NHL GMs ready for meetings...and deals

{eot} Staff
2/17/2008 10:58:46 PM
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General managers from the NHL's 30 teams are all arriving in Naples, Florida on Sunday for three days of meetings.

Important topics for discussion will likely include evaluation of rules, on-ice equipment, the salary cap and other league agenda.

But who's kidding whom? At this time of the year there's only be one thing on the minds of hockey fans - trades.

If hockey fanatics consider deadline day to be the 'Christmas Day' of the NHL season, the league's annual GM meetings can certainly be compared to Christmas Eve. A couple of small gifts can be opened in the form of trades, while the excitement begins as everyone - fans and media alike - speculate on what sort of deals are being talked about.

This year's meetings will be no different as star players like Olli Jokinen, Mats Sundin and Marian Hossa continue to be mentioned in the rumour mill.

With just over a week remaining until the Feb. 26 deadline, many fans are still left wondering what Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher will do. While the veteran NHL executive is no stranger to making multiple deals, he won't be going to Florida with thoughts of a fire sale.

"I refuse to call it a selling position," he told TSN on Saturday before leaving for Florida.

"We're looking to improve our hockey club for the long term. We're not going down (to Naples) to pick up a player to help us over the next six-to-eight weeks, we want to build a team for the future and we'll see that happens. Hopefully we'll be successful at least to some degree."

Sundin, who reportedly hasn't budged on waiving his no-trade clause, will obviously fetch an expensive package of players, prospects or draft picks. But with so many teams focused on building and re-stocking through the draft, which teams will be willing to offer it?

"If you don't have those players through the draft, through development, where do you get them?" Detroit Red Wings Ken Holland said in a GM's conference call this week. "I think teams are going to have to make harder decisions about trading first-round picks and real good prospects. I'm not saying it's not going to happen. But I think as we go along here it's going to be harder and harder to do just because of the way the (collective bargaining agreement) is starting to flush itself out now."

Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell knows all about paying such a price after acquiring Keith Tkachuk near last year's deadline in exchange for forward Glen Metropolit and three high draft picks. This year, it could him dangling the high-impact player in Marian Hossa.

The high-scoring winger told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that the chances of signing a long-term deal with the team were "very slim." While Waddell could easily flip Hossa for future building blocks, the Thrashers - just two points out of a playoff spot - are desperate to win now and he'll want lateral help for the stretch run.

"If we do take (Hossa) to the marketplace, we're hoping to get back assets that help us today and in the future," Waddell told the Journal-Constitution this week.

The Thrashers aren't the only NHL team teetering between the roles of buyer and seller and contender and pretender. With the exception of one or two teams, just about every club is alive and well in the hunt for a playoff berth and general managers could be left at a guessing game for their rosters going into the 11th hour.

Not even the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks - with Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer in back in their lineup - have a set game plan going into deadline day.

"I'm groping around like a sightless person," Ducks GM Brian Burke said this week. "Because I'm not sure what I'm looking for."

Burke's short-term plan - along with those of his 29 peers - could become a lot clearer in the coming days with the fate for Peter Forsberg. The highly-coveted centre is expected to make a decision this week on whether or not he'll return to the NHL. Forsberg signing with a team will undoubtedly have a domino effect on where the overall trade market will go.

Follow all the news and updates from the NHL's GM Meetings this week on SportsCentre and

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