The NHL’s trade deadline is exactly four weeks from Wednesday.
If Stan Bowman had his way, he wouldn’t wait until then to make his move(s). But he’s in a waiting mode awaiting interested trade partners.
"I always find that I’m usually the guy that's more interested in making moves earlier and most of my counterparts are more interested in waiting it out, so it’s not that unusual for me," Bowman said with a chuckle Tuesday on the line from Chicago.
Of course, when you’re the GM of a Blackhawks team that can do no wrong and is at the top of the NHL standings, it’s a lot easier to say you’re a buyer because you know that’s not going to change.
For a lot of the teams right now, it’s not clear what camp they’ll be in a month from now. The standings are so jammed up, it’s making it difficult to separate the buyers from the sellers.
"The standings dictate how much movement there is, separation or lack thereof," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "You look at the West, from third to 11th this morning, there’s just three points separating those teams."
Detroit is one of those clubs in that cluster. And like so many teams around the league, the slate of games leading up to the April 3 trade deadline will play a major factor on what transpires.
"Ultimately, the next two to three weeks will determine certainly my thinking for the Detroit Red Wings," Holland said.
It’s not just deciding whether you’re a buyer or a seller, but it can be whether you’re an aggressive buyer or a cautious buyer.
The small sample size of games in this lockout-shortened season plus the rash of injuries devouring nearly every lineup are also factors.
It’s hard to make a meaningful trade when you’re not quite sure what you have on your own team yet.
"It’s hard to evaluate, you get the injuries everyone is dealing with, it’s though," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "For sure you don’t want to do anything that hurts anything long term."
His team has been hampered by injuries most of the season and sits on the playoff bubble. Which sounds like a lot of teams right now.
"I think teams will be a little hesitant," Holmgren said of the April 3 trade deadline.
"On the one hand, you can make the case to be aggressive because history has shown that if you get in, it’s wide open," Holland said. "But on the other hand, you can make the case to be conservative, you can miss the playoffs by a point. Because it’s a 48-game season, the trade deadline will be around the 36-game mark, it’s hard at 36 games to have much separation in the standings. And if you don’t have much separation, you’re not going to have a lot of for-sure buyers or a lot of for-sure sellers. But in saying all that, I still think there’s going to be some movement, there always is. How big and how much? Who knows."
Who knows, indeed. The trade market lost one of its bigger names in Stephen Weiss on Tuesday, the Florida Panthers announcing the No. 1 center would be out for the season after requiring wrist surgery. As a UFA-to-be on a Panthers team in last place, he was almost certainly going to be dealt.
Let’s take a look at a few teams ahead of the trade deadline (we’ll also have more on Wednesday):
The Blackhawks had internal meetings last week in which they drew up their short list of trade targets.
"We’ve identified players that we think would help us," Bowman told ESPN.com. "I’ve called to let those teams know: 'This is a player we’re interested in, you may not be interested in moving him now or ever, but ...' they take note of it. Nobody I’ve talked to yet has wanted to talk further about it, they filed it away. So it’s a waiting game."
The Hawks' roster doesn't really have any gaping holes. But Bowman has a type of player in mind he’s inquiring about.
"I’m probably more looking up front, depth maybe at center," Bowman said. "Not high-end but more a role-playing type center."
"We’ve got young guys knocking at the door," he said. "But I guess most of our depth is young guys, so if we add a forward, it’ll be a more experienced guy."
Basically, a John Madden-type center.
Just getting healthy, if that ever happens, will be like making a few trades for Detroit, which has yet to play with a fully healthy lineup this season.
"If we can get all our guys back, that’s almost like a deadline addition or two," Holland said.
The Wings feel pretty good about their depth at forward if everyone is healthy.
Everyone has talked about Detroit’s blue line in the wake of Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement and Brad Stuart's exit. I actually think the defense-by-committee group has done better than most people expected, especially given all the injuries.
All year long it’s been said the Wings would look to add a defenseman come April 3. That’s only true if it’s an impactful player. I don’t think Holland is that interested in adding another depth-type blue-liner. He’s got plenty of those. If Detroit adds a defenseman, I think it’s a genuine top-four type. And those aren’t easy to come by midseason.
Philadelphia has never been shy to make bold moves. Holmgren has the courage to do whatever he feels is best for the organization.
And right now, that appears to be making sure he doesn’t trade away any of his top young talent, no matter where he is in the standings a month from now.
"We’re probably like a lot of teams, looking around for something that makes sense for now and the long term," Holmgren said. "But we think we have a good group of young players that we prefer not to mess with."
Translation: The Flyers will make a traditional hockey trade if it means acquiring help that will stick around past this season and at least into next season. But they’re less interested in giving up futures for a rental player (UFA-to-be).
A puck-moving, top-four defenseman is a need Philadelphia circled a while back. Easier said than done. They don’t give those guys away.
"Young [Erik] Gustafsson has come in and played pretty good for us," Holmgren said. "I don’t know that we feel that stressed to do that. First of all, they’re hard to find. Really the only way to you can get one is by drafting one or weaken yourself in another area [by trade]. If something comes up that makes sense, we’ll see."
After a slow start to the season, Minnesota is showing signs finally of coming together as a team after all those offseason changes. Which is precisely why GM Chuck Fletcher isn’t too eager to further rock the boat.
"Some nights we have nine players out of our 20 that are dressed that are new here from last year," Fletcher told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "That’s a lot of change. We’re still a work in progress, we’re getting better, but we’re still trying to integrate all the new pieces into our lineup and develop chemistry and cohesiveness. I think we've seen lately some real positive signs that we’re going in the right direction. But I think just continually adding new pieces may not be the answer. At times you need to allow your group to become a team."
If there’s a target need for Minnesota, it’s for a veteran defenseman. But Fletcher makes it clear he’s not giving up high-end futures in any trade.
"We’re not looking to trade our top prospects at this time," the Wild GM said. "If there’s something we can do to help our team over the next month, we’ll look at it but we’re not looking to make wholesale changes, that’s for sure."
The Wild, like the Red Wings, are in that nine-team jam in the West where only three points separate third from 11th. Where they sit a month from now will have some bearing.
But it appears that regardless of their standing, Fletcher has little intention of moving UFA-to-be Matt Cullen, who has been the subject of trade rumors.
"Matt Cullen has been a good player for us, he’s our second-line center," Fletcher said. "His contract is up, but, we signed him as an unrestricted free agent and didn’t invest one of our draft choices in him. To me it doesn’t create any urgency to move expiring contracts for future considerations. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re happy with how he’s played and he’s a key part of our team. You never know what can happen if there’s something that makes sense for your team, but our approach is that we don’t need to move these guys at all."