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From excitement to anxiety, NHL GMs brace for the deadline

by Shawn P. Roarke

Thrashers GM, Don Waddell, has the tough task of figuring out what to do with Marian Hossa.
NAPLES, Fla. -- The final week leading to Tuesday's trade deadline is many things to many general managers.

With the entire NHL GM community gathered here at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, it was a little surprising that there was very little consensus about what emotions the last desperate week of trade negotiations before Tuesday afternoon's deadline will engender.

Excitement, however, did emerge as the biggest buzzword.

"We're excited, very excited," said Dale Tallon, the Chicago GM. "We're passionate about our future and our present, as well. We have a shot and we are going to play meaningful games the rest of the year. That's our goal: teach our kids what it means to play in these important games.

"Whether we make the playoffs or not, that's not the key here for us. It's big picture – where we are headed and what our goals are. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup here and that is what we are building. At these meeting, at this particular time, we are not buying or selling, we're building. Whatever makes sense for our big picture, we'll do."

Ottawa GM Bryan Murray is a clear buyer. His team sits atop the Eastern Conference standings, but has struggled throughout the past month. Still, he remains giddy about the opportunities available in the next six days.

"It's excitement," Murray said. "We're trying to add depth or a top player. In Ottawa's case, we would like to add one more player to obviously give us a better chance when we get to the playoffs."

Atlanta GM Don Waddell is not excited as the trade deadline approaches. He has the biggest trade piece of all – unrestricted free-agent-to-be Marian Hossa – but doesn't know what to do with him. Does he trade him for a bounty of picks, prospects and players? Does he trade him for another elite player? Or does he keep him and hope that he can help Atlanta win the Southeast Division and make a long playoff run?

Waddell admits he has no idea. He is flummoxed.

"Challenging is the biggest word for us because we are at a Catch 22," Waddell said. "We want to repeat as Southeast Division champion and we are two points out of the Southeast Division lead right now and we have a pending unrestricted free agent in Marian Hossa that we could potentially look to move.

"Certainly, we want to make sure that we do everything we can to strengthen our team for the stretch drive and not just sell off any players. We feel like we are in this position and we are ready for this position. If we do have to move Marian Hossa, then the pieces we would get back would have to keep us a competitive hockey club for today and move forward for the future."

It is those conundrums that have GMs second-guessing themselves on a daily basis and reaching for the antacids at night.

No wonder Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, a veteran of countless deadlines, still feels anxious as this final week starts to bleed away.

"It's just being prepared for the unexpected," says Lamoriello, who made a late-season deal before each of his club's three Stanley Cup championships. "This is a week that sometimes we put ourselves in a position where we get anxious, but we also know that we had all year to do things. We know that if you don't get something done, that's the team you have for the year. So, there is a little anxiety involved."

Fortunately, the GMs can stay busy to help keep that anxiety at bay. A busy mind and all that, right?

"It's pretty intense," admits David Poile, the Nashville GM. "Basically, you want to touch base with almost every team in the NHL. It's your opportunity to gauge what they may give up. You probably get more information this week as a GM than you do the whole year.

"It's a little bit of a fact-finding tour as to who is available and vice versa, because I think you give up a lot of information, too, because you are sort of laying your cards on the table to show who you would give up to make a deal."

And that fact-finding tour can be quite time consuming, says Brian Burke, the Anaheim GM.

"It's hectic," says Burke, who traditionally is not a major player around the deadline. "You are trying to turn over every stone to improve your hockey club. But it involves a lot of time to sit down on a telephone and compare notes and go through positional needs with 29 guys. It's very hectic. Obviously, a lot of that work has been done before we get here, but it is still hectic and I'm not even usually a busy guy at the deadline."

Tampa's Jay Feaster has never been shy to pull the trigger on a big deal. He knows he will be receiving even more phone calls this year as his team struggles to stay in the playoff picture. The potential availability of Dan Boyle, a premier, puck-moving defenseman, only will ratchet up the activity. But Feaster is prepared.

It's hectic because every year you are trying to improve your hockey team, but you don't know if you are buying or selling. - Jay Feaster

"It's hectic because every year you are trying to improve your hockey team, but you don't know if you are buying or selling," he says. "What pieces do you need? How close do you think your team is? And, certainly for us, this year, it's a real question, are we buyers or sellers?"

Once Feaster decides his course of action – likely after this weekend's games – he can get down to the execution of his plan.

Phoenix GM Don Maloney already has charted his course. He will not be a buyer, despite the fact that his team is on the cusp of cracking the top eight in the Western Conference standings and potentially making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. He also will not be a seller, believing his team is close to finishing its long, and sometimes difficult, rebuilding process.

So, unlike most of his peers that have been working the phones and pulling GMs aside for one-on-one discussions here in Naples, Maloney has been able to enjoy the sun and the sights without the anxiety and stress afflicting many of his peers.

"It's quiet for us in Phoenix right now," Maloney admitted. "It's always an interesting time, depending on the situation. For us in Phoenix, we are building toward the future and we are treating our young assets like gold chips, so giving up second-round picks or prospects to give us something that might help us get to the playoffs for one year doesn't make sense to us.

"We're talking to people and calling around, but we are certainly not in the game for any of the bigger names that are out there that would make us a better team for the rest of the year."


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