Trading deadline day is a little over a month away, the time of year when the pace of NHL transactions traditionally moves from glacially slow to hyper-speed in a frantic 72-hour period.
Naturally, that pattern could change in a year of exceptional parity, based on the inability of any team to fall completely out of the playoff race. Even the once left-for-dead Los Angeles Kings are in the midst of a minor revival, with three consecutive wins heading into their Friday date with the Calgary Flames - although one would suspect that the 15-point gap between them and eighth place is probably too much to overcome.
So the Kings could become sellers and the Toronto Maple Leafs should become sellers, along with perhaps the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ultimately, supply and demand will be a factor in determining movement at the deadline, but so will be a relatively new phenomenon spawned by the last collective bargaining agreement - the increasing tendency of players to ask for a no-movement clause in their contracts. It used to be, under the old CBA, that teams couldn't grant a no-trade clause until the age of 31, or when players qualified for unrestricted free agency in the old deal.
That still applies today, except now with players as young as 25 hitting the open market, far more are eligible for that contract stipulation and far more are insisting upon it as a condition for signing. Indeed, most of the prominent free agents that did hit the market last year - Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Daniel Briere - were all able to coax mega-dollars out of their new teams, along with the written promise that they wouldn't be traded, waived, demoted to the minors or spoken to in a stern voice by their respective coaches (OK, we made the last part up).
Still, the move towards the no-movement clause gives players greater control over their own destinies than ever before. It was devised by agents who saw teams get around the simple no-trade clause by offering up unwanted players on waivers, or worse, from a players' perspective, demoting them to the minors.
If there was a shift in the way contracts are now being written, the NHL can probably thank the New Jersey Devils for that development. The Devils decided in the first post-lockout year to demote a pair of long-term NHLers on expensive contracts, Alex Mogilny and Dan McGillis, to the minors so that their salaries wouldn't count against the cap. Mogilny and McGillis were eventually paid what was owed them; they just had to go to the Albany River Rats to collect their cheques.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, a total of 104 NHL players currently have some control over their final destination in a possible trade scenario, through one of four options: A firm no-trade clause; a firm no-movement clause; a limited no-trade or no-movement clause (in which a player must provide a club with a written list of possible teams the player is willing to negotiate trades with); or a final possibility in which a player will get no-movement or no-trade options for some but not the entire term of his contract.
Anaheim Ducks general manager Brian Burke doesn't think the prevalence of no-movement clauses is as big an obstacle to deals as the dollar restrictions of the new CBA, but he doesn't like them much either.
"I think it's still a big problem," said Burke. "We have one (no-movement deal) and that's for J.S. Giguere and that's because his son has medical problems and needs to be near UCLA medical school. As well as he's played for us and what a great guy he was, had it been for any other reason, I still wouldn't have done it."
Burke went on to explain his reasons: "I think they're coach killers and they put the player in a bad spot more often than they help him. Once a team decides they don't want you and you say, 'I've got a no-trade,' then I say, 'fine, sit up here near me.' To me, I don't think they accomplish what they're intended to accomplish. The coach resents them because he's yelling at the player and the player's looking at him, saying, 'I'm going to be here next year, not so sure about you.' So we have very few of them and we intend to keep it that way."