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GMs assess the trade market

by Shawn P. Roarke

Joe Corvo made his Hurricanes debut and earned an assist on Sergei Samsonov's game-winning goal against Boston. Corvo highlights
With the trading window for this NHL season closing in two weeks, fans across the globe wonder what will happen to their favorite teams and favorite players in the annual late-winter shopping spree that ends Feb. 26.

This season, they have company in the curiosity department. It seems the men that will actually be pulling the trigger on the potential deals that will consume hockey fans for the next fortnight are just as unsure about what will transpire as the average fan.

"I'm interested as everybody," said Ken Holland, the Detroit Red Wings GM. "The calls are slowly starting to come in now from general managers basically saying; 'You know, we're on the bubble and we're going to see here over the next week or 10 days whether we're a buyer or a seller."

It has been something of a perfect storm this February that has kept the trade market relatively silent, excepting Tuesday's four-player trade between Carolina and Ottawa that saw Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore land in Ottawa for Patrick Eaves and Joe Corvo.

Most importantly, almost everyone is still in the playoff race, as Holland mentioned. In the East, last place Tampa Bay is only six points out of first place in its division. In the West, only Los Angeles -- which already has declared itself open for business -- faces a double-digit points gain to claw into the playoff picture.

"I think right now there hasn't been a lot of movement to date so far, and I think that's probably more due to A: the salary cap, and, B: the closeness of the League," said Paul Holmgren, the GM of the Philadelphia Flyers. "It's unbelievable how close it is right now. And I don't see a whole lot of separation between now and the deadline either. So it's going to be interesting to see what transpires."

Plus, there is a feeling among many in the GM community that the price paid for some high-profile "rentals" last season was far too steep. Consequently, some believe that has contributed to the quietness of the trade market as we hit the middle of February.

"If you look at last year's trade deadline, there was some real steep prices paid and, ultimately, only eight teams can win a playoff round," Holland said.

Holland was one of those paying a steep price. He sent prospect Shawn Matthias, who has already turned into a NHL-ready player, and a second-round pick to the Florida Panthers for veteran power forward Todd Bertuzzi, who had seven points in Detroit's run to the Western Conference Finals. Bertuzzi signed with Anaheim as a free agent this summer, leaving Detroit with no assets from the deal.

But, never fear! All hope for a blockbuster is not lost. Several GMs insist that the current stalemate is nothing more than a temporary lull. There is a trading frenzy right around the corner, it seems.

Atlanta GM Don Waddell was part of last year's feeding frenzy around the deadline. He had a team that was on the cusp of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and he wanted to make it stronger. So, he paid huge prices to obtain defenseman Alexei Zhitnik and power forward Keith Tkachuk, an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

Atlanta made the playoffs by winning the Southeast Division and earning the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, but was swept in the first round by the New York Rangers. To make matters worse, Tkachuk didn't re-sign with the Thrashers and Waddell traded him back to the Blues prior to the July 1 opening of free agency.

Still, Waddell has no regrets about what he did at last year's deadline. And, he thinks other GMs will find themselves in a similar spot this year and be unable to resist the siren song of the trade gods in the pursuit of a playoff spot.

"All it takes is one team to step forward," Waddell said, comparing the trade deadline to the activity on the first day of unrestricted free agency, a time when fiscal conservatism has been fervently preached, but not always followed.

"We talked about it last year on July 1st and look at the deals that were done right away and some of the monies paid. So, all it takes is one team to want to do something and that usually sparks other teams to try to match or stay even with them. So, I won't be surprised if there's deals made again this year that come with a very high price."

Anaheim's Brian Burke, a conservative at the trade deadline, also believes that one or more GMs will get an itchy trigger finger in the next two weeks. He believes it is an inherent part of the high-stakes, results-orientated world that GMs accept as terms of their employment.

The pressure to win is so intense and unrelenting and unremitting that we, as a group, make horrible, horrible decisions at the trade deadline. - Brian Burke

"The pressure to win is so intense and unrelenting and unremitting that we, as a group, make horrible, horrible decisions at the trade deadline," Burke said. "You guys (the media) aren't going to let a guy sit there for three or four years and not do much with the deadline and go out in the first round and say; 'Well, he's husbanding his assets wisely. He's marshalling his assets wisely. This is a sharp guy.' You're all going to say; 'Put him on a rail and throw some tar on him and get him out of town.' "

It is that sense of job insecurity that will eventually drive the trade market, says Burke. No matter the external circumstances -- salary-cap concerns, League parity or past history -- the pressure to win is eternal and overriding.

"The pressure on the manager doesn't ever change," Burke says. "Our job is to win. Get up in the morning; you're trying to figure out a way to win. Go to bed trying to figure out a way to win. If you can't, you get canned. So, no, I think you'll see a whole slew of deals."


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