This past weekend in Raleigh, the NHL and its players got a chance to promote the sport in a non-traditional hockey market that was clearly in the mood to party.
Whether it was Eric Staal's two-goal performance in front of the home crowd, Zdeno Chara's display of power in the hardest shot competition or Alex Ovechkin doing his Annie Leibovitz impression with a lonely-looking Phil Kessel as his subject during the fantasy draft, All-Star weekend is strictly about having fun.
And hopefully the players got all the yuks out of their system, because the intensity of the season is about to ramp up several notches.
The focus now shifts to the stretch drive as teams have less than a month to decide which direction they will be heading come the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 28.
TradeCentre 2011 kicks off on TSN on Monday, Feb. 28 beginning at 8am et/5am pt. And get primed for all the wheeling an dealing for the NHL on TSN's Countdown To TradeCentre, Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.
In the jam-packed Western Conference, the line between contender and pretender is razor thin, with just six points separating the fourth place Nashville Predators from the 12th place Calgary Flames. One false move could be the difference between a first round playoff date and an early tee time.
Meanwhile out East, there are at least 11 teams that have legitimate post-season aspirations. Each team will have to ask themselves some very serious questions prior to deadline day.
No team wants to be sellers when it comes to the busiest transaction day of the NHL season, but by this point in the season reality has to have set in for several teams.
The New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have already kicked off the salary shedding proceedings as the Isles shipped defenceman James Wisniewski to the Canadiens for draft picks while the Devils did the same with Dallas for captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Both teams appear ready to be even more active going forward as they attempt to set themselves up for next season.
The Ottawa Senators may be the next team ready to deal as veterans such as Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar and Jarkko Ruutu are all reportedly available to the top bidder.
Across the province, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has let fellow GMs know that he is open for business and looking to make a move as players such as Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and JS Giguere could all be in play.
Staying in the East, should the Florida Panthers decide that they are out of it, there are several veteran players with expiring contracts that could entice a contender to throw a draft pick or prospect their way. Names like Tomas Vokoun, Cory Stillman, Chris Higgins, Radek Dvorak and even injured captain Bryan McCabe may be looking into moving companies.
Heading out West, the rebuilding Edmonton Oilers are the only team who appear to be out of playoff contention. With an eye on the future, they may be looking to further clear the decks to allow some of their top young, developing talent to see increased ice time in the second half. The likes of Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky and Andrew Cogliano may be the final piece that helps push a contender over the top.
Southbound on Highway 2 to Calgary, acting general manager Jay Feaster has a big test ahead of him. Although the Flames are only two points out of the playoffs, Feaster must decide if the organization would be better off shipping some of their high priced talent, specifically along the blueline, out of town.
While Feaster has repeatedly said he will not trade captain Jarome Iginla, would he feel different if the Flames suddenly went into the tank and a team made him an offer he couldn't refuse? Meanwhile, the combination of Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich are making a combined $7 million this season. With Mark Giordano's new deal set to kick in next season, at least one defenceman with a lengthy tenure in Calgary could be on the move prior to the deadline.
The great thing about the Trade Deadline is that there is always a deal that seems to materialize out of nowhere. A big name, previously thought unavailable, is suddenly a hot commodity on the market. With no clear cut Stanley Cup favourite, any team that makes the big dance can say they have a legitimate shot at hockey's Holy Grail; which could turn Feb. 28 into one of the busiest deadline days in recent memory.
Unfortunately, things could also go the other way.
If 25 of the league's 30 teams still believe that they have a shot at the playoffs, then chances are that many teams could be wary of selling off pieces that could be valuable to another team.
Not helping matters is the fact that so many of the NHL's top teams are right up against the league's mandated $59.4 million salary cap. While teams like the Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins would no doubt love to add an extra piece, in many cases they would be unable to unless they were able to send one of their own onerous contracts the other way. Not exactly the thing that many rebuilding teams are looking for.
What could make things interesting is that teams on the playoff bubble such as the Atlanta Thrashers, Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes and St. Louis Blues all have plenty of cap space at their disposal. It then becomes a matter of how much the individual teams are willing to spend to take a shot at the post-season.
So, to deal or not to deal, that is the question.
Our question for you in the latest edition of Netcrashing is the following: ‘Which team will be the most active at the NHL trade deadline?'
Let you opinions be known in our 'Your Call' feature below.