It was the most common phrase uttered last week by NHL general managers sitting on the fence: "Let's see where we are after the weekend."
Well, the Easter egg hunts are over, your children are coming down from their sugar rush and the playoff picture is clearing a little. On Monday morning, 11 of the 14 teams out of the playoffs could have moved into the top eight with a simple two-game winning streak. The exceptions were the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers.
By Monday night, that number dropped to eight. A four-point burst is no longer enough for the Buffalo Sabres, Phoenix Coyotes (because of the tiebreaker) and Tampa Bay Lightning. And if results go a certain way, the Carolina Hurricanes or Washington Capitals could fall out of that comfort zone on Tuesday night.
"There are going to be trades. There are always trades," one GM said last week. "But those teams are going to determine the real market."
It's tough to make hockey deals because of next season's $64.3-million salary cap. But teams like the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins, still waiting to make their moves, need more partners waving the white flag.
Over the next 24 hours, the Dallas Stars may be the team to watch. The best news is they have 15 regulation/overtime wins, which is the No. 1 tiebreaker for post-season position. That's a significant total: two more than the Edmonton Oilers; three more than the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators; four more than the Columbus Blue Jackets and Phoenix.
The bad news for Dallas? It's one less than the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues, the teams it must catch. The Stars are three points out of the playoffs and the Blues have a game in hand. They don't have any games remaining against teams below them in the standings.
Joe Nieuwendyk's best move was gambling on Kari Lehtonen. There were a lot of doubts when the Stars GM snared the goalie and handed him an $11-million contract. Next season starts a five-year, $29.5-million extension and no one's questioning that.
If you ask scouts who see a lot of the Stars, they will tell you Lehtonen masks their deficiencies. Nowhere was that more evident than Sunday night, when the Los Angeles Kings outshot Dallas 31-8 through two periods and the game was tied 1-1. The Kings would win 3-2 and Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan was livid.
"We've got a three-game series against Anaheim after an embarrassing outing in front of our home fans. We better come out hard," he told reporters. "We will come out hard, if we have any balls."
They were better Monday night, but still lost 4-0 to the Ducks. Nieuwendyk did a brief media availability in the second intermission, with his team down three. He was tight-lipped.
Dallas has some good young pieces, but needs experience. To bridge that gap, Nieuwendyk traded for Derek Roy and signed Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. It was a good plan, but Roy and Jagr are on the cusp of unrestricted free agency.
Nieuwendyk talked with Roy and, when it didn't really go anywhere, he traded him Tuesday afternoon to the Vancouver Canucks for a second-round draft pick and a prospect.
Nieuwendyk wanted to extend Jagr, but the veteran forward was also traded Tuesday, to Boston.
In a league starved for defencemen, Stephane Robidas has value, even with one year left on his deal (and no-trade protection).
The Stars haven't made the playoffs since 2008 and, under new ownership, are trying to rebuild the market with some of the lowest ticket prices in the NHL.
I can understand why the organization would be nervous about selling, even with these valuable assets. Look at Columbus, the New York Islanders and Edmonton. Between the last two lockouts, those teams were a combined 325 games under .500, including overtimes and shootouts, making the playoffs once apiece.
There comes a time you have to tell your players and fans, "We are no longer waiting until next year. We are going to play meaningful games now. We want you to believe we want to win." That's what those teams are doing.
"I couldn't go into our room and look our players in the eye if we did that," he said last week. "If we trade them, it's for something that we can use now."
No doubt Nieuwendyk would love to do the same, but he's going to get good offers. Very good offers. When it comes to rentals, he's got good stuff to sell.
It will be hard to say no.
1. As everyone went to bed Sunday night, it sure looked like Ryane Clowe was getting traded Monday. But someone (not necessarily the player) woke up Monday and changed their mind. There are some moving parts here. What the Sharks want and what Clowe wants don't align with the best possible trade -- yet. I still think it all gets worked out, maybe a day later than everyone expected.
2. Now that Jay Bouwmeester is a Blue and Ladislav Smid is a newly signed Oiler, defensive attention turns to Mark Streit and Dan Boyle. The Islanders have been working to complete a three-year deal with Streit, but it's not done. It's a big decision for Islanders GM Garth Snow if that doesn't happen. Detroit, among others, would love to get him. Obviously, it depends what offers are out there, but if New York can't close it now, how much weight will be given to keeping him and going for it? John Tavares has one of the most team-friendly superstar contracts in the NHL. Take advantage while you can. Create a fresher mentality.
3. Two weeks ago, other teams were sure the Sharks were going to trade Boyle. Since then, he's got three points in five games and played 24 minutes against Phoenix on Saturday and 25 against Vancouver on Monday.
4. Around the same time Calgary asked Jarome Iginla for teams he'd be willing to be traded to, the Flames made the same request of Bouwmeester. Apparently, his list had a few more teams and St. Louis was "very high on it," according to one source. He is happy to go there.
5. The Flames are not done. They will discuss anyone not named Sven Baertschi. They have told pursuers they prefer to keep Mark Giordano and Curtis Glencross, although teams are asking about them, so you never know. The New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, in particular, are believed to be big Glencross fans. Sooner or later, maybe Calgary gets an offer it cannot refuse.
6. Giordano and Glencross do have no-trade protection, along with several other teammates. The one thing to remember is that when a team is dismantling like this, it becomes easier to get guys to waive it for the right situation. Miikka Kiprusoff is a little different because his is more of a family issue, but the guys who don't want to go through a rebuild tend to say, "Where can I go?"
7. There's no guarantee things would be the same if Ryan O'Reilly was a Flame, but can you imagine what would be happening if the Avalanche had their pick AND Calgary's?
8. As reported on Hotstove Tonight, the Leafs already said no to trading a first-round pick for Kiprusoff. Some questioned whether their interest in him was a smokescreen, but I think it was very real. You cannot doubt his competitiveness and it is possible that, because he didn't play during the lockout and then got hurt, this is a blip rather a complete meltdown of his career. But can you take that risk in the short term? His save percentage (.868) is on pace to be the lowest for a starter since Mario Gosselin in 1987-88.
9. Nonis had another interesting quote besides the one mentioned above. He said he would not trade his young players unless the deals were "age specific." For example, and I stress this is just me making the point, not an actual trade rumour, if Toronto was ever to trade Jake Gardiner, my bet is it would be for a player like Jonathan Bernier, for argument's sake. Youth for youth.
10. Asked if there had been no lockout, would Nazem Kadri have been a Leaf, Nonis said: "Yes. We always believed he was going to score 20 goals in this league. We had to find out if it was going to be here."
11. Bernier, by the way, strikes me as a draft-day deal, not a deadline one. Kings still need him.
12. The Smid contract got done when the Oilers upped their offer in the final few days. Both sides seem happy and why not, aside from the obvious. Edmonton doesn't like no-move clauses. Sheldon Souray and Shawn Horcoff only received partial protection. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle didn't get them at all. It allows the team to say, "Hey, if those two didn't get one, you don't get one, either." Smid will be able to hit the market again at age 31, putting him in position for another lucrative payday.
13. I'm not buying the Ales Hemsky to Boston rumours. The Oilers were one loss -- last Tuesday in St. Louis -- from surrender, but four straight wins bring new life. Even if they'd sold, I don't think the Bruins were serious about Hemsky.
14. Vancouver's been asked about Mason Raymond, an unrestricted free agent to be. The Canucks played hardball with him in contract negotiations, partially to rattle his cage, and he's responded. Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, for example, believes in versatility during the cap era and Raymond's looked pretty good in a small trial at centre. Thing is, Vancouver needs that versatility, too.
15. Roberto Luongo: Wherever he did or didn't want to go before, there's no doubt he wants to go now. He's worked hard to make the best of it, but we've moved from sharing the net to losing it entirely. He's not going to be picky, but are the Canucks willing to make this deal if it doesn't lead to a significant addition at centre? That's always been the idea.
16. Ryan Miller: The Buffalo News directly asked him about a report he submitted a list of teams to which he would not accept a trade. He denied that. It is impossible to believe, however, that the Sabres don't know where Miller would go, just as they asked Jason Pominville's agent for a similar list.
17. For all the potential changes Sabres GM Darcy Regier makes now, it will be interesting to see where things stand with Christian Ehrhoff in a year. One exec suggested he could see the defenceman having value because almost $22 million of his salary will be paid by then. From 2014-15 to 2020-21, he is to earn $18 million. It comes down to how well he plays and any fear of a "cap recapture" penalty since he has a backdiving deal.
18. I cannot believe for a second that the Philadelphia Flyers will trade Sean Couturier without getting some kind of cornerstone in return -- a game-changer like a top defenceman.
19. A couple of weeks ago, Kings GM Dean Lombardi explained that every decision he makes is with an eye on Dustin Brown, who is two years from unrestricted free agency. I have to think the Flyers are the same with Claude Giroux, who can be extended this summer. That will not be an inexpensive contract.
20. Phoenix also has decisions to make. The math isn't good for the Coyotes. There are pieces other teams would like -- Raffi Torres (Vancouver), Derek Morris, Boyd Gordon, although one club thought he'd be re-signed, and Mike Smith, if healthy enough. The wildcard, of course, is Keith Yandle.
21. It does seem like the group is worn down by the constant ownership question. A couple of opponents said Phoenix is not "as lively" a team as it used to be. Coyotes GM Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett are not signed for next year, which is their choice. Amid a ton of skepticism, two groups claim they are interested in buying the team. One of the frontmen, Darin Pastor, said the NHL "has a timetable of May or June." I do believe we are in the endgame here.
22. I think the Coyotes like Ottawa's Ben Bishop. It makes sense. He's cost-effective and tall, just as Sean Burke likes them, but I'm not certain that the Senators trade him yet.
23. Senators GM Bryan Murray told Hockey Night's Andi Petrillo he will not trade UFA-to-be Sergei Gonchar. "We will talk to him once the season is done," Murray said.
24. Renaud Lavoie of RDS reported that Mike Ribeiro turned down a three-year, $14-million extension in Washington. That's consistent with Ribeiro's desire for a five-year term. They're still talking, but what happens if nothing gets done? If the Capitals are to make the playoffs, their power play (second in the NHL) will be a major reason. Ribeiro has 17 extra-man points, tied for fifth overall with Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Can they give up on that?
25. One week after his NCAA elimination, no news on Jacob Trouba and Winnipeg. It's not unusual for the decision to come down whether an NHL team will "burn" a year of the entry-level contract by playing the new pro in a game. Detroit is expected to play Dan DeKeyser once, for that reason.
26. In doing research for Hotstove Tonight, I was taken aback at how many GMs were angry about Mike Keenan's comments regarding Kiprusoff and the possibility that Jarome Iginla was tampered with. Keenan, who works for Sportsnet, basically said it is was understood the goalie would retire before the last season of his contract. It is worth $1.5 million, significantly less than his average. "[Keenan] was an employee of the team then," one GM fumed. "They can't just get away with that." Another exec said he thought it would be impossible to prove. "That's a long way from having an agreement or handshake that he would walk away."
27. As for Iginla, Hockey Night's Ron MacLean pressed him about contact from Crosby and the Penguins in this Inside Hockey interview. "I didn't talk to [Crosby] before, but he put in a good word," Iginla said. Again, it's very difficult to prove unless you have a paper trail.
28. What I didn't know is that there is a relatively new rule that says players can be just as guilty of tampering as a coach, executive or owner can be. One GM thought it happened because Ottawa complained about recruitment during the Dany Heatley trade process, but apparently it was Daniel Briere's free agency that drove teams crazy. Section 10 of the Standard Player Contract addresses this now, as does a memo that's supposed to be posted in every team's dressing room. It indicates you cannot enter "personal communications to entice a player under contract with any other team to come to your team." Learn something new every day.
29. Travel and Insurance estimates are supposed to be sent to the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation any day now. The travel estimate is north of $2 million, which would be the most expensive of any Olympics that the NHL has participated in. Same goes for insurance, due to the proliferation of long-term contracts.
30. Just to give you an idea of how the World Baseball Classic works, any injury picked up competing in it is covered by the event's insurance, not major-league teams, once the player is out 30 days. And if the player returns and aggravates that injury or if it becomes a recurring problem, WBC insurance is responsible for that, too. Will a similar model will be pitched for Olympic hockey?
Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC
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