As the proverbial dominoes begin to tumble and the hoopla surrounding the NHL’s annual trade deadline kicks off, it is important to re-evaluate the marketplace as it becomes thinner and thinner for last minute shoppers.

The Philadelphia Flyers jumped into the act early by adding two big defensemen to try to alleviate the need for youngsters like Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson to be logging major minutes in important games. As per Holmgren’s prior dealings, draft picks are no obstacle to getting a deal done. The Flyers surrendered a 2nd round pick in 2012 and a 3rd round pick in 2013 to Dallas for Nicklas Grossman. Two days later they moved a 2nd round pick (2012 or 2013) and a 4th round pick in 2013 along with minor leaguer Jon Kalinski to Tampa Bay for Pavel Kubina.

Grossman is a big defenseman that skates well but doesn’t play an exceedingly physical game despite his hefty size. He doesn’t move the puck effectively past the center red line but has good retrieval skills behind the net and in corners and can move it out with mild effectiveness. Kubina is also very sizeable and has a cannon of a shot. He was never particularly fleet of foot and age has not helped that. He’s settled down into a solid two-way defenseman but is prone to getting beat by quicker forwards.

The arms race is just beginning in the Western Conference as well. The Nashville Predators added a big d-man to their corps as well. Hal Gill, the 6-foot-7 veteran warrior, was acquired from Montreal with a conditional 5th rounder in 2013 for a 2nd round pick in 2012 and low-level prospects Blake Geoffrion and Robert Slaney. The name Geoffrion certainly rings a bell to Canadiens fans, he is the grandson of great goal-scorer Boom Boom Geoffrion.

The Sharks went for forward depth acquiring Dominic Moore for a 2nd round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Moore was a big part of Tampa Bay’s near-Cinderella campaign that led to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals last spring. While an effective role player, Moore is joining his ninth team on this side of the lockout – nearly every time acquired for a 2nd or 3rd round pick. The Sharks lineup is looking for a boost of energy and Moore might just be the one to provide it. Tampa also sent a 7th rounder along with Moore to complete the deal.

Continuing with Tampa Bay, they helped to grease the wheels of a deal between Detroit and Colorado. They sent agitating forward Steve Downie to Colorado for two-way d-man Kyle Quincey. They then flipped Quincey to Detroit for a first round pick in 2012 and prospect Sebastien Piche. The Wings, who had let Quincey go via waivers in 2008, get a familiar face back. He is only a restricted free agent, so he can have a future in Detroit in case Nicklas Lidstrom retires or Brad Stuart leaves as a free agent in July. The Lightning now may have as many six draft picks in first two rounds in 2012. Colorado adds some snarl and scoring potential and with a glut of defensemen ready to join their ranks from the pipeline, Quincey was expendable.

On Wednesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets kicked off their re-rebuild by sending off second line forward Antoine Vermette to Phoenix for backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney, a 2nd round pick in 2012 and a conditional 5th in 2013 (becomes a 4th if the Coyotes win a playoff round this year). The Yotes get an average second line center that is fast, wins draws and plays good defensive hockey. The Blue Jackets get some picks and a goalie that can backup Steve Mason while Curtis Sanford is out, now they can return youngster Allen York to the minors.

What’s on the horizon…

The Rick Nash sweepstakes is still very much on. The New York Rangers still appear to be leading the charge with Los Angeles and San Jose also deep in the mix. The price is still scaring many teams off but Nash may be a key piece for a playoff team – a re-energized Rick Nash playing for keeps could be a scary thing for defenders to take on. Toronto has an inquired about the star forward, but it appears no in-depth talks have taken place as of yet.

Toronto is focused on a goaltender right now. Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer have been horrendous for much of the year, and the purported “Monster” had a regrettable game against New Jersey on Tuesday night that might just be enough to force Brian Burke’s hand. The price for goalies is high, even for rentals. Evgeni Nabokov is talking extension with the Isles, but those are just preliminary talks at the moment. Minnesota’s Josh Harding, Nashville’s Anders Lindback, and Colorado’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere are all being inquired about around the league by teams hungry for netminding. If those prices are too high, a club may have to settle for an afterthought such as Antero Niittymaki who is recovering from a season derailed by injury.

Tuomo Ruutu was pulled off the trading block on Tuesday when he re-signed with the Carolina Hurricanes for four more years at $4.75 million per. The first three years have a no-movement clause. With the much ballyhooed winger off the market, the price of rentals went up one more iota. Additionally, the Red Wings re-signed Todd Bertuzzi to a two-year deal worth $2.2 million per year. Bertuzzi is playing on the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and has looked good this season. His attention to more two-way play has paid off for him and the Red Wings. Bertuzzi wasn’t on the market, as the Red Wings obviously don’t intend to be sellers at the deadline – although Rogers Sportsnet (Canada) seemed to think so, strangely.

Two-Line Passes

  • The Nashville Predators intend to be challengers for the league crown. David Poile has the phone lines working still after completing the Hal Gill trade. He wants some scoring depth and may have a chance to re-unite Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn in the process.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are after a burly defensive defenseman at the deadline. After Andy Sutton was pulled from the market and Hal Gill was traded into the division, the Hawks have turned their attention to others but have to work quickly. Toni Lydman from Anaheim, Bryan Allen from Carolina and Roman Hamrlik from Washington are all names that could interest Stan Bowman.
  • Gritty forwards are the hot commodity at the deadline this year and plenty are available. Steve Ott’s price is dragged down by the fact that he isn’t a rental – he still has a year at over $3 million. Paul Gaustad, Daniel Winnik, Brenden Morrow, Travis Moen and Adam Burish are being inquired about almost league-wide.
  • Reports out of Long Island suggest that there will be no further contract talks between the Isles and P.A. Parenteau which suggests the Isles may look to score an asset from the former Group VI free agent signing.
  • Ales Hemsky’s interest around the league is fairly low, mostly because the price is so high coupled with Hemsky’s well-documented fragility. I’d still expect him to be moved at the deadline, but the price may be lower than many expect.
  • The New York Rangers may place Sean Avery on re-entry waivers on Saturday to allow teams to claim him for Monday’s trade deadline. A couple of Western teams would like to insert his energy into the lineup – particularly San Jose.
  • Teams are inquiring about young puck-moving defenseman Jamie McBain, but it’s unclear whether he’s available. My guess is no, but stranger things have happened.
  • After benching Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger for the second half of Tuesday’s loss in Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers might be forced to make a move for more battled-tested blueliners.