GMs kick around deals, but no one's biting ... yet
NAPLES, Fla. -- With one week to go before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, a lot of tires are being kicked here.
But the asking price for players is exceptionally high. So high, in fact, Anaheim GM Brian Burke likened trade talks to being waylaid by bandits.
"There's no shame. They don't even wear a mask, they just come out and ask you for it," Burke said. "They're very short conversations. If anybody doesn't know how to swear, they should sit in on one of these conversations because they'd know in a hurry."
"We have good young players in our group and we're not putting them in deals for rentals. It's that simple," Burke said. "We hung in there and talked about a bunch of different things. But the deal didn't make sense for us.''
New York Rangers GM Glen Sather thinks the price will come down as the deadline approaches.
"This is like 30 guys at the used car lot right now, and every guy wants the same four or five cars. The guy doing the selling is asking a lot more. When you get closer to the trading deadline, it won't be that way," Sather said.
One player whose name is being bandied about is veteran forward Gary Roberts of Florida. He's made it clear if he's going to be moved, he'd like to go to an Ontario team, Ottawa or Toronto. But unless the asking price of, in general, a first-round pick goes down, Ottawa GM John Muckler said the Sens won't be in the mix.
"Some people think the market's already set. If it is, I don't think we'll dive in at these prices. We're not doing to deal our future off to add another player to our hockey club," Muckler said. "We went out and we got [Mike] Comrie and we spent a lot of our money there, so we don't have that much left. We'd like to add somebody, but we're not going to reduce our roster."
As for the Leafs, it would be surprising if they took a chance on bringing the rugged winger back after Roberts bolted Toronto early on after the lockout ended in August 2005.
"We haven't found the right fit ourselves just yet, but we'll continue to look," Leafs GM John Ferguson said. "We're familiar with Gary. I think everyone is. He played for us, played a long time for us. He's not the only one."
These days before the trade deadline are not good days for the truth.
The Edmonton Oilers traded defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron to the New York Islanders for erstwhile Russian prospect Denis Grebeshkov and a third-round pick on Sunday afternoon. The Oilers are in ninth place in the Western Conference, eight points behind Minnesota. So, when you trade a defenseman when you're already desperately thin on the back end, there is only one conclusion to be drawn from such a move, right?
The Oilers are cooked.
"Every deal we do, it's all with the vision of trying to win the Stanley Cup," Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe insisted Monday.
But what year?
"That's right. I could only speak from the heart," Lowe said. "People may say, 'You're trying to fool us.' Well, people will believe what they want to believe."
Thanks Kevin. We think the Oilers are cooked, too.
Bergeron chipped in two assists Monday as the Islanders beat Pittsburgh, 6-5.
Unclear picture leads to less dealing in East
There's a reason much of the trade action thus far has been focused on the Western Conference. Calgary, Dallas and Nashville have been the big buyers early and the reason is simple: the separation of playoff teams and nonplayoff teams, or buyers and sellers, is more defined in the West.
In the East? Not so much. Nine points separate eight teams in the middle of the pack. Toronto is one of those teams, sitting in a three-way tie for eighth place after the Islanders' win Monday.
"For some clubs, it's a tough thing if you're giving up a lot and you're not looking like you're going to definitely be in," Ferguson said.
All about the D?
Last season's trade period was dominated by the movement of defensemen, but there are precious few of them on the market this time around.
St. Louis GM Larry Pleau is trying to sign Blues defenseman Eric Brewer to a contract extension that would take one of the few potential defenders off the market.
"It's pretty thin," said one GM who would like to add a defenseman.
The problem for East teams is two of the teams with lots of defensive depth, Carolina and Atlanta, are fighting for a playoff berth and aren't likely to help shore up a competing team.
Carolina would like to add a winger with a scoring touch and is kicking the tires on Anson Carter in Columbus. Don't expect Fredrik Modin to be available as GM Doug MacLean is trying to re-sign the former Tampa forward with the heavy shot.
Who started it?
The instigator rule got a good look Monday as GMs broke out into various smaller groups to discuss a variety of topics. The rule is a hot-button topic these days because Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby is seen as being physically mauled by opposing teams without getting much help from his teammates.
The suggestion is teams are hamstrung in protecting their stars because players who are given three instigator penalties are suspended for two games.
"The bigger issue is, are you allowing people to do their jobs? If a guy gets close to that threshold where it's a suspension, then are you taking away from their effectiveness to do their jobs?" MacLean asked.
One suggestion is players should be allowed five instigator penalties before a suspension is levied. But others worry changing the rule will make it look like the NHL is soft on fighting, which runs contrary to commissioner Gary Bettman's efforts to deter fighting.
"We're not suggesting that there should be more fighting, what we're suggesting is that if we lighten that up [the suspensions], the players have more control over what's going on, on the ice," added Carolina GM Jim Rutherford.
More on penalties and the AHL testing ground
One potential change that at some point may get a look at the American Hockey League level is having overtime penalties during the regular season last only one minute instead of two.
"That's another one of mine," Burke said. "I don't know how far that one's going to get. The logic of it, obviously, if you take a tripping penalty in the first period, it's 10 percent of the period and it's a 5-on-4 power play. That same foul in overtime is 40 percent of the period and it's a 4-on-3 power play, which has a dramatically higher conversion rate. So, to me, it makes sense. But I'm not sure my logic will carry the day here.''
Player development at the AHL level was also discussed by one of the groups, specifically how to improve the level of development of young players before they're brought to the NHL.
NHL GMs would like to see the AHL drop its schedule by six to eight games to allow for less travel and more practice time. But the issue will be a hard sell for AHL owners, who will be reluctant to give up revenues from home dates.
"That's the idea. More practice time, less travel time, and less stress on the players from a competitive point of view. And I think more skill development is really what everyone's looking for," said AHL commissioner Dave Andrews, who expects such a move would take place several years down the road, if it happens at all.
There's more than a little irony at play with this topic given the NHL would improve its own product if it went back to a 76-game slate. But now that owners and players share in revenues, don't bank on that ever happening.
Too much pomp and circumstance?
For those of you still waiting for the Mark Messier tribute to end in New York, GMs also discussed trying to enforce some standards on player tributes and sweater retirements.
"As great as they are, they've been getting a little out of control. Then, you get into the unfairness of the competitive situation," said Nashville GM David Poile.
The situation is especially disruptive for visiting teams, who sometimes have to wait 30-45 minutes after warm-ups for a tribute to be completed or else warm up after the ceremony. The issue also impacts television productions for visiting teams.
"We're probably going to look at whether there is a time beyond which you can't start the game. So, you work it back from 8:08 p.m., let's say. Work it back from there and plan your ceremonies accordingly," Ferguson said.
But wait, there's more!
• GMs also discussed the standards of enforcement on a number of fronts, including obstruction, hooking and holding, as well as low hits. Ferguson, who lost top two-way center Michael Peca for the season after a low hit, thinks it's crucial not just for on-ice calls to be made, but also for supplementary discipline to be meted out in these cases.
"We talked about low hits and the importance of keeping that body contact above the knees and not using the ice to get so low that you're going to end up contacting the player below the knees," Ferguson said. "You look at the injuries and these are typically long-term injuries when a guy gets hurt there. So, the importance of supplemental discipline on top of what would be a clipping minor or a kneeing check."
• On tap tomorrow, GMs are expected to discuss the possibility of awarding three points for a regulation win as opposed to the current two points awarded for any victory.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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