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Handful of first-time NHL general managers changes dynamic of trade talks

PHILADELPHIA - When Peter Chiarelli looked around the room at the most recent NHL general managers meeting, he saw plenty of familiar faces in a new place.

There was his former assistant GM with the Bruins, Vancouver's Jim Benning, Calgary's Brad Treliving, Philadelphia's Ron Hextall, Carolina's Ron Francis and Buffalo's Tim Murray. Even longtime Hurricanes (and before that Hartford Whalers) GM Jim Rutherford is in a different situation with Pittsburgh.

But Rutherford has been at this for a quarter-century. Benning, Treliving, Hextall, Francis and Murray, meanwhile, are in their first off-season as general managers. That's creating an interesting dynamic for trade talk because their colleagues don't know their philosophies and tendencies yet.

"There's not so much these guys learning, they obviously have a lot of experience, it's just feeling their way through the market," Chiarelli said on a conference call earlier this week. "So I think maybe that has resulted in a little more activity than normal, a little more conversation than normal."

Benning, hired by Trevor Linden to replace Mike Gillis and re-shape the Canucks, said Thursday he had already been told by colleagues that he does things a little bit differently.

"I don't know whether it's going to factor into there being more deals or less deals, I can't say that," Benning said. "There are some younger guys now in the GM positions that have come from scouting backgrounds that may like a certain type of player. That could happen."

Benning and the Canucks had one of the bigger names available in trade talks in centre Ryan Kesler. Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said Thursday he believed Kesler or Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza getting traded could start some movement.

"I believe that if one or both of those top guys get moved then you might see some dominoes fall," Nonis said.

That could happen now that Benning pulled the trigger on trading Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks, reportedly for forward Nick Bonino, defenceman Luca Sbisa and a first-round pick.

But it's not just Benning who has racked up heavy minutes working the phones lately. Nonis, like Chiarelli, said the new GMs know hockey and might be eager to make moves.

"I haven't experienced that they're afraid to do anything, that's for sure," Nonis said. "I think those guys have been probably as active as some of the veterans."

Treliving, earlier in the week, told reporters in Calgary he wasn't necessarily worried about putting his "stamp" on the Flames.

As he tries to make deals, Treliving sarcastically responded that his veteran colleagues have "all been very welcoming."

"They have lots of ways to help me," Treliving said with a wry smile. "They have so many suggestions and wake up every morning wondering how they can make Calgary better."

And while the first-time GMs are confident they won't get bamboozled by their more experienced colleagues, they also know not to expect any favours. That goes for former bosses, too.

"If we do do a deal (with the Bruins), it'll be a deal that works for him and works for me, but there's not going to be any special treatment," Benning said.

Even as green as they are, these five general managers don't need someone to hold their hand through one of the busiest times on the hockey calendar. Whether it's Benning in Boston, Treliving in Phoenix, Hextall in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Francis in Carolina or Murray in Ottawa, they've been at drafts before, though in different roles.

"I've had relationships and dealt with a lot of the guys before I got this job," Treliving said.

Of course it doesn't hurt to have some seasoned executives around, too, like Brian Burke with the Flames. The past two Flyers GMs, Paul Holmgren and Bobby Clarke, are still around, too.

"I've got a good support staff here, from Homer to Clarkie to (director of scouting) Chris Pryor," Hextall said earlier in the week. "I'm good. I guess you could call me a rookie again."

Nonis, on the other hand, isn't a rookie. But he does have his own new wrinkle working under and with new Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.

"He's brought the view of a guy who played in the league and played on some pretty quality teams," Nonis said. "He's got a different way of thinking of things than I do, which actually has worked pretty well. He's got, I wouldn't say a player's view, because he's been out of the game and he's worked at the league office.

"He can approach things from a side of the game that I can't, which has been good."

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