Trade talk heats up as deadline looms

More activity on the way – both before and after Olympics – after busy week, GMs say

David Shoalts

The salary cap has squeezed the fun out of the NHL’s trade market in recent years, but a series of blockbuster trades this week had fans buzzing and two general managers say there will be more activity.

Thanks to the squeezing of the league schedule to accommodate the two-week Olympic break, which begins Feb. 15, Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings expect to see two periods of horse-trading – one in the last few days before the break and the usual one up to the March 3 trade deadline.

That is despite the fact the biggest prize – superstar Ilya Kovalchuk – is off the market after his trade from the Atlanta Thrashers to the New Jersey Devils Thursday night.

“I think you’re going to see lots of action,” said Burke, who made a splash of his own this week with two blockbuster trades that involved 10 players and brought defenceman Dion Phaneuf and goaltender Jean-Sébastien Giguère to Toronto.

“But when you’re looking at rental players, you have to sort out who’s buying and who’s selling,” Burke added.

What will add some extra spice to this year’s deadline, along with the artificial deadline of the Olympic break, is the large number of teams who have yet to decide if they are buyers or sellers.

“It’s a competitive marketplace because, other than a couple of teams in the Western Conference that are way ahead, there are a lot of teams jammed up,” Holland said. “There’s 11 points between third and 13th place in the west and the same thing in the east.”

Before last night’s games, there were six points separating the eight teams that sat between sixth and 13th place in the Eastern Conference.

That is a fight for three playoff spots. In the Western Conference, there are 11 teams involved in an 11-point spread between third place and 13th, which covers six playoff spots.

In addition to the large number of would-be contenders, there are also some underachievers and overachievers who need to prepare themselves for a playoff run.

The Red Wings, for one, have been bobbing in and out of the eighth and last playoff spot all season because of injuries to key players. Also on the underachiever list are the Flames, who made two big trades this week, the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and maybe, if their inconsistency continues, the Philadelphia Flyers.