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Host, TSN The Reporters with Dave Hodge

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“Thumbs down” to February 29th. Not because it’s a so-called Leap Day. We’re not so sick of 2016 yet that we can’t stand the thought of a 366th day. No, it’s because February 29th is NHL Trade Deadline Day, which, in my opinion, would be better placed on January 29th.

It may be another five weeks before we find out where Steven Stamkos will be on March 1st. Those five weeks can also be described as 35 dog days, each one filled with countless trade rumours that amount to nothing.

More than 200 games will be played, but they don’t matter nearly as much as the games that will follow, the ones that feature the rosters that will exist come playoff time, when the games really matter.

Tampa Bay fans bide their time these days thinking of another run to the Stanley Cup final, and then they splash cold water on their faces and realize that may not be possible without Stamkos. If he’s leaving via trade, they’d prefer to know that this month, so they and the Lightning can adjust and move on from a drama that won’t be dramatic until somebody says or does something. If Stamkos is destined to finish the season in Tampa without a new contract, let the fans know that so they can deal with it and at least hope their favourite captain has a Stanley Cup ring to take with him when he goes in July. And if there’s a way to keep Stamkos in Tampa, let the fans read the contract details soon so they can rejoice and dry their faces and think seriously about Stanley Cup possibilities, for many years.

Waiting too long to get to the heart of the hockey season isn’t just about the Lightning and Stamkos. It’s about Winnipeg and Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, St. Louis and David Backes, Carolina and Eric Staal, New York (Rangers) and Keith Yandle, New York (Islanders) and Kyle Okposo, and the list can be made much longer.

An earlier trade deadline would surely be better for the players, and for their teams, many of which will make trades on February 29th and then lament the fact that playoff chemistry was lacking because there wasn’t enough time to integrate new arrivals.

You will hear that the trade deadline has to be where it is because of the salary cap. One more reason to hate the salary cap, I suggest. The trade deadline can’t be earlier because teams need to know if they’re buying or selling. Columbus, Toronto and Buffalo know. Edmonton and Winnipeg can guess.

And most of the teams above them in the standings would be wise to think of themselves as playoff contenders, because that’s what they are now and it’s what they figure to be in five weeks.

Television coverage on trade deadline day has been known to be tedious, until the first trade is made, anyway. Not nearly as tedious as waiting for that day to come.