Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's That Time of the Season Again

February brings a lot of things for a lot of different people. Some are openly prepared to severely overrate the weather forecasting abilities of a groundhog. Others will spend entirely too much on candies and cards to celebrate a Hallmark holiday. But for the select few that call themselves general managers in the National Hockey League, February means trade deadline rumors. Those teams in the mix for a playoff spot are looking for the added push that they hope will turn them into playoff contenders. For those falling out of the playoff race, they'll be looking to get the most out of the market, especially shedding players that they expect won't be returning to their rosters next season. i.e. potential free agents.

For all the players being rumored to be available, and there are plenty, we still look to be a week or two away from a major move because outside of Los Angeles, no one is quite ready to give up on the season yet. However as we see that February 26th deadline approaching teams will be forced to make the decision, are they buyers or are they sellers. But some simple facts like that have never stopped the rampant sports media from speculating on who is going to end up where. Why, I've been nearly assured of a dozen deals that "very close" or that have "just fallen through", and that's just in Toronto.

So with the trade season upon us, lets look at some of the names more likely to be sprawled across the headlines of your local newspapers sports section in the coming months.

Arguably the biggest name available is that of Atlanta Thrasher's forward Marian Hossa. With 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) through 50 games, Hossa is the first line player that could prove to be the offensive shot in the arm to sustain a playoff drive. The Thrashers are in the dismal South East Division, and thus not out of the running for a playoff spot, but it appears that extension talks with Hossa have stalled. With unrestricted free agent status coming this summer, the Thrashers should be looking to get what they can from him before the deadline. Ideally they'd be expecting something more immediate in return, though it's not clear how much they can get from what appears to be a rent-a-player situation. Last year the Philadelphia Flyers benefited from multiple bidders raising the price for Peter Forsberg, and we could very likely see a similar situation. But then again, we all remember how the Nashville Predators faired last post-season.

The most desired defenseman appears to be Los Angeles Kings veteran Rob Blake. Much like Hossa, with free agency looming any move for Blake would be a rent-a-player situation. With Blakes relationships in the Kings franchise it would not be surprising to see him dealt, but ultimately resigning with LA in the summer. Of all the potential deals, a Blake trade appears the most likely in the coming weeks. The Kings are clearly out of the playoff picture and many teams might want to strike while the irons hot and avoid the deadline rush. The Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, and Ottawa Senators are all interested in Blake's services.

Now outside those top two it begins to get a little dicey. The Calgary Flame's Alex Tanguay became the fodder of many trade discussions in the past weeks after TSN's Pierre McGuire reported Tanguay had waived his no-trade clause. However Tanguay has disputed this claim, and while head coach Darryl Sutter has not outright denied the possibility, he has worked to squelch any rumors of an impending deal.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are walking the fine line of being a playoff team in the Western Conference, but if they cannot put together some wins in the coming month a handful of players could find themselves on the league trading block. Veteran forward Sergei Fedorov, for one, has been gaining some interest from playoff bound clubs, including the Ottawa Senators. David Vyborny has also garnered some attention, especially from some within the Rangers organization. Vyborny is set to become a free agent and is thought to be looking to return to the Czech Republic after this season, but the Rangers could maybe make another year in the NHL worth his while if they put him on a line with fellow Czech Jaromir Jagr.

Adam Foote's name has also been thrown around the deadline circles, but even with the prospect of missing the postseason Columbus would probably favor resigning their captain for a few more seasons in service with the Blue Jackets.

Another potential dealer could be the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning. With GM Jay Feaster shouldering the blame for this seasons failure, he may look to pull some eye raising deals that would hopefully return the Lightning to contenders in the next few years.Rumors of a deal sending Martin St. Louis to Dallas for goaltender Marty Turco surface in the past few weeks, but the Stars have denied this as a possibility. One thing for certain is that the Lightning will be looking for goaltending, if not during the trade deadline, than in the off-season. However St. Louis's cap hit, $5.25 million, makes him a tough move. Dan Boyle on the other hand could be a solid pick up for any team looking to bolster their defense. He becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he has missed a good portion of the season nursing an ankle injury, but since returning on January 24th he has 4 points in 2 games.

The New York Rangers have been shopping troubled defenseman Marek Malik, apparently looking for a top 4 defenseman in return. Malik becomes a free agent this summer and has run into issues in New York, including getting benched after refusing to shake head coach Tom Renney's hand in the locker room following a victory. Despite his troubles franchises around the league appear willing to give the 2004 Plus/Minus Award winner another chance, perhaps hoping a change of scenery from the intense NY spotlight might do him well.

In a similar case Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery has been the talk of trade rumors stemming from altercations with the team coaching staff. Earlier in the season he lost his starting position to Martin Gerber, and since he has been late for team practice twice. The first time he was asked to leave the practice, and following a tantrum that saw him break his stick and throw it into the stands, he obliged. The second time he was fined $15 thousand by the franchise. This type of behavior is sure to draw trade talk, but with the current low demand for goaltenders, and the Senators leading the Easter Conference, it looks as if Emery may be around for at least the rest of the season in Ottawa.

Toronto's Mats Sundin has the attention of numerous teams, including the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks, but the long time Leaf is not likely to waive his no-movement clause to facilitate a deal.

Florida Panther's Olli Jokinen has denied demand a deal, and the Panthers have denied making him available, but that hasn't stopped many from speculating about a possible reunion with his former GM Mike Keenan, who is head coach in Calgary.

Other names flying around this tangled mess we call the trade deadline include: John-Michael Liles, Erik Christensen, J.P. Dumont, Ed Jovanovski, Brad Stuart, Vaclav Prospal, Steve Staios, and Brian Campbell.