Top GMs to watch over the coming days
NAPLES, Fla. -- Now that NHL general managers are on their way back to their respective cities, it is crunch time heading into Tuesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. Here are five GMs to watch over the next few days:
Fresh from Montreal's stunning come-from-behind victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday, when it erased a five-goal deficit for a 6-5 shootout victory, Gainey is expected to push for a big-name player to add to his offensive roster.
Already blessed with a mobile, talented defense with some edge, good goaltending and scoring depth, Gainey is believed to be interested in landing one of the big offensive fish available. Alex Tanguay's name consistently comes up in discussion, and Marian Hossa remains in the picture, as well.
One element of Tuesday's game that must have given Gainey considerable joy was the two-goal, one-assist performance from Michael Ryder, who has struggled this season after producing back-to-back 30-goal campaigns. Ryder is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and does not figure into the Habs' plans moving forward. He might, however, be an interesting asset for Calgary GM Darryl Sutter, especially as it appears Tanguay could be on the move. Ryder had 11 points in his past 17 games, while the Flames are tied for seventh in the Western Conference, just two points ahead of ninth-place Phoenix.
The Rangers moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference after posting a 6-2-2 run in their past 10 games, but they are by no means assured of a playoff berth. Their calamitous loss Tuesday revealed a team that is remarkably fragile and looks unlikely to advance far in the playoffs at this point. Sather must decide what he is going to do with agitator Sean Avery, who can become an unrestricted free agent, and captain Jaromir Jagr, who can become an unrestricted free agent unless he reaches 84 points and New York wins at least one playoff round.
The thinking is both will remain Rangers at least beyond the trade deadline, but that will force Sather to consider moving other assets to improve his club. His primary concern will be finding a puck-moving defenseman. One thing seems clear -- this is a team that needs something.
The smart money is on the defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks to make a big push to land an impact forward. If Burke can add Mats Sundin from Toronto or Olli Jokinen from floundering Florida to shore up his second line, the Ducks will jump to the top of the Cup contenders' class in the West. Apart from some nice prospects, Burke has Edmonton's first-round pick in this summer's draft to offer in trade. If you are Toronto, having two of the top five picks in the draft will go a long way in creating a significant base of young talent on which to build.
"Right now, I've got nothing that's imminent," Burke said Wednesday. "Usually by this time, you've gone past concepts and you're down to names and picks. And I'm not there yet with anybody. So, either I'm slow, or it's a slow development market. The fact that so many of these deadline deals went awry last year has probably calmed things down a bit."
The Sharks are continuing their up-and-down season, and although they are sixth in the West, they are only four points out of ninth. The consensus is that Wilson needs to do something to shake his team out of its lethargy (it was 4-5-1 in its past 10) and will be looking to add an impact player along the blue line. Rob Blake fits that bill and won't be nearly as costly as Brian Campbell or Dan Boyle. If Wilson is thinking long term, as well as making a playoff push for this season, Campbell likely is the most attractive of the available defensemen. Young Sharks defenseman Matt Carle's name has surfaced as potential trade bait, as well as a handful of prospects and much-maligned captain Patrick Marleau.
"But certainly, there's a lot of talk taking place," Wilson said. "We've got some key players coming back from injury in Marleau and Ryane Clowe. Yes, the phone lines are humming, but there's a lot more buyers than sellers right now."
Fletcher, the man affectionately known as The Silver Fox, is hoping he can regain his former nickname, Trader Cliff, as he heads back to Toronto. He has five players with no-trade/no-movement clauses but would be amenable to dealing Nik Antropov, Jason Blake and little-used netminder Andrew Raycroft. The key, of course, is captain Mats Sundin, who would command the most in terms of assets and might also prompt teammates Tomas Kaberle, Darcy Tucker, Pavel Kubina and/or Bryan McCabe to consider a move to a contending team. Of all the GMs, Fletcher's job might be the most difficult, but he does hold assets that will be highly coveted by top teams.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.