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Sabres, Islanders among teams that could benefit from Olympic break

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

The Sabres have more time to think about how to handle Ryan Miller's future. (USATSI)
The Sabres have more time to think about how to handle Ryan Miller's future. (USATSI)

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After Saturday night's action closes out, the NHL will shut its doors for 17 days as many of its best and brightest stars travel to Sochi for the Olympic Winter Games. While many general managers will be watching the Olympics through their fingers over their face and teeth clenched, the lengthy break is going to give many of them a chance to reevaluate their teams and prepare for the brief trade window that will reopen Feb. 23 after the Olympics and close a mere 10 days later.

The break will also benefit some teams that are in need of getting healthy or one that just needs to get away from hockey for a bit and refocus when the puck drops again.

Before they can get to the Olympic break, though, the trade window is still open until 3 p.m. ET Friday. There doesn't seem to be much buzz about a flurry of action, but there are a few star players that could be on the move. If they don't get traded by Friday afternoon, it's highly likely they will when the athletes return from Sochi.

For most teams, the Olympic break will offer the bulk of their rosters some rest and relaxation. For others, it's going to be some nervous days and weeks hoping that star players don't get seriously injured in competition. There are also the added security concerns surrounding Sochi which adds an entirely new level of worry for NHL clubs.

There are also some teams where the Olympic break couldn't come at a better time and probably a few who would probably rather play through and keep some momentum going. In general though, the Olympic break could be a good thing, particularly for teams that have some hard decisions ahead. Here's a look at four teams in particular that could greatly benefit from the Olympic break.

1. Buffalo Sabres

There may be no GM in the game that can use this break more than Buffalo's rookie boss, Tim Murray. He inherited a team in need of some massive rebuilding and has pieces to move, none bigger than Ryan Miller. Matt Moulson and his high-end scoring ability can certainly bring in some interest. In fact, reports say more than 12 teams are interested in acquiring the sniper. Murray might consider trying to make Moulson part of the rebuilding process, but the market for acquiring the pending UFA sniper is probably too good to pass up.

The fact is, these next few weeks are vitally important to Murray and the Sabres' rebuilding efforts. Not dealing Miller before the deadline and losing him to free agency really shouldn't be an option. The Sabres need to get something out of it and continue putting building blocks in place to climb out of the deep hole that they're in.

The prospect system is coming along rather nicely already, but getting quality young NHL-ready players as opposed to draft picks should be among the priorities as the Sabres have done well to stockpile picks in recent years.

2. New York Rangers

Rangers GM Glen Sather had reportedly set a pre-Olympic deadline to figure out captain Ryan Callahan's future. It seems that may have been a soft deadline as nothing appears imminent, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post. It seems the Rangers have two options before the deadline -- trade Callahan or re-sign him. One of those two things seems likely to happen.

What makes that a bit more complicated than meets the eye is that Callahan is playing some of his best hockey of the season of late, the Rangers are very much in the playoff hunt and have the tools to compete. Trading away the heart-and-soul captain in the middle of a run seems a little crazy, but so does potentially losing Callahan for nothing anyway.

The same goes for Dan Girardi. Sather could potentially roll the dice and hope if he hangs onto these two players after the deadline that he might find a way to re-sign them.

The Olympic break might give Sather and Callahan's agent, Steve Bartlett, some time to close the seemingly wide gap between the two sides. Callahan is seeking a reported seven-year deal worth upwards of an average of $6.5 million annually. If there's no progress there after the break, Sather might be able to find some takers for the captain.

Girardi could end up on the block and as a steady, physical defenseman, he could command a decent return on the rental market for a team looking to make a run. Again, Girardi helps the Rangers right now though.

Sather's decision process also has to include how much belief he has in this team to make a run. Dealing Callahan and/or Girardi suggests the GM doesn't have much, unless Sather is able to get a return that includes NHL players. It would be hard to blame him for getting something back for two should-be expensive trade chips.

At the very least, Sather now has the time to carefully consider what his next move may be.

3. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have been a bit of a funny team this year. They're one of the best defensive clubs in the league, but the lack of goal scoring in recent weeks has reached near-comical levels. Despite the lack of scoring, many in hockey seem to feel that the Kings have the kind of team that you don't want to meet in the playoffs because of how they're built ... and that's true.

That said, they have to get there first. Going 2-8-0 in their past 10 is not going to help that one bit. LA has a nice little cushion between itself and the Vancouver Canucks for the last playoff spot in the Pacific, but how long will it last?

The break comes at a time when the Kings are scuffling a bit, which means they could certainly refocus after all is said and done. They have a lot of Olympians on the roster, which means their top guys won't be getting much of a break, but that doesn't mean breaking up this dryspell won't help.

It also gives GM Dean Lombardi a chance to evaluate where his team is at and if it needs to get some scoring help. It seems the Kings definitely need it, but getting it will be the challenge. A lot of teams will be looking for scoring depth at the deadline.

Recent rumors have matched the Kings and Oilers as trade partners again in a deal involving Edmonton center Sam Gagner. That would be one way to address the offensive drought, but Lombardi has even more time these next few weeks to consider all options.

4. New York Islanders

The Isles' underwhelming season has to really stick in GM Garth Snow's craw. This team had a lot of expectations attached to it and has fallen well short. Now it sounds like it will be starting a bit of a sale and the biggest chip available is going to be Thomas Vanek.

Vanek's cap hit makes him a little tougher to move, but there has to be a lot of interest in acquiring him. He would definitely make a lot of teams better with his ability to produce. The fact that the Islanders made a push to try and sign him and failed has to further Snow's frustration, but he does have a chance to get some real NHL pieces in return for Vanek, who he acquired from Buffalo (for Matt Moulson) earlier this season. Even if the Islanders have to retain some salary in a trade (and they probably will), they can't lose him without getting something back.

Snow will be one of those GMs likely watching the Olympics while holding his breath, hoping Vanek is able to return healthy after captaining a weak Austrian side.

The Islanders are also likely to deal Andrew MacDonald, who reportedly turned down a contract offer earlier in the year.

The Brooklyn-bound club doesn't seem to be too far away from being a competitive hockey team again. A full rebuild is not necessary, so Snow will have to find ways to bring in some proven NHL talent if he's going to deal away some of his better players now.

The Olympic break is going to have its benefits, but that risk of injury is very real for all teams. An injury to a key player could drastically change the trade deadline situation when the players get back.

One way or another, the Olympic break is going to impact the 10 days following the trade window reopening. It could be a fun week when the NHL gets back to business.

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