The NHL's Olympic roster freeze goes into effect at 3 p.m. on Feb. 12, which gives giddy general managers fewer than five days to develop all those Plan Bs that became necessary when the primary trading-deadline target, Ilya Kovalchuk, was moved last week to the New Jersey Devils.
No.2 with a bullet is the Carolina Hurricanes' Ray Whitney, who, in Dany Heatley-like fashion, invoked his no-trade clause last week to scuttle a trade to the Los Angeles Kings after the Kings refused to sign him to a three-year contract extension.
Once upon a time, GMs figured there was always a way of circumventing the no-trade/no-movement clauses that they handed out like so much dime-store candy at Hallowe'en. Belatedly, they are coming to the sober realization players are no longer afraid to flex their negotiating muscles by directing where they might end up as rentals.
The connection between Whitney and the Kings is general manager, Dean Lombardi, who worked for the San Jose Sharks when Whitney scored one of the biggest goals in team history, the double overtime winner in the seventh game of the 1994 opening-round upset of heavily favoured Calgary. With the Kings surging (but not prepared to meet Atlanta's asking price for Kovalchuk), Lombardi sought to bolster his team with a proved winner and reliable scorer.
Whitney may still get moved, but the Pittsburgh Penguins, at the deadline, when the cap dollars are down to their lowest manageable number, seem like the more likely destination.
Around the rinks The Sharks' visit to Toronto tonight also coincides with Dan Boyle's second game back in the lineup after recovering from an upper-body injury that clouded his Olympic participation. The Sharks lead the NHL with eight Olympians, four of whom will play for Canada (Boyle, Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau). ... Meanwhile, the East-leading Washington Capitals - winners of 14 in a row - can tie the NHL record of 17 established by the 1992-93 Penguins if they run the table between now and the break, beginning with a Wednesday date against the Canadiens. (a game that will also give Montreal fans a chance to welcome back goaltender Jose Theodore, who has won 10 in a row). If Theodore keeps this up, he may even shed that reputation as a goaltender unable to win the big game ... The Hurricanes have played better lately, but that could all change if an MRI on goaltender Cam Ward's back shows a significant problem. Ward missed Saturday's win over the New York Islanders, - rookie Justin Peters came in and recorded his first-ever NHL victory - but if the injury in any way threatens his long-term health, the Hurricanes could shut Ward down for the foreseeable future and make sure he's healthy and ready for the start of next year... The Anaheim Ducks complete the pre-Olympic schedule with back-to-back games in Calgary and Edmonton this coming weekend, which will make it an easy flight to Vancouver for Canadian captain Scott Niedermayer plus forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry ...There are six games on the NHL schedule for that final Sunday, including an afternoon game between the Predators and Penguins in Pittsburgh. The tentative plan is for Canada's Olympians to gather in Columbus and catch a charter flight from there into Vancouver so that the players can all be on the ice for a Monday afternoon practice in advance of their opener, Tuesday against Norway.
QUOTABLE "It was amazing the excitement in our country after that; it's obviously going to be difficult to match." - Ruslan Salei, the Colorado Avalanche defenceman (and anchor of Belarus' men's Olympic hockey team), to the Denver Post, discussing his team's upset win over Sweden in the quarter-finals of the 2002 Winter Olympic hockey tournament. Salei has missed all but one NHL game this season recovering from injury, but is expected back this week and plans to play in the Olympics, with or without any proper game conditioning.
BY THE NUMBERS 3 ... Shutouts this season by Columbus Blue Jackets' goaltender Steve Mason, following Saturday's 4-0 whitewash of the Buffalo Sabres. Mason led the NHL in shutouts last season with 10, and appears to be emerging from a season-long sophomore slump. Mason won his last two starts, the first time since Oct. 17 that he's emerged victorious in back-to-back games.