February is usually when the NHL trade market becomes busiest, thanks to the trade deadline that occurs toward the end of the month.
Entering the middle of this February, however, the trade market has been unusually quiet. More than 40 trades were made in February of 2011 (17 occurred on deadline day), but only three have been made so far this month.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke even noted the slow trade market. He usually avoids dealing near or at the trade deadline, preferring to make his moves in late January or early February, but has yet to swing a deal. This has given rise to the possibility Burke will stand pat.
Several factors are contributing to the slowness in the trade market. For one, there aren’t many teams currently considered sellers. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets, the worst team in the league, are in that category, with the Edmonton Oilers close to joining them. The Carolina Hurricanes were also thought to be sellers, but after fielding interest in defenseman Tim Gleason and right winger Tuomo Ruutu, GM Jim Rutherford re-signed Gleason to a four-year extension and will make a decision next week if he’ll re-sign Ruutu.
Rutherford still has players he’s thought to be willing to shop (blueliners Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek), but Gleason and Ruutu were the pair most prized by rival teams. Taking them off the market makes the drains the pool of some available talent.
The reason there is so few sellers is due to the standings in both conferences, where the race for the final playoff berths remains close.
Only eight points separate the eighth-place Maple Leafs from the 14th-place Buffalo, with Washington, Winnipeg, the Islanders, Montreal and Tampa Bay sandwiched between them in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference, a nine-point spread separated the eighth-place Phoenix Coyotes from the 13th-place Anaheim Ducks, with Dallas, Colorado, Minnesota and Calgary between them.
As a result, the GMs of those respective teams aren’t ready yet to give up on their playoff chances and go into sell mode.
With buyers far outnumbering sellers, there’s not much available talent to choose from.
The best player believed available is unhappy Blue Jackets center Jeff Carter, but with an annual cap hit of $5.3 million for the next 10 years remaining on his contract he could prove difficult to move.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Thursday the Jackets have received “at least one trade offer – believed to be uncomfortably low” – for Carter.
There was no news on which team made the pitch or what it contained, but the fact the Jackets got a low offer is an indication of the limited activity in this year’s market.
Another potential factor is concern over what will be contained in the next collective bargaining agreement.
The current CBA is set to expire in September, which is surely making GMs leery of taking on too much salary before knowing how the next CBA will affect their payrolls.
Over the next couple of weeks, some of those teams jockeying for the final playoffs berths in each conference should fall further out of contention, thus putting more sellers into the market.
But if things remain tight, don’t be surprised if this year’s deadline is a dud.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.