Trade market should heat up sooner

The annual trade deadline is less than two months away but this
season, business in the market could pick up earlier than usual due
to the league’s mid-February shutdown for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A trade freeze will be implemented from Feb. 13-28, leaving
only three days following the end of the freeze for general
managers to swing deals prior to the 3 p.m. ET deadline on March 3.

That’s not much time for playoff-bound teams to bolster
their rosters or for non-playoff clubs to jettison salaries,
meaning the next five weeks could see far more trade activity than
we’ve been used to seeing over the same time in recent years.

Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli recently told
the
Boston Globe that trade talk amongst his peers was picking
up, which only lends credence to the theory of increased player
movement prior to the Olympic break.

For now, only the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers
would be considered certain sellers as their chances of climbing
back into the postseason race are pretty much non-existent.

Ignore wild internet speculation of the Hurricanes shopping
franchise players Eric Staal and Cam Ward as the players
they’ll likely move are impending unrestricted free agent
forwards Ray Whitney and Matt Cullen.

Meanwhile, the Oilers could receive considerable interest in
veterans Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios as well as young forward
Andrew Cogliano.

Defenseman Sheldon Souray said last week that he’d be
willing to waive his no-trade clause if a deal made sense for both
he and the team, but he’s got two more years at a cap hit of
$5.4 million per season left on his contract, making him all but
impossible to move this season.

East to west

The Toronto Maple Leafs are presently second-to-last in the
Eastern Conference and could begin shopping players soon. Trade
rumors out of Leafs Nation center on pending free agents Matt
Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak and Vesa Toskala.

With only six points separating the seventh overall New York
Rangers from the 13th overall Tampa Bay Lightning, there might not
be many sellers emerging from the Eastern Conference over the next
month.

It’s a different story in the Western Conference where
the gap between seventh and 12th overall is considerably wider,
which could push more of that conference’s lower-placed teams
into the trade market.

The Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets
fall into that category, as could the Minnesota Wild and Dallas
Stars if they don’t soon make significant improvement in the
standings.

It’s believed the Ducks could try to move veterans like
Scott Niedermayer, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne and Todd Marchant.
Sophomore winger Bobby Ryan was mentioned in trade rumors earlier
in the season but with 20 goals in 45 games, he’s probably
not going anywhere.

Goalie J.S. Giguere has also been a frequent fixture in the
rumor mill but with a no-movement clause and another season with a
cap hit of $6 million remaining on his contract, he probably
won’t be moved this season.

The Blues have made little improvement despite a recent
coaching change and could try to move veteran forwards Paul Kariya
and Keith Tkachuk.

As for the Blue Jackets, they’ve already attempted a
roster shakeup by shipping winger Jason Chimera to Washington for
forward Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina but thus far.
there’s been little improvement. They could consider a
coaching change before making another trade.

It may be too soon to start speculating over which players
the Wild and Stars could try to move. Their respective situations
should become clearer by the Olympic break.

Stars on the block

Each year there’s always a big-name player whose name
gets bandied about as trade bait and this season is no different.

Atlanta Thrashers superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk is
eligible for UFA status in July and while talks between his camp
and Thrashers management are ongoing, there’s little
indication they’ll get him under contract by the trade
deadline, leading to the inevitable speculation he’ll be
shopped by March 3.

It’s possible the Thrashers could face no choice but to
go that route, but it’s by no means a sure thing. If
they’re still in the thick of the playoff race by the
deadline they could opt to retain him as their postseason hopes are
better with him than without.

A similar scenario unfolded last season with the Florida
Panthers, who surprised many by retaining rather than trading
pending free agent star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, so unless the
Thrashers fall completely out of playoff contention in the next
several weeks take the Kovalchuk trade rumors with a grain of salt.