- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Steven Stamkos won’t be on the move before the NHL trade deadline. No one can be so sure about that when it comes to dozens of other pending free agents in play leading up to Feb. 29.

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman squelched the speculation around Stamkos by releasing a statement saying he won’t trade his captain before the deadline and will continue to try to sign him to a contract extension. While Tampa Bay is a Stanley Cup contenders willing to risk losing Stamkos for nothing, sellers like the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs are ready to cash in on a thin market.

Having already traded defenseman Dion Phaneuf, the Maple Leafs are well-positioned for a fire sale with goaltender James Reimer, defenseman Roman Polak, forwards Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Michael Grabner, Brad Boyes and Shawn Matthias all set for unrestricted free agency. GM Lou Lamoriello didn’t know how active he’ll be, but it’s safe to say with an eye on the future that Toronto should be able to stockpile draft picks and prospects.

The Winnipeg Jets could do well for themselves if they choose to trade left winger Andrew Ladd, the team’s captain who’s also set to become a free agent. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff re-signed defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to a $38 million, five-year deal but said during a recent radio appearance that “there’s probably either a deal to be had or a trade to be made” with Ladd.

Because of the circumstances of teams re-signing their top players (like the Los Angeles Kings with Anze Kopitar) and the standings being so tight, Ladd could be among the biggest names traded. All but six teams are within eight points of a playoff spot, making the final couple of weeks a time for soul-searching.

“The first thing you’ve got to decide between now and the trade deadline: Do I want to buy, do I want to sell or do I want to stand pat?” Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said in a phone interview Monday. “And if I’m a buyer, what do I need? What am I looking for? I’m not just going to go out and buy.”

The pickings could be slim for buyers. Among those lottery bound, the Buffalo Sabres could deal veteran center David Legwand or defenseman Mike Weber, the Calgary Flames have 32-year-old winger Jiri Hudler to dangle, and the Edmonton Oilers have winger Teddy Purcell as a bargain option.

“In most cases at the trade deadline, it’s depth,” Holland said. “It’s usually bottom-pair defensemen, it’s usually bottom-six forwards. There might be the odd trade or two where it’s a player that’s a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman.”

That’s where the Stamkos situation was the most fascinating. His contract situation with Tampa Bay is being watched carefully around the league, and plenty of teams will be lining up to pay him if he becomes a free agent July 1 - most notably the Maple Leafs, Sabres and Montreal Canadiens.

As a trade target, Stamkos was a chance at hitting a home run. Teams wanting to single or double at the deadline could look at someone like Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis or Canadiens defenseman Tom Gilbert. Hamhuis was on Canada’s undefeated gold-medal-winning Sochi Olympic team two years ago and is back after missing 21 games with facial fractures after getting hit by a puck.

Keith Yandle of the Rangers could also be in play if fellow defenseman Ryan McDonagh is healthy and New York wants to recoup some value.

YEO DID GO

Eight straight losses spelled the end for embattled Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo, fired and replaced by interim John Torchetti. Of course it wasn’t one losing streak but the Wild’s reputation of going through midseason collapses that cost Yeo his job.

WANTED: BACKUP GOALIE

When goaltender Anders Lindback was injured prior to Arizona’s game against Montreal on Monday night, the Coyotes signed Nathan Schoenfeld to a tryout agreement to back up Louis Domingue. He isn’t just a bank employee who played club hockey at Arizona State, he’s the son of former Coyotes coach and current Rangers assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld.

Lindback’s season is likely over with an Achilles tendon injury.

LEADERS (through Tuesday’s games)

Points, Patrick Kane (Chicago), 82; Goals, Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 35; Time on ice average, Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), 29:01; Penalty minutes, Derek Dorsett (Vancouver), 121; Games played by goalie, Corey Crawford (Chicago), 48.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The defending Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks and Torchetti’s Wild take it outside Sunday afternoon for a game at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

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