The NHL's Olympic roster freeze passed quietly, disappointing those expecting an early preview of the March 5 trade deadline.
One reason is only five teams (Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders) can be considered sellers. Another is 23 teams each carry $5 million or less in cap space. Most buyers will wait until next month's deadline for a little more wiggle room under the cap, hoping more sellers get into the trade market by then.
While GMs are restricted from making deals during the freeze, which runs Feb. 7 to 23, they are permitted to hold trade talks. Those discussions could lay the groundwork for potential moves once the freeze lifts.
Expect most of the focus to remain on Buffalo Sabres' goaltender Ryan Miller, New York Islanders left winger Thomas Vanek and New York Rangers' right winger Ryan Callahan. Their eligibility for unrestricted free agency at season's end made them fodder for speculation prior to the Olympic break.
Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News believes it will be difficult to find trade a destination for Miller, who's stated it would take a deal comparable to Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist (seven years, $59.5 million) for the Sabres to keep him. Rumors link the 34-year-old netminder to the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals. If Miller prefers to be dealt to a Stanley Cup contender, that, depending on the goalie’s outlook of the teams, could eliminate the Wild and Capitals as trade destinations. Harrington notes the Blues could stick with their current tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.
Vanek recently stated his intent to test free agency, adding he'd understand if the Islanders dealt him by the deadline. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun claims the Isles seek a three-asset return for the 30-year-old, which could involve first round picks, prospects or a player. LeBrun speculates a two-asset return would suffice if one of those assets were high enough.
It was believed Rangers GM Glen Sather intended to trade Callahan if the winger wasn't re-signed before the Olympic break. The New York Post's Larry Brooks reports Sather didn't receive a suitable offer. The two sides remain far apart in contract talks.
Brooks claims the Blue Jackets were scouting Callahan prior to the Olympic break, but the Columbus Dispatch's Michael Arace doubts there’s a fit. Jackets president John Davidson told Arace his club wants to avoid pursuing rental players because the asking price is too expensive.
With the Sabres and Islanders out of playoff contention, it's an easy decision for those clubs to shop talent like Miller and Vanek to the highest bidders. It's more complicated for the Rangers, who are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Shipping out their captain would have an adverse effect upon team chemistry, especially if the return does little to bolster their playoff chances.
Waiting until the trade deadline to move players like Miller, Vanek and Callahan could up their trade value. However, the high number of teams remaining in playoff contention possessing limited cap space could also force the Sabres, Islanders and Rangers to lower their asking prices.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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