The big storyline so far in the run-up to the 2012 NHL trade deadline? Teams can't decide whether or not they're buyers or sellers. So many teams are still in the playoff mix that, unless you're the Columbus Blue Jackets or Edmonton Oilers, you still might believe you have a chance at the playoffs. Parity and whatnot.
Why would you sell your best players if you think the playoffs are still in view? You wouldn't, and that's why the Anaheim Ducks have opted not to trade Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne. (Seems as though that was a sound decision, thanks to their second-half resurgence under Bruce Boudreau. It'll still be tough, but they've performed so well of late that reaching the playoffs has become a legitimate hope.)
It's why teams like the Nashville Predators, very much a playoff contender, haven't traded Ryan Suter or Shea Weber, or why Zach Parise is still a member of the Devils and why both Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski are still members of the Maple Leafs.
Some teams know they're sellers, and that's why we've had a bit of movement. Hal Gill is a Predator because the Canadiens know their place and Pavel Kubina is a Philadelphia Flyer for essentially the same reason. This group is rare at this stage, however. For every Montreal or Tampa, you have a Buffalo that's completely delusional.
Consider those Buffalo Sabres: Only nine points out of a playoff spot, sure. That might be possible if they were to go on a hell of a streak to end the season, much like the New Jersey Devils did in the second-half last season. (The Devils ultimately missed the playoffs, but they certainly made things interesting deep into March.)
Buffalo has the talent to do so, and I guess you never really truly do know for sure, but with five teams to leap over in the Eastern Conference standings before reaching just ninth place, the Sabres are out of the playoffs. Maybe not mathematically, maybe not mentally, but certainly realistically.
Things will continue to sort themselves out as the deadline approaches over the next seven days, but for the most part, considering the deadline is in late-February and the playoff race doesn't truly define itself until mid-March, there are plenty of teams that just don't know their place. For the most part, we think these are those teams below the playoff fold, unsure of whether or not they should be selling their key pieces.
But increasingly, there are teams on the positive side of the No. 8-No. 9 split in each conference unsure of whether or not mortgaging their future in the form of selling prospects and draft picks for rental players is a smart move.
The Ottawa Senators, currently positioned in the No. 7 spot in the East seven days before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, are one of these teams. Here's owner Don Melnyk talking on Toronto's FAN590 radio Monday morning, as transcribed by the Ottawa Citizen:
"You're seventh, you end up seventh. What happens if you go out and spend a boatload of money and come in ninth? Then everybody looks like an idiot!"
"One of the things I'm conscious of, we've never done short-term deals that just don't make a lot of sense, and there's so few sellers right now -- that might change in a week -- but right now there's so few sellers, and in order to acquire something I think teams really have to overspend, and we're not going to do that.
"I like the group, I like the mix, I like our chemistry. We'll still work very hard to see, 'Can we make it a little better?' But we're not looking to take anything off our roster. I just think we're in a good place where players know their roles, know what to expect and if we do this and stay healthy, then we're a playoff team."
Teams at the bottom are looking to sell two things: a) long, expensive contracts in exchange for picks and prospects and b) contracts that are set to expire at the end of the season for something that doesn't equal "nothing at all."
The positions of Melnyk and Maloney are well-taken: There's a lot more value in making the playoffs with what you have and bowing out in the first round than there is in selling a few draft picks for an expensive, expiring contract and missing the playoffs entirely.
Even if you do qualify for the playoffs after making a deadline deal, and you lose in Round 1 or even Round 2, there's a good chance you hurt your future quite a bit with that deal that ultimately brought you nothing except some extra playoff revenue. For some teams in dire financial straits, that might be vital, but for many, it's nothing but a consolation prize.
Obviously, each team in the NHL has their reasons for buying at the deadline and selling at the deadline, and it can vary from franchise-to-franchise, owner-to-owner and GM-to-GM. But no matter which side teams sit on the playoff fence, the overwhelming trend this year is that teams just don't know how to classify themselves. Or that they're uncomfortable classifying themselves at all.
We'll still see some deals next Monday, but for the most part, it's shaping up to be a quiet deadline.
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