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Friday, January 28, 2011
NHL trade deadline: We're one month away!

By Pierre LeBrun

The NHL's trade deadline is exactly one month from today. Where did the season go?

And yet, a month is still a lot of time to determine this year's buyers and sellers.

As of today, there are many teams with legitimate playoff chances, making it a short sellers' list. In addition, some buyers need to wait until the last possible moment so their rental pickups don't count as much against the salary cap.

Factor in both those issues, and that's why there still isn't a lot going on one month out.

[More trade deadline: Hradek: Top 5 trade options Insider | Rumor Central Insider]

"There hasn't been much real talk," Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com this week. "Teams are saying 'We'll talk later, we'll talk later.' But that's fine."

"Most of us have players that we would make available even right now for a trade, either because they're underperforming and/or overpaid," Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier told us this week. "But it's impossible right now to get an agreement on values. We're all hoping that we're going to be able to just charge a cost without taking anything back, and that's not reality. So I think, yes, we're all sitting around to the last day or two again [before the trade deadline]."

It's been a frustrating time over the past month for several GMs who are trying to shake things up.

"There's been lots of talk going on, but it's hard to jar anything loose right now," Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said this week.

The two clubs in Ontario have also burned up the phone lines without success. But you'd better believe the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs will try to be busy between now and Feb. 28. The playoffs are a long shot at best.

"I'm open for business, yes, you can get that word out if you want," Sens GM Bryan Murray told us, his sense of humor still intact.

"We now know where we are," Murray added in a serious tone, referring to the team's 13th-place standing in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break, 15 points out of the last playoff spot. "As disappointed as we may be, we have to do something to rectify it."

Prefacing a question by saying I assumed the likes of All-Star youngster Erik Karlsson and top center Jason Spezza (no-movement clause) weren't going anywhere, I asked him how many untouchables he had.

"Yes, there's a couple of guys we wouldn't move," Murray said. "Certainly Alfie [captain Daniel Alfredsson] is another one we wouldn't move. I talked to [owner] Eugene [Melnyk] about that. We're not doing anything there. But other than that, we're open to many things."

The most obvious movable name is veteran blueliner Chris Phillips, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He's a perfect rental for a contender, a smart player who would help any good team. There are so many clubs looking for help along the blue line, including San Jose, Chicago, Montreal and Boston, among others.

The Maple Leafs had been hoping to pull off some sort of trade to bring in a big center, or at least a big forward, but it hasn't happened. So now what?

"We've been trying to add since well before Christmas without any success," Leafs GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com this week. "We have cap room and budget room, but we haven't been able to get anything done to upgrade our team. So now we're going to look at whatever opportunities present themselves leading up to the deadline, including younger players."

I'm reading between the lines here, but my guess is the Leafs are now finally ready to accept draft picks or prospects in trades after trying so hard to make a more traditional hockey deal. Still, it's not a bad thing for Toronto to clear out some cap space ahead of July 1. They'll need to outbid the New York Rangers, among other teams, for the services of Brad Richards (if he hasn't re-signed with Dallas before then).

Toronto's most coveted rental player would be veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who is a UFA on July 1. At some point soon, the Kaberle camp will likely have to make a decision. They'll need to inform the Leafs whether they'd be willing to waive the defenseman's no-trade clause and, if so, provide the Leafs with a list of teams. In the end, they may choose not to waive it and just ride out the final weeks of his career in Toronto. Burke, always respectful of players with no-trade clauses, will not ask Kaberle to waive it.

Expect Francois Beauchemin (one more season at $3.8 million) and Kris Versteeg (one more season at $3.08 million) to continue to draw attention from other teams, along with veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (UFA July 1) if he can show he's healthy and can help a team. (Giguere recently told local reporters he would "contemplate" waiving his no-trade clause if Burke approached him about it.)

And what of Sheldon Souray? He has one more year left on his contract next season at $4.5 million ($5.4 million cap hit). He's been buried in the AHL all season and has also battled injuries down there. Will he move before Feb. 28?

"It's pretty clear there's two options: either someone is interested on a re-entry situation or someone is interested in a hockey deal near the [June] draft," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told ESPN.com this week.

Should the Oilers put Souray on re-entry waivers, teams would be on the hook for half of his contract with the Oilers picking up the other half. Meanwhile, the Oilers are the only team that's clearly out of the race in the West. They don't have any high-end UFAs to sell off, but a forward like Dustin Penner (one more year on his deal at $4.25 million) might draw interest from other clubs.

While the Oilers know where they stand ahead of the trade deadline, plenty of other teams do not. The Blue Jackets are still in it at this point, and their Feb. 28 fate will be decided by their play over the next few weeks. They are five points out at the All-Star break, sitting 13th in the West.

"Yes, we're in no mood to be selling off right now; we feel we still have a chance," Howson said. "It's so tight and it's going to be hard, obviously, coming from behind over a group like this. But if you put together a really strong two weeks together, you get right back close to eighth. It's going to take a real good 10-game run for us to get back into it."

The Panthers are eight points out at the break. Buy or sell a month from now?

"Regardless, we're going to do what's right for the future," Tallon said. "If we can stay competitive this year, that's great, and we'll deal with the cards that are dealt. But we're still keeping an eye on what's best for the future. That's the most important part of this, regardless of what happens in the next month. We're not going to change our philosophy."

Will veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun, UFA July 1, survive the trade deadline? The Panthers have begun preliminary contract talks with his camp, but that doesn't mean anything will get done. Tallon said he spoke to Vokoun's agent again Tuesday.

"It's got to be the right term and the right amount," Tallon said. "I think there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to this. We'll keep hammering away on this and see what happens."

The Sabres, six points out in the East, have a number of UFAs-to-be on their roster, including Tim Connolly, Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer, Craig Rivet and Steve Montador. Will those UFAs all survive the trade deadline?

"We're getting a lot of pop out of our young kids," Regier said. "Older players that we all believed in when we signed them aren't performing at the levels that they're capable of, or maybe we misjudged it. In some part, I think we could be selling veterans if we can sell them because we like what we see in our youth. I think it's going to be really interesting."