Chiarelli has a tough task ahead.

It’s no secret that as we move closer to the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline, the Bruins have two things working against them: a lack of salary cap space and a limited amount of teams willing to part with players worth acquiring because they consider this season done for them.

Matthew Wuest of has an ESPN Insider piece (sorry Insider subscription needed) today in which he describes the Bruins’ potential cap situation come deadline day like this:

The Bruins’ cap problems were well-documented earlier this season when they were forced to jettison Marco Sturm — a player they didn’t want to move — to the Los Angeles Kings for, well, nothing. That made the Bruins cap-compliant, and while they haven’t banked many dollars since, they could have some room — perhaps enough to add a cap hit of $1.7 million — if they can stay healthy until the deadline.That said, the Bruins might prefer to keep that breathing room so they don’t carry a bonus overage penalty into 2011-12. They’re currently paying a $1.7 million price for making that mistake in 2009-10.

So, conceivably, the Bruins could bolster their lineup without trading a body off their roster when Feb. 28 rolls around — if they stay healthy and everything else works out. Of course, next year there is no bonus cushion so things could get really tight in 2011-12 if Boston uses that cap space this year.

While the Bruins might be content to stand pat regardless, it’s a little worrisome that in the same piece Wuest points out that Montreal could have between $3.5 and 4.5 million in cap space to work with. The Canadiens are just three points back of Boston for the Northeast Division lead, with the Bruins holding a game in hand. Other teams the Bruins could be jockeying for position with — the New York Rangers, Carolina, Atlanta, Washington — should also have ample cap space to work with, according to Wuest.

Now when it comes to applying that potential $1.7 million to a newly acquired player, the pickings might be slim. You’re certainly not going to get an upper-echelon offensive defenseman for that much. And moving the necessary money to make such a move would be difficult. Worst of all, there just aren’t any players like that on the market.

Today Mike Chen of From the Rink posted a list of potential unrestricted free agents from the New York Islanders, New Jersey, Buffalo, Ottawa, Toronto, Florida, Edmonton, Calgary and Columbus — teams that look most likely to be sellers at the deadline.

Whether you’re looking to rent an offensive defenseman, add some speed on the wing or just sure up your depth with a fourth-line forward or seventh defenseman, the pickings are slim. This list mostly reads like a shopping list for a guy trying to start an adult hockey league.

No matter how bleak things look, there are always trades at the deadline. And the Bruins have been moderately active at the deadline under general manager Peter Chiarelli. But if you’re expecting a blockbuster that’ll rocket the Bruins right to the Cup, you’ll probably be greatly disappointed.