The NHL Trade Deadline Approaches With The Biggest Questions Answered

This year’s mid-season trade deadline looks like it will be relatively uneventful. If you want to point fingers, blame the Bolts’ Steves. Stamkos’ contract made moving the 26-year-old center problematic and Yzerman didn’t seem to want to deal with it until end of the season. Official word materialized at the inboxes all over the hockeysphere at 9:30 central time this morning.

Tampa Bay Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman issued the following statement today regarding Steven Stamkos.

“As February 29th approaches, I am stating today that Steven Stamkos will not be traded before the NHL’s trade deadline. I have said repeatedly that it is our hope to reach an agreement with Steven on a new contract at some point, and with 27 games remaining in the season, our entire organization, Steven included, wants to focus on making the playoffs. I will keep the negotiating process strictly between the involved parties and have no further comment on the state of those negotiations.”

It would be easy to dismiss this as a sign all the drama is over. To be fair, it did turn out to be one of the biggest midseason trade stories to wind down to nothing since Rick Nash told Columbus that Daddy wasn’t going to be living in Ohio with the rest of the team in 2012. Maybe Yzerman and company should be credited for not waiting until the eleventh hour of the NHL trade deadline to let everyone know.

In the meantime, if James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail is to be believed, the Bolts’ locker room will have all the warmth of a week old Timbit in the bottom of a kindergartner’s Ant-Man backpack. Which intern got to tell Jon Cooper the news that Stamkos would be his boy for 27 more games? As for Stamkos, news of Cooper’s five-year extension had to feel like all of his besties were migrating to the Plastics’ table. Right now Yzerman has two great things that are not so great together and the remainder of the season to try to fix the situation.

Around the league, it looks like most of the heavyweight GMs are going to sit tight on February 29. NHL trade deadline day may pass by for most of the frequently named contenders. The list of likely suspects includes a lot of late-career players who may be looking for a bigger paycheck or a chance to lift the cup before retiring. The irony is the announcements have been arriving all week from teams letting the press know who is off the market.

According to Lyle Richardson at Bleacher Report, Cam Ward is UFA until July and has a no-trade clause. This puts him in an interesting position with the Hurricanes. There has been some talk of bids coming from around the NHL. However, the other pipes guy, Eddie Lack, is living up to his name, which might make Carolina reluctant to make a move. Everything comes down to whether Ward wants to play nice with the Big Wind or sail away.

In the same B/R article, Richardson projects that Patrick Marleau may have to cool his blades in San Jose for a little bit longer. In this case, what happens at the NHL trade deadline will come down to the Benjamins. The Mighty Biteys have the cap room and the teams Marleau would most like to join do not. If he wants to make a change, he’ll have to rethink his salary or his sweater.

Meanwhile, over at The Hockey Writers, Dustin L. Nelson reports that Keith Yandle is starting to feel like a rental to the Rangers. Word on the wire is this is his last season at MSG. Parlaying Yandle in the trade deadline game at this point in the season is risky for NYR so they’re moving around him with roster changes like claiming Christian Ehrhoff off waivers.

With players like Yandle and Stamkos off the block, it may come down to the Jets to give February 29 a dose of gasp-inducing telenovela drama. Winnepeg has two of the most exciting players in the NHL with Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd and yet the team has looked and felt like Topps cards stuck in Grammie’s aspic for the last two years. As CBS Sports Adam Gretz pointed out in January, Ladd and Big Buff bring size and skill and they are where the big money goes in Winnipeg. Gretz summed up the importance of this particular trade deadline for the Manitoba franchise.

“That means general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has some big decisions to make, and one of the NHL’s dullest and least active teams is going to have to do… something.”

Moving them means getting out from under $96 million paychecks for two players. Either player would be a big loss for the Jets, but it could also buy a lot of new blood and a change in production.

The NHL trade deadline isn’t budging and neither is a large section of the league. Don’t let the relative quiet fool you. Set your bookmarks, sports fans. This summer will see a number of contracts ending and the sparks will fly.

[Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images]