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Monday, February 14, 2011
5 Things: GMs' trade-deadline decisions, Phoenix's other deadline, Kings' turnaround

By Scott Burnside

1. Two deadlines for Phoenix

Multiple sources tell ESPN.com the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes is moving forward and should be completed within the next couple of weeks, but the team is hoping the sale beats another deadline -- the trade deadline.

The sale of the beleaguered franchise to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer was expected to have been completed by mid-February, but a delay in the sale of bonds by the City of Glendale (part of the new lease agreement with Hulsizer) has slowed the process. Those bond sales are expected to begin this week and would still, in theory, give the city time to complete the sale by the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

Why is this significant?

It is believed Hulsizer hopes to be ensconced as owner before the deadline so he can work with GM Don Maloney and his staff to begin charting a course for the future, and nothing is more crucial to the team's immediate future than making the playoffs.

The Coyotes have won four in a row and were tied with Nashville for fifth place in the Western Conference (67 points) as of Monday morning. The Coyotes were just one point out of first in the jam-packed Pacific Division, yet they were also just two points ahead of ninth-place Los Angeles.

If Hulsizer is in place as owner, it could give Maloney more latitude to improve his team by the deadline. The Coyotes added veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival last month, but they could use more help on the back end and down the middle.

Maloney was surprisingly busy during last year's trade-deadline period, although he had to stay within a league-approved budget in order to make moves without having to go to the league for approval.

The Coyotes are 29th in league attendance, but those numbers bloomed last season as the team charged toward an unlikely playoff berth. The same dynamic is unfolding this season as the Coyotes announced their second sellout Saturday against Chicago.

Bolstering the roster would be important to Hulsizer; it would help him reinforce to the Arizona fan base that he is committed to putting a winning team on the ice and help kick-start the long road to making the team financially successful in Glendale.

If the deal isn't completed by the trade deadline, it will simply be another opportunity lost for a franchise that has historically been the poster team for squandering opportunities.

2. A telling home-and-home series

We often look for statement games or road trips or periods in various schedules to serve as a barometer for where teams are in their evolution. Here are a couple of such statements from last week.

We watched the home-and-home set between the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins with interest. Both teams will likely win their respective divisions (Central and Northeast) and would sit in a second tier of Stanley Cup contenders behind teams like Vancouver and Philadelphia. The Wings had struggled heading into this past weekend, losing three of four games and being shut out twice. The Bruins, meanwhile, were coming off their controversial brawl-fest win over Montreal last Wednesday. Yet it was Detroit that rose to the occasion, beating the Bruins 6-1 in Boston on Friday and posting a 4-2 win at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday (a score that flattered the Bruins).

The wins revealed the Red Wings are a formidable force when healthy, as the returns of Daniel Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk in recent days was a boon to everyone, including Todd Bertuzzi, who was a one-man wrecking crew against the Bruins (four goals), playing mostly with Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg.

A full complement of forwards (or, almost, as the Wings are still without Valtteri Filppula and Mike Modano) gives coach Mike Babcock tremendous latitude offensively; if this holds true in April, the Wings will be a legitimate Cup contender.

The losses were disappointing for a Boston team that looks like it needs help before the trade deadline if it wants to enjoy a long playoff run. The Bruins would like to add a puck-moving defenseman and a top-six forward. Meanwhile, backup netminder Tuukka Rask remains a puzzler; he gave up five Red Wings goals on 19 shots through two periods on Friday and is 5-11-1 on the season. The less confidence the team has in using Rask, the more pressure there will be to use Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas and risk over-playing the 36-year-old.

3. Tough questions for some GMs

Speaking of the trade deadline, the Bruins are in a terrific position to pry some top-end talent from teams in the seller's category, thanks in large part to the Phil Kessel deal that gives Boston another of Toronto's first-round picks this year (the Bruins used the other to pick up Tyler Seguin in last year's draft). The Leafs look like they'll be a draft lottery team again this season, which means Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli can dangle a top-five pick.

So, what do you do if you're Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk or Calgary GM Jay Feaster? Both GMs have assets that, if moved, would be the most sought-after pieces at the deadline in the form of Brad Richards (pictured left) and Jarome Iginla.

Richards will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and we're guessing the Stars' chances of retaining his services will be slim unless they go on a long playoff run. Yet the team has played poorly of late (two wins in its past nine games) and looks like it will relinquish its longstanding spot atop the Pacific Division. Even if the Stars do make the playoffs, what is the probability of a long run? Nothing is a given, but an honest assessment suggests the Stars are likely in one-and-done territory. Weigh that likelihood against having a top-five pick and other assets from Boston if Nieuwendyk asked Richards to waive his no-trade clause.

Talk about a dilemma.

It's the same with the Iginla case. Feaster has repeatedly said he will not ask Iginla to waive his no-movement clause. The Flames have played their way back into playoff contention in the West and are 7-1-2 in their past 10 games, but they are 10th in the conference and the teams in front of them all hold games in hand. In short, a playoff berth isn't a given.

With the dearth of talent in Calgary's minor league system, the lure of a top-five draft pick is a powerful one given Iginla's attractiveness to other teams like Boston. (He has two more years left on his contract at $7 million.)

You can ask the same question of Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, who has already started to deconstruct his Senators team. Would having two draft lottery picks this spring not be attractive if you thought captain Daniel Alfredsson would yield that kind of return even if it meant dealing the classy veteran to a division foe?

Tough calls all the way around. Guess that's why those guys get paid the big bucks.

4. Have Kings finally turned a corner?

One of the most confounding teams to watch this season has been the Los Angeles Kings.

With expectations in Los Angeles as high as they've been since the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in 1988, the Kings have suffered through long periods of uneven play this season. What has been most curious is they look like a team with the perfect blend of skill, size, youth and veteran experience ... on paper. When the Kings began a 10-game road trip two weeks ago, it looked like the kind of trip that could kill a season ... or make it.

Kudos to coach Terry Murray and the Kings, as they've gone 4-0-2 on the first six games of this trip, including back-to-back wins in Washington and Philadelphia over the weekend. The Kings still need a top-six forward to be considered a playoff threat (they were outside the playoff bubble tied for eighth with 65 points as of Monday morning), but this trip and the subsequent favorable home schedule down the stretch may be the catalyst for the kind of success many had predicted from the outset.

5. Hockey coincidence?

Now here's a weird one for you. We loved the Jamie Langenbrunner-to-Dallas trade from the Stars' perspective, and when the former New Jersey captain arrived, the Stars were on a roll and won their first five games with him. But since then, the Stars are 2-6-1 and Langenbrunner has just one goal and four assists since arriving in Dallas. Meanwhile, everyone knows how hot the Devils have been. Since saying goodbye to their captain, they are 12-3-2. We're not suggesting there is a definite correlation, but it just goes to show that what looks good on paper sometimes doesn't have the desired result when you put the blades on the ice.