Parise, Gaborik and stretch-run storylines

As I make my way to Raleigh, N.C. for the All-Star game, I thought I’d leave you with a few key storylines to watch as the season unfolds down the stretch run.

Will the Devils Deal?

Just today, E.J. Hradek listed Jason Arnott as one of five players that need to be dealt before the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Even with their recent winning streak, the playoffs seem a bit far fetched for New Jersey at this point. It looks like the final spot in the Eastern Conference will again be about 90 points (the Thrashers are on pace for 89.88 over 82 games). Barring a miraculous stretch run in which the Devils put up 55 points in 33 games, that’s not going to happen. So what do the Devs do to prepare for next season? Could Martin Brodeur actually be on the trade block? Those are questions GM Lou Lamoriello will have ask and answer in the next month.

Pursuing Parise

The latest word I’ve heard about the talented winger’s return is that he won’t even start skating until the first week of March. Figuring he’ll need time to get back up to speed, you wonder if it’s even worth suiting him up this season and risking the chance he could re-injure himself. But the intrigue will certainly carry into the offseason if the Devils can’t ink him to an extension. You can bet there are a number of teams out there with an offer sheet already drawn up for the restricted free agent and the Devils don’t have a ton of cap flexibility. Given the outcome of this season, you have to think that if Lamoriello is unable to re-sign Parise the Ilya Kovalchuk contract goes from “bad” to “unmitigated disaster.”

What’s Next In Long Island?

The New York Islanders started their all-star break by locking down one of their top scorers, signing Matt Moulson to a three-year deal worth $9.4 million. That’s a nice bargain if Moulson continues to score in the 30-goal range each season. (He’s on pace for 28 in 2010-11.) But that’s likely just the first of what figures to be a slew of signings before free agency opens July 1. As of right now, the Islanders have 12 players under contract for next season. Okay, 14 if you count Alexei Yashin and Brendan Witt. That leaves the futures of Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Michael Grabner, Blake Comeau and more up in the air. Who will the Isles earmark as their cornerstone guys and who will they let walk away?

Getting Gaborik Going

On Broadway, the Rangers made the most of an injury-plagued first 52 games, currently sitting sixth in the East. And they’ve done it largely without the usual production of Marian Gaborik. (Thank you, Brian Boyle.) Gaborik has just 16 goals on the season and has recorded goals in back to back games just once. In fact, 10 of those goals came in just three games. Those explosions sure are fun to watch, but a little more consistency would carry the Blueshirts a long way.