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NHL GMs still uncertain about what will happen at March 4 trade deadline

It's been a long time since NHL general managers entered a trade deadline with this much uncertainty.

There is just over a week to go until the big day and no one seems too sure what March 4 will bring. Under normal circumstances, a large percentage of GMs could count on being active.

But these aren't exactly normal times.

"There's a number of factors that are playing into this trade deadline," Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis said Monday on a conference call. "The tightness of the (playoff) races, the external economy factors. There's all sorts of stuff that is going to play into it.

"At this point, I really don't know what we're going to be presented with or what we're going to be asked for."

While players will obviously be moved, there might not be as many guys changing addresses as usual. Last year's deadline saw 45 players traded in 25 deals. And all but four NHL teams made at least one move.

Some organizations are now operating under the assumption that they might not be able to do anything at the deadline.

"I think it's obvious as a league we're probably getting more and more towards like football where the team that you've built in the off-season is the team that carries you through the season," said Florida Panthers GM Jacques Martin.

That doesn't mean he won't be busy.

Many in the hockey world have been closely monitoring the situation in South Florida all season. Martin and his staff remain undecided about what they'll do with defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

Further complicating the decision is the fact that Florida has a legitimate shot to qualify for the post-season for the first time in almost a decade. As a result, Martin won't be trading the smooth-skating defenceman for only prospects and/or draft picks.

"I think it's clear that our priority for this franchise at this point in time is to make the playoffs this year," he said. "I think we're in the process of evaluating what's available for Jay Bouwmeester, and come March 4 a decision will be made whether we move forward with Jay on our team or if I feel that I can get something that makes us a better club."

Even though the deadline is fast approaching, it's still extremely tough to identify who is going to be selling - particularly in the Western Conference.

The chase is a little more clear in the East. Toronto, Ottawa, Tampa, Atlanta and the New York Islanders are all out of the hunt and have some available assets.

On the flip side, the top-end teams would all like to add depth if the price is right. The Boston Bruins are currently first overall in the Eastern Conference and GM Peter Chiarelli hopes to bolster his squad with some moves.

"In the salary cap system, you have your windows come and go fairly quickly," he said.

The longtime NHL executive has found that the seeds are typically planted for deadline deals a month or more in advance. That's one reason why there's a lot of talk right now and not many trades being made.

It usually takes the deadline to force teams into a decision.

"You just got to try and hammer it down and close it," said Chiarelli. "They're hard to close because there's a lot of interests that are flying around, and you want to try and bring them all in line."

An added point of interest right now is the state of the economy.

The NHL board of governors received a bleak economic outlook back in December and many believe the salary cap could drop significantly for the 2010-11 season. With that backdrop, it's hard to imagine any players being moved with long-term, big-money contracts.

The economy is something teams are monitoring.

"We're constantly trying to evaluate where we're headed," said Gillis. "Obviously it is an internal force that may and most likely will affect something in hockey. We're not going to be immune to it."

Even still, one thing remains constant in professional sports - every team wants to improve.

While it's hard to predict what might happen at the trade deadline, it's safe to assume that every general manager has a wishlist.

"Part of the driving force in these deadline deals is getting depth," said Chiarelli. "I think that I can speak for all the teams: They always want to get as deep as they can."


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