The trading deadline has truly become an event on the hockey calendar, and it has been nothing but consistent since the lockout.
There have been 25 deals on deadline day in each of the last three years, and each time about two-thirds of the trades saw players changing conferences.
With increased parity limiting the number of teams selling, it remains to be seen if this year's period will match the record number of deals of the last three years.
Of course, once that first major deal is struck, the pressure to keep up with the Joneses and save face with players and fans could have general managers recasting their rosters.
Here are some predictions as to what might happen prior to this year's deadline on March 4 at 3 p.m. ET:
Jay Bouwmeester, D, Florida Panthers
Like Marian Hossa with Atlanta last season, Bouwmeester is probably the most coveted player, an unrestricted free agent with little apparent intention at this time of re-signing with his current club in the summer.
Three words of advice for Panthers GM Jacques Martin: Don't do it.
The conventional wisdom is that a team needs to "get something back" in a situation like this. But with Bouwmeester in tow, the Panthers will likely get something back for the first time in eight seasons — playoff revenue.
Atlanta wasn't going far in the playoffs even with Hossa, but under Peter DeBoer, Florida has been one of the most cohesive teams in the NHL in the last two months. They could finish as high as fourth in the Eastern Conference, which looks to be more wide open than the West. They should be looking to buy a key depth player or two, not sell.
People drastically overestimate the value of draft picks and prospects picked up on deadline day; returns from recent years have been less than stellar. If you look at what ultimately was received in recent deadline deals for Hossa, Peter Forsberg and Keith Tkachuk, it's just not enough to justify moving Bouwmeester. Besides, Florida could probably gain a draft pick by trading his negotiating rights after the playoffs.
Jonathan Cheechoo, F, San Jose Sharks
Hockey observers see how drastically the scoring numbers have fallen for Cheechoo, who's also battled injuries, and assume he needs a change of scenery. But there's been not a whiff coming out of San Jose to suggest he'd rather be piling up points on a mediocre club than contributing as a third-line player on a potential Cup team. This isn't just some one-dimensional sniper who's fallen off; Cheechoo's not hopeless without the puck and has spent time on the penalty kill.
As well, while the cap number gets spread equally, he has two more years left on a contract that's not insignificant.
Tim Connolly, F, Buffalo Sabres
He's a magician with the puck and makes the Sabres much better, an unrestricted free agent, and a guy who's missed nearly 150 games in the last three seasons.
Buffalo got a first-round pick for Brian Campbell and a second rounder for Martin Biron on recent deadlines. As wonderful a player as Connolly is, it's not like other teams are unaware of his injury history. While they could conceivably get a second-round pick for him, the team will be without Thomas Vanek for a few more weeks and needs all the offence they can get to make the playoffs after missing last season.
Vincent Lecavalier, F, Tampa Bay Lightning
The logic is seductive. Lecavalier would head back to his home province of Quebec, where the pressure is great for a Montreal championship in their so-called centennial season. The Canadiens also will have a whack of players coming off the books in the summer, so they're one of the few teams that can afford his contract.
Three reasons why it won't happen:
- As change-crazy as the Lightning are, they need their photogenic star in their market as Steve Stamkos isn't ready yet to take that mantle.
- Bob Gainey can be bold at the deadline, but he also doesn't forsake the future. Load up for Lecavalier these playoffs and it's unlikely the Canadiens are serious Cup contenders for the next couple of seasons, because Tampa will be asking for quite a few young players in return.
- Anyone watching the Canadiens of late would see that while more goal-scoring would be nice, added grit and shoring up defensively are more pressing needs — if you're giving up 40 shots every other night, as Lecavalier can attest to in recent years, you won't be long in the playoffs.
Scott Niedermayer, D, Anaheim Ducks
Niedermayer is an unrestricted free agent, but so what? That doesn't mean Anaheim's going to treat the future Hall of Famer like some journeyman who finds out he's been dealt on a sports cable net show. UFA is simply a cosmetic label in Niedermayer's case, as he'll have some say in whether he moves, especially considering he may retire in the summer.
In Anaheim he also won't have to face the ridiculous "you must move for the future good of the organization" pressure that Mats Sundin did last year. It's just a bit hard to see Niedermayer going somewhere as a rental player given how much he laboured over returning to the game last season.
The Ducks are being summarily written off as contenders but a recent brutal loss to Atlanta could light the fire they need.
ON THE MOVE
Marian Gaborik, F, Minnesota Wild
The Wild are facing the prospect of stud goalie Niklas Backstrom leaving without compensation in the summer. They simply can't afford to let two of their top three players (Brent Burns being the other) go without getting something in return.
Gaborik is said to be making good progress from his hip injury and something tells us his recovery would be right on schedule for a contender. He can be flighty but he's not going to disrupt team chemistry. He's a streaky sniper — pundits from Toronto studios who obviously didn't even watch the Wild playoffs series last year focused in on the fact that he didn't score in six playoff games, but he battled hard most of the series and fired 25 shots on net.
Tomas Kaberle, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
General manager Brian Burke has already stated that Nik Antropov has no future in Toronto, and despite his poor season, the Alberta teams, among others, might want to consider Vesa Toskala so that their No. 1 goalies don't fall over from exhaustion by the time the playoffs roll around.
But no one on the Leafs will likely be as coveted as Kaberle, and despite Burke's public vouching for the player, there has to be at least one team out there who will make a strong offer for him because he has two coveted attributes: top notch puck-moving skills and under contract and slightly underpaid according to the market.
Martin St. Louis, F, Tampa Bay Lightning
C'mon, do you really think Mssrs. Barrie, Koules and Lawton will sit out their first trade deadline? And we're not talking deals involving depth forwards like Mark Recchi or the ever-available Vinny Prospal.
St. Louis will go instead of Vincent Lecavalier because he's older, has just two years left on a manageable contract and wasn't just heralded months ago as the captain and face of the team going forward. The Lightning have just two defencemen under contract for next season and need to address that area.
Yes, he has a no-trade clause but he's also 34 in June and will be missing the playoffs for the fifth time in his nine NHL seasons, with the current Lightning group certainly iffy to make it back to the postseason next year. Some Cup contender figures to make an offer to Tampa's neophyte management team that will be tempting.
Antoine Vermette, F, Ottawa Senators
It's great that Vermette is playing his best hockey of the season currently, but it's not the time to get clouded by emotion. He's had a disappointing season, will be a free agent in the summer of 2010, and unless the club moves one of its big three of Spezza, Alfredsson, and Heatley, they won't be able to afford a new deal for him. So why keep going down that path of watching good second-tier players walk away for nothing, as the Senators have in the last two years? They'll get more for him now than at next year's deadline when he'll be just a rental player.
Ryan Whitney, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins went for broke with the Marian Hossa trade last year and you can't second-guess it now, as they fell just two games short.
But Pittsburgh lost about a half-dozen depth players and may now have to pay the price by coughing up one of their best players. A club with two of the top three scorers in the NHL simply cannot miss the playoffs.
Pittsburgh is high on the younger Kris Letang and the older Sergei Gonchar might not fetch quite as much, so Whitney will be the one dealt to get Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin more help up front.
The next level
Here are some solid veterans that could be on the move.
Niclas Havelid, D,Atlanta Thrashers
Four playoff games to show for four years in Atlanta and is an unrestricted free agent.
Olli Jokinen, F,Phoenix Coyotes
Has one year left on a contract at $5.5 million US. Quibble at the "next level" designation if you will, but he has been subpar the last two seasons and is threatening Guy Charron's record for playoff virginity, so acquiring him can't automatically be labelled a coup.
Derek Morris, D,Phoenix Coyotes
An unrestricted free agent who has only played seven NHL playoff games since being drafted in 1996. While he said all the right things on a recent edition of Hockey Night in Canada's After Hours segment, you could also sense he's really itching for some postseason action.
Marek Svatos, F,Colorado Avalanche
There would seem to be few untouchables on the Avalanche, a team with veterans up front and on the blue-line. Depending on what kind of style a club is looking for, Svatos and Darcy Tucker have one year left at reasonable prices.
Ray Whitney, F,Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are old-ish up front. Rod Brind'Amour and Sergei Samsonov have two years left on their deals and Justin Williams has been injury-plagued. Whitney or Matt Cullen, each with one year left on their contracts, could be targeted by clubs.
- Jason Blake, F, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Eric Brewer, D, St. Louis Blues
- Ed Jovanovski, D, Phoenix Coyotes
- Michael Nylander, F, Washington Capitals
- Ryan Smyth, F, Colorado Avalanche
There are teams that might ostensibly want these players, but their prohibitive contracts (and in some cases, no-movement clauses) make trades unlikely.
None of these will greatly change a team's ultimate level of success, but could fill a need.
Dan Hinote, F,St. Louis Blues
A good penalty killer who has Stanley Cup experience (with Colorado).
Brendan Morrison, F,Anaheim Ducks
The reason he's expendable is that his production keeps dropping. The reason to keep him, and why others might want him, is a history of scoring in big games.
Petr Prucha, F,New York Rangers
There's a decent fit for the Czech forward whose production has tailed off since his rookie year, but the Pittsburgh Penguins battle in the same division as the Rangers.
Christoph Schubert, D,Ottawa Senators
Ottawa will try and sell the fact he's also played forward, but they can't ask for too much given that Schubert's often been a healthy scratch on a mediocre club this season.
Vernon Fiddler, F, Nashville Predators
There's been a lot of talk about UFA Radek Bonk and his face-off ability, but how many Cup rings did Yanic Perreault have? Face-off skills are nice, but it shouldn't be the sole reason to make a deal at deadline time. Teams would be better served looking at UFA Fiddler, who gives a more consistent effort, is younger, and is also decent on the draw.
In the crease
It is unlikely that a team will be looking for a No. 1 goalie for their playoff run, as Washington did last year with Cristobal Huet. Most teams are set with their top goalies and a large majority have no reason to be unhappy with their backups. Boston goalies Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez are both unrestricted free agents, but the Bruins are contenders and have endured so many injuries this season that they're unlikely to tempt fate by trading one of the veterans. Chicago hasn't moved UFA Nikolai Khabibulin in the past, so why do it now when he's having a banner year?
But here's an intriguing thought involving two UFA goalies who make similar money: Martin Biron is currently on a mini-roll but has struggled badly this season for Philadelphia, a deep team that only fell one round short of the Stanley Cup finals last year. If the Minnesota Wild don't think they can sign Backstrom, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren should be buzzing Doug Risebrough constantly, sweetening the deal with a couple of picks or a pick and a prospect.