Officially, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Tomas Kaberle hits the open market Friday, when his no-trade clause disappears for a six-week period, and the auction is underway in earnest.
A half-dozen teams have made firm offers for Kaberle, and six others have expressed an interest, according to Leafs general manager Brian Burke who, on Thursday afternoon, said nothing was close.
"This is not a transaction that is draft specific," said Burke. "This is just as likely to happen after the draft or not happen at all, as it would happen here."
However, Burke acknowledged that the calibre of the offers "took a hard turn north [Wednesdsay]night, where we at least had to go back and look at them as a group. But there was nothing we seriously considered accepting.
"I know it'll sound funny to people reading or watching or listening, but there's no pressure yet. The deals that have been made so far have been mostly cap- or draft-related. We're not in any hurry on this.
"We have to look at every other player on the hockey club, too. When you finish 29th, your list of untouchables should be pretty short - and it is."
The NHL trade market took a short breather Thursday, in anticipation of Friday night's opening round of the NHL entry draft, but it didn't prevent endless speculation from continuing.
If there was a trend emerging, it was the number of attractive centres that could be had for the right price - everyone from the Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza and the Dallas Stars' Mike Ribeiro to the Boston Bruins' Marc Savard and the Buffalo Sabres' Tim Connolly. All are capable of producing a point-per-game; all have played as No. 1s previously in their careers; and all carry a substantial contract burden, making them attractive only to a handful of teams with cap room and permission to spend.
Defencemen, by contrast, appear to be in short supply, which is why Burke is hopeful of driving up the price on Kaberle by getting an auction going. The Oilers are also trying to swap disgruntled defenceman Sheldon Souray; the New Jersey Devils are said to be the favoured destination but only if it turns out that they cannot re-sign defenceman Paul Martin, a pending unrestricted free agent.
The Florida Panthers' new general manager Dale Tallon figures to be front-and-centre in trying to revamp his new team. Tallon will select with the third overall pick - likely plucking 6-foot-4 defenceman Erik Gudbranson - but has made available the 15th overall pick, acquired from Boston in the Nathan Horton deal. The Columbus Blue Jackets are said to be interested in trading down from No. 4, up to five places, for immediate help.
Edmonton is reportedly among the teams that made an inquiry for the Panthers' pick.
"Anything in the first round is very expensive," said general manager Steve Tambellini. "You're talking multiple picks or very good players. It's expensive."
Tambellini reiterated that he would not officially decide who to take with the first choice in the draft until Friday morning at the earliest - and expected to talk to Bruins counterpart Peter Chiarelli at some point before making his selection. The Bruins have the second overall pick, acquired from the Maple Leafs in the Phil Kessel trade, and Tambellini would like to extract something from Boston for a chance to flip-flop picks.
"We're close but we haven't formally sat down and said, 'this is who we're taking,'" said Tambellini. "I want to save that for [Friday]
"Our scouts are excited. Not many will sleep tonight. They're looking forward to that moment where they can select an impact player, a player that when we get to be a team with a chance to win, this player will be part of it."
Burke acknowledged that he had "a couple" of other things going, but declined to name names, citing the league's tampering rules. The Chicago Blackhawks traded Colin Fraser to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday, the fourth player dealt off their championship team since they won the Stanley Cup earlier in June.
The Blackhawks need to move at least one more forward - and the likeliest candidate to go is winger Andrew Ladd, who has now won two Stanley Cups in the past five years and is a restricted free agent. Toronto might be a possible destination for Ladd, as might be Vancouver.
When asked if he regretted the decision to swap two first-rounders to the Bruins in exchange for Kessel, Burke revealed that the Maple Leafs considered the possibility that it might be a lottery pick and were prepared to go ahead anyway.
"It bothers you guys more than it bothers me," said Burke. "We'd do it again. We talked about this before we made the deal. We said, 'What if it's Taylor Hall?' At that point, we were 6-2 in the preseason and it seemed remote but your job as a GM is to think of everything, so we said, 'What if it's Taylor Hall?'
"We said, 'Okay, we get a 21-year-old who scored 36 goals last year; we're doing it anyway.'"