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THN.com Blog: What to watch for on NHL trade deadline day

Stephen Weiss still has two more years with a cap hit of $3.1 million per season remaining on his contract. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Stephen Weiss still has two more years with a cap hit of $3.1 million per season remaining on his contract. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

A few musings as we close in on the 2011 trade deadline:

TANKING PANTHERS?

It’s one thing to trade veterans with expiring contracts such as Cory Stillman and Bryan McCabe, but there should be an immediate investigation into the Florida Panthers if they trade Stephen Weiss and David Booth Monday and get nothing but picks and prospects in return.

That’s because it will be clear the Panthers don’t even want to hide the fact that they’re tanking it in order to stockpile first overall picks in the next couple of drafts. Weiss is 27 and Booth is 26 and both players are under contract for multiple years at reasonable salaries. You could argue neither one is part of the problem in Florida and to deal them would essentially indicate the Panthers have every intention of throwing in the towel on being competitive in the short term.

The Panthers haven’t played a playoff game since the Clinton administration and there’s a good reason for that: they’ve been horribly mismanaged. Nobody knows for sure when the Panthers will be there again because it sure doesn’t look as though it will be happening any time soon, but you’d have to think that Weiss and Booth are young enough to be part of it when it does occur.

MONEY TALKS

The Hurricanes picked Stillman up last week, but this corner would be shocked to see them pick up any substantial salary at the deadline in an effort to make the playoffs.

Why is that? Because of a little known aspect of the NHL’s revenue sharing program that stipulates any team, regardless of the market, receives money back from the league for every dollar it spends below the midway point between the salary floor and ceiling.

With a salary ceiling of $59.4 million per team and a floor of $43.4 million, the midpoint this season is $51.4 million. The Hurricanes currently have a payroll of just under $50 million, meaning they’ll receive $1.4 million in revenue sharing money from the league if they don’t go any higher. So every dollar they add Monday would not only be added to their payroll, but would subtract a dollar from the money coming back to them from the league.

THE RICHARDS CONUNDRUM

Nobody, but nobody, will have a more angst-filled day than Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who faces the prospect of having whatever he does blow up in his face.

If he hangs onto Brad Richards for the rest of this season, he risks the possibility of not having him play a game the rest of this season. Even if Richards does play, there’s no guarantee the Stars will make the playoffs and the prospect of Richards signing a long-term deal with a team whose future is so unstable seems like a stretch. (The league insists it is not propping the Stars up, but those close to NHL ownership circles insist the league is indeed paying the bills in Dallas after the Stars ripped through their advances on television money and revenue sharing.)

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If Nieuwendyk trades Richards, he risks losing a player who would be key to the team’s playoff hopes if he’s healthy. Compounding the problem is the Los Angeles Kings are one of the most ardent suitors and currently sit two points ahead of the Stars in the NHL standings. The Stars play the Kings three more times this season and the optics of Richards powering the Kings to the playoffs at the Stars’ expense would not be great.

In short, you have a mess. A concussed player on an expiring contract playing in a strapped market that likely can’t afford to keep him who, when healthy, is one of the best playmakers in the league.

There seem to be too many convoluted factors for a deal to be made. That’s why the betting is the Stars will likely take their chances and hang onto Richards beyond the deadline.

MORE LEAFS TO CHANGE COLORS

The Toronto Maple Leafs will almost certainly be active in the hours leading up to the deadline. There is speculation they’ll take a run at defenseman John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche, which would likely cost them one of the first round picks they’ve received in recent trades.

There’s also talk the Leafs could pick up another young player in Nashville Predators prospect Ryan Ellis with Clarke MacArthur going the other way. The Leafs would almost certainly have to take on some salary from the Predators in the form of J-P Dumont. If the Predators were really feeling their oats, they’d insist the Leafs take David Legwand off their hands.

All this talk of getting Liles is a little confusing, considering the fact he’s hardly an upgrade on the departed Tomas Kaberle, a low-maintenance guy who wanted nothing more than to stay in Toronto. GM Brian Burke made a great deal for Kaberle considering he had just one trading partner and had made it clear Kaberle was not part of the Leafs future, but I’m not convinced they won’t rue the day they dealt him away. Since he has left, the Leafs power play is a mess and they don’t have a puck-moving defenseman in their lineup to take the heat off.

 

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear every Monday throughout the season.

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