Trade waters starting to stir
Guess Garth Snow didn't want the New Jersey Devils getting out of range.
Okay, that's mean. Presumably, the Islander GM simply saw a chance to get some value for a veteran defenceman, James Wisniewski, who will be unrestricted in July, and pulled the trigger, getting a second round pick and a fifth rounder from Montreal.
Good deal for the Habs, with Andrei Markov out, Josh Gorges ailing and P.K. Subban in some sort of strange purgatory, possibly headed back to the minors.
For the Isles, suddenly winners of four of their last five games, it was nonetheless a little peculiar to see the club move their top defenceman. Wisniewski was tied for the team lead in points and was playing more than 23 minutes a game, tops among Long Island defencemen. Perhaps the Isles have their eye on getting the No. 1 pick again this June, and with 30th place New Jersey going absolutely nowhere despite last week's coaching change, the Islanders don't want to get too far ahead.
The strange part was that Snow didn't shop Wisniewski, but simply cut a deal with Pierre Gauthier. These days, the market for capable defencemen is just starting to heat up and prices can only increase. Then again, moving him now saves more than half of his $3.25 million salary, and that matters on The Island, where the deal has the club barely above the NHL's $43.4 salary floor, and that's with buyout cap hits for Alexei Yashin and Brendan Witt.
The trade was the first concrete evidence that the trade market might be opening after the Christmas freeze. Jersey sent veteran Brian Rolston to the minors and then put him on re-entry waivers, which means he can now be had for half his $5.062 salary this season and next.
Jay Feaster, meanwhile, is now running the show in Calgary, likely with a mandate to clear up some of that team's cap clog, tricky with 11 players on the Flames holding some form of no-trade/no-movement clause in their contracts.
The Leafs would love to get in on this, and have pieces to move, including defenceman Francois Beauchemin, winger Clark MacArthur, centre Mikhail Grabovski and possibly defenceman Tomas Kaberle. Veteran goalie J.S. Giguere could move at some point depending on his health and whether he is willing to waive his no-trade. Youngster Nazem Kadri isn't going anywhere despite being returned to the minors. Teams are showing some interest in Marlie goalie Jussi Rynnas, who is having a sparkling season in the AHL, but the guessing is now that Rynnas and Jonas Gustavsson are slated to be the Leafs' tandem next season.
While many would love to see Leaf GM Brian Burke start dumping players for picks like Snow did with Wisniewski, that appears not to be Burke's priority at the moment. Instead, he'd like to find a way to get some help for his beleaguered coach by acquiring some talent from another club.
Of the teams scraping the bottom of the NHL right now - the Leafs, Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Islanders, Devils, Florida, Buffalo - it's an interesting debate as to which clubs are best positioned for success in the not-too-distant future. The Oilers have the best single prospect in Taylor Hall, although Long Island still believes John Tavares will be a star someday. The Panthers are building a future around Erik Gudbranson but have chronic money problems. The Sabres, who are likely to be sold in the coming months, have lots of young players and prospects, but like Toronto, lack that one superb, blue-chipper. Calgary and Jersey have big messes to clean up before they can start rebuilding, precisely the process the Leafs have already gone through over the past two years.
All of these clubs have something to sell over the next two months. Now we'll see who is buying.