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With contenders short on cap room, trade deadline passes quietly

No better place to start than the Kevin Montgomery-Shawn Belle swap between Colorado and Edmonton, and let's start off by saying that when teams add players like a Montgomery and a Belle to the roster at the deadline, this is no less a proclamation of Stanley Cup desires than.

.....wait a minute, who are Kevin Montgomery and Shawn Belle?

Why didn't they tell the men in suits with the Windsor-knotted ties reflecting nicely off the faux glossy granite TV studio tables that this was actually the AHL trade deadline, not the NHL?

The acquisition of Dustin Penner by Los Angeles was considered the biggest "splash" of this year's deadline, if by splash you mean the feather of a hummingbird falling onto a summer lake.

Almost every one of the other 17 trades Monday had some of most dedicated hockey fans ashamedly venturing over to to find out who the players were. Drew MacIntyre from Atlanta to Montreal for Brett Festerling left the talking heads on the Canadian studio panels fumbling for words, as did the Tom Sestito from Columbus to Philadelphia for Greg Moore and Michael Chaput blockbuster.

Colorado general manager Greg Sherman, who arguably made the most shocking, non-deadline-day trade on Feb. 18 in dealing Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement (with draft picks also involved) summed up the anti-climactic Monday thusly:

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"In our conference, with things so tight and points at a premium, if you can address a need there's no need to wait," he said. "When you look at the makeup of the league, I think the biggest challenge is trying to find that trade partner. In some scenarios, you could be dealing with teams that are in a different place respective to their cap. Their needs may not match up with the needs that we have. And I think you try to look at a trade that makes sense for both sides."

As much as the TV networks and rumor-driven hockey blogs may hate it, the NHL's salary cap instituted in 2005 had the intended consequence of cutting down drastically on the number of going-out-business-for-the-year fire sales by teams out of playoff contention. The bad team with the high-salaried player can't just unload him anymore to the rich, Cup-driving team because the Cup-driving team is already capped out.

"That's it, in a nutshell," said Detroit GM Ken Holland, whose team probably would have liked to have added another quality defenseman but just couldn't do it with only $63,197 in cap room according to "Most of the top teams probably have a pretty good payroll as it is, near the top. It's tough to do much by the deadline."

The uncertainty of the NHL's labor situation after next season continues to play a minor role in the lack of major salary additions of players with contracts beyond then, though most influential hockey people believe there won't be any work stoppage this time around.

For now, teams mostly just go by the dictum of rewarding their own and building through the draft -- with maybe just one luxury purchase per year from the outside.

"Trades are just really tough to do now," Holland said. "If you don't have your team pretty much analyzed by Christmas nowadays, it's just tough to go and fix it by the deadline. You're pretty much stuck with what you've got."