Which Way Are They Going?
Calgary is in fire sale mode. Buffalo too, it now appears.
The Flames are furiously moving key assets - GM Jay Feaster says he wishes he'd had the "intellectual honesty" to go to a rebuild strategy earlier - with goalie Miikka Kiprussof possibly next. The 36-year-old goalie was yanked early in a loss to Edmonton Monday night, and the Maple Leafs have permission to speak directly to him to see if he would report to Toronto if a trade is made.
The Sabres, after dumping the salary of defenceman Robyn Regehr on Monday night, are headed in the same direction just one year after the arrival of new owner Terry Pegula had them holding the NHL's highest payroll. Defenceman Jordan Leopold was recently moved for picks, and there are multiple reports suggesting captain Jason Pominville has been asked for a list of teams he would not want to be traded to.
Now who'll join the Flames and Sabres?
With 14 teams in action Tuesday night, we may get a little more information, and some very tough choices may have to be made by teams that aren't in the playoff picture today but easily could be by the end of the week.
In the Eastern Conference, there are five teams within four points of each other jousting for the eighth and final playoff spot. Seventh place New Jersey, meanwhile, is only two points up on the eighth place Rangers.
Out west, there are six teams within four points of each other battling for the eighth spot, a position currently held by the St. Louis Blues, a team that has appeared to significantly upgrade in recent days with the acquisition of Leopold and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary on Monday night.
So it's tight, tight, tight. And how many teams will have the "intellectual honesty" to behave like a seller when they still have a shot at the playoffs?
Well, one of those teams appears to be the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks have moved the contracts of veterans Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus in recent days for draft picks, and appear to be on the verge of trading away veteran winger Ryane Clowe as well after holding him out of the lineup on Monday against Vancouver.
But, lo and behold, the Sharks are also holding down sixth place in the Western Conference, just two points behind the fourth place Canucks after beating Alain Vigneault's club 3-2 on Monday night at the Shark Tank.
The Sharks are simultaneously surging and dumping, having won five straight, including two wins over Anaheim. Murray and Handzus were both set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, as is Clowe, and GM Doug Wilson appears determined not to lose players for nothing if he can trade them now.
The Canucks, meanwhile, don't play Tuesday night, so they've got to make decisions based on the information they have.
They fell behind 3-0 to the Sharks, which meant they had surrendered seven straight goals going back to a 4-0 loss to Edmonton on Saturday night. In 12 of the last 16 games Vancouver has scored two goals or fewer with forwards Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond and David Booth lost to injury, and while a Roberto Luongo trade might bring in help, it's not at all clear GM Mike Gillis can get one done by Wednesday's trade deadline because of the veteran goalie's massive contract.
Of the teams in action Tuesday night, it looks like Washington, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Phoenix have tough choices to make in terms of the direction they may go in before the 3 p.m. trade deadline on Wednesday. A win or a loss for any of those teams might swing the pendulum one way or the other.
Another team with serious thinking to do is Dallas, beaten 4-0 at home by the Ducks on Monday night.
A team that is thinking very differently, meanwhile, is Edmonton. The Oilers beat the Flames 4-1 night in a symbolic game of sorts as Calgary moves into the same difficult rebuilding project that Oiler fans have suffered through while the Oilers are in the thick of the fight for a Western Conference playoff berth.