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NHL trade deadline is two weeks away - will it be very busy?

Thank you Jim Rutherford and Bryan Murray.

Aside from a December deal that saw Anaheim move Andy McDonald to St. Louis for Doug Weight in a salary-cap related move, the four-player transaction between the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes mercifully gave hockey fans a trade that actually had some serious news value.

The question is, will Monday's deal kickstart more moves between now and the Feb. 26 trade deadline?

"There's a lot of conversations starting to go now," interim Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "I anticipate with the trade season - if you want to call it that - opening with the Ottawa-Carolina deal, that it might start to accelerate the process in certain markets. But we'll just have to wait and see."

We can only hope. For a league dying for attention south of the border, the inactivity on the trade front has been an unfortunate by-product of a salary cap system that ties the hands of GMs.

However, it gets easier to make deals late in the year as most of the salaries have been eaten up, which is why the past two trade deadlines have been two of the busiest in the past decade - with all the moves coming right close to the deadline.

That could be the case again before this year's deadline, Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. ET. But will the contenders choose to keep their draft picks and prospects this time around?

Peter Forsberg, Ryan Smyth and Keith Tkachuk cost an arm and a leg last year before the deadline and none of them stayed with their new teams after the season was over. More to the point, Nashville (Forsberg), the Islanders (Smyth) and Atlanta (Tkachuk) combined to win two playoff games in total. Are GMs this season more reticent to move high draft picks and prospects for rental players?

"If you can add a player and it's not too pricey, great," Dallas Stars co-GM Les Jackson told The Canadian Press. "But on the other hand, if you mortgage your future in the cap environment we're playing in, what you to today can have a big effect on tomorrow. You need your draft picks, you need that crew of young guys coming in.

"If you're trading first-, second-and third-round picks, these guys generate the core of your team and if you're giving them away, at some point the dog's going to bite you."

Either way, between now and Feb. 26 more teams will decide they are sellers. The Los Angeles Kings, last in the Western Conference, have already made that assertion and are open for business. Jaroslav Modry, Ladislav Nagy, Brad Stuart, Scott Thornton and Jon Klemm are among the Kings slated for unrestricted free agency July 1 and are possibly on their way out of town.

"Given where we are right now, you certainly have to be active," Kings GM Dean Lombardi told The Canadian Press. "We've got some players who are free agents and we're in last place in the league. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out."

The key unrestricted free agent is Rob Blake, a 38-year-old star defenceman who controls his fate with a no-trade clause. Lombardi and Blake met last week to discuss the situation and will meet again probably later this week.

"There have obviously been a number of teams who have called on him," said Lombardi. "Since Christmas he's played at a very high level. But we'll see what happens."

Detroit and San Jose are believed to be among a long list of teams that would love to lure Blake.

A similar situation continues to develop in Toronto, where Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin - who turns 37 on Wednesday - has repeatedly said all season long that he doesn't want to leave town. He's unrestricted July 1 but is in charge of the situation thanks to a no-movement clause. Sundin's future dominated the local media coverage in Toronto when Fletcher replaced the fired John Ferguson last month but has since faded somewhat.

"It seems to have settled down a little and not been the focus that it was when I got here," Fletcher said. "Mats and I have nothing to say about it."

Expect the speculation to heat up again as the deadline approaches. Detroit, Anaheim and Vancouver are among the clubs that could possibly court the Leafs on Sundin.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are last in the Eastern Conference and yet because of the weak Southeast Division remain somewhat alive. Puck-moving defenceman Dan Boyle, slated for unrestricted free agency July 1, has garnered lots of interest but the Bolts hope to keep him.

"We've already opened a dialogue and we're talking again this week with Danny's camp," said Lightning GM Jay Feaster. "So we'll see whether we can get him re-signed. That'll go a long way in determining what we do. The one thing that I do believe is that we can't keep losing valuable assets July 1 with no compensation coming back."

In other words, if Tampa can't re-sign Boyle by Feb. 26, he may be gone. That could also be the case with first-line winger Vaclav Prospal, another unrestricted free agent July 1.

Keep an eye on Minnesota Wild defenceman Nick Schultz. The 25-year-old blue-liner is having an excellent season and is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. He would garner a pile of offers on the open market. Expect the Wild to try and re-sign him before the trade deadline but it'll cost them in the $3.5 million to $4.5 million salary range to get it done.

The Stars, meanwhile, have surprised many by sitting second in the Western Conference. They had looked to add some offence earlier this season but don't sound quite as eager now.

"At one point we would have liked to have added a guy but through the season we've had a couple of guys emerge, Loui Erickson and Steve Ott for example have taken their games to new levels," said Jackson. "In a lot of ways we don't have that urgency that we had before. We've got a fairly good group of guys playing.

"In the cap system we're in, unless we can make an ideal trade, we're just probably better off going with our young guys."


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