Editor's note: Our weekly "Faceoff" features ESPN.com NHL writers Scott Burnside (based in Atlanta) and Pierre LeBrun (based in Toronto), who duke it out over any given hockey topic. Let the games begin!
This week's topic: Will we see a lot of movement by the March 4 trade deadline?
Scott Burnside: Bon jour, mon ami (that's "Hello, my friend" in French, in case you forgot). Hope your new bundle of joy Melanie is doing well. In case you haven't noticed, things are pretty jammed up when it comes to the playoff races, especially in the Western Conference. Makes you wonder if any GM, especially in the West, will make any moves at all before the March 4 trade deadline. I know, every year we say it'll be quiet, and every year there are lots of deals, but it's going to be interesting with the economy and the tightness of the races. What's your take?
Pierre LeBrun: I haven't forgotten my French my friend ... but sleep? You may have to remind me what that is like. As you know, however, it's well worth it!
The West playoff race is fascinating indeed. But I think it's a given that, soon enough, the red-hot Dallas Stars will overtake the Anaheim Ducks for fifth in the conference and stay there for good. And what a story that has been, the Stars' amazing turnaround this season. That will leave Anaheim battling Phoenix, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver and Columbus for the final four playoff spots. And what happens over the next four weeks with those teams will have a huge bearing on the trade deadline. If any of these teams go on a losing streak and lose ground, they'll suddenly become sellers.
Burnside: We always make such a big deal of the trade deadline, but so often teams give up first- and second-round draft picks or top prospects for players they think will get them over the hump and they get burned. San Jose found that out the past couple of seasons, bringing in Bill Guerin and Brian Campbell but still failing to get beyond the second round. GM Don Waddell mortgaged the future two years ago to get his Atlanta Thrashers into the postseason for the first time and they were done in four games. They still haven't recovered from those deals.
Still, there is tremendous pressure in a place like Columbus to get into the postseason for the first time. They need a center and more scoring depth. Is it worth it for GM Scott Howson to sacrifice a bit of the future for some here and now, even if it means getting waxed in the first round by San Jose or Detroit?
LeBrun: I think Howson is in the same spot as Waddell was a few years ago. It just means so much for one of the expansion franchises to finally make the playoffs. Columbus is an underrated hockey market, but fans there aren't going to wait 12 years for playoff hockey. It has to come soon. So yes, I think if Howson can get financial approval from ownership -- and that's a big if -- then he'll do whatever he can to get help, and I suspect help down the middle despite the acquisition of Jason Williams.
And while you listed some examples of deadline rentals that didn't work out, Pittsburgh got full value for the package it sent to Atlanta last year in exchange for Marian Hossa. A trip to the Cup finals is well worth it. The question is, what do you do if you're Panthers GM Jacques Martin? Oh dear.
Burnside: Well, do you think you're going to bring back all of the fans that have fled the scene of one of the NHL's worst-run organizations over the years in one playoff run? That's the question. And the answer is no. They have a fine young coach in Peter DeBoer, they've got a solid blue line even if Jay Bouwmeester departs, and if you can't sign him, he will yield a first-round pick, a top prospect and maybe a position player in a trade. That's a package that's pretty hard to walk away from if you look at the big picture.
You mentioned Hossa, but it's funny how it's often the little deals teams make that make the biggest difference. Not taking anything away from Hossa, who was terrific for the Pens, but Wings GM Ken Holland's acquisition of defenseman Brad Stuart at the deadline received little notice and he played top-four minutes on the blue line for the Wings and had a sensational finals series against Pittsburgh. Do you have a sleeper player who could make a big splash?
LeBrun: One player I think many teams will covet if the Senators are unable to sign him to an extension is Chris Neil. He's an intimidating player with some skill, a guy who will work in the trenches come playoff time. I would think almost every single playoff-bound team would want to take a crack at him. The other guy who might actually be useful on a much better team as a complementary player is Toronto's Nik Antropov. He's a free agent at season's end and it's clear he's being shopped. He's a strong player with decent hands and without the burden of being a first-line player on a bad team. He could be useful as a second-line player on a contender.
Burnside: I wonder what the Preds will end up doing with Steve Sullivan. He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and even if GM David Poile wanted to re-sign him, he can always do that in the summer while shopping Sullivan to a team in need of an offensive spark like, say, Pittsburgh, or even the New York Rangers. If his back holds up, Sullivan could be an interesting dark-horse acquisition that wouldn't cost the farm. Who do you think has the most pressure moving forward? How about Montreal GM Bob Gainey, who suddenly has an injury problem up front, a blue line that isn't as deep and two sophomore netminders? Yikes. Bet his dialing finger is getting sore.
LeBrun: My guess is Sullivan will want to stay in Nashville given the patience the Preds showed in allowing him all the time he needed during his difficult recovery. Speaking of difficult recoveries -- yes, the Habs are an interesting team right now. They haven't been very good since the All-Star break and the loss of Robert Lang is huge. Gainey will be on the phone looking for help at forward and, of course, for an offensive defenseman to play with Andrei Markov on the power play. Obviously, Bouwmeester comes to mind, but a dozen teams will be after him. They are fine in goal. You need to stop fixating on Carey Price -- it is irritating me to no end. The kid is the real deal. Yes, he crumbled last spring in the playoffs, but that's behind him now. Speaking of crumbling, what do you do if you're Canucks GM Mike Gillis?
Burnside: Weep? Fire coach Alain Vigneault? Complain to the Swedish consulate? The funny thing is, given the standings in the Western Conference, all the Canucks need to do is put a couple of decent weeks together and they'll be playoff bound. The Coyotes are fading fast (five straight losses as of this writing), Columbus doesn't have the offense and Edmonton is all over the map. So, the Canucks may well be there when the dust settles. It all comes down to whether Roberto Luongo can get back to form. They got a big win the other night and now they need to build on it.
And as for Carey Price ... not disputing his talent, but if Gainey (or you, for that matter) thinks Price and Jaroslav Halak can carry the Habs any further this season, he is going to be sadly disappointed. Now, don't make me raise my voice about this.
LeBrun: Well I guess you're the expert on goaltending living in Atlanta and all. Back to the Canucks for a second. The Sedin twins and veteran blue-liner Mathias Ohlund are slated for UFA status. Talk about the next four weeks being gigantic in their futures. If, for whatever reason, the Canucks fell back of the pack, Gillis has to at least look at moving one of those three at the deadline (likely Ohlund, although he's got a no-trade clause). But, in the end, I have this feeling Roberto Luongo and Mats Sundin will pull this group together and they'll get in. I say Dallas finishes fifth followed by Minnesota (sixth), Anaheim (seventh) and Vancouver (eighth). You?
Burnside: I think the Canucks lack the intestinal fortitude to make it. I say they lose to Colorado on the final afternoon of the regular season and that allows Anaheim to sneak in even though their goaltending is in a state of flux. I think Edmonton nabs one of those final two or three spots, although there could hardly be a more mercurial team in the league. Speaking of which, what does GM Steve Tambellini and the rest of the Oilers brain trust do with Erik Cole? He's played better lately, but hardly had the impact they'd hoped for when they dealt Joni Pitkanen to get him. Hmm. Maybe deal him back to the Hurricanes? You know Jim Rutherford is big on loyalty and sticking with what he knows.
LeBrun: What I've been told out of Edmonton is the Oilers are less anxious to move Cole now compared to six weeks ago because he's played much better. But I think it's going to solely depend on where the Oilers are in the standings. If they're pretty much out of it a month from now, they'll dump him. But if they have a good shot at the playoffs, they'll keep him. Because, as it stands, the Oilers' biggest need is to find another winger, let alone dump one, if they're playoff bound. You mentioned the Hurricanes; they're a tough team to figure out. Buyers or sellers? Playoff bound or not?
Burnside: They're hurt by the fact they have played more games than other teams in the Eastern Conference hunt and because they're just not good enough defensively on many nights. They've given up 20 more goals than they've scored, and that kind of goal differential doesn't spell playoffs. The thing with Carolina is they don't have many free agents coming up, so there isn't a natural group Rutherford can move off his roster if they're still on the bubble in a month.
LeBrun: The other thing about the Hurricanes is they have financial limitations. They're not a cap team and they never will be. So, when injuries pile up like they did again this season, it's harder to fill holes. Rutherford, in my mind, is one of the best GMs in the NHL, but his hands are a little tied. Before I let you go my friend, any advice for GM Brian Burke as he approaches his first trade deadline with Toronto?
Burnside: Sell, sell, sell. I know the whole Tomas Kaberle thing is complicated, as Burke doesn't like to ask players to waive their no-trade clauses. He also doesn't like to give them out, so he may be happy to start from scratch by moving Kaberle. He should yield a nice package of picks/prospects given the shallow pool of defensive talent that's going to be available. What about Jason Blake? Finally earning his keep in Toronto, but not really Burke's kind of guy. Look for a big exodus from Leaf Nation. Until next week, my friend. Au revoir (that's French for goodbye, you know).
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com. Neither is willing to waive his no-trade clause.