- Scott Burnside, NHL
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NAPLES, Fla. -- Remember at the end of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," when Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach are all standing there, guns drawn, waiting for someone to make the first move? Waiting to see who would back down and who would flinch?
That's the cat-and-mouse game now being played out between NHL general managers.
For three days here, GMs haggled and harrumphed and metaphorically kicked the tires on more than a dozen players who could be had before the trade deadline. Apart from a minor deal -- the New York Islanders' acquisition of Edmonton defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron on Sunday for a prospect playing in Russia -- there was no movement.
But there will be. Now, it's just a question of who blinks first.
The sellers, who are in a minority and hold the balance of power with assets that might yield a Stanley Cup, have set the bar high in terms of asking price. Players such as Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and Gary Roberts are commanding a first-round pick plus a prospect.
Will the market come down?
"I know if it doesn't, we'll be sitting on the sidelines," Anaheim GM Brian Burke said.
Maybe. Or is Burke trying to bluff his way into a player he wants by trying to scare potential trade partners into believing he'd rather walk away than give up too much?
The same questions will be asked of GMs Jacques Martin of Florida and Larry Pleau in St. Louis, who have between them probably six of the most interesting potential trade baubles: Tkachuk, Guerin, Roberts, Martin Gelinas, Jozef Stumpel, Ed Belfour and Todd Bertuzzi.
Are they prepared to keep what they've got rather than lower their prices and get at least something for players who are potential free agents and may walk away for free on July 1?
"Will it get less or will it get more? That's the gamble everyone takes. That's the poker," said Pleau, whose team won again Tuesday night and remains 10 points out of the playoffs in the Western Conference.
Could teams try to bluff sellers into lowering their price?
"That could very easily happen. Injuries are going to affect everything from now until Tuesday. How teams play. Winning and losing. There's a lot of things that are going to affect it in the next week or so," Pleau said.
Darcy Regier, for instance, was watching his Sabres pummel Philadelphia on Tuesday night, but also learned he had lost a sixth player to injury, Daniel Paille, who suffered a broken finger and will miss 2 to 3 weeks. Regier has salary cap issues, but would like to move backup netminder Martin Biron for help up front.
Toronto GM John Ferguson believes the logjam will break, and sooner than later.
"I do still think you're going to see some movement. A fair bit of movement," Ferguson said. "There are a number of top guys on defined seller teams that just haven't fallen yet. But I think that'll come, and I think it'll come soon. I think you'll see trades coming on the weekend. Teams prefer not to get jammed right up to Tuesday."
The issue, for all teams, is risk versus reward.
Nashville and Dallas already have committed significant assets to acquire Peter Forsberg and Ladislav Nagy, respectively. Whether they paid too much won't be known for weeks, but at least GMs David Poile and Doug Armstrong don't have to worry about getting the players they wanted.
There is considerable pressure on Ferguson, for instance, to make a move to shore up his forward corps, perhaps with a player like Guerin. But Ferguson must weigh the long-term costs to a team he is just beginning to rebuild.
"You always have a temptation and you weigh everything," said Ferguson, whose squad dropped a 3-0 decision to Boston on Tuesday. "But going back over the years, this club is still affected by some of the short-term thinking that did not result in the success that we are looking for. That is part of what we are dealing with right now."
The Leafs are part of a logjam of Eastern Conference teams as 10 points separates third through 11th. Carolina is another part of that group, holding on to the eighth and final playoff berth as of Wednesday morning, one point ahead of Toronto and the New York Islanders, both of whom have two games in hand.
"I was hoping to make a trade here. Especially with the injured guys we've got. And we don't have a lot of time left," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said.
In Pittsburgh, the Penguins appear locked into a playoff berth despite their youth. It has added another dynamic for rookie GM Ray Shero, who didn't expect to have to be dealing with the lure of making trade deadline acquisitions.
"I always say the same thing. I don't want our players or coaches expecting something. I like the team the way they are," Shero said.
With the asking price so high, it's easier for Shero to take that position than many of his colleagues.
"I know who we're not going to move -- prospects. I know my plan out two or three years from now. I have a pretty good idea of the young guys who should be on our hockey club. I don't want to be giving that up," Shero said. "The price certainly is high and some teams will pay it. That's been proven so far. But every team is different."
Cue the Ennio Morricone score.
More from Naples ...
• The closest thing to actual breaking news at the meetings was an unfortunate mix-up involving a carload of general managers who inadvertently drove away from their posh hotel in the wrong car. The car, which looked exactly like their rightful model, was sitting near where they'd left it at the valet parking stand. They assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, the car was theirs and headed out to dinner. Several hours later, the general managers returned to find local authorities talking to the owner of the missing car who had no idea how his vehicle had disappeared.
• Tuesday's trade deadline marks one of the great pseudo-holidays in Canada as every national sports television and radio network will devote hours to trades, real or imagined.
To spice up their day, and to guard against the long, dull periods when no players are actually being traded, Canada's Sportsnet is dressing up its coverage with the women from the Canadian version of the hit game show "Deal Or No Deal." Instead of suitcases, though, the panel of hockey experts will be shown hockey sticks with players' names on the blade and they will debate, "Trade or no trade."
The network also has hired an artist, who will begin Tuesday morning painting a mural, featuring the likenesses of all the players dealt.
"I'm bringing balls to juggle, but I hope I don't have to use them," former NHL tough guy and current Sportsnet lead analyst Nick Kypreos quipped.
• Columbus forward Fredrik Modin is on the verge of signing a contract extension that would take him off the rental-player market. The Blue Jackets still are shopping forward Anson Carter, who had 33 goals a season ago in Vancouver. It was believed Carolina's Rutherford was interested, but he left the GM meetings without adding skill to his third line.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.