The big day is exactly four weeks away from Wednesday and we still await the headline-grabbing trades.
Will they even come?
I wrote Tuesday about the closeness in the standings and the short season and whether that will prevent some trades from happening.
At the very least, teams at this stage are laying the groundwork for deals that would possibly happen later in the month.
"You’re talking to teams, obviously, and you say, 'If you have interest in moving Pierre LeBrun, let us know.' That’s the stage it’s at now. That’s what I’ve found anyway," Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
I told Shero he could get Pierre LeBrun for a bag of pucks and he suggested at least future considerations.
In all seriousness, Shero said the trade market wasn’t quite yet defined at least for the bigger names.
But no big names yet. That takes more time, more phone calls, more games played.
"Everyone has played from 20 to 24 games so far; you've got to adjust your thinking to making a quicker assessment," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com. "We’re used to making our assessments over a longer period of time. And this year it’s different. Therefore, for me it’s a little funky right now to know we’re that close to making deals."
What also gums up the works is that the list of UFAs-to-be, aka rental players, might shorten as the month rolls on as teams re-sign those players and take them off the trade market.
"What’s happened the last five or six years is teams realizing that even if they’re a seller, they realize it’s not like the old days where you trade [a UFA to be] for a draft pick and easily replace them [in the offseason]," Kings GM Dean Lombardi told ESPN.com. "Even midrange players, many teams are now deciding to keep them and try to sign them versus giving them away for a second- or third-round pick. That’s something that’s changed in this business since I got in it; very different. Some teams are looking at that No. 4 or No. 5 defenseman and saying, 'I’m not replacing him this summer, I need to keep him and sign him.'"
The other thing, Lombardi figures, is that in today’s parity-filled NHL, teams always feel just a few players away from getting back into it the following season. It’s not like the pre-cap days when many non-playoff teams went into full dress-down/rebuild mode.
"Not many teams are in that stripping-down mode anymore," Lombardi said.
Hmm, food for thought.
Now let’s take a look at more teams and the upcoming trade deadline:
The powerhouse Bruins can add a big name or two thanks to the deft salary-cap maneuvering by GM Peter Chiarelli.
Some B’s fans are salivating at the possibilities that are out there.
But the GM wants everyone to know it’s not written in stone he’ll hit the home run.
"Just because we have cap space doesn’t mean we’ll make a blockbuster trade," Chiarelli said Tuesday.
But yes, he’s done his homework and will continue to monitor the market to see what could be a good fit.
As reported a few weeks ago, I believe Chiarelli would covet being reunited with Daniel Alfredsson from his Ottawa days but that’s a situation that remains to be played out with the Senators in terms of whether they hang in the playoff race -- which means Alfredsson would never move -- or even if they fall out of it, whether the Sens captain would even want to go anywhere.
My take? I think there’s only one team Alfredsson would consider if he ever goes -- and that’s Boston with the tie-in to former Senators teammate Zdeno Chara and the chance to win a Cup.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Jarome Iginla is another possibility for Boston. I didn’t think so about a month ago but I think with the market not bearing out that many names this season, the B’s have to at least inquire if he comes available in Calgary.
Corey Perry would be the biggest name of them all and the B’s would at least see what’s going on there, but again it’s not clear yet what Anaheim will do there with the pending UFA.
The Stanley Cup champion Kings have certainly bounced back from an early-season hangover.
And they’ve done it while surviving injuries to three of their six defensemen who won them the Cup last spring.
Alec Martinez is back and while Matt Greene remains out for a while, veteran shutdown man Willie Mitchell -- who hasn’t played this season while recovering from knee surgery -- might be back, which would be like a huge trade-deadline addition in itself for L.A.
"He’s making progress," Lombardi said Tuesday of Mitchell. "We’re getting some encouraging news. There’s a chance he’ll play [this season]. I certainly can’t go to the marketplace and trade for a Willie Mitchell."
As for whether the Kings would look to add a depth defenseman like most other contenders before April 3, Lombardi isn’t sure yet he’ll need to in part because Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby have done the job for the Kings.
"Muzzin and Ellerby have been pretty good," the Kings GM said.
The silver lining is that the Kings got a look at Muzzin they probably would not have otherwise.
Otherwise, Lombardi has been pretty quiet on the trade-talk front. That can change over the next month, but right now he doesn’t have much going on.
"As much as you guys hate this cliché, it is true that we’ll look at anything that will improve our team," Lombardi said, chuckling.
Who Lombardi didn’t talk about but I will is backup netminder Jonathan Bernier. That’s L.A.’s No. 1 trade chip but it’s not clear in my mind whether that chip gets played before April 3 or in the offseason. He’s RFA after the season and it makes no sense for the Kings, cap-wise, to have to carry a more expensive contract for Bernier behind Jonathan Quick. So, eventually, Bernier will get dealt, whether that’s now or in the offseason.
The Penguins have a number of young defensemen in their organization who are drawing interest, but we’ll see just how keen Shero is to divest himself of any of them for a rental player.
As I reported last week and it’s been reported elsewhere, the Penguins are believed to have interest in Flames winger Jarome Iginla but just how much they’d be willing to pay on that front, or whether Iginla would have any interest in waiving his no-trade clause to go to Pittsburgh, who knows. Not to mention that the Flames haven’t yet decided whether they’re even moving Iginla.
Know this, Shero has never been shy of trade-deadline moves, topped by the Marian Hossa deal in the 2007-08 season, which helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup finals.
But it’s going to have to be a sensible price for Shero to make any kind of trade this season. There’s some realization in Pittsburgh that you can’t trade away future assets year after year.
So now what?
Whether it’s before April 3 or this summer, Montreal will continue to look for more size up front. Power forwards don’t grow on trees, but what the Canadiens would love to add is someone in the Ryane Clowe-type mold: a rugged forward who can play top-six minutes. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made an excellent signing in Brandon Prust last summer, a player who can play on any forward line, but I believe Bergevin wants to continue on that track.
What Bergevin has at his disposal is three second-round picks in this season’s draft plus two third-rounders. That could come in handy in a trade over the next four weeks.
Having said that, I don’t think Bergevin will mortgage the future in terms of trading away top prospects or a high pick for a rental player. I think the Habs would rather make a traditional hockey deal where they get a player who can help them past this season. In other words, Bergevin isn’t getting carried away with the Habs' surprising success this season to suddenly fool himself into thinking their window has suddenly opened to go all-in trade-wise and go for a Cup run. Of course, the Canadiens want to win this season, but they will keep on track with the long-term view in any of their moves this month or this offseason.
Lars Eller is a name other teams were intrigued by earlier this season, but I don’t believe the Canadiens would move him. I think he’s staying put.
The Oilers are not sure if they’re buyers or sellers yet -- their play the next few weeks will decide that. Their shootout loss at Columbus on Tuesday night was yet another disappointing game for an Oilers team some thought could make the playoffs this season.
They’re 12th in the West as of Wednesday morning, three points out, so a run this month can certainly make them buyers but it’s not trending that way.
Like Montreal, whether it’s over the next four weeks or this offseason, a top priority for the Oilers is acquiring a power forward, a player with grit who can also play the game at a high enough level to blend with their top-six skill.
The Oilers did acquire Mike Brown earlier this week but he’s a bottom-six forward. They need more toughness in their top six in order to allow their skilled players to do their thing a little more freely.
A No. 2 defenseman is also on Edmonton’s wish list. Again, not sure that’s doable in the next four weeks, so it could be an offseason target instead.
Ryan Whitney and Nikolai Khabibulin are the most obvious trade bait; both are UFA and neither fits the future plans of the Oil. Ladislav Smid is also UFA after the season and another candidate for a possible trade.
Can the injury-riddled Senators keep hanging in there?
If somehow they defy all odds and hand Paul MacLean the Jack Adams Award in doing so, GM Bryan Murray would love to throw his group a bone with a trade-deadline pickup if his team can stay in or close to a playoff spot over the next month.
They need offense, big time. Both up front and from the back line. They’ve struggled to score goals since Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson went down, which puts them in the market for both a forward and a defenseman.
Spezza is on track to return around the trade deadline so the defenseman might be a bigger need at that point if the Senators are still in the playoff race.
One thing’s for sure: Murray won’t do anything short-term that will hamper the team’s long-term view; he knows when all his parts are back that his club is playoff caliber next season. The big-picture view is important.
Depth in goal is where the Senators can deal from, however. Ben Bishop is the most probable candidate to be moved if the offer makes sense but the Sens aren’t shopping him, they love what he brings. But given the presence also of Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson, the right offer can net Bishop.
If a deal doesn’t make sense, Ottawa can also delay the Anderson/Bishop/Lehner decision until the offseason.
If the Senators fall out of the playoff race, then it gets really interesting on the Daniel Alfredsson front. The Senators have a simple approach: Alfredsson will decide if Alfredsson gets traded. It’s all up to him.
And finally, pending UFA Sergei Gonchar will definitely be trade bait if Ottawa falls out of it.