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Few deadline sellers means returns can be great

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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Is anyone else wondering what they're going to do for excitement on deadline day?

Usually you can count on a few teams being desperate enough to liven things up, but this time nobody seems willing to wait for it. There have already been 21 deals involving 43 players and 17 draft picks this month, which has made this the most active in-season trade market since the lockout.

But what has made the run-up to Monday's deadline different than in previous years are deals aimed more at filling real needs than dumping salary. And everybody, it seems, is trying to beat the rush.

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"A lot of trades are being made earlier than in the past because there's going to be only 19 games left after the deadline and you have to factor in integration time," said San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, who added veteran defenseman Ian White last week.

"I'm sure you'll see trades made at the deadline, but parity gets in the way of a lot more happening."

Yes parity, the equalizing factor that has the effect of keeping playoff dreams alive, whether justified or not, for all but a handful of NHL teams as Monday's deadline approaches. And the majority of those reside in the Western Conference, where only four points separate the fifth seed from the 12th and everybody has been looking for any kind of edge.

"If there's an opportunity and you can find a partner, it doesn't make sense to wait until the end," said Avalanche GM Greg Sherman. "When you look at the standings, especially where teams are sitting here in the West, every single night is a dog fight. There's no guarantee you'll get more at the deadline or it might be too late, so why wait when points are at a premium?"

Actually, they're not for the Avs right now. Or for the St. Louis Blues. Both are all but mathematically eliminated from the West race, so last week they were able to think about the future and pulled off a stunning swap of rising young talents Erik Johnson, Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Colorado got Erik Johnson from St. Louis in a multi-player deal Saturday. (Getty Images)  
Colorado got Erik Johnson from St. Louis in a multi-player deal Saturday. (Getty Images)  
But it's all about now to most early shoppers like the Anaheim Ducks, who came into the season in something of a rebuilding mode and have instead been challenging for the Pacific Division lead. They're still in that race, but Anaheim could still miss the playoffs. And Thursday they decided they couldn't even go one more game in goal with journeyman backup Curtis McElhinney, so they traded him to Tampa Bay for Dan Ellis, someone who has handled No. 1 duties in his career.

Anaheim's franchise goalie Jonas Hiller has only played one game since the All-Star break because of what doctors are telling him might be vertigo, and the Ducks' playoff chances are in jeopardy as a result. McElhinney had a couple of good starts a few weeks ago, but he has been bombed in three of his past four starts, all of them losses. The hope in Anaheim is that comeback project Ray Emery, called up this week, and Ellis can keep them in the hunt until Hiller returns.

But Anaheim couldn't wait. With Dwayne Roloson handling the starting duties for a Lightning team with some goaltending depth in the minors, the expendable Ellis might not have been around by the deadline.

No one knows who else will be gone by then, but it's definitely a seller's market. Here's a look at those with the biggest for-sale signs.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators' season has been a disaster, so they've been blowing things up with a vengeance before the deadline. Ottawa moved Alexei Kovalev to Pittsburgh on Thursday, the latest part of a fire sale that has seen veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and goaltender Brian Elliot shipped away. But the Senators are far from done and will be listening to offers for several players, including Chris Phillips and Chris Neil.

Colorado Avalanche: You have to wonder if Sherman will be trigger-shy now that Peter Stastny, the Hall of Famer and father of Avs star Paul, harshly called the GM out for the trade he made last week with the Blues. Sherman also traded veteran goalie Craig Anderson to Ottawa for Brian Elliot and the new goalie did not look good in his first game. But Colorado isn't going anywhere this season and defenseman John-Michael Liles and veteran forward Milan Hejduk are on a lot of radar screens.

Florida Panthers: Just about everyone is available off the Panthers' roster. GM Dale Tallon's rebuilding plan didn't get very far in its first year and his job now is to change the culture on a team that is heading for its 10th consecutive playoff miss. That means even presumed building blocks like David Booth and Stephen Weiss can be had. Neither will be rentals, though. Teams looking for those can have their choice of veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun or offensive defenseman Bryan McCabe if he waives his no-move clause. Both are free agents after the season. Another potential free agent, Cory Stillman, on Thursday was moved to Carolina, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Atlanta Thrashers: GM Rick Dudley just got a four-year extension, so regardless of whether the team remains in Atlanta or moves to, say, Quebec, he can plot things out with a longer-term view. The Thrashers made a significant roster overhaul under Dudley last summer with the Blackhawks, but after a quick start they have been fading from the playoff race in the East. Dudley has been active in the past few weeks, getting his team younger with trades that have brought forwards Blake Wheeler and Ben Maxwell and defenseman Mark Stuart.

Edmonton Oilers: There are some very good and very young players in Edmonton these days, but the team is still at least a couple of years away from putting things together. That's why there has been a lot of talk about forwards Ales Hemskey and Dustin Penner. Both are in their late 20s and both have another season to go on contracts that are reasonably priced for top-six players. Hemsky is the more dynamic creative force when he's healthy, while Penner scores goals as a power forward. Edmonton isn't giving either player away, but the Oilers figure they can afford to give either or both up if they get much younger players who can grow with the group being cultivated there right now.

Dallas Stars: All eyes will be on the player who was always supposed to be the most sought after at the trade deadline. Brad Richards seemed destined for this as far back as training camp because the Stars are for sale and he'll be worth a lot when he hits the open market next summer. His price tag might be too prohibitive for the Stars, but with the team in surprising contention for a playoff spot most of the season, both sides have talked about working things out. Lately, though, Dallas has faded and that has rekindled a season-long debate about whether the Stars should try to cash in and move their star center. It has been complicated by the concussion symptoms sidelining Richards at the moment.

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