It's time for the NHL's general managers to start playing the trading game.
The question is when to pull the trigger: now or closer to the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
"Right now there are different teams trying to make a trade, but the problem is there are only two or three teams that are even willing to make a trade for a draft choice or prospect, meaning they don't think they are going to make the playoffs," Nashville GM David Poile told NHL.com. "What I want now versus what I can later are two different things because of the parity you have in the NHL.
"Certainly if you wait until the last day, the max players should be available."
Poile's point is noted, but Calgary GM Jay Feaster told NHL.com that if he had waited until closer to the trade deadline to work on the Mike Cammalleri for Rene Bourque deal he's not sure he would have ever done it.
"If we're not solidly in a playoff position or if we think there are too many teams to jump over we're not going to be in a buyer's mode," Feaster said. "We're not in a playoff position right now and we still need to win to get there, so that's why you do it now. Let's go get Cammy and get that spark we need. We can get hot and put ourselves in a spot."
The deal has so far paid little dividends, as Cammalleri has only 1 goal in five games with Calgary and the Flames are coming out of the All-Star break in 11th place in the Western Conference.
However, Feaster's point is well-taken. He wants to give his team what he thinks is its best opportunity to get into the playoffs, and by making the trade on Jan. 12 he is essentially giving Cammalleri an extra month and a half to get re-acclimated in Calgary. If he waited until the deadline to do that deal, it is possible Cammalleri's influence would have been limited at best.
Most general managers in Feaster's position feel the same way; they'd rather have the player they're targeting earlier rather than later. However, there is a risk-reward game at play because there is always the chance that a better deal could be made or better player acquired closer to the deadline, as more partners enter the pool due to their place in the standings and their chances of making the playoffs.
It's still early in the process of identifying all of the hard and fast buyers and sellers in the NHL this season, but the time is coming soon.
"That year we won in Tampa, in 2003-04, we were the top team in the Southeast Division and we had won the division the year before, so we had a pretty good feeling about the fact that we were going to be a playoff team and now we wanted to go want to win a couple of rounds, go deeper," said Feaster, the Lightning GM when they won the Cup in 2004. "In our situation right now in Calgary, if I wait until the deadline, we may find that player that I'm chasing is going to be of little value."
The timing of the trade deadline is a point of contention among some managers. It's roughly six weeks before the end of the regular season, and Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, one of the managers of interest in this year's trading season, said he'd like to see it moved up in order to ensure that all the players acquired have an opportunity to get comfortable with their new teams.
"Quite frankly I'd like to see it earlier by a few weeks," Rutherford told NHL.com. "When you bring in a player that late you don't get the player for a long time and in some cases it takes longer for the player to fit in to the team. Some players fit from Day 1, and some players it may take a few weeks, and by the time those few weeks pass it might be too late."
Florida's Dale Tallon said from a business standpoint moving the deadline up doesn't make sense because teams still aren't sure if they want to be a seller or a buyer at the All-Star break or a few days after. Managers and owners have to consider their own marketplace and team morale before deciding what they are going to be in that particular season.
"You want to maximize your ability to sell tickets and keep people interested in your market," Tallon said. "If you do it too soon it might lose some of your luster. If you're selling you want to delay it because you don't want to demoralize your team unless you're way out of it."
Pittsburgh's Ray Shero pointed out that the salary cap has a lot to do with how some teams handle the trading season. Moving the deadline up would mean potentially taking on more cap dollars for a longer period of time, a risky proposition for many teams.
"When you talk about cap space, you have to be cognizant of what you have," Shero told NHL.com. "If you can fit that guy in that's one thing, but you have to keep in mind that there might be injuries and you better have cap space to bring up players. We've seen cases where that doesn't happen. You can really get squeezed at the end."
It's not impossible to get a deal done now. In fact, it's possible that there will be some movement soon, now that the League is past the All-Star break.
There are some teams, such as Rutherford's Hurricanes, that are already giving away their hand this season. Rutherford has made two trades this month, including one involving a veteran player (Alexei Ponikarovsky) for a return of a prospect and a draft pick.
The rumor mill continues to churn around the Hurricanes with ESPN.com reporting Sunday that Tuomo Ruutu could possibly be on the move. Ruutu joins defensemen Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek among the Hurricanes' pending UFAs. Tim Gleason signed a four-year contract extension on Monday.
Carolina is 15th in the Eastern Conference; 10 points out of a playoff spot with 31 games to play.
"I walk a fine line," Rutherford said. "I know where we sit and where we've been all year, and the odds are against us, but I also hold out that hope that we can run off seven or eight wins in a row and then we're in a totally different position."
Columbus GM Scott Howson pulled out the "no comment" when he was asked about Jeff Carter's availability on the trade deadline, but there are rumors that the Blue Jackets would be willing to part with the player they acquired this past offseason as long as a team is willing to take on the remaining 10 years of his contract.
Montreal forward Travis Moen and defensemen Hal Gill
and Chris Campoli have seen their names pop up on the rumor mill. Edmonton forward Ryan Smyth and defenseman Andy Sutton are other names that have come up as well.
"You have more conversations taking place, with a lot of teams talking and everybody trying to feel everybody out," Feaster said. "I think you will see more deals happening."
The question is when?Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer