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Playoff race intensifies as NHL trade deadline nears

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Calgary Flames veteran Jarome Iginla may be the hottest piece of trade bait.

(AP) -- Those fears the NHL might not even play this season are long in the past.

Suddenly, the shortened season is just about over.

Yes, the regular season ends already on April 27, but not before there's a trade deadline thrown in that could dramatically shift the fate of playoff contenders in only weeks. While the league scrapped the Winter Classic and All-Star game because of the lockout, it kept the trade deadline. This year's is April 3, giving new players only three weeks with their new teams. It might not be enough time to see if a player can push a potential contender over the edge. And he may even mess up chemistry and lines and spoil a playoff run.

Most teams have only played about 30 games, usually not enough time in an 82-game regular season to decide which players are worth shopping and keeping. But the labor strife that wiped out the first three months of the season has made any of those so-called magic numbers obsolete.

It could be that teams just decide to press on with what they have and stand pat.

The NHL's 30 general managers met Wednesday in Toronto for their league meetings. The GMs were set to discuss everything from possible rule changes to Olympics involvement to concussions and improved player safety. With so many executives in one place, it's only natural they'll talk trade.

Who's buying?

Who's selling?

Who knows?

And teams may not know until the deadline nears. Take a look around the Eastern and Western conferences and it's easy to see why so many teams still think they can snag a playoff berth. Florida and Buffalo are the only teams who are distant longshots at making the East postseason. There's a logjam in the standings with Carolina, Toronto, New Jersey and the New York Rangers all with 32 points.

In the West, only Colorado seems like a long shot to make the playoffs. Take a look at last season when the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed. It's no wonder so many teams think that if they can just hang tight, then sneak in, they'll get hot at the right time. Of course, having that one extra piece, maybe a playoff-tested veteran, can be the difference between an early exit and a June - late June - celebration.

So who's in the market? Who's looking to make a deal? Let's take a look:

MUIR: Updated trade rumor tracker

1. Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames. Iginla is the No. 1 big name is trade rumors and is having a solid season (20 points) as Calgary's captain. The Flames are one of those oddly positioned teams: 14th place in the West, but only four points out of a playoff spot. Even at 35, Iginla isn't much of a risk. He's in the final season of a $35 million, five-year deal and can walk as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Flames just have to decide if a short-term PR hit is worth the draft picks and other prospects they could potentially net to speed up the rebuilding process.

2. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres. First, coach Lindy Ruff was shown the door after 16 seasons. Could Miller, their Olympic goalie, be next to go?

With 26 points, the Sabres aren't totally out of the playoff race, but they don't exactly look like a threat to make a run should they get there.

The 32-year-old Miller is signed through next season, making him a cap-friendly acquisition for a team in need of a goalie. A team like Toronto could use a goalie like Miller as it tries to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2004. Dumping Ruff and Miller could show the Sabres are serious about starting fresh in 2013-14. But don't be surprised if someone like Drew Stafford is on the block, too. His frustrations are showing in the locker room and a change of scenery could be needed.

"We have to find a way - in order to win a championship - to acquire more top players," Sabres GM Darcy Regier said.

3. David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils. Remember when New Jersey lost Zach Parise to Minnesota for absolutely nothing in return? How would Devils fans feel if they lost Clarkson (11 goals in 30 games) the same way? He's in the final year of his contract and set to become an unrestricted free agent. Sure, the Devils could sign him this summer, and it's tough to imagine trading away one of their true scoring threats in a playoff push. But could they again take the risk of losing something for nothing?

4. Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have been one of the bigger disappointments in the league this year, putting everyone from general manager Paul Holmgren to coach Peter Laviolette on the hot seat. But Read has been one of the more effective players for Laviolette. The Flyers are traditionally a team that never believes it's out of contention so it may want to hang on to Read. Read's toughness and quick return from rib injuries have made him coveted.

5. Ottawa Senators. The Senators are in fifth place in the East and in solid shape to make the playoffs. They want more than just a round or two. General manager Bryan Murray has said he'd like to add some serious pieces to make a Stanley Cup run. While the list of sellers may be short, Murray is going to poke around in his search for an offensive boost.

"I don't know how you ever get a scorer in the NHL anymore, but if you can get a top-six forward it's always the objective," Murray told reporters. "I haven't identified anybody who is going to be moved."

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