The bubble teams always have the toughest decisions at this time of year, and the Detroit Red Wings are a perfect example leading up to Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
Just three points ahead of the danger zone in the Eastern Conference on Thursday morning, the Wings are hardly in the position to mortgage the future for any of the big-name rental players.
On the flip side, they've hung in incredibly well in the playoff race despite massive injuries (the latest being Henrik Zetterberg, who will be out at least eight weeks). If they can ever get healthy enough, who knows what damage they could do in a wide-open Eastern Conference?
So what do you do if you're veteran Red Wings GM Ken Holland?
"The phone lines seem to be heating up," Holland told ESPN.com Thursday. "We would prefer to do a hockey deal -- meaning a player that's on our roster going forward [past this season].
"Unfortunately, we're on the bubble. It's hard to risk that if we miss the playoffs, to trade a high draft pick or a real top prospect for not even a playoff run. At the same time, we feel that the kids that we've got -- Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, Jurco -- they have really made a positive impact on our hockey team. Looks like they're going to be around here for a while and they should be getting better."
And there's more coming from AHL Grand Rapids, as well. The Wings have done a sensational job of building the base back up without having to finish in the basement of the standings as most organizations do.
So the delicate balance right now is that the Wings have a shot if they get in, but they don't want to send away future assets for a short-term fix.
Holland was careful not to mention any names, but I think it's safe to say that the Wings would not entertain the likes of rentals Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson or any other high-profile, pending unrestricted free agents.
I suspect the Wings would be open to a rental on the blue line in terms of paying a small price for a depth defenseman.
Now what about a hockey deal, as Holland suggested?
Again, Holland wasn't specific, but to me, center Ryan Kesler is the type of player the Wings would have interest in, if the price was right. He's signed past this year, he's a two-way stud, and he's a Michigan kid.
My sense is the Wings will keep an eye on that situation in Vancouver between now and Wednesday's deadline.
If what Vancouver is asking is too high a price for Kesler, then I don't see Detroit as a player in that mix. But if the price comes down and something makes sense, I think the Wings would keep tabs on that one.
Speaking of Kesler
As a couple of front-office sources from other teams told me Thursday, it was bound to come out at some point that the Vancouver Canucks are feeling out the market on Ryan Kesler.
Secrets just don't keep in this business.
It doesn't sound as though Kesler actually made a formal trade request at any time, although it was clearly indicated that a change of scenery could benefit both the player and the team; so perhaps semantics, if anything else.
The bottom line:
• A number of NHL teams have gotten calls from the Canucks on Kesler and vice versa.
• The price is "significantly high," says one Western Conference source. Says a different source, "Really high. And I guess I can't blame them."
• The Canucks have made it clear to other teams that they don't feel the need to move him before Wednesday's deadline, that they're more than happy to pick this up again in June if their price isn't met. Or not move him at all if their price isn't met.
• Kesler is signed for two more seasons, which means if you're trading for him now, you've got three more playoffs out of the gritty, two-way star. And at $5 million a year, he's below market value.
So, yeah, the Canucks are asking teams a for a lot. As they should be.
And let's remember the bigger picture here. I wrote back on Feb. 4 about what I had heard was a decision by the Canucks to reshape their roster after years of being a top contender, that the time had come to get younger assets in return for veteran players. Basically, outside the Sedin twins, all bets were off.
So this Kesler news is very much part and parcel of that bigger picture.
The Wings? The Columbus Blue Jackets? Heck, you have to figure a good dozen teams will take a long, hard look at Kesler between now and Wednesday. There's no bigger prize on the market, given that he's not a rental.
It's an interesting trade deadline because of the Olympic break.
Teams were on the phone in earnest leading up to the break in case a deal could be done before the roster freeze.
Now, those talks pick back up again after two weeks off. It's not your normal season, from that perspective.
"It's an interesting one because a lot of the conversations, a lot of the groundwork happened before the Olympic break," Blues GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com Thursday. "So that the general buildup that you usually have 7-8 days prior to the trade deadline has already been done, like, three weeks ago. Everyone has done their research and set their table. And then there was two weeks off. I don't think a lot of those conversations really need to pick up in earnest again until [Friday], let's say, because everybody has already done their due diligence."
Which brings us to the Blues, one of the top contenders, led by a GM who hasn't been shy to make deals; last season he picked up both Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold before the deadline.
If you know Armstrong, you know I wasn't going to get any hints at all. Few GMs play it closer to the vest than him.
But I thought the Blues' GM gave an interesting answer when I mentioned how Pittsburgh and Boston went all-in last season at the deadline, almost like an arms race, and whether the Blues fit into that mold this season, given their lofty perch among Western contenders.
For starters, Armstrong pointed to how most of his core players are signed, and it's not just about this season for the Blues.
"We're not at the area where the window is closing," he said. "You also have to look at the dynamics of your team. A team like Boston or a team like Pittsburgh, they've been cap players for at least a half-decade. We're a cap team this year, but we're a team that has to manage our resources differently than the top-spending teams on a year-to-year basis. We're not a heavily free-agent-based team. It's my belief that we have to make sure we're maintaining some view of the future, as well."
Which should not be misinterpreted that the Blues are not willing to move a high draft pick or top prospect to make a big move before Wednesday.
"I'm not saying we won't do it, but we have to be careful," said Armstrong. "We're a team that wants to win, but we still have to understand that our winning comes through drafting and developing."
Fact is, the Blues don't generate $2 million nightly gates as the big clubs do, so there's a delicate dance between wanting to make a move to help a contender while also keeping a long-term view.
The Blues have been linked to the likes of Ryan Miller and Ryan Callahan, among others.
Beginning last September, I was on record as saying that Miller was the best piece out there for the Blues. Whether or not they agree with me, we'll find out over the next week.
On Callahan, by the way, I spoke Thursday with his veteran agent, Steve Bartlett, who indicated that he's spoken to the Rangers a few times this week and plans to do so again within the next day or so.
"We'll keep the lines of communication open," Bartlett said.
And how about another contender?
The Bruins are yet again a good bet to go far in the East.
The priority before Wednesday's deadline?
"I'd like to get a defenseman," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com Thursday. "If we don't get one, I'm fine with that, too."
Basically, if the deal is there, it's there; if it's not, it's not. The Bruins won't force it for the sake of it.
But the cap room does exist to acquire a blueliner thanks to the season-ending injury exemption of Dennis Seidenberg. Of course, that's the same reason they would like to add a D-man.
"But having said that, the way the market has been so far, I don't want to force a square peg into a round hole," Chiarelli said.
One name to keep in mind, and this is my own opinion, is Chris Phillips. Now, I can't imagine why the Senators would deal the pending UFA if they're still in playoff contention, which they are as of this writing.
It's also tough to make deals between divisional rivals, especially two teams that could play in the first round of the playoffs.
But I would guess that given Chiarelli's past relationship with Phillips during the GM's front-office years in Ottawa, the defenseman would be a target if the Senators make him available.