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The mailman has evaded the pit bull in the yard again, so I am compelled to address some of your more bracing epistles. Letter-opener, please...

I'll admit it. I'm in full panic mode over my Canucks. I'm starting to think the playoffs are a longshot at best unless we add a big piece to the puzzle, and soon. What do you think of our chances?-- Steve Joe, Sacramento

I think full panic is an appropriate state at this point, especially after that shootout loss to the Wild at home on Thursday night. Alexander Edler stole them a point with his late goal, but the Canucks needed two in the worst way. With just 24 games to go, they probably need to win 15 of them -- at least -- to sew up a spot. Given that they've won just three of their last 10, I don't like their chances to do that.

Not to say they can't turn things around, but the Canucks just have a look about them like they're going to find a way to lose, don't they? If there's a bad bounce to be had, they're going to find a way to get it. And sometimes it looks like coach Alain Vigneault is starting to out-think himself. Thursday night's game against the Wild is a perfect example. In a must-win, why are Edler and Ryan Shannon, two rookies, your first two shooters? Seems to me that your go-to guys, players like Daniel Sedin and Markus Naslund, need to get the tap on the shoulder in a situation like that.

If you want to go half-full, there are some positives. Willie Mitchell returned last night after missing a month of play, and soaked up his usual 26 minutes. A few games with something close to a healthy roster might be all they need. And though they've complained about the schedule, the stretch lays it all out for them. Vancouver has four games left against the eighth-place Avalanche and three each against divisional rivals Calgary and Minnesota. If the Canucks take care of business, especially against the injury-riddled Avs, they'll get their spot. If they don't, well, maybe they deserve to sit at the kids table this spring while the big boys play for keeps.

I understand the Dallas Stars will be getting injured defenders Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher back in the lineup soon. That should leave them with a surplus of proven NHL defensemen. What do you think it would take for a team like the Bruins to snatch someone like Mattias Norstrom or Trevor Daley to bolster their blueline?-- Emily Coburn, Beantown

I'd never say never, especially given Boston's propensity for being so generous in trades of late, but I'd be surprised to see Dallas part with either of those players prior to the deadline without getting a reliable scoring winger in return. The Bruins do have Glen Murray, but I'm not sure his cement-footed game would fill the Stars' spot alongside Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen. Guys like Vinny Prospal or Miro Satan, who have a bit more gas in the tank, make better sense if the Stars are going to part with a roster player.

All that said, I think the Stars are more likely to deal from their depth up front. Having played without Zubov (15 games) and Boucher (33) for so long, they understand the value of having reliable and proven options on hand to cover for the injuries that are inevitable during the postseason. More to the point: there's no definite return date yet for either vet, and with the deadline less than two weeks away, that doesn't leave much time. If the Bruins, or anyone else, are interested in Norstrom, he'll be a UFA this summer. Considering how well youngsters Matt Niskanen and Niklas Grossman have stepped up, I doubt the Stars will re-sign him.

With Chris Simon ready to come back from his most recent suspension, do you think there's a chance that he's dealt before the deadline to a contender? I could see him going to Detroit or Dallas to give them someone capable of standing up to the Ducks. -- Jeff Hodnicki, New York

I think Garth Snow is going to wait until the last minute to determine whether he'll be a buyer or seller on the 26th. If it looks like there won't be enough chairs when the music stops, Simon is certainly as much a candidate to be dealt as any of the Isles' other impending free agents. There probably are a few teams out there who'd covet his size and strength, but I doubt Dallas or Detroit would be among them. The Stars seem to have enough team toughness at the moment, and his brand of teetering-over-the-edge-into-lunacy brand of hockey seems like a poor fit for the disciplined Wings.

I'm just spitballin' here, but something tells me that Simon might be better somewhere like Nashville. The Predators are a fairly disciplined bunch, too, but adding Simon would make them a much nastier playoff opponent.

After that debacle against the Hawks, I'm thinking that it'll be another summer of early golf for the Blue Jackets. I'm a die-hard, but I'm starting to wonder if this team is ever going to take the next step, at least the way it's constructed now. All of this fatalism has me thinking outside the box. It's all well and good to trade Adam Foote or Sergei Fedorov, but maybe what they really need is a franchise high colonic. What do you think about dealing Rick Nash? If contenders are willing to dish out a parcel of top picks and prospects for elderly free agents-to-be, we should be able to get a ransom for a young, healthy player who's signed for another two years! -- Carlos Pacheco, Ohio

Amazingly, I've actually heard this from a handful of Columbus fans over the past few weeks...and I have no idea where you people are coming from.

I get that there are questions about Nash's laid-back personality and how it translates in terms of on-ice leadership. Let's call it Joe Thornton Syndrome. All I can say to that charge is Thornton has found a way to add to the Sharks' leadership group, even though he isn't bristling with Messier-like intensity. I think it's reasonable to project that, in time, Nash might do the same for the Blue Jackets.

But even if he never picks up the torch and holds it high, is this really someone you want to ride out of town on a rail? Here's a guy with 145 NHL goals at age 23. He's years away from reaching his peak, but already he's proven himself to be one of the game's dominant and exciting forwards. And you've got him for another two years. Rough spots or not, that's someone you continue to build around, rather than barter for a handful of magic beans.

That's not to suggest that Nash couldn't be dealt. Hypothetically speaking, he would draw a sizable return in a deal, but he's not the sort of player you move at the deadline. A contender would have to cut too deep into their current roster to acquire him, and that would be counterproductive to Cup aspirations. No, if you were going to do something this lunatic, it's best to wait for the offseason where you could target a desperate team that had been shut out in the free agent frenzy and then fleece them for all they are worth. Find the right buyer, and you just might be able to make a deal that makes sense for the Blue Jackets.

I read what you said about Al Montoya possibly being moved as a result of the Henrik Lundqvist deal. What sort of return might he generate for the Rangers? -- Jack Classen, NYU

Right now, not much. All you have to do is look at recent goalie transactions and you realize that, despite their importance, netminders aren't exactly bringing a lot in trade these days. Ilya Bryzgalov's a perfect example. Here's a guy who carried the Ducks through two playoff series, and Brian Burke had to let him go for nothing on waivers because he couldn't find any takers.

Montoya's had his own success in the past, especially in leading Team USA to gold at the 2004 World Juniors. There some around the Rangers who believe he deserved to make the squad out of camp this season, but that his contract make Steve Valiquette a more palatable option.

But Montoya;s struggles with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack this season will force any other GM to regard his value skeptically. So, at this point, he's basically a sweetener to any deal that the Rangers make. Or, and this may be more likely, he could be moved for another organization's tarnished hopeful, in the same vein as the Boston - St. Louis deal that saw goalie Hannu Toivonen shipped west for winger Carl Soderberg. That'd be a tough pill for the Rangers to swallow, but with the possibility of re-signing Miika Wikman, and incoming prospect Antoine Lafleur (the team's second-round pick last June), they'll have to make a decision soon regarding Montoya's once promising future.

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