At least that's what this time is supposed to be. However the dominos have already begun to fall days before things kick off on the floor of the Staples Centre on Friday. Jaroslav Halak was by far the biggest chip to drop so far when he was traded last week to St.Louis for two prospects, Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. That trade has been, for the most part, universally paned by fans and bloggers however many hockey people have said that Montreal got some good pieces in the two young forwards with Eller being a big talented centre who plays with edge and Schultz was the captain of the Calgary Hitmen where he was a big, tough winger who can chuck em'. Many people in hockey believe that the new regulations on goalie equipment coming in this year will drastically reduce the effectiveness of Halak (I call BS on that one. Halak as usual will work his way through that) and that Price just has too much potential to give up on and his work ethic and attitude improved by leaps and bounds after the midway point of the season. However his still can have immature moments (ie. getting two 10 minute misconducts in the Washington series) and the jury is still out on whether or not he can reach his full potential. No matter which way you slice it this was a very gutsy trade that will either end up looking great for GM Pierre Gauthier or this will go down with the Patrick Roy trade, Chris Chelios trade and LeClair and Desjardins trade as one of the worst trades in franchise history.
The second chip to fall was the Nathan Horton trade from Florida to the Boston Bruins after requesting a change of scenery. Horton, the centrepiece to the deal, is a former 3rd overall pick in the 2003 draft and has yet to live up to his lofty promise like many young players in Florida. Horton is a big power forward who can skate and has soft hands. His best season came a couple of seasons ago when he had 31goals and just over 60 points. Since then however his play has dropped off and not only have his work ethic and desire to win been universally paned, but people have questioned whether he truly enjoys playing hockey. If the change and the pressure of playing in Boston can change him around however Boston may very well take the next step towards the Stanley Cup next season. Gregory Campbell is an extra forward who will provide depth and energy but not much else. In return Florida received Dennis Wideman, the 15th overall pick in this years draft and a 3rd round pick in next year's draft. Wideman is a good puck moving defenseman who became Boston fans wipping boy last season after getting off to a rough start and didn't recover until near the end of the season and performed quite well in the playoffs with 12 points in 13 games. If Wideman can keep his play on track from were it was at the end of the season then the Panthers have the makings of a potentially great backend with Dimitri Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby as a shut down guy and one of either Erik Gudbranson, Cam Fowler, and Brandon Gormley that they'll take with the 3rd pick (my guess in Gudbranson). The 15th overall pick hasn't delivered alot of success in recent years however this year's draft is supposed to be very deep so the Panthers may be able to snag a quality prospect in that spot such as Alex Burmistrov, Emerson Etem, Mark Pysyk or Dylan McIlrath. The 3rd round pick next year in a reportedly horrendous draft is a crap shoot.
Then today the Chicago Blackhawks did what most felt they had to do in order to shed salary by agreeing to trade playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and prospect Akim Aliu to the Altanta Thrashers in exchange for the 24th overall pick, a second round pick, Marty"Joe Sakic"Reasoner, and prospect Jeremy Morin. This was a straight up salary dump as the 'Hawks try to get themselves under the salary cap as the huge extensions for Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews kick in. Byfuglien is a pick powerful forward who can also play defence but has yet to show the consistency to be called a top end power forward. After an impressive playoff Big Buff has reached a crossroads in his career. He'll either go the John LeClair route and will explode after having a big playoff like LeClair did after winning the cup with Montreal in 1993 or he'll be the next Fernando Pisani and will just be a depth player for the rest of his career. It'll be interesting to see how he turns out. Sopel is a guy that the Blackhawks were trying to get rid of last season but he had no trade value until he had a highly impressive playoff for the Cup champs. He's solid in his own end and can put up numbers if called upon but he's a better player if you don't ask to much of him. Ben Eager is a modern day tough guy, he'll take on all comers and he can actually skate and play the game. A very underrated pick up in this trade. Aliu is a high end prospect who's always had some kind of controversy or off ice problem following him so perhaps a market where no one is paying attention will be better for him. Plus with Jack Skille and Kyle Beach ready to make the jump soon he was expendable. The 24th pick could very well land a good player for Chicago in a deep draft year as well as the second rounder. Morin is a forward prospect and a great shooter but apparently his skating needs major work. All in all this was about one team that needed to shed salary and another that needed to take salary on a show immediate improvement next season.
**Update** The Edmonton Oilers have acquired forward Colin Fraser from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 6th round pick. This was a great pickup for the Oilers. A big centreman who can provide success in the faceoff circle, grit, and leadership. If the vultures weren't circling the Blackhawks they probably could have gotten more then a 6th round pick.
The San Jose Sharks have re-signed Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau to 4 year contracts. In Pavelski's case, the Sharks have re-upped their best young player and the guy who was their playoff MVP this year. He can do just about everything on the ice and the Sharks also managed to buck the trend of handing out massively long contracts to young players as well. With Marleau re-signing it means not only that Marleau will be a life long Shark but also with Tomas Plekanec re-signing in Montreal this week as well an already weak UFA market is down to only one top flight free agent in Ilya Kovalchuk. Let the bidding for Matthew Lombardi begin!