Friday February 8th, 2008

Damn those New York Giants.

Watching them sneak into the NFL postseason on a wild card bid and then reel off three upset wins to become Super Bowl champions has every spare-to-fair team in the NHL thinking that a couple of breaks and a hot streak is all that separates them from a dream date with Stanley.

Thing is, they're right. As we've seen in the past, anything can happen in the playoffs. But the lesser lights are also running out of time to prove themselves worthy of an invitation to the big dance that begins on April 9.

So, yeah, the field is wide open at this point. No one's been mathematically eliminated yet, so there's nothing wrong with dreaming big. But the math isn't looking good for some, and it's going to look even worse come Feb. 26. That's the date when smart GMs with a long-term view are going to subtly raise the white flag on this season and start acquiring the pieces that will make them more competitive next year. That's also the date when a number of suitors, seeking to distinguish themselves from the sardine can that is the NHL standings, will ante up while hoping that this will be their year.

That means we could see some big names donning new sweaters over the next couple of weeks...and some teams paying a high price for the privilege of dressing them. At this point, there's lots of talk, but nothing's certain. So to get the ball rolling, here are a few suggestions for what I'd like to see happen between now and the deadline. Remember, this is all speculation, not advance word of impending deals. Oh, and if it seems like your team is taking it in the shorts in one of these deals...well, that probably means it's fair.

Buffalo sends Brian Campbell to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, Dan Spang and a 2009 first-rounder

Ideally, Buffalo gets Campbell under contract before Feb. 26, because they can't afford another talent -- and public relations -- hit like the one they suffered last summer. But if his demands are deemed exorbitant, there are several teams who'll pony up for his short-term services. The Sharks have been looking for a mobile, reliable puck-moving defender all season, and Campbell has the skills to power their postseason aspirations. They also have the system depth to part with an elite prospect like Setoguchi, a former first-rounder who could mature into the high-end scorer the Sabres crave. Spang is pegged as a defensive blueliner who could play on the second unit.

Atlanta sends Marian Hossa to Montreal for Chris Higgins, Ryan O'Byrne and 2008 first rounder

Tough deal for both sides to make as each gives up a player they aren't all that interested in losing. But the Thrashers soon will come to the realization -- if they haven't already -- that Hossa is more interested in pursuing life with a contender than re-signing with Atlanta. In Higgins, they'd add a young winger who brings 30 goals and impressive leadership skills. O'Byrne is a physical defender who probably needs another year in the minors, but could be pressed into service immediately in a limited role. For their part, the Habs add one of the game's best two-way players to a team that somehow is contending for the Eastern Conference title. With his scoring touch, a long playoff run wouldn't be out of the question ... plus, the Habs would have a couple months to convince him that Montreal is the place to be when it's time to sign a new contract this summer.

Montreal sends Michael Ryder to Edmonton for Jarrett Stoll

This swap offers a new address to a pair of players who look as though they need one. Ryder, a 30-goal man the past two seasons in Montreal, has lost his confidence. His shot would be a welcome asset on Edmonton's 25th-ranked power play. With less expected of him offensively, Stoll could concentrate on being the strong, shutdown presence that Montreal desperately needs for the third line.

Toronto sends Mats Sundin to Vancouver for Luc Bourdon, Mason Raymond and 2008 first rounder

The Canucks would probably like to address their Swede needs by signing free agent center Peter Forsberg. Barring that, it's time to break the bank for Sundin, an elite center who addresses Vancouver's burning need for offensive options not named Sedin. The rapid ascension of Alexander Edler makes former first-rounder Bourdon expendable, but he should mature into a nice No. 3 defender in Toronto. Raymond, a 22-year-old winger who's already seen 32 games with the Canucks this season, was an offensive force in college. He could develop into a contributor on the second line.

Toronto sends Darcy Tucker to Detroit for Justin Abdelaker and Kyle Quincey

Yes, Tucker says he wants to stay in Toronto, but honestly, who wouldn't waive their no trade clause for a chance to join the best team in hockey? And while the Wings have said they won't clear the cupboards for a rental, the three years remaining on Tucker's deal make him an appealing pickup. With this deal, Detroit adds grit, experience and a knack for timely goal scoring that will come in handy should they draw Anaheim in the playoffs. The Leafs add a young, NHL-ready blueliner and a speedy, checking winger with 15-goal potential.

Los Angeles sends Rob Blake to New York Rangers for Nigel Dawes and a conditional 2008 pick

The Kings likely were hoping to get more value out of their 38-year-old veteran, but the ankle injury that has him on IR for the next two weeks won't leave much time for him to prove himself fit before the deadline. As a result, they're likely to settle for a deal similar to the one the Panthers accepted last year for Todd Bertuzzi. Dawes has shuttled between New York and Hartford this season, but he's close to earning full-time duty as a second-liner. He's small (5-8, 185), but has sick hands and the work ethic to make a name for himself. In Blake, the Rangers would add a marquee name (always attractive to the bosses on Broadway) and legitimate top pairing blueliner who can bolster the power play and make life miserable for marauding forwards.

Florida sends Olli Jokinen to Calgary for Alex Tanguay and Dustin Boyd

If I'm Jacques Martin, I find a way to kiss and make up with my captain. Since that happy ending doesn't appear to be in the script, Jokinen's on his way out. Reuniting him in Calgary with coach Mike Keenan, the man who helped make him the player he is today, may be the next best thing. He'd be an ideal No. 1 pivot for Jarome Iginla, allowing Daymond Langkow to drop down to center a secondary scoring line. Tanguay gives the Cats a playmaking winger capable of playing on the first or second unit. Boyd is probably another year away from full-time NHL service, but his offensive potential leads many to rank him as the top prospect in the Calgary system.

Colorado sends John-Michael Liles to Philadelphia for Scottie Upshall and Denis Bodrov

The Flyers need a blueliner who can move his feet as well as he moves the puck. To get him, they give up on a banging winger who's struggled with injuries this season (he's currently out with an ankle sprain) and a mid-sized Russian defender with good wheels and an inclination to take care of business in his own end first and foremost.

Tampa Bay sends Vaclav Prospal to Dallas for Antti Miettinen and Chris Conner

The Lightning aren't inclined to re-sign the UFA-to-be, so they'll be looking to get something for their second-leading goal scorer. Miettinen can step immediately into their lineup and provide solid, two-way play with some offensive upside. Conner's a dynamic (i.e. undersized but speedy) winger with proven scoring touch in the NCAA and AHL. Given a chance, and some time to learn at the NHL level, he could turn into a productive second-liner. For their part, the Stars get a reliable sniper who would turn the Mike Modano - Jere Lehtinen tandem into a legitimate second scoring line.

Columbus sends Adam Foote to Washington for Chris Bourque, Josh Godfrey, 2008 second-rounder

What the Capitals really need is a solid No.1 goalie to replace Olaf Kolzig, the respected veteran whose play suggests he's well past his best-by date. But since there are no viable options to fill that role, an upgrade on defense would help minimize his exposure. Foote's a bit long in the tooth himself, but he's a great leader and remains solid if unspectacular in his own end. Neither Bourque nor Godfrey is a high-end prospect, but both could become contributing NHLers for Columbus given the proper tutelage. Bourque, a short, stocky center, has elite hockey sense and could mature into a useful checker. Godfrey has tremendous offensive upside, but has a lot of work to do to become a reliable option in his own end.

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