Read the columns and the blogs and the rumor mongers, and you'd think there would be 100 NHL players on the move between now and the March 9 trade deadline.
Sadly, for those fans who plan to book the day off to track the onslaught of deals, it's not likely to happen.
Oh, there'll be lots of tire kicking and exploratory talks and a thousand crumpled pieces of paper that day as GMs work out exactly what their cap room is. But in truth, GMs around the league say they expect the trade period to be pretty quiet.
First is the aforementioned salary cap. In the past, the only thing stopping a team from making a deal to strengthen its Stanley Cup hopes or simply get into the playoffs was an owner's saying, "You want to do what with my money?"
It's why the Maple Leafs could bankrupt their future by bringing in Doug Gilmour, Brian Leetch, Phil Housley, Glen Wesley, Owen Nolan and Ron Francis in recent trade deadline deals without flinching.
Now, every GM has to sit down and ask himself the same questions: what do I need and can I afford him?
The Atlanta Thrashers, for instance, might like to take a run at Keith Tkachuk, but he costs $5 million against the cap this season and next, and even by early March, his pro-rated salary will be too much for the Thrashers. Instead, GM Don Waddell will have to settle for players who max out at about $3 million per year.
The Maple Leafs also will be limited in what they can assume in salary, unless they can find a partner who will take on some of their payroll (Jason Allison's name continues to pop up, as the Leafs would like to bolster their defense).
The same can be said for New Jersey, Colorado and Detroit, all of whom have traditionally been big players in the trade deadline frenzy but have little cap flexibility this season unless they can shed salary in the process.
If the number of buyers has declined dramatically, so too has the number of sellers. As of Sunday morning, there were only five teams realistically out of the playoff hunt: Columbus, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington and Pittsburgh. With Doug Weight gone, and Tkachuk and Caps netminder Oli Kolzig unlikely to be moved, there isn't much beyond secondary players available on those teams.
As for the 25 other NHL teams, nine won't make the playoffs, but with the parity that exists, there are likely to be fewer teams willing to fly the white flag at the deadline than in the past.
Part of that reticence to make a move comes from the deadline itself. In 2003-04, the deadline also was on March 9, but only 26 days remained between the trade deadline and the end of the regular season on April 4. This season, the regular season doesn't end until April 18, meaning there are 40 days between the two dates. That's a lot of hockey for a team such as the New York Islanders, a team that began the week 12th in the Eastern Conference, but just six points out of the playoffs. Or the Florida Panthers, who woke up Sunday in 13th, just seven points out.
In the West, San Jose is 13th and eight points out of the playoffs, but has three games in hand on eighth-place Colorado. Phoenix, perhaps the most vulnerable to a dramatic drop-off after losing Ladislav Nagy for the season, is 12th and seven points back of the last playoff spot.
Each of these teams has a handful of players who could become unrestricted free agents on July 1 and will wrestle with when, if ever, to pull the plug to try and get a return on its investment.
No team wants to lose an asset without getting anything in return. But worse, no team wants to trade a productive player for a prospect or draft pick when it still has a shot at the playoffs, where anything can happen and when a postseason berth means millions of dollars to the bottom line.
-- Scott Burnside