The Sellers Emerge
So much for the concern that there would be next to little action before the Feb. 27 NHL trade deadline.
So much for the concern the salary cap would be too much of an impediment to activity, and that there wouldn't be enough obvious sellers because of the closeness of the conference races.
So much for the worry that moving the trade deadline back to late February would suffocate the market.
With 15 long days to go, there are lots of sellers - at least six, perhaps eight and soon to be 10 as teams plummet - and the action has been steadily heating up over the past two weeks.
Really, the activity started in the first few days of January, unless you count Philadelphia's bizarre twin acquisitions of Mike York and Alexei Zhitnik from the Islanders in mid-December, a couple of moves nobody outside of Philadelphia could understand then or can now.
No, there haven't been marquee stars on the move just yet.
But goodness gracious, poor Eric Belanger's already been traded twice.
Moreover, the needs of individual teams are starting to become obvious and new ones are emerging. Buffalo, for example, learned over the weekend it has lost grinder Paul Gaustad for the season, and will undoubtedly be in the market for an extra body up front. The Oilers lost winger Fernando Pisani to a concussion over the weekend, the same problem that has already sidelined Jarret Stoll.
Calgary GM Darryl Sutter has been the most aggressive GM so far, picking up veterans Craig Conroy, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau in two separate deals while sacrificing only defenceman Andrew Ference, really, in terms of a player who could contribute significantly to the Calgary post-season effort.
In Conroy, the Flames picked up a contract for next year as well, but in Stuart and Primeau they acquired two players who will be unrestricted free agents this summer, thus in an overall sense maintaining flexibility.
Carolina moved the aforementioned Belanger to Nashville to repatriate Josef Vasicek, and then Nashville made a sweet deal with Atlanta to get hardnosed defenceman Vitali Vishnevski for Belanger.
Ottawa made its deal for Mike Comrie. The Rangers grabbed Sean Avery and Pascal Dupuis. Carolina has added defenceman Dennis Seidenberg and Vasicek, moving Belanger and Kevyn Adams. Anaheim added Ric Jackman when they ran into injury problems on defence.
So what we know is that there are a number of declared sellers - Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Boston - with St. Louis, Washington, Columbus, Phoenix, Chicago and Florida set to join their number in a matter of days. Colorado, you have to believe, may also soon look to unload some bodies, as the once mighty Avs are sitting 10 points out of a playoff berth.
That's 10 teams. And more could see their fortunes altered significantly in the next two weeks. Players from Todd Bertuzzi to Peter Forsberg to Keith Tkachuk to Aaron Miller to Adrian Aucoin could be moved, and the same goes for Bryan Berard, Shane Doan and
Ladislav Nagy. (After publication today, Nagy was traded to Dallas).
These are significant players, folks.
As for the Leafs, they've got the Darcy Tucker situation to sort out, plus seven very winnable games before the deadline that could, theoretically, vault them upwards in the Eastern Conference standings if they can get their act together on home ice.
The Leafs get the woeful Flyers twice, the lousy Bruins once, the Islanders twice, the Oilers at home and struggling Montreal at the Bell Centre.
Opportunity knocks, gentlemen. And if the Leafs can cash in on their schedule and be in a playoff position by Feb. 27th, it will certainly increase the pressure on GM John Ferguson to make this team better.
Brendan Bell is a card the Leafs have to play in conjuction with the long-term injury to Mike Peca that would allow the Leafs to use his salary space to add a player and still be in compliance with the cap.
Peca, meanwhile, would still be eligible to compete in the playoffs when the salary cap no longer applies.
If Tucker can't be signed, he should be moved, although both sides apparently want this marriage to continue.
Bertuzzi is fool's gold, but someone will bite. Forsberg makes as much sense to the Leafs as any other team unless they can't cash in on their scheduling opportunities over the next two weeks. Doan would be a terrific acquisition for any team, a goal-scoring winger with toughness, but it's not clear whether Phoenix will move him.
This much we know. There will be no lack of rumours over the next two weeks, most of which will be either untrue or fictional, and there will be trading partners and opportunities for JFJ.
All the fears that this trading deadline would be a dull one have already been proven incorrect.