The rumour mill is working overdrive, but for the men in the midst of the storm, things were eerily quiet on Thursday.
Which means if a big deal is going to come down in advance of the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night, it had better come together in a hurry.
“It’s pretty slow,” Toronto Maple Leafs senior vice-president Dave Nonis said. “Usually, there’s a little bit more pace to it right now.”
Many NHL general managers came to Pittsburgh this week expecting fireworks on the trade front, as with several high-profile names potentially available – from Rick Nash to Roberto Luongo to Bobby Ryan – it stands to reason a big move will come with everyone gathered together.
There is also the matter of just how weak the league’s crop of unrestricted free agents will be this summer, meaning teams like the Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers and others hoping to improve their rosters will have to make a trade.
“There’s some big names in play at this point,” Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said. “There’s potential because there’s been a lot of talk [the past month].”
Many of the execs surveyed Thursday said they believe things will pick up by Friday, and that the market needs one deal to be made in order to start the free for all.
The draft is traditionally one of the busiest times for trade activity, as teams prepare to beat free agency or free up salary cap space for other moves.
“In the two years that I’ve been at the table, you start to make phone calls right before the draft or your phone starts ringing,” Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said.
“That’s what we’re going to have to do I think,” Leafs GM Brian Burke said of improving via a deal. “I think everyone’s waiting for that first trade.”
In terms of actual news, the biggest revelation of Thursday was Pittsburgh Penguins centre Jordan Staal had recently turned down a mammoth 10-year, $60-million (U.S.) contract extension.
In the final year of a four-year deal that pays him $4.5-million a season, Staal is believed to be seeking a bigger role and can pick his destination as a UFA in the summer of 2013 – which may leave Penguins GM Ray Shero little choice but to trade him in the coming months.
Staal’s top rumoured destination is Carolina, where his brother, Eric, is the captain and GM Jim Rutherford is pushing hard to add another star forward to his lineup.
“My only comment will be that Jordan is not prepared to enter into a contract extension at this time,” Staal’s agent, Paul Krepelka, said in a statement.
Nash’s agent, meanwhile, met with Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson in Pittsburgh to discuss their situation.
The 28-year-old winger is looking for a change of scenery and is widely expected to be in another uniform some time in the next few weeks.
Howson, however, didn’t make it sound like anything was imminent when asked if he was close to a deal.
“No, not at all,” he said. “But a lot of things can happen between now and when the draft is over.”
In terms of draft picks being moved Friday, Columbus is the team most likely to shift its position – potentially moving down from second overall to somewhere in the same ballpark.
The question is whether or not teams such as the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders (who pick third and fourth, respectively) are willing to give up an asset to climb a spot or two in a draft that’s not full of really high end talent.
It’s a fairly safe bet the first-overall pick, however, stays where it is, as while Tambellini has fielded offers for it, the asking price has been so high that rival GMs are scared off.
As for the Luongo discussions, they’ve hit a bit of a stalemate as teams have dropped out of the running, leaving the Vancouver Canucks only the Leafs as a plausible trading partner for the star netminder.
There’s little love between the two franchises after a series of spats dating back to Nonis’s time as the GM in Vancouver, and it may be difficult for them to come to an agreement given the Canucks want something of consequence in return.
According to Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman, however, outside factors like that won’t get in the way of two sides potentially doing a deal.
“If we think we can get a player that’s going to make our organization better, we wouldn’t bypass a particular trading partner,” he said.
Who’s on the block?
Rumoured trade bait: Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo, Jordan Staal, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane, Jay Bouwmeester, Ondrej Pavelec, James van Riemsdyk, Tobias Enstrom, Luke Schenn, Paul Martin
Key players who will become unrestricted free agents in nine days: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Alexander Semin, Jaromir Jagr, Matt Carle, Dustin Penner, P.A. Parenteau, Dennis Wideman, Olli Jokinen, Filip Kuba, Jarret Stoll