Most NHL trades come early this season

One-year-old Chayse McFadden tries to put a Goldfish cracker in the Stanley Cup during the 34th annual Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival yesterday.
One-year-old Chayse McFadden tries to put a Goldfish cracker in the Stanley Cup during the 34th annual Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival yesterday.
Posted: February 28, 2011

Today, usually one of the most exciting days on the NHL calendar with the trading deadline at 3 o'clock, has a chance to be one of the biggest snooze-fests in recent memory.

And that's because the biggest trades of the deadline season have been doled out like presents at Hanukkah, evenly over a span of 13 days, instead of at the deadline - the Christmas Day for hockey-rumor fans.

It all started on Feb. 9, when Toronto general manager Brian Burke decided to deal defenseman Francois Beauchemin to open up the trading floodgates.

Since then, 21 of the league's 30 teams have been involved in 24 separate trades. Other teams not involved in a trade, like Columbus and Buffalo, have played their hands in several waiver-wire moves to bolster their roster or lighten their salary load as they see fit.

That number will undoubtedly grow. But by how much is the question. Sports-gambling website Bodog.com originally set the over/under for number of trades on deadline day at 25.5 - and that number is now off the board.

"It's an interesting time," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said last week. "There was quite a bit of talk already. It makes you wonder if [the deadline] is sort of going to be anticlimactic."

Some experts chalk up the flurry of activity before the deadline to a shallow pool of unrestricted free agents this summer. Others say that it's because teams are just starting to realistically size up their playoff expectations with just 15 or 20 games remaining on the schedule.

"I'm not really surprised," Holmgren said. "I still think there's so many teams that can't figure out whether they're buying or selling because of the tightness of the races."

Interestingly, most of the trade jockeying so far has come in the Eastern Conference, where the race is not nearly as tight as it is in the Western Conference. As of Friday, every team in the East except the Sabres already had made at least one move. Vancouver, one point ahead of the Flyers in the Presidents Trophy race, has not made any moves.

Holmgren made the Flyers' biggest splash on Valentine's Day, when he acquired forward Kris Versteeg from Toronto for first- and third-round picks in the upcoming draft, which essentially could be high second-and fourth-round picks if the Flyers play into June for the second year in a row.

Versteeg, 24, has just one goal and one assist in his first seven games as a Flyer. But his impact wasn't meant to be felt now, but rather in the playoffs.

Holmgren was also active on Saturday morning, claiming Chicago defenseman Nick Boynton off waivers to help on the Flyers' banged-up blue line. Despite being a healthy scratch in 18 of the Blackhawks' last 22 games, Boynton did skate in the Cup-clinching Game 6 for Chicago last year in the Stanley Cup finals. He is a veteran of 595 NHL games.

"Nick is a right-shot defenseman that will bring experience and depth to our team," Holmgren said Saturday.

The price for Boynton - to pay the $118,280 remaining on his league-minimum $500,000 salary - before he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, made him an attractive option. Plus, he played for Peter Laviolette in 1999-2000, his first professional season, in Providence of the AHL.

Acquiring Boynton does not preclude Holmgren from making any other moves today.

According to assistant general manager Barry Hanrahan, the Flyers can afford to bring in a maximum cap hit of $1.9 million today, but that number is fluid since Holmgren could make any number of roster moves to increase that number.

Holmgren could be interested in a type of character winger with Stanley Cup experience to join the roster in place of Nik Zherdev, who cleared waivers on Thursday and is eligible to be sent down at any time over the next 3 weeks.

If he doesn't, Zherdev's 15 goals this season in limited minutes in 47 games will be sitting on the bench as an insurance policy.

Boynton is expected to join the Flyers today for practice for the first time - but he could easily find himself back on the waiver wire if a more attractive option should become available for a similar price. There is probably a reason Boynton did not fit in with Chicago, whose defense corps is not nearly as deep as the Flyers.

Realistically, few players are going to come as cheap as Boynton. So, with insurance at each already-deep position waiting, don't be surprised if Holmgren doesn't make a move. That doesn't mean he won't be listening - after watching East rivals Boston, Pittsburgh and the Rangers get significantly stronger over the past few weeks.

At a certain point, though, you need to trust what you have. And what Holmgren has is the only team in the NHL with 40 wins this season.

"I like our team," Holmgren said. "If we did not make another move, I'd be completely happy with that. I'm certainly not trading a player from our roster to do it."

Last year, there was no trading bonanza for the struggling Flyers. Holmgren trusted his gut - and the Flyers didn't make a single move on this day last year. Look where that got them.

Slap shots

The Flyers rearranged their roster after Saturday night's loss in Ottawa, recalling forward James van Riemsdyk from the Phantoms after his momentary stay there to make room for a claim for Nick Boynton. Erik Gustafsson, who played 16:06 in his NHL debut in place of Chris Pronger, was reassigned back to the Phantoms . . . Pronger (wrist/hand contusion) is scheduled to return to practice this week. Penalty-killing ace Blair Betts (lacerated finger) is expected to be ready to play on Thursday against Toronto.

Stat Watch

10: Number of games before Saturday's 4-1 loss in Ottawa that the Flyers had gone without losing a game by more than one goal.

6: Number of games in a row the Flyers have lost at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place, with an 0-4-2 record dating back to 2007-08.

7-4-1: The Flyers' record in February, with only their 6-4-1 mark in October producing fewer points

THE WEEK AHEAD

Trade Deadline

Today, 3 o'clock

The NHL Network will simulcast TSN's deadline- day trade coverage, with 30 analysts broadcasting live from Toronto. Coverage begins at 8 a.m. and ends with a recap at 6 p.m. A live stream also will be available on TSN.ca.

vs. Toronto

Thursday, 7 o'clock

Despite trading away defenseman Francois Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg - and appearing to be sellers at the trade deadline - there is a new-found hope for playoff hockey in the NHL's richest market. The Maple Leafs are within four points of a playoff spot with 19 games to play. Toronto has not made the playoffs since 2004, the year before the yearlong lockout.

vs. Buffalo

Saturday, 1 o'clock

The Flyers have outscored Buffalo, 11-5, in the first two matchups, both wins. After new owner Terry Pegula took over last week, the Sabres have clawed from 12th in the Eastern Conference to just two points back of the final playoff spot. Tomas Vanek leads Buffalo in scoring with 52 points, but no one else has really been close.

at New York Rangers

Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

The Flyers return to Madison Square Garden for the second time in as many weeks for a nationally televised rematch. Last time, in a 4-2 victory on Feb. 20, the Flyers did not commit a penalty for just the third time in franchise history. The Flyers are 4-0-0 against New York this season, taking four games for the first time since 2005-06.

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