Commentary

Do GMs stick to their plans, or will something tempt them off course?

Updated: February 20, 2008, 7:30 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

NAPLES, Fla. -- Over the next six days, it's not so much which NHL GMs have the nerve that will separate them from their colleagues, but which ones have a plan. More specifically, which ones have a plan they're willing to stick to.

It doesn't look like it now, not with that barn-burner Jaroslav Modry-to-Philadelphia trade standing as the only deal consummated at the just-completed GMs meetings, but between now and Tuesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, a handful of top players will end up switching teams. It's going to happen.

Notes from GMs meetings

• The NHL will ask the American Hockey League to try out one-minute penalties in overtime next season. Of course, the NHL asked last season and the AHL balked. This time, though, the NHL is apparently going to ask really nicely. The theory is, when a penalty is called in overtime, the team enjoying the 4-on-3 power play wins the game at a rate almost twice the power-play success rate in regulation time. GMs believe a full two-minute penalty during the five-minute overtime session is too extreme.

• The NHL will be assessing the success of an AHL rule that places all faceoffs following a penalty call in the offensive zone regardless of where the foul was called and could introduce it at the NHL level next season.

• GMs are also in favor of moving the free-agency period later, by about a week to July 7, in an effort to generate more media and fan interest. For years, the free-agency period has begun July 1, but the flurry of deals that usually takes place during the first three or four days coincides with national holidays in Canada and the United States.

--Scott Burnside

How GMs handle the pressure of the unknown between now and then will say a lot about the future of their respective teams, not just come playoff time but moving forward.

One GM told ESPN.com Wednesday there are always competing interests regarding whether to make a deal early and miss out on something better, or wait too long and miss out on something you really need. He said the key is to know what you want to do and not stray from that.

And then there are the standings.

The New York Islanders woke up Wednesday three points out of the last playoff berth. GM Garth Snow made a big splash a year ago, signing Ryan Smyth in the final seconds before the deadline. But the Isles were beaten in five games by Buffalo in the first round after qualifying for the playoffs on the last afternoon of the regular season -- in a shootout.

This season, Snow is expected to be more cautious, likely moving Miroslav Satan, who could be an unrestricted free agent, and Mike Comrie if he cannot sign Comrie to a contract extension before Tuesday.

"I don't think any one game determines your season," Snow said. "That's why you obviously follow your team. It's not just one game. That's why a lot of the decisions are tough."

Darcy Regier, whose Buffalo Sabres were one point ahead of Snow's Islanders, has a more difficult challenge ahead of him. He and defenseman Brian Campbell's agent, Larry Kelly, have been in communication over the course of these meetings. Still, Regier must figure out whether Campbell is more valuable staying in Buffalo (even though the defenseman will likely walk as an unrestricted free agent July 1) or as trade bait before Tuesday.

"I think the focus is still really on getting him signed," Regier said. "And you have a sense of what the asset value is and you also have a sense of what it means to keep him for the rest of the year as well. Anyone who looks at the standings knows the importance of all of those.

"You're not in a make it or break it [situation] until you make that decision and, quite frankly, the trade deadline is a threshold and the end of the season is another one and July 1 is another one," Regier added. "So you make decisions based on what you think is best for the organization and Brian and Larry will make decisions based on what's best for them."

Asked if he had a new offer to table for the defenseman, Regier balked.

"I'm not going to answer that right now quite frankly because I'll have that conversation with the agent," he said.

Regier's situation is similar to that of Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster, who is hoping to sign defenseman Dan Boyle to a contract extension before Tuesday. Boyle, another potential unrestricted free agent, will almost certainly be dealt if a deal isn't reached.

"If I announced tomorrow that we're not going to get him signed and we're going to start the auction, there are a dozen teams that would queue up," Feaster said. "And they [Boyle and his agent, George Bazos] understand that."

GMs also must resist the temptation to respond to a sudden surge in play leading up to the trade deadline, a kind of hockey's fool's gold.

After Toronto fired John Ferguson, Cliff Fletcher was brought in as interim GM to lay the foundation for a rebuilding phase for the Maple Leafs. They defeated Columbus on Tuesday, but remain seven points out of the playoffs and will not be suddenly switching gears and adding players for a run.

"What I consistently said is we want to improve our team to the point where it can compete with the top teams in the league," Fletcher said. "Whether we miss the playoffs by one point or make it by one point, our objective is beyond that. It is to move our club up to where we're capable of playing night in and night out with the top four or five teams in the league.

"To get a few rentals to try and make eighth place and make the playoffs to lose in the first round doesn't make any sense at all," he added.

Watch for Fletcher to go into full-court press over the weekend to come up with deals to take to his veteran players, five of whom have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses.

Sometimes, the standings merely reinforce a GM's plan.

By losing to the Leafs on Tuesday, Columbus slipped into 12th place in the Western Conference, five points out of eighth and having played two extra games. In other words, Blue Jackets fans will have to wait another season for the playoffs. Rookie GM Scott Howson will likely move quickly to try to move Sergei Fedorov, Ron Hainsey, Michael Peca and perhaps Adam Foote if he cannot be re-signed by Tuesday.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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