Despite the fact all 30 of the NHL's general managers will be in Toronto on Wednesday, expectations of significant movement on the trade front this week should be tempered -- even though the NHL trade deadline looms two weeks away.
There is no denying that the seeds for future deals could be planted Wednesday, when the general managers get together for a one-day meeting in Toronto, but a number of GMs told NHL.com that the majority of trade hype coming out of the meeting won't carry much weight in the run-up to the April 3 deadline.
A lack of time to formally consummate a face-to-face deal, as well as the fact trade discussions rarely have to be conducted in person, are the main reasons cited by those GMs for their pessimism about the meeting setting in motion a trading frenzy
"Drew Shore has really opened our eyes. He's a kid that we didn't expect this soon, but he's been one of the positives for us. Jonathan Huberdeau and Shore on that line with Peter Mueller on the right side, it's been a real positive for us. We found something there. You have to look at the positives and obviously they're getting keyed on now and teams are focusing on them." -- Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon talking about a positive he and his staff have found in what has otherwise been a dismal season
"Marty [Brodeur] is probably the easiest person I have ever worked with, but with the most talent. He made my job easier because he never questioned me. I always gave him a reason. If you're going to change a person to help them improve, you have to give them a reason; you don't just say, 'I want you to do this.' Give them what is going to make the difference for him to have a better career. He always trusted me and he always listened. He was very easy to work with." -- New Jersey Devils goaltending consultant Jacques Caron, who was honored by the team Saturday, talking about his relationship with Martin Brodeur and why they worked well with each other
"We're in contact with each other via e-mail, text message or cell phone," St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. "Quite honestly, you probably do less at this meeting because you don't want to tip your hand on who you're talking to by standing in a corner with them.
"I think it's very good for our fans and our media to see everyone together, but I don't think it moves a process along as far as a trade."
Chicago's Stan Bowman also discounted the value of in-person communication.
"I don't know that a face-to-face meeting is any more valuable than a phone call," he said.
Time is an issue because the GMs only will be together formally for about seven hours Wednesday and have a full agenda to cover. However, some managers arrived in Toronto on Tuesday and a number could choose to attend the game Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. Others are planning to stay until Thursday.
Though time may be short to pull off the deal they want, certainly there are enough hours available to learn who potentially could be available closer to April 3 -- and at what price.
"You can grab guys and kind of get a feel of what they're looking to do," Minnesota's Chuck Fletcher said. "Sometimes it doesn't lead to anything immediately, but you can plant a seed for down the road. It is a good opportunity to see who may be available and what teams are looking to do."
Florida's Dale Tallon said, "The seeds have been planted already and there will be further discussion."
Several GMs said their trade discussions have become more persistent during the past few weeks, but a difficulty in getting down to candid give-and-take proposals remains because of the number of teams still in the race for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's close in the standings, and some teams that are thinking of going one way or the other in the next week might determine that," Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero said. "I think there is still a bit of a waiting game here, because there are some good races. But you keep in touch with everybody and you know what you're looking for and you want to see if there is a fit out there for you."
Based on the Panthers' record, it would appear Tallon could be one of the more sought-after GMs as the deadline approaches. Tallon, though, said he will stay the course despite the dismal season his team is having.
"We're not going to blow it up," he said. "Obviously it's all injury-related. When you've got eight or nine guys out of the lineup, almost half your team is done. Most of them are the important guys on our team, and we're relying on young guys, first-year pros, to fill out the holes. It's tough."
Embellishment still a big issue
The amount of diving/embellishment calls is up this season after select players, coaches, GMs, officials and League personnel stressed the importance of calling the minor penalty during a two-day summit on rules enforcement in Toronto last August.
There were 25 minor penalties issued for embellishment/diving through games played Sunday night (428 total games played), opposed to 12 embellishment/diving calls through the same number of games last season.
Expect more candid discussion on the embellishment/diving issue at the meeting Wednesday.
"I think we see it almost every night," Shero said. "The players that were there [at the rules summit] in August were very strong in the fact that we need to get rid of the embellishment in the game, that it does a disservice to the game and it certainly makes it more difficult on the referees."
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The NHL Rulebook stipulates that players can be subject to supplementary discipline through fine and/or suspension for violating the embellishment/diving rule. Armstrong said he's in favor of a fine as a way to reduce the frequency with which the tactic is used.
"I think it's something that could be handled by a committee, whether it's Hockey Operations or a joint committee with the NHLPA, where there is a significant fine levied to the perpetrators," Armstrong said. "I personally don't think it's something that you're going to get 100-percent correct with the officials on the ice. The game is too quick. If the players are whacked with a $10,000 fine, that gets your attention."
Olympics coming into focus
The GMs are expecting an update on the status of Olympic participation from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly on Wednesday. The timing couldn't be better for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey -- each group has planned a meeting in Toronto with its advisory committee or management team to coincide with the GMs meeting.
"I'm going to go in, keep my mouth shut and see what goes on," Kekalainen told NHL.com.
He added that there will be topics he wants to address, but he's not going to be leading the discussion.
"I'm going to patiently wait for my turn and respect the elders," Kekalainen said. "I have a firm opinion about things, but the one thing I've learned through the years is first you listen and then you can address the group."
Kekalainen was hired Feb. 13 and came directly from Finland, where he was serving as the GM for Jokerit.
"Right now, work is the only thing I have in my life because my family stayed back in Finland," Kekalainen said.
His family will join him in Columbus for a two-week visit starting April 2, but they won't see him until after 3 p.m. ET on April 3, when the trade deadline passes.
Armstrong holding firm on three-goalie rotation
Jake Allen has given the St. Louis Blues depth in net with his strong play this season. (Photo: Mark Buckner/NHLI)
Halak and Elliott each have one year left on their current contracts. Halak carries a $3.75 million salary-cap hit and Elliott carries a $1.8 million cap hit.
"One of the strengths of the team is its depth, and right now I really like our depth in that position," Armstrong told NHL.com. "It's an uncomfortable situation for our three goaltenders, but I've got to say, they have all handled it well."
Armstrong said he learned last season how important depth is.
"We had three very good goaltenders with Ben Bishop and we ended up trading Ben because he was going to be an unrestricted free agent," Armstrong said. "Then Jaro gets hurt in the playoffs and Brian Elliott was hurt almost the whole series [against the Los Angeles Kings], but we didn't have another option. I don't have to search too far in my memory bank to realize why depth is sometimes a good thing."
Some traction for a coach's challenge
When Tallon first proposed the idea of a coach's challenge at the November 2010 GMs meeting, the 30 managers shot it down by a 28-2 vote and Tallon called it "a dead issue."
He was wrong.
"I would have liked to have one in Game 1 in Philadelphia last year when [Danny] Briere was offside by five feet and scored." -- Penguins' GM Ray Shero on the idea of a coache's challenge
The idea for a coach's challenge is back and likely will be discussed Wednesday, even though Tallon said he won't be leading the charge.
"I was in favor of it," Bowman said. "We had the breakout groups, and what ended up happening is it sort of got bogged down because there are issues with it that have to be worked out. It just died a quick death, but there is something there. Everyone would agree if you can get a call right, you want to get it right."
The shared concern between the GMs and the executives in the NHL's Hockey Operations Department is how do you implement a coach's challenge so it's not used as a tactic, so it doesn't prolong the game, and so it doesn't call into question the integrity of the officials?
"It can't be subjective," Mike Murphy, NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, told NHL.com last month.
Shero said he thinks having a coach's challenge would add some intrigue to the game and provide the coaches in the League with another strategy to consider. He's up for discussing its merits and attacking the questions surrounding the issue.
"I would have liked to have one in Game 1 in Philadelphia last year when [Danny] Briere was offside by five feet and scored," Shero said.
Not everyone is as warm to the idea.
"Once you open up that box, then every year you're going to be expanding that box to what the challenge can be," Armstrong said. "I'd want to know the scope of the challenge, but my fear is it would start at one side and in a decade it could end up something more than we had bargained for."
Minor tweaks have Bobrovsky thriving
Blue Jackets goalie coach Ian Clark credits Sergei Bobrovsky's "superb preparation" for his success this season. Clark also pointed out two key parts of Bobrovsky's game that have improved since January, elements that have enabled Bobrovsky to become one of the League's top goalies this season.
Clark told NHL.com that Bobrovsky has worked to lift his stance higher off the ice, meaning he's kept his thighs higher, pushing his body up to allow his hands to be more to his side instead of on his pads. It all makes Bobrovsky appear bigger -- and certainly wider -- while giving him more mobility in his post-save movements.
"One thing that was evident to me, and the past results would highlight this, is he had a tendency to get real low in his stance," Clark said. "When traffic really became congested he would get smaller instead of bigger. Of course, when you lose sight of a puck or there is a risk of a potential redirection, you want to be as big as you can."
Clark also said Bobrovsky is playing closer to the net when teams come at him on the rush. He said Bobrovsky used to stay near the top of the crease, but that type of positioning would force him to move backward while keeping his angle and staying square all at the same time.
Clark said it's extremely hard for a goalie to do all three of those things at once, and Bobrovsky was susceptible to giving up too much of the net when he tried for that trifecta of goalie movements.
"If you take a whole bunch of depth as a goaltender, you typically have to give it all back," Clark said. "When a goaltender is moving backward, it's really hard to do that, stay on angle and stay squared. You can do two of those things, but it's hard to do three at once. He's trimmed back the depth he gives to help stabilize himself off the rush."