The All-Star Game isn't an event that captures the attention of all hockey fans, but if you're looking for a post-Winter Classic spectacle to grab your NHL attention, you don't have many other options. That is, until late February, when the NHL trade deadline kicks into gear.
Deadline day is usually defined by the rumors that lead up to it. Not many teams are fully uninvolved in the speculation that takes us to the deadline, and of course, if things keep going like they are now, there might not be many sellers for us to talk about at the deadline.
That could end up being the big story as Feb. 27 approaches.
The league is full of teams that think they can compete for a spot in their respective conference's top eight. Those teams will be hesitant to make major moves, unless they get something notable in return.
(What if you're Buffalo, for example? Ten points out of a playoff spot coming out of the break, but that's a margin that can be made up if your team starts to play better. Do you blow it up, accepting a non-playoff fate, or take a shot at getting healthy and more consistent?)
More than the names that could be up for grabs, it might be more intriguing to see which teams evolve into buyers and sellers before the big day.
In the Eastern Conference, teams like Buffalo and Carolina had higher expectations than being tied for last. But Carolina is a largely young team, one that just signed its biggest trade piece, Tim Gleason, to a four-year extension. Will they move Tuomo Ruutu, who is almost certain to attract some attention?
In Buffalo, can the Sabres find someone to take the rest of Brad Boyes' $4 million salary? As long as they are stuck at the bottom, he's not going to be worth keeping. But he's not playing well, either, so it's not known if anyone will see value in making a trade for an expensive player who could be a bit part.
Will Montreal see fit to make some moves, perhaps unloading the expiring contract of Andrei Kostitsyn, for example? At eight points out of a playoff position, and playing better hockey as of late, there might not be any reason for Pierre Gauthier to sell. But if the next two weeks go sour, he may not see any alternative.
These are just three examples of teams with decisions to make. In the Western Conference, there are others.
There have been rumors all over of potential moves involving the Anaheim Ducks. The team is still together, and Bruce Boudreau has them playing very well. The Ducks were in quite a hole after an awful start, and are still 12 points out of a playoff spot. It's a long way back, but the way Anaheim has been winning lately, there's no reason to think they have to be a seller at the deadline. Or before it.
Edmonton has fallen off, and the Oilers have some pending unrestricted free agents, most notably Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth. Smyth would need to okay any move, but Hemsky -- a huge disappointment offensively this season -- does not have any such clause in his deal.
Teams like Minnesota, Colorado, and Dallas could be buyers at the deadline, but if they slump the next two weeks, they could become among the sellers.
Last year's deadline day was a bit of a letdown. Not a lot of huge moves happened, and there weren't nearly as many middle-of-the-road trades as in the past.
We'll see what happens this year. Teams have plenty of cap room, but the issue will be matching potentially available players with destinations willing to take on the money and give up the necessary return to make the trades happen.
For fading teams with expiring contracts, the return is important, but they need to keep in mind that any return is better than none at all. Let that expiring contract walk away in the summer, and you get nothing in return. A prospect is a prospect, but it's better than watching a veteran walk away for nothing.