman Jason Strudwick, too.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Washington Capitals

They're a Stanley Cup contender, but they need a veteran goalie to help Jose Theodore, who can run hot and cold. They would move defenceman Brian Pothier.

New Jersey Devils

They got Kovalchuk as a rental, but he's struggled (one goal, six games). They badly need an offensive defenceman. They could use Liles but his sticker price is high. Joe Corvo might be a better bet.

Buffalo Sabres

They've got prospects, such as diminutive centre Nathan Gerbe, to move to get a power-play pointman. Right now rookie Tyler Myers is there.

Pittsburgh Penguins

They got some depth for the back-end on Monday with Florida's Jordan Leopold, but he cost them a second-round draft, a pretty hefty price. They need a winger for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and got one late Tuesday when they got Alexei Ponikarovsky from Toronto.

Ottawa Senators

They were thin on the back-end after dealing Alex Picard to Carolina to get centre Matt Cullen, but beefed up Tuesday by sending a 2010 second-round draft pick to the Islanders for six-foot-six, 245-pound defenceman Andy Sutton.

Philadelphia Flyers

They say they'll stick with Michael Leighton in net with Ray Emery (hip) on long-term IR. They would certainly like Torres, but they don't have a second-round draft pick to give up.

Boston Bruins

They're dying for a top-nine forward. They're in the Torres hunt. They want to dump Michael Ryder's $4-million contract.

Florida Panthers

They would move Cory Stillman and Steve Reinprecht to contenders, and Czech forward Rostislav Olesz is on the block with Radek Dvorak.

New York Rangers

They need a winger to take some pressure off Marian Gaborik, and would like to move Wade Redden's $6-million contract, but there are no takers.

Montreal Canadiens

With Mike Cammalleri (knee) on the shelf, they're very weak up front, but unless they decide to move either Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak in net, what are they going to get?

Atlanta Thrashers

They'll see if there are any takers for 38-year-old Slava Kozlov for a draft pick. Teams are ringing constantly to try to get big defenceman Pavel Kubina. Armstrong will be moving.

Tampa Bay Lightning

They want to deal defenceman Andrej Meszaros and need a winger for Vincent Lecavalier.

New York Islanders

With Rick DiPietro (left knee) ailing again, trading Martin Biron might be a stretch. They swapped hulking defenceman Andy Sutton to Ottawa for a second-round draft pick. Heck, maybe Doug Weight would be on the move, too.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Ponikarovsky might not be the only forward heading out of Toronto: Lee Stempniak and fourth-line banger Wayne Primeau are on the block.

Carolina Hurricanes

They are trying to get younger by moving Whitney, Aaron Ward and Corvo, for sure.

Organizations: Edmonton Oilers, Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets National Hockey League Florida Panthers New Jersey Devils Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders Minnesota Wild Calgary Flames Toronto Maple Leafs San Jose Sharks Chicago Blackhawks Vancouver Canucks New York Rangers Colorado Avalanche Los Angeles Kings Nashville Predators Detroit Red Wings Dallas Stars St. Louis Blues Washington Capitals Buffalo Sabres Pittsburgh Penguins Ottawa Senators Philadelphia Flyers Boston Bruins Montreal Canadiens Tampa Bay Lightning

Geographic location: Florida, Carolina, Edmonton Nashville U.S. Toronto Anaheim Ottawa

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