- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Is this the year of the top-six forward at the trade deadline?
Sure looks like it so far.
Nearly every buyer you talk to lists a top-six forward as an item on their wish list before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
General managers are saying that goals are at a premium, since so many games are decided by one goal, so some playoff-bound teams are looking for one more offensive weapon.
"Our team is young and getting better and we see a lot of good things with our team right now, but if we can get a veteran forward or top-six forward, that would help us a lot," veteran Nashville Predators GM David Poile told ESPN.com this week.
Ah, but he’s not alone. Other teams confirmed to be looking for a top-six forward include Chicago, Toronto, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Detroit, the New York Rangers and, as Poile said, Nashville. San Jose could be in the mix for either a top-six forward or a checking-line forward. Boston and Vancouver are looking for a depth forward.
So, easier said than done when so many clubs are looking for similar assets.
"I’m running into the same thing everyone else is," said Poile, who did at least claim depth forward Brandon Yip off waivers Thursday. "There’s 15 to 20 teams right now that are aggressively calling the three or four or five teams that they think are appropriate to call. And there’s nothing happening with those teams right now."
What the trade market needs is more teams to declare themselves sellers and out of the playoff race. But it’s still too early for that. That’s what happens with so much parity in the standings.
Potential top-six forwards available? Again, it doesn’t mean all these players will move, but these are names we’ve heard that could be in play: Derek Roy, Brad Boyes and Drew Stafford in Buffalo; Vaclav Prospal, Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius in Columbus; Ales Hemsky in Edmonton; Tuomo Ruutu in Carolina; and the suddenly hot Jason Blake in Anaheim.
I believe both Detroit and Nashville are among the teams who like Hemsky, who is a UFA on July 1.
And of course there’s potentially Bobby Ryan in Anaheim as a trade target for many teams, although you wonder if the resurgence of the Ducks will give GM Bob Murray pause for thought. I still think Murray will take calls on Ryan right up through the deadline, but the offseason might afford a better window to instill more serious change in his lineup.
Blues' depth in goal
It wasn’t long after the St. Louis Blues announced the signing of Brian Elliott to a two-year, $3.6-million extension that some fans hit Twitter wondering whether that meant Jaroslav Halak was hitting the trade market.
Not so, says the GM of the Blues.
"We’re excited with the tandem that we have," Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com Thursday. "Our players know going into every game they have a chance to win regardless of who is in net. Sometimes when you have a 70-game goalie, when the other guy goes in, the players think it’s different. Right now, no matter who is in net for us, there’s no difference in our outlook on that game."
Like powerhouses Boston and Vancouver, the Blues are assured of top-notch goaltending every night and that can impact the standings.
"The importance of every point, the compacted schedule and the travel, we have the luxury of being able to count on two goalies every night," said Armstrong. "If it’s a four- or six-point difference from making or missing the playoffs, that position [netminder] can change that."
So if Halak and Elliott are both around to stay, what about No. 3 man Ben Bishop, currently in the AHL? There are some around the industry that think Bishop is one of the best netminders not in the NHL. He might garner some trade interest for St. Louis before Feb. 27.
Well, it wouldn’t be a week without a Ryan Suter update, right?
The dialogue continues with the Nashville Predators, Suter’s agent Neil Sheehy told ESPN.com Thursday, but there's really nothing new to report. By now everyone should know the star defenseman is slated for unrestricted free agency on July 1.
My take? I think the Suter camp is sitting back waiting to see what Poile can do to improve the team between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline before deciding whether or not to sign.
So you’ve got a bit of the chicken and the egg here for Poile.
Most people believe Poile is going to be hard-pressed not to move Suter if he’s still unsigned by Feb. 27, but that’s not what the veteran GM told ESPN.com on Wednesday night.
"If you’re asking what I’m going to do, my gut is that we’re going to be trying to add to our team and if we’re adding to our team, we certainly don’t want to be taking away from it by making a deal like that," Poile said of trading Suter.
The San Jose Sharks, as I reported earlier this season, would like to find a new NHL home for goalie Antero Niittymaki, who earns $2 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Sharks are showcasing him this weekend in the AHL; Niittymaki accepted a conditioning assignment Thursday to Worcester, where he was expected to start twice this weekend. Word is Niittymaki's surgically repaired hip is 100 percent. He'd be a decent pickup for a team needing insurance in goal.
Steckel can't escape Crosby
Steckel’s collision with Crosby heard 'round the world more than a year ago at the Winter Classic is a subject he can’t escape.
"I can’t fault people for asking," Steckel told ESPN.com this week after a Toronto Maple Leafs practice. "There’s no way of taking it back. Obviously, I didn’t do it on purpose. It’s just something that I’ve lived with for a year and I’m going to have to live with for my career."
The magnitude of Crosby’s concussion issues, including a setback this season after only an eight-game return, hasn’t escaped Steckel.
"It sucks that the best player in the NHL has been out for what, 11 of the past 12 months basically," said Steckel. "For the game, it sucks. For Pittsburgh, it sucks."
Career will go on for Alfredsson, Brodeur?
Like Brodeur, I asked Alfredsson, would your team’s success this season spur on a decision to return for another year?
"I think I’ll wait for the offseason to make that decision," Alfredsson said. "It’s more physical than mental. It’s about how my body holds up. So far, it’s been great. I’m having a lot of fun. But the toll it takes to play and the preparation it takes to get ready for another season, you have to consider that. But for sure the way we’ve been playing, I’ve been having a lot of fun."
Alfredsson, 39, has certainly played like he can stick around. He’s already surpassed his point total from last season and there’s still half a season to play. I think his heart is telling him he wants to play another season. But he’s waiting for his body after the season to concur.
As for Brodeur, I traded text messages with him Wednesday night and he confirmed what the New York Post first reported, that he was thinking about coming back next season.
"Leaning toward it," Brodeur told ESPN.com. "Haven’t made decision yet."
Brodeur will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
2dScott Burnside and Craig Custance