Pierre LeBrun — The Canadian Press
NAPLES, Fla. — With anticipation growing as the trade deadline approaches, the NHL’s 30 GMs are gathering in this picturesque part of Florida for their annual three-day meeting.
Officially, there’s an agenda from the league to look at possible rule changes and the general state of the game in meetings Monday through Wednesday. Unofficially, it’s a great opportunity for GMs to get some face time with their potential trade partners ahead of the 3 p.m. ET deadline on Feb. 26.
"It’s part of our job, everybody talks and has conversations," San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said Sunday. "It’s an interesting time in that where this game is at. With the parity and the competition amongst the teams, the history of the moves that were made last year, the number of players with no-trades, it’s an fascinating time in our business."
Making trades isn’t what it used to be. Between the more than 100 no-trade clauses that exist in the NHL and the salary cap system that limits payrolls on teams, it’s yet again been a quiet year in terms of moves. Carolina and Ottawa competed a four-player transaction last Monday but that has yet to trigger more deals.
Still, several GMs around the league told The Canadian Press over the weekend that their phone calls are getting more pressing as the deadline approaches. Meeting in Naples will only accentuate that. The later the season goes, the smaller the cap hit it is to absorb a salary and that’s why there was a flurry of moves at the deadline last year and in 2006.
"I think there will be some movement but maybe not as much as some people think," cautioned veteran New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.
Last year the GMs also met in Naples but didn’t complete a trade of any significance. Instead, they planted the seeds for moves at the deadline a week later. That’s exactly what happened between Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and New York Islanders GM Garth Snow, who laid the groundwork during these meetings for the Ryan Smyth trade.
Don Waddell has people to talk to this week. The Atlanta Thrashers GM and interim head coach hasn’t been able to re-sign star winger Marian Hossa to a contract extension ahead of his impending unrestricted free agency.
Waddel’s phone was already ringing during the weekend from other GMs reading Hossa’s comments that only a "slim" chance remained at signing a contract. Plenty of suitors will line up for Hossa and Waddell will field all the best offers this week before deciding what he’s going to do.
Does he take the best package in order to get value in return for a player who may walk away July 1? Or does he keep the player because he’s so integral to the team’s pursuit of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference? Tough call.
Darcy Regier finds himself in a similarly tough position. The Buffalo Sabres GM is trying to re-sign all-star defenceman Brian Campbell, who like Hossa will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
With memories of star centres Daniel Briere and Chris Drury walking away to other clubs last July and the Sabres getting nothing in return, Regier will give serious thought to trading Campbell before the deadline if he can’t re-sign him in order to recoup some value from his asset. And like Waddell, he will feel out his colleagues this week to know exactly just what they’re willing to give up.
It won’t all be trade talk. Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke is forging ahead with his idea of altering the collective bargaining agreement to allow teams to retain salary in trades.
Burke has been touting this idea for two years and on many levels it makes sense. Each team would be allowed to retain a limited number of salary under the cap. It would help facilitate trades earlier in the season when almost none are completed. Trades excite fans and generate news, which is needed for a sport dying to get more attention in the U.S.
The league has resisted the idea for a number of reasons, one of them not wanting so-called "dead money" in the system. It will be interesting to see if Burke has won over enough of his colleagues to help force change.
The NHL Players’ Association would also have a say in the matter since it affects the CBA.