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Inquiries increase as trade deadline approaches

by Adam Kimelman
There only have been a handful of trades so far this season, but using history as a guide, during the next two weeks, look for that number to increase dramatically.

As the March 4 trade deadline (3 p.m. ET) approaches, the phone calls, texts and e-mails will be flying at a dizzying pace. The frenzy started Monday, when the Montreal Canadiens sent a pair of draft picks to the Atlanta Thrashers for veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider.

The actual deadline falls at 3 p.m. ET on March 4 and all deals must be registered with the League office at that point. Some deals may well be announced after the deadline passes, especially on a busy deadline day, as the clubs wait for League approval of each transaction.

If history holds form, it will be a frenetic next two weeks with players switching teams all across the League.

A huge caveat in any trade talk is the most of it is just that, talk. Coming up with trade rumors is easy, making an actual deal, especially in a salary cap world is much more difficult. So take any talk of a superstar moving with a very big grain of salt.

Each of the past three deadline days has seen 25 trades consummated, with at least 40 players moving on each deadline day. Last year's deadline saw an all-time high of 45 players change addresses, including stars like defenseman Brian Campbell (Buffalo to San Jose), forward Marian Hossa (Atlanta to Pittsburgh) and goaltender Cristobal Huet (Montreal to Washington).

Who could be the big stars switching sides this season?

The biggest fish in the roiling trade seas could be Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. The League leader in ice time per game (27:20), the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bouwmeester is emerging as an offensive force. With 12 goals and 30 points in 56 games, he's scored double-digit goals for the third-straight season, and reached at least 30 points for the fourth season in a row.

The only thing Bouwmeester hasn't done in six seasons is play in a postseason game, but that could change. The Panthers currently are seventh in the Eastern Conference, but hold just a three-point lead on ninth-place Carolina.

Bouwmeester also could become an unrestricted free agent July 1. So what does Florida General Manager Jacques Martin do? Does he keep Bouwmeester, try to make the playoffs and risk losing a 25-year-old All-Star defenseman for nothing during the summer? Or, does he trade Bouwmeester now?

Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough faces the same question in regards to a pair of star players who could leave during the summer:goaltender Niklas Backstrom and flashy forward Marian Gaborik.

Backstrom ranks among the top five in the League in wins (27), goals-against average (2.22), save percentage (.926) and shutouts (six), but is unsigned beyond this season. The Wild currently are 10th in the Western Conference, but just three points behind eighth-place Columbus and four behind fifth-place Dallas.

Can the Wild make the jump back into the top eight? Or does Risebrough move Backstrom and put the rest of the season in the hands of backup Josh Harding?

Risebrough also has to decide the future of forward Marian Gaborik. When healthy, Gaborik is one of the top offensive talents in the game. In 77 games last season, he had 40 goals and 92 points. The overarching question with Gaborik, though, is his health. The oft-injured forward has been hampered by groin and back problems this season, limiting him to just six games.

Gaborik had hip surgery in January and hopes to return soon. Risebrough has until March 4 to decide among the following options:re-signing Gaborik, trying to move him or letting him go this summer.

Toronto GM Brian Burke could have a busy next two weeks. Burke has publicly stated there are only a few untouchables on his team, meaning defensemen Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, goalie Vesa Toskala and forwards Matt Stajan, Jason Blake and Nik Antropov are among those that could be available. Kubina and Kaberle have no-trade clauses, but could waive them to go to certain clubs.

Other names that have spent time being churned through the rumor mill include Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and Brendan Witt of the New York Islanders; Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier (who had a press conference at the All-Star Game to deny talk of an impending trade) and Marty St. Louis; Pittsburgh's Ryan Whitney; Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger; St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk; Atlanta's Colby Armstrong; Phoenix's Olli Jokinen; and Edmonton's Erik Cole.

While the March 4 deadline might be the last chance for a team to improve for the playoffs, there's no guarantee of postseason success delivered with the consummation of a deadline deal.

Washington lost in the first round with Huet, while Campbell only helped the Sharks reach the second round.

Hossa, along with another trade-deadline acquisition, defenseman Hal Gill, helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Detroit.

The Stanley Cup champions had a quiet deadline day, making one unheralded move:acquiring defenseman Brad Stuart from Los Angeles for two draft picks.

Stuart contributed just 2 goals in 30 regular-season and playoff games with the Wings, but it was he -- not any of the big names moved at the deadline -- hoisting the Stanley Cup.

In fact, not since Rob Blake went from Los Angeles to Colorado at the trade deadline in 2001 has a blockbuster acquisition helped his team win a Cup.

So will it be a big name that puts a team over the top? Or a move that only in hindsight looks like a genius acquisition? Either way, it certainly will be fun to watch.

Contact Adam Kimelman at
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