Three weeks to the NHL Trade deadline and all 30 NHL GM's are likely to make a move or two before the end of the month. But, for different reasons, a select group will be under more scrutiny in the next 21 days. While teams like Boston, Vancouver, and even the Rangers, could feel comfortable heading into the playoffs without an impact trade, a few other playoff bound clubs should be more inclined. Here are the five power brokers with the most at stake.
DAVID POILE Nashville - Coach Barry Trotz deservedly gets plenty of credit annually for getting the Predators into the playoffs but Poile, Paul Fenton and the Preds management team should also be saluted for the work they do with limited resources. But this year is different. Poile's team is one of the hottest in the league. Hot enough to consider making a run for it. But Ryan Suter's impending free agency complicates matters. Does Poile risk losing Suter July 1st with no return, cash his chips on Suter prior to the deadline, or augment his team with a scorer and try to convince Suter and Shea Weber that Nashville is committed to building a winner? Buyer or seller? Poile's biggest dilemma yet.
KEN HOLLAND Detroit - Holland is on the record that he's happy with the current makeup of the Wings. But with 5 million in cap space and Nick Lidstrom still near the top of his game, Holland must be considering a significant move or two to put his perennial contenders over the top one more time before the Lidstrom era in Detroit is over. Holland won't trade high draft choices for veterans as he once did and says pending free agent Brad Stuart won't be moved, but he has the savvy, creativity and a few prospects to finesse a significant move.
BRIAN BURKE Toronto - Burke has stated that making the playoffs isn't the goal, having a team that can do damage when it reaches the postseason is the objective. Burke's Leafs appear poised to end the playoff drought, but to ensure they don't take a step backward, and to be fortified for the Stanley Cup tournament you can bet Burke will make a splash. The biggest surprise is that it hasn't happened already. Burke is historically an early shopper and has some assets to deal. He's looking for a Top 6 forward, preferably with size and might be willing to part with Luke Schenn and or Nazem Kadri in a package to get it.
GEORGE McPHEE Washington - McPhee has already fired his coach this season and yet the Caps remain one of the NHL's highest profile underachievers. Something is wrong in Washington and its not just the trillion dollar deficit. McPhee must give his team another boost from the outside if for no other reason than his job could be the next on the line.
DOUG WILSON San Jose - Wilson's Sharks remain a very good team, even elite. But we haven't seen enough this year that would convince you that San Jose is ready to advance any farther in the postseason than it has in recent Stanley Cup playoff years. Martin Havlat wasn't the answer. His injury may give Wilson a cap room mulligan to try again. Like the others Wilson will be looking for the next Butch Goring, or more recently the next Rich Peverley.
The biggest star of the week was Edmonton's Sam Gagner who may have taken himself off the trade market with 11 points and a shootout goal in a 72 hour span. Gagner's 8 point night was the first since '88 when Mario Lemieux did it twice and Bernie Nicholls also had 8. As the 24 year gap would indicate, its a much tougher feat in today's NHL.
The general consensus is that the Oilers will draft a defenceman in this year's draft with what could be another Top 5 pick. Even with Gagner, the Oilers have only 4 young top 6 forwards RNH, Hall and Eberle the others) and shouldn't pass on a gifted scorer (Yakupov or Grigorenko) if available.
Speaking of young guns the Number 1 picks from 2008 and 2009 are living up to their billing. Steve Stamkos appear to be a lock for the Rocket Richard trophy with 34 and could still take a run at the scoring title, currently sitting third. Meanwhile John Tavares was as high as 4th in NHL scoring this week and the top point getter in January with 22. Five points in November might ultimately cost Tavares his first Art Ross trophy.
Just before Christmas, when the Hawks were challenging to be the best team in the NHL, a member of the organization lamented that there were still "holes in the lineup." Those holes have become more evident in 2012 (see Gagner's 8 point night) and Chicago might not be any better than the 4th best team in the Central division.
Speaking of the Central, a high profile coach recently confided that the two fastest teams his club as played this year were Nashville and St. Louis.
Quickly name the 2 teams with 3 scorers in the Top 25. Surprising that the answer is New Jersey (Elias, Kovalchuk, Parise) and the New York Islanders (Tavares Moulson, Parenteau)
Elias is enjoying his best season since the lockout on pace for 80 points. The classy Czech has always been a consistent player but even moreso this season with points in 39 of 51 games. He's been hot of late with 17 points in his last 13 and only held off the scoresheet once over that span.
Parise is just hitting stride again. Coming off last year's knee injury, and with free agency looming, the Zach attack is back with 5 goals in four games, 20 for the season after starting slowly with only 6 in his first 23.
L.A. Kings scout Jack Ferriera was following the Leafs last week. I'm not sure if there's a significant deal to be made there. The only prominent Kings that Brian Burke would be interested in; Kopitar, Brown, Richards and Doughty are surely not on the market. Or maybe Jack was scouting the Leafs and Penguins score clocks.
It was a bit shocking to see the Canadiens at the bottom of the Eastern Conference Saturday after their matinee loss to Washington. Despite a shutout win yesterday the Canadiens season boils down to two unanswered questions; when or if Scott Gomez scores again. The drought has extended over a full year, 51 games and 122 shots. And whether the Habs futility will be rewarded by a high profile draft pick like Yakupov or Grigorenko.
The feel good seasons in Winnipeg and Ottawa have hit turbulence as the Jets and Senators offences have gone dry. The Senators are 0-5-1 in their last 6 with only 8 goals and are now clinging to a spot in the top 8 in the Eastern Conference. The Jets are 5-10-1 since in 2012 and have only 17 goals in their last dozen games dropping to 10th in the East. The teams contending for playoff spots with Ottawa and Winnipeg all have games in hand.
Yes that's Mark Bell back in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks. The #8 pick overall by Chicago in '98 has played the past 2 seasons in Switzerland after a year with the Toronto Marlies. Bell once scored 25 goals as a Blackhawk.
And finally a visit to Pittsburgh last week left a final, image of the old Igloo. The first retractable roof facility in North America is being demolished. Still time for one last open air game?