It's the most exciting time of the hockey season … at least for non-playoff teams, a fact known all too well in Calgary for seven straight seasons.
That's right, tomorrow marks the chaotic dash to the NHL Trade Deadline, a day that will most certainly feature 30 some trades involving 20 some teams, and the swapping of 60 or 70 some players.
Like many events in this era, the day itself is more a product of its hype than a day featuring true hockey motivated transactions.
Some teams have valid reasons and attack plans, players they need to get over that hump or provide depth for a long and tough playoff run.
More often than not however, it almost seems like local market pressure has each and every general manager pushed to "do something!" resulting in a myriad of inconsequential deals that are more about reserving some ink in the paper the next day and less about making a true difference to your hockey club.
The Flames? Probably one of the more quiet clubs on the trade front tomorrow. Their record suggests a seller, but their intentions suggest something completely different.
Why the Flames could be selling?
Because somebody made it impossible to say "NO"!
The Calgary Flames are the perfect trade deadline seller. They sit near the bottom of the pack, having no pie in the sky aspirations of making the playoffs. They have a good blend of playoff tested veteran players nearing the end of their contract terms that competitive teams would love to get their hands on.
The only thing standing in the way of a Flame fire sale is the Flames themselves. Craig Button has told anyone that will listen to him that he wants to keep the core in tact to right the ship next season. If that's the case, only an offer too generous to turn down will pry any significant parts out of Calgary tomorrow.
Who could be leaving?
The most logical players to be holding their breath for the game day skate tomorrow (Flames host the Oilers at 7:30 at the Pengrowth Saddledome) are Craig Conroy and Bob Boughner.
Both players have one season left on their current contracts (2003-04), leaving them unrestricted free agents in 15 months. Essentially their respective market values will never be higher. To not deal them now would be to either lose them for nothing at the end of their contract, or deal them for just next to nothing a year from tomorrow. Keeping these players suggests that team is intent on signing both before they hit the free market.
A wild card player to toss into the mix is Denis Gauthier. If the Flames don't wish to deal Bob Boughner, teams may ask about a younger clone of the burly veteran to help them in the tough grinding playoff battle. With Robyn Regehr stepping up his play the Flames may have the gumption to trade one of their longest serving players.
A real wild card? One more night for an Eastern playoff contender to find their goaltender injured. If that happens, Roman Turek could be on the move for the price of his contract.
Martin Gelinas has a no trade clause in his pact, a fact that should keep the wolves away from his door.
Why the Flames could be buying?
If the Flames do pull a minor deal or two, they will most likely be tinker deals in an attempt to improve the clubs depth or fourth line.
Since Darryl Sutter took over in Calgary his fourth line has seen its ice time wither to the point of only a handful of minutes a night. An upgrade is clearly in order.
Any impact deals set for shaping the club's roster for next season will most likely be done in the summer, as playoff contending teams are looking to add and not subtract. However, if another non-playoff team makes it known that certain players may be available a basement for basement deal could be hatched between a team like Calgary and say Atlanta.
Who could be coming to Calgary?
Oleg Tverdovsky – That Denis Gauthier for Tverdovsky deal just makes way too much sense. The Flames need some help with offence from the rear, and the Devils could use a young angry defenceman to take the pressure of the aging Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko's.
Darcy Tucker – The Leafs have Tucker rumoured to many locals, and this deal is all the more unlikely with the Bud's acquisition of Glen Wesley yesterday, but it's still a remote possibility.
Dale Purington – Because I've predicted it before and been wrong, if it happens tomorrow I had better be predicting it again. Purington fell somewhat out of favour in New York when the Rangers tried to assign him to Hartford and he refused. The Rangers are still in the Eastern mix and may be looking to swap peripheral players. Purington would give the Flames a middle/heavy weight fighter with that "snap" index that they covet.
As always, Trade Deadline day will be busy, with near record numbers in transactions, but only a handful that will really catch one's attention. … For kicks, some predictions; Chris Osgood will be dealt to the St. Louis Blues … Vincent Damphousse will be dealt to the Colorado Avalanche … Teemu Selanne will be dealt to the New Jersey Devils … The Canucks will pick up Arturs Irbe from the Hurricanes for playoff depth. … Alexei Zhitnik will find himself a Philadelphia Flyer. … No one will claim Theo Fleury.
By Rick Charlton
What trade deadline?
There's been no waiting for the wire as several NHL GM's have already beaten the buzzer with plenty of Boxing Day sales well ahead of the NHL's annual Christmas in March Event.
Many trades are already being coloured with the stain of 2004, large dollar contracts carried by players producing sub-par numbers being cast adrift for modest compensation. While this might seem like normal activity the volume of such deals has become alarming. The dissolution of the San Jose Sharks, a fine team that underachieved this year, stands out as a clear example as do the hard-pressed Pittsburgh Penguins, a franchise already moving into lock-down mode.
The big winner to date has been Toronto, picking up significant additions, which figure to bolster their chances of advancing deep into the playoffs.
Owen Nolan, in spite of Darryl Sutter's pronunciations to the contrary, has been a largely ineffective waste of talent through the last eight seasons, one career year being the exception. But a motivated Nolan is everything Sutter says he is and that fact, along with serviceable veteran Glen Wesley, may be all the Leafs need to push them into the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 36 years.
But there is plenty that could happen in the next day and a half which could alter that scenario, with some significant chips that may still be on the move, many of them ending up in the hands of Toronto's large number of enemies in the Eastern Conference.
On the Calgary front, it figures that a team in 14th place in a 15 team Conference might be looking to shake things up and the Flames have plenty of attractive commodities in veterans like Craig Conroy, Bob Boughner, Chris Drury and Denis Gauthier.
Should he choose to accept the assignment, GM Craig Button could easily rival San Jose's Dean Lombardi for activity in the next two days.
That leaves us wondering if the Flames are buying or selling.
Why the Flames could be selling
For the Calgary Flames and other non-playoff teams, this time of year usually signals the time to sell, sell, sell, dumping contracts that no longer fit the longer term picture, preparing for the future yet again.
Calgary has plenty of practice with this scenario, a seventh straight season out of the playoffs all but a foregone conclusion.
In that vein, a veteran like defenceman Boughner may well be the most marketable commodity among the names the Flames are likely to offer with versatile two-way forward Conroy a close second. It would also not surprise if Gauthier's name didn't slip onto the list somewhere, a pounding defenceman of a young age able to draw a young forward onto a Calgary team woefully short of offence.
Whatever Calgary might be offering, the asking price is surely going to be a combination of skill and size, but particularly the latter for the woefully small forward ranks. This team simply isn't big enough for Darryl Sutter.
In all likelihood though, Calgary names at the lower end of the scale like Scott Nichol, Steve Begin, Blake Sloan, all smaller players themselves, are more probably being dangled, again in exchange for budget conscious size. If there is a house cleaning to come, this is the area it will happen.
Jarome Iginla, with 23 goals since his health returned at the Christmas break, is off the watch list and we can also conclude that Chris Drury and Stephane Yelle are considered the cats meow at Sutter Central given the enthusiastic comments both have drawn from their new bench boss. Martin Gelinas has a no-trade clause and Oleg Saprykin seems to be advancing along the lines Sutter has been looking for, and that would be the same conclusion of rookie Jordan Leopold.
Button has spent the last few months collecting and experimenting with puck-moving defencemen like Mike Mottau, Andrew Ference, Mickey Dupont and Leopold, suggesting that Toni Lydman is probably safe as is Robyn Regehr.
It's not out of order to conclude the Flames wouldn't mind starting from scratch in net, moving Roman Turek and his Large contract of a somewhat lengthy term to someone else to experiment with. Turek's no-trade clause is standing in the way.
In general, however, teams that would be buying from the Flames at this time of year would typically be offering only futures, draft picks and prospects or younger, more inexperienced players.
That may not be the market Calgary is interested in.
Who could be leaving?
Denis Gauthier, Blake Sloan, Scott Nichol, Steve Begin, Mattias Johansson, Chris Clark, Petr Buzek, Steve Montador, Rob Niedermayer.
Why the Flames could be buying
If you believe the dribs and drabs of commentary coming out of the Flames camp you would be led to the conclusion Calgary, if anything, might be a net buyer at this trade deadline and perhaps into the summer as well.
Both ownership and team president Ken King seem to be echoing Button's assertion the Flames are a team which was good enough but underachieved this year, meaning the core is likely to stay intact while additions are sought. While that might simply be fodder for future season ticket sales it could also bode well for Button's continued employment.
Although Islander Brad Isbister has been falling off the map as an uber-prospect degraded now to a mere suspect, his combination of size with some skill must be intriguing to the Flames. But is there a heart still beating inside Isbister's huge frame? Some would say no.
The fact the Sharks are throwing anything and everyone over the side of their desperately sinking ship, and their ex-coach probably gazing wistfully at the carnage, suggests Calgary and San Jose have probably been trying to come up with ways to gather some of Sutter's old favourites. Scott Thornton of the Sharks, even though concussed at the moment, sticks out like a sore thumb as a possible target in a Calgary/San Jose swap.
Its no secret Sutter is being driven to the point of distraction by the inconsistencies of Turek, the latter's no-trade clause standing in the way of any potential for a deal. How the GM and the coach are going to solve this dilemma, other than praying for a save percentage of at least .910, is anyone's guess. But since we're in the business of speculating, we can surmise that Turek will remain in a Flames uniform and management will try to land a young stud goaltender on the cusp of stepping into the league on a regular basis but still cheap enough that all the financial eggs aren't being tossed into the goaltending basket.
Who could be coming to Calgary?
Brad Isbister, Scott Thornton, Oleg Tverdovsky . . . . .
It might well be that Boston is so hard up, with goaltending so inept lately and its playoff perch so perilous, they may be willing to take a chance on a certain Large netminder. While Roman Turek has been inconsistent this year, he hasn't been so universally awful that he shouldn't be considered by the Bruins. Turek might be enough to rescue them from their half-season long tailspin. Of course, this fantasy trade lives in a world where "no-trade" clauses don't exist.
Looking to rid themselves of 10 year contracts at sensationally high prices, the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals will spin off Alexei Yashin and Jaromir Jagr to the only suckers they can find - themselves.
Chris Gratton will end up in Dallas, Scott Thornton in Ottawa, Alexei Zhitnik will go to Philadelphia and Darcy Tucker will wind up in Edmonton. There seemed to be some rumblings of Oleg Tverdovsky ending up in Calgary as the Flames continue their desperate search for offence from the backline, but Tverdovsky's less than stellar performance in Calgary a week ago may have crumbled those hopes.
Everyone else ends up in Toronto. Of course.
Flames ownership and upper management have been very clear in recent weeks in stating they believe this Flames team is better than its record suggests, that additions and not subtractions will be the way to go. Calgary's next meaningful game is six months into the future, however, and there would appear to be no hurry to advance the priorities Sutter is surely pining for.
Calgary is too small on the forward ranks for a Sutter coached team, it is too soft in front of its own net and its goaltending is too inconsistent.
There is no shortage of things to do but the summer is likely the time when the bulk of it gets done.