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Trending: Trade season opens, Letang nearing return

by Dan Rosen
The opening of trading season, a defenseman that will be welcomed back with open arms, a Hall of Fame goalie's wishes, a struggling goalie's confidence, a team on the rise, and a division that defies logic. It's all in Trending this Week, a weekly look at some of the hot topics in the NHL, kicked off by a hash tag that could easily work on Twitter.


Carolina GM Jim Rutherford told Tuesday that his phone has been ringing often since the holiday freeze was lifted last month, but he hasn't heard anything that has piqued his interest yet. Then on Wednesday he struck a four-player trade with Florida GM Dale Tallon that netted him Russian prospect Evgenii Dadonov.
It probably won't be the biggest deal Rutherford will do before the trade deadline on Feb. 27 at 3 p.m. ET.
It's safe to assume that managers like Rutherford, Columbus' Scott Howson, Edmonton's Steve Tambellini and Anaheim's Bob Murray will be fielding an excessive amount of calls with the trade deadline now 39 days away and counting.


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Tallon, Toronto's Brian Burke, Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, Chicago's Stan Bowman, Pittsburgh's Ray Shero and Detroit's Ken Holland are among the GMs that will likely be doing the calling.
Most GMs have completed -- or are in the process of completing -- their organizational meetings with their scouts. That's when they decide on their needs and their targets. Call it the preseason to trading season.
Calgary and Montreal got a head start last week, and Carolina and Florida jumped into the mix Wednesday.
There are rumors that Murray could be talking to Burke about a deal involving Bobby Ryan.
Sportsnet's respected hockey reporter Marc Spector offered opinions on Twitter on Tuesday about what Tambellini could -- and maybe should -- be doing about guys like Ryan Smyth and Andy Sutton. They're both unrestricted free agents following the season, but Spector reported that Tambellini wants both back in Edmonton. However, it is possible they become rental players by the deadline and then return to the Oilers in the offseason.
Then there is Rutherford, who wants to believe his team is a seven- or eight-game winning streak away from getting into contention, but is also realistic enough to think that this season could be lost soon. He has valuable pending UFAs like forward Tuomo Ruutu and defenseman Tim Gleason that could be had for the right price, but Rutherford may be picky between now and the deadline in order to drive up the price.


Kris Letang's imminent return is the best news the Penguins could get outside of Sidney Crosby saying he's ready to get back in the lineup.
Letang, who has 19 points in 22 games, was getting early Norris Trophy consideration before suffering his concussion after a hit from Max Pacioretty, a hit to the head that earned the Canadiens forward a three-game suspension.
But, his importance to the Penguins goes beyond stats.

Letang starts the offense from the defensive zone, and his ability to get the puck out quickly keeps Pittsburgh from getting hemmed in for long periods of time. Since Letang plays nearly half the game, that's means the Penguins are going to be on the offensive that much more.
In the 24 games the Penguins played before Letang's injury, they scored 3.08 goals-per game and gave up 2.38 per game. In the 21 games since his injury, Pittsburgh's goals per game is down to 2.76 and their goals-against per game is up to the same 2.76 (58 goals for, 58 goals against).
You can't argue the Crosby effect because Letang played the bulk of his games this season without No. 87 in the lineup.


Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 14-10-1
GAA: 2.82 | SVP: 0.895
Martin Brodeur is in the final year of a six-year contract. He'll be 40 years old in May. He's lost some zip off his fastball.
None of it should matter because Brodeur is still a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. He may not show it on a nightly basis, but he shows it enough to prove he can still play 55-60 games and get the Devils into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It certainly appears that's what he'll wind up doing this season.
If Brodeur wants to return for one more season, as he told the New York Post this week, it's unlikely that the Devils would -- or could -- say no. He's one of those generational players that has not only earned the right to decide when he's going to hang up the pads, but to do so in the same jersey that he has worn for his entire career.
The Devils, though, do have an issue when it comes to goaltending. It's questionable if they have a top young prospect that is ready to learn under Brodeur at the NHL level next season.
Scott Wedgewood, who played for Canada at the recently completed World Junior Championship, and Maxime Clermont are New Jersey's top goalie prospects now. But, Wedgewood is only 19 and Clermont is 20. Both are still playing junior hockey.
The Devils might be happy to bring back Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, who is also a pending unrestricted free agent, but they can't keep putting off the inevitable. At some point they need a young guy to emerge, someone that can be Brodeur's heir apparent, and it would be so much easier on whoever that may be if the incumbent Hall of Fame goalie was still around to be the mentor.


Sabres goalie Ryan Miller can't be any clearer with his words.
"I have not and will not ask for a trade," Miller told TSN via a text message. "I will fall on the 'Sabre' before that. Please no one ask me again."
OK, so Miller isn't going anywhere. Let's move on to an issue of way more importance that the goalie responding to trade rumors, like how the goalie goes about getting back his confidence to stop the puck.
Miller's problems this season are puzzling. Nobody could have seen this coming. He's won only 11 of his 27 starts thanks to a bloated 3.12 goals-against average and a sub-.900 save percentage. He hit bottom on Monday by giving up five goals on 14 shots in less than 25 minutes in front of family and friends in Detroit, where his brother Drew plays.
Ryan Miller
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 11-13-2
GAA: 3.12 | SVP: 0.898
The Sabres followed that up by failing miserably with Jhonas Enroth in net Wednesday in Chicago.
While it is possible, even likely, that the Sabres injury list is killing their season, we all know this team's success or failure is tied to Miller's success or failure. If Miller starts to play better, you'll see the Sabres start to play better. It's all related to confidence -- first in the goaltending and second in themselves.


Remember what the Devils did last season under Jacques Lemaire, climbing out of the humongous hole they dug themselves in the first half to burst into the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the second half.  Look across the country and you may be seeing the exact same thing happening in Anaheim.
The Ducks are 6-0-1 in their past seven games, including Wednesday's 6-2 thumping of the Phoenix Coyotes. They've outscored the competition 31-13 during this seven-game stretch. Jonas Hiller has been excellent, the top line is performing, and the rest of the team is following suit. For instance, Anaheim's third and fourth lines combined for eight points in Wednesday's win, including Jason Blake's fourth goal in the past three games.
It's taken Bruce Boudreau more time than he would have liked, and perhaps the threat from GM Bob Murray that everyone was tradable save for Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne made this team flip the switch, but the Ducks are hot and they're trying to climb.
As the Devils found out last season, the Ducks can win as much as they want; it's still not up to them how high they climb. They've reeled off this seven-game run and they're still 13th in the West and 13 points out of a playoff spot.
Odds are it'll be too much to overcome, but like the Devils did last season, the Ducks are primed to make things interesting in the second half.


Nashville center Mike Fisher could only laugh when the Central Division standings were brought to his attention Wednesday. The Predators have 56 points, which is better than 20 teams in the National Hockey League but good enough only for fourth place in their own division.
That's because the Blackhawks have 62 points, Red Wings have 61 and the Blues have 60. It is remarkable that only two points separate these three teams that are currently first, fourth and fifth in the Western Conference standings, but really first, second and third in total points in the Western Conference.
Why does this matter?
If the season were to end right now, the Blues, even with their 60 points, tied for fourth most in the NHL, would have to go on the road to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's astonishing, yes, but definitely reality, and it's making the race in the Central Division so important.
So, who has the advantage today? On paper, it looks like Detroit.
Chicago leads now, but it still has 21 road games to play versus only 14 at home. The Blackhawks are just 10-8-2 on the road. St. Louis also has 21 road games along with 16 home games left. The Blues are 8-9-3 away from Scottrade Center.
Meanwhile, Detroit, which has won 15 straight home games, still has 21 more to go at the Joe against just 16 on the road.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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