Saturday, March 7, 2009

If the Price is Right...

As the backyard rinks melt away in Southern Ontario, things are beginning to settle down in the National Hockey League after a busy week of negotiations leading up to Wednesday's trade deadline. The contenders and pretenders are trying to sort themselves out in both Conferences as the race for the playoffs heads for the home stretch. There were several small victories throughout the day but was their a clear winner? Many teams in the league felt the price was not right and few major moves were made.

Calgary pulled off the biggest trade of the day, landing Olli Jokinen from the Coyotes for Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first round draft pick. After a 5-1 victory in Philadelphia on Wednesday evening where Jokinen scored two goals in the first period, the Flames were blown away by the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday in a 6-1 loss that ended Calgary's six game road unbeaten streak. Can Calgary be considered the big winners of trade day when many of the biggest names on the trade market stayed exactly where they were?

Florida General Manager Jacques Martin rolled the dice on unrestricted free agent Jay Bouwmeester and decided to keep his star defenseman as the Panthers try to hold on to the sixth spot in the East. If a contract can't be worked out by July, Martin could be left with nothing. He is hoping a long playoff run will entice Bouwmeester to stay in the sunshine state. Other big names like Chris Pronger in Anaheim, Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis, and Tomas Kaberle in Toronto were all pulled off the market when no legitimate offers came across the table. As teams begin to feel the reality of the current economic crisis and knowing the salary cap could drop significantly after next season, teams were reluctant to trade draft picks and prospects for a "rental" player.

One team that needed to make a move was shutout on deadline day. The Montreal Canadians added 42 year old Mathew Schneider before the deadline but many expected another move or two from GM Bob Gainey. Too small at the center position, it was believed that one or two of Montreal's fourteen UFA's would be moved for more size up front. Gainey himself identified the center position as a weakness last summer when he sent a second round draft pick to the Leafs for the exclusive negotiating rights with Mats Sundin. After the deadline passed on Wednesday, Gainey commented on his lack of moves to the assembled Montreal media, "We had a few discussions with clubs on Sunday but we didn't begin our day today with the intention of making any changes." He went on to say, "There wasn't much on the table that interested us today."

Watching the Buffalo-Montreal game on Wednesday evening, it would appear the Canadians players were expecting help that did not come. In a 5-1 loss to the Sabres, Montreal appeared to be a team lacking an identity. Their goal in the final minute of the game ended a scoring drought of 101 minutes. They followed up that poor performance with a 2-0 loss in Atlanta last night. The Canadians will hold on to the hope that the eventual return of Alex Tanguay (35 games played, 10 goals and 16 assists) and Guillaume Latendresse (43GP, 9 goals and 9 assists) will bolster the club. While they hold on to hope, can they hold on to a playoff spot? Montreal currently occupies fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 75 points headed into Saturday's games; Carolina sits in the tenth spot with 73 points. Don't look now, but with points in their last eight games, Toronto is only 8 points back of the Hurricanes.

The big winners on trade day may have been the Detroit Red Wings. They added their rental player in the summer, signing Marion Hossa to a one year contract in July. Faced with growing speculation they would need to add a goaltender before the deadline, they made no moves... except moving into a tie with San Jose for first place in the NHL with 94 points each.

Stepping away from the on ice activity for a moment, our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Hockey - Gordie Howe and his family as his beloved wife Colleen Howe passed away on Friday at the age of 76. May you find comfort in the wonderful life you shared together. Have a great sports day everyone.

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