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Getting harder to figure out who's buying, selling

by Larry Wigge
More than any other trade deadline in memory, the most pertinent question 25 of the 30 NHL teams seem to be asking one another leading into the final weekend before the 3 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, March 4 deadline is: Are you going to be a buyer or a seller?

That's because the races in each conference have been so close, especially in the West.

"You have to kick the tires," Blues President John Davidson said. "See what's out there. See how much it's going to cost to make a big splash. See if there's a smaller deal that might help you. A lot of things to think about." Davidson was talking eight days before the deadline as his team sat in 13th place in the West, but was just five points out of a playoff spot.

"Our ownership wants to make the playoffs," Davidson said. "I want to make the playoffs. So does our coaching staff and our players and fans. That's why we're looking to see if we can do something to help our roster.

"It's crazy out there. The races are tight. It's exciting to look at the standings and see teams go up and down in the matter of minutes. I don't think you can rule anyone out of it in our conference -- and there aren't many teams in the other conference that feel they are out of it, either. We'll just have to wait and see how things look on March 4 and see how much March madness there's going to be."

Only Toronto, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and the New York Islanders sit in a grouping that ranks more than double-digit points out of a playoff spot. That's the grouping that would be considered sellers, although the Senators recently traded forward Dean McAmmond and a first-round draft choice to the Islanders for center Mike Comrie and puck-moving defenseman Chris Campoli ... the piece of the puzzle Ottawa GM Bryan Murray has been trying to acquire all season.

So where to start?

The biggest rumors:

Tampa Bay center Vinny Lecavalier -- Said Lightning GM Brian Lawton, "You should never say never. But we never shopped Vinny. We're not going to trade Vinny. Did people ask about him? Of course. Who wouldn't?"

Analysis -- Forget Vinny, he's going nowhere.

Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger -- No no-trade clause for Chris. A situation with the Ducks where there is not much cap room and the team has nine potential unrestricted free agents of note -- Scott and Rob Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin, Samuel Pahlsson, Travis Moen, Brendan Morrison, Kent Huskins, Steve Montador, Bret Hedican. Said one GM, "I've seen the rumors. Some reliable sources. I don't know. But, where there's smoke, there might be fire with Chris Pronger."

Analysis -- It will cost a lot for Pronger. But it's worth it to make a phone call.

Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester -- Young, big-minute defender who is in his sixth season with the Panthers, with no trips to the playoffs. Those close to Jay say he will not re-sign with Florida. The questions here: Do the Panthers gamble that they can re-sign him or make a deal after the playoffs and before the July 1 free agency? Or do they take the best offer for JBo?

Said Panthers GM. Jacques Martin, "It's clear our priority is to make the playoffs this year. We're evaluating what's available for Jay Bouwmeester and come March 4 we'll see if we move forward with Jay or if we can get something that makes us a better club. It's also a possibility that we retain Jay and see where we are after the season."

Analysis -- I don't think Jay will re-sign with the Panthers. But it wouldn't hurt to get his best in the stretch run, not disturb the chemistry of the team and try to get top dollar for an in-his-prime All-Star defenseman before July 1 like Nashville did with UFA's Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell two summers ago.

Atlanta winger Ilya Kovalchuk -- The rumors over his being dealt now rather than waiting until next year when he could become an unrestricted free agent got out of hand earlier this season. In some circles those rumors are still out there.

Analysis -- He's the face of the franchise. He's scoring again now that coach John Anderson has found him some linemates and he's the captain of the team. Wait till next year and see how Ilya feels about staying in Atlanta.

St. Louis center/left wing Keith Tkachuk -- Unless the Blues lose at Dallas and Phoenix and against Detroit at home March 3, he's not going anywhere.

Analysis -- Tkachuk won't waive no-trade clause this time and Blues won't ask.

Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle -- Said Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, ‘'The minimum would be this: a minimum of a first-round pick, a guy that can play on our team right now and a top prospect. It would be a package just like I paid when I got Chris Pronger from Edmonton. I'm not putting a price on it that I haven't paid myself in the past.''

Analysis -- Kaberle is that good to a team looking for a puck-moving defenseman whose best days could still be ahead of him in the right situation.

Colorado winger Ryan Smyth -- Loves Denver. Has no-trade clause. But the Avalanche front office has a mandate to cut payroll. Said Smyth, "I've got three years left on my contract ... and I like it here."

Analysis -- Call GM Francois Giguere. But you're going to have to make a great offer for the best front-of-the-crease player in the game not named Tomas Holmstrom.

Minnesota winger Marian Gaborik -- He would have been the top player on this potential UFA trade list if he had stayed healthy.

Analysis --
The price would be too high for a too-often injured player like this, even with the speed and skills Gaborik would bring with him.

Edmonton winger Erik Cole -- A Stanley Cup winner with Carolina in 2006 who had a sluggish start this season.

Analysis -- Edmonton management also has a mandate to make the playoffs -- and because Cole is a potential UFA he'd only bring a prospect or draft choice now. Cole is too valuable to the Oilers now to trade him.

Other names

Strength up the middle -- Scoring centers like Phoenix's Olli Jokinen, Atlanta's Todd White or Toronto's Nik Antropov or defensive centers like Anaheim's Sammy Pahlsson or Todd Marchant or Nashville's Radek Bonk.

Winging it -- Bill Guerin of the Islanders, Tampa Bay's Mark Recchi, Philadelphia's Scottie Upshall and Ottawa's Chris Neil.

D-men -- Atlanta's Nick Havelid or Phoenix's Derek Morris would be in the category of puck-moving defensemen, while the Islanders' Brent Witt is that defensive defensemen with grit that teams might be looking for.

Team thoughts -- Boston loves its depth but would still like to add a top-six forward for insurance. ... Look for San Jose to try to add a defenseman, one with Stanley Cup playoff experience. ... Detroit is just looking to tighten up internally. Thus the 10 days off for goalie Chris Osgood. ... Washington won't agree that goaltending is still its biggest question mark. But it is. ... New Jersey would not hesitate to add to its top four on defense. ... Can the Flyers find a goalie who can be counted on to stop the puck in the playoffs? ... Calgary would be buyers for the right puck-moving defenseman. ... Chicago would love to add a second-line center so that either Patrick Sharp or Kris Versteeg won't have to play out of position. ... For Vancouver, it's depth up front -- third line guy who can contribute offensively. ... Montreal has gotten push on defense offensively from the trade for Mathieu Schneider. If Thomas Plekanec or Saku Koivu can't be the power-play QB up front, then that's a need for the Habs, especially if Alex Kovalev needs an energy boost again. ... Rangers desperately need scoring. No secret there. ... Florida just needs a sniff at the playoffs. Roster has all rookie coach Peter DeBoer needs. ... Buffalo needs Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek back. ... Columbus needs to keep Steve Mason fresh. ... Dallas needs to survive until Brad Richards and Brenden Morrow can return. ... Minnesota needs an extra goal per game up front. ... Carolina needs to be able to count on Cam Ward to win games by himself down the stretch. ... Pittsburgh is looking for the same thing as last year -- a winger to play along with Sidney Crosby. ... Edmonton needs a solid faceoff guy and continued consistency from Dwayne Roloson. ... Anaheim needs a J-S Giguere revival. ... Nashville needs a more productive and unpredictable power play. ... Los Angeles needs to keep the kids focused on game-by-game defensive responsibilities. ... St. Louis needs no more injuries. ... Phoenix is like Carolina. Ilya Bryzgalov can't lose games for the Coyotes.

Sweet home Toronto -- Mats Sundin's season will be judged by getting the Vancouver Canucks in a prime playoff position, nothing else. But that little side trip to Toronto on Feb. 21, in which he scored a shootout winner against his former Maple Leafs teammates, added spice to his comeback with the Canucks.

It was his first goal as a visiting player in Toronto since March 26, 1994, when he was with the Quebec Nordiques.

Asgood as it gets? -- Chris Osgood was scheduled to return from his 10-day absence for a goaltending tutorial with goalie coach Jim Bedard on Friday. Forget Osgood's 3.29 goals-against average and .879 save percentage, star center Henrik Zetterberg.

"We don't care about his stats," said Zetterberg. "He was the goalie that gave us the Cup last year. That goes a long way with us. We know he'll be there for us this year, too."

Caught in the crosshairs -- Patrick Kane has been struggling to score goals so much of late that he decided to have a stylist shave off his trademark curly locks.

"She said she was going to sell them on eBay," Kane laughed.

Kane has 2 goals in his last four games, after getting just 3 goals in 25 games since Christmas.

"I just thought I had to change things up," he added. "Nikolai Khabibulin said I shaved seven years off. I don't know about that, but I feel a little faster."

Writing new Torts -- No, nothing legal with the Rangers. It's all about trying to end the free-fall this team has been in that took them from first place in the division in early January to out of the playoffs now.

"I'm not going to stand behind the bench and calmly go about it. I'm just not built that way,'' said Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, coached the Lightning from 2001-02 until last season and has a reputation of riding his teams hard. "They are going to get pushed. They're going to be held accountable, and there may be some bumps in the road."

Tortorella knows all about the Rangers' high-salaried teams, having been an assistant coach with them before he took the head job in Tampa Bay.

Ryder rents scorers --
In his first game back with the Boston Bruins, Michael Ryder netted a goal and assist in a 6-1 triumph against Florida on Feb. 24 to end a 1-4-2 skid.

Wearing a visor to protect the broken sinus bone caused by an errant stick, Ryder said, "They said it was crushed like an eggshell,'' Ryder said. ‘'It was scary. A centimeter either way, and I really could have been in trouble.''

Not so Ducky -- Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle on his team's six-game trip that began Feb. 20 with a loss in Detroit and was to take the Ducks up to the trading deadline: "We'll see after this trip if we're buyers or sellers. We can't hide from the fact that we've created this situation and we have to take responsibility for it.''

On the layaway plan --
When Ottawa GM Bryan Murray traded veteran forward Dean McAmmond and a first-round draft choice to the New York Islanders for playmaking center Mike Comrie and puck-moving defenseman Chris Campoli, he said, "We've scored only 141 goals this season and we've been talking about acquiring a puck-moving defenseman all season. Our performance this year has not allowed us to say there are any untouchables."

Things that make you go hmmmm -- The Maple Leafs beat the Rangers in a shootout in John Tortorella's first game as coach of the New York Rangers on Feb. 25. It was the sixth time a new coach has taken over this season -- and the sixth time the new coach lost his first game (following Joe Quenneville in Chicago, Rick Tocchet in Tampa Bay, Paul Maurice in Carolina, Cory Clouston in Ottawa and Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh). ... Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun's three shutouts in February matched his career-high for one calendar month, set with Nashville in February 2003. ... Another Scandinavian success? Ville Leino, a free agent who led the Finnish Elite League in scoring last season, signs with the Red Wings. Now, after a stint in the minors, Leino gets 5 goals in his first 11 NHL games, including the game-winner in Detroit's 4-1 victory against San Jose on Feb. 25. ... MVP. MVP. Well, maybe not, but Philadelphia's Jeff Carter doesn't trail Washington's Alex Ovechkin by much when you consider his value to the Flyers. Carter's 36th goal of the season Feb. 25 in a 2-0 victory against Los Angeles was his ninth game-winning goal, tied for most in the League. This season, the Flyers are 21-2-6 in games in which Carter scores a goal -- and they're 18-0-3 the last 21 games he's scored. ... In the what might have been department: Paul Stastny returned after missing 26 games to contribute one assist in a game against Atlanta on Feb. 24. While the slick playmaking center was out, the Colorado Avalanche were 11-15 -- the worst record of any team in the Western Conference during that stretch. ... Power? When Nicklas Backstrom netted his 10th power-play goal of the season Feb. 24, it made the Washington Capitals the only team in the NHL with three players with 10 or more power-play goals -- Mike Green had 15 and Alex Ovechkin 14. Another interesting fact about Backstrom -- he leads all Swedish players in scoring, ahead of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. ... Thirty-five or more? That seems to be the break-even point for struggling Anaheim goaltender J-S Giguere this season. Stats show he is 7-1-2 in games that he's faced 35 or more shots this season and just 9-14-2 when his workload has included fewer shots. ... I know Boston's Zdeno Chara is having a Norris Trophy-type season (34 points and plus-24), but it's too soon to be writing off Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom (43 points and also plus-24). And Washington's Mike Green leads all defensemen with 51 points and a plus-26. ... Philadelphia captain Mike Richards has 19 shorthanded goals in his Flyers career after getting shorthanded goals in three straight games recently. The only guy with more shorthanders in the last six years is Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis with 26 ... Now that Minnesota winger Andrew Brunette's ironman streak ended at 509 consecutive games played, Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is the leader with 319 games. ... With Jack Johnson back on the Los Angeles defense, we are seeing the future of the Kings unfold in front of us. How high can Johnson and Drew Doughty take the Kings? ... Are you in that looking ahead to the 2009 Entry Draft mode? The New York Islanders are the only team with two first-round draft choices (having obtained San Jose's pick through Tampa Bay and Ottawa in the Comrie-Campoli deal). There's more: No team has more picks in 2009 than the Los Angeles Kings -- 14 in all and multiple choices in the second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. Nashville isn't far behind, with 12 picks in the draft. Toronto has only five picks, fewest in the NHL. … Atlanta coach John Anderson on trying to follow in the footsteps of minor-league success to making the playoffs in your first try like Bruce Boudreau did with the Washington Capitals last season, ‘'It's like following the animal act on Johnny Carson.''
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