The clock was ticking, and Brad Stuart(notes) was lounging in the Los Angeles Kings' TV area before practice – or at least he was trying to lounge, trying to relax. It was Trade Deadline Day 2008. Stuart's wife was seven months pregnant, his contract was expiring at the end of the season, negotiations on an extension hadn't been going well and he was worried he might be moved.
"It was literally, like, two minutes to 12 (p.m. PT), and I was thinking, 'OK, maybe I'm not going to go anywhere,' " Stuart said. "And then you see (a team official) come down and give you the nod to come with him. At that point, a lot of things go through your mind. 'Where am I going? What's going to happen with the family?' "
The defenseman was traded to Detroit for two draft picks. In the end, everything would work out well. He would win the Stanley Cup that season with the Red Wings. He would sign a four-year, $15 million deal with them. But at that moment – with that nod two minutes to the deadline – he knew none of that.
"Those are the kind of things the fans don't see," Stuart said. "It makes it real tough. One day you're there, and the next day you're not."
And so the clock ticks down again, as general managers wheel and deal and players sweat to the last second before the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. ET Monday.
Twenty-four deals have already gone down since Feb. 9 – the latest sending Florida Panthers captain Bryan McCabe(notes) to the New York Rangers for a minor-leaguer and a draft pick – and that doesn't include waiver claims. But even though the inventory has been reduced earlier than usual, plenty remains for sale.
"I think there's still more moves to come," Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier told reporters Saturday. "I'm aware of players that are on the market that haven't moved yet. We've talked to some teams, and my guess is maybe not all of them will be moved, but a number of them will be."
Said Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford: "There are different reasons for trades now than there were years ago, so there still could be some big names to go."
Here are the biggest questions that will be answered in the coming hours:
No one is in a tougher spot than Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Richards is a hot commodity, a winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player, a top-10 scorer. The Kings and Rangers lead the list of suitors. The Stars want to keep him, but they have to listen to offers because they could lose him if he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. Three factors complicate the situation: The Stars' ownership is unsettled, Richards has a no-movement clause and Richards has just resumed skating since suffering a concussion. (You could add a fourth: The Kings are a Pacific Division rival.)
Will Nieuwendyk hold on to Richards and hope for the best? Will Richards decide to stay and at worst hit the open market as the top free agent? Will anyone give up a lot for a concussed UFA, anyway?
"It's difficult, but I've had some challenges the first two years," said Nieuwendyk, who parted with two longtime Stars – center Mike Modano(notes) and goaltender Marty Turco(notes) – after last season. "I mean, they brought me in here to do a job. I'm going to do the best I can and do what I think is right."
What will Kings GM Dean Lombardi do? He will do something, right?
This could be a defining moment for Lombardi. He can be dramatic, or he can further his reputation as a ditherer. Everyone has been waiting for the Kings to make a significant addition up front since they lost out on signing free agent Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) last summer. They have had the cap space and the assets to do it, but they haven't. Yet.
Now they're fighting for a playoff spot and have lost midseason pick-up Marco Sturm(notes) off waivers. They could go after Richards. They could go after the Edmonton Oilers' Ales Hemsky(notes) or the Florida Panthers' David Booth(notes). The problem is that one of Lombardi's apparently tradeable youngsters, Andrei Loktionov(notes), is injured, and everyone wants the prospect he doesn't want to trade, Canadian junior star Brayden Schenn(notes).
Asked about trading Schenn in a between-periods interview Saturday, Lombardi said: "It would have to be really something significant. The way his stock has risen here with the world junior and what he's done, it would have to be really special, and quite frankly, I don't think he's going anywhere."
Oilers GM Steve Tambellini is in a strong position. Even though his team is last in the West and one of the few out of the playoff race, he has a core of young players and a long-term outlook. He doesn't need to trade Hemsky and Penner, who are signed through next season, but they might be worth a lot in a seller's market that has been full of high prices. If Tambellini receives offers he likes, he can move them. If not, he can hold onto them and try again later.
At a time when defensemen are in high demand, Tambellini also has blue-liners to offer: Ladislav Smid(notes), a pending restricted free agent, and Jim Vandermeer(notes), a pending unrestricted free agent.
Will the Buffalo Sabres make a splash?
The Sabres are in the playoff race, and they just introduced a new owner, Terry Pegula, who has talked about spending money and winning Stanley Cups. Regier has long been conservative, but also limited by a budget. Will he get aggressive now?
"If we're going to do anything, it would be on the buy side," Regier said, "and it would be on the buy side not solely for now to the end of the season, but for next season and hopefully even beyond that."
Colorado Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles(notes) reportedly is available and will waive his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo, where he could play with his old college buddy from Michigan State, goaltender Ryan Miller(notes).
Will the New Jersey Devils give up the impossible dream?
After the Kovalchuk saga last summer, the brief reign of rookie head coach John MacLean and an utterly disastrous start, the New Jersey Devils have turned themselves around under new/old coach Jacques Lemaire. They went on an incredible 16-1-2 run.
But they lost Friday night to the Tampa Bay Lightning and still rank 13th in the East, nine points out of a playoff spot. One more game till the deadline: 5 p.m. ET Sunday at Florida. GM Lou Lamoriello must decide whether the Devils have a realistic chance of making the playoffs, and center Jason Arnott(notes) must decide whether to waive his no-trade clause. Lamoriello also has a couple pending UFAs he could rent: defenseman Andy Greene(notes) and goaltender Johan Hedberg(notes).
Phillips has a no-trade clause. He wants to stay in Ottawa, where he has played his entire 13-season NHL career. He is talking to the Senators about an extension. But the sides haven't come together, at least not yet, and the pending UFA could be the next to go in a fire sale that already has included Mike Fisher(notes), Chris Kelly(notes), Jarkko Ruutu(notes) and Alexei Kovalev.
Murray has done an admirable job clearing salary and acquiring assets in sorry circumstances, acquiring a bunch of draft picks the Sens will need to build for the future, including a first- and second-rounders in this year's draft. He also swapped goaltenders with the Colorado Avalanche, acquiring pending UFA Craig Anderson(notes) for pending RFA Brian Elliott(notes). If he signs Phillips, he has a solid, loyal guy to help the rebuild. If he turns him into more assets, that's good business, too.
Who else will buy and sell? Any surprises?
The Vancouver Canucks lead the NHL with 87 points. They don't want to mess with success. But they also need to seize their chance to win the Stanley Cup, and they could use a fourth-line center. Rental options include the New York Islanders' Zenon Konopka(notes), who wins fights and faceoffs, and the Panthers' Marty Reasoner(notes).
The Washington Capitals claimed Sturm off waivers Saturday, but like the Chicago Blackhawks and others, they need depth at center and on defense. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has been the biggest mover and shaker, selling Francois Beauchemin(notes), Kris Versteeg(notes) and Tomas Kaberle(notes). Teams want Clarke MacArthur(notes), but Burke is talking to the pending RFA about an extension, and he's looking to buy now with his team back in the playoff race. So is Scott Howson, GM of the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets, who claimed former Sabres defenseman Craig Rivet(notes) off waivers Saturday. "Looking to add at any position except goaltending at this point," Howson wrote in an e-mail.
Only a few more hours for GMs to look. Only a few more hours for players to sweat.