The Olympics are nearly upon us, and this is important because the Olympics end only a couple of days before the NHL trade deadline.
That means that while most of us are trying to reacquaint ourselves with the arcanery of curling and trying to get acquainted with the new names in figure skating, ski jumping and bobsledding... oh, who am I kidding, we're all going to be watching hockey, right?... NHL GMs are going to be putting together trades and deals.
One presumes that one of these active GMs will be Don Maloney. It's not like GMDM to sit pat on a hand without doing some discarding and card drawing, even with the Coyotes playing as well as they are right now. For all of the Coyotes' surprising success, there are still holes that need to be filled.
The questions that follow are: who does Maloney acquire, and what assets does he have to work with to get the deal done?
The first question seems to be cut and dry - the team needs a scorer. What level of scorer is on Maloney's radar really depends on what kind of budget he has to work with. Will Ice Edge take the reins of the team in time to make an impact at the deadline or does Maloney work with the NHL's checkbook? At this point, it seems more likely that it will be the latter - which effectively rules out making a huge splash for someone like Ilya Kovalchuk. Still, Maloney seems to have an eye for a bargain, and perhaps he will make a deal for a second-tier goalscorer who might benefit from a change in scenery a la Scottie Upshall or Matthew Lombardi.
But there may also be a deal made for a defenseman, someone with experience and a good room presence to shore up the blueline in the face of postseason play. A player of Sheldon Souray's caliber, for instance - although the probability that Phoenix is on Souray's shortlist of teams he'd waive his no-trade clause to play for is exceptionally low. While the play of Keith Yandle and Sami Lepisto have been above what was expected of them thus far, a veteran presence would be of significant benefit for a team whose last playoff appearance happened before most of its players had made it out of junior hockey.
Whoever the Coyotes acquire, it is highly unlikely that Maloney will simply deal picks to get them. That means that someone on the roster will be changing sweaters. Naturally, the first person anyone will think of here would be Peter Mueller. Mueller's play of late has been more intense than earlier in the season, but there is no question that Mueller's season has not just been disappointing, but disastrous. Still, the young player's stock remains high because he's young enough that his potential still overrides his results.
It is difficult to divine who else on the Coyotes' roster might be dealable. Perhaps Lauri Korpikoski? While Korpikoski has shown that he has the wheels and, on occasion, a scoring touch, and has been a presence on defense, he certainly is not irreplaceable in the depth chart. Or perhaps Lepisto, who has value as a depth defenseman and whose stellar AHL record might still be an enticement to a competing GM. Could Taylor Pyatt or - surprise - Radim Vrbata be available for a GM looking for a secondary scorer? And what of the goalies - has Al Montoya developed enough to make Jason LaBarbera tradeable, or might he himself be sent packing as part of a deadline deal?
As for those on the farm, it seems counterintuitive that the Coyotes might want to part with any element of their prospect core - Kyle Turris, Kevin Porter, Brett MacLean, Maxim Goncharov, for example. But there may be a couple of names that could be "portable." The status of Viktor Tikhonov is still very much up in the air. Does Phoenix ship the young prospect to another team who might be more willing to deal with the headaches of his family's desire to keep him in Russia? And what of Nick Ross, the highly-touted but slow-developing defenseman who has on occasion seemed disinterested in his own career?
One thing seems to be certain in this season of trades - Don Maloney will most likely end up surprising, maybe even shocking, his team's fans with his moves. But in light of his performance in the past couple of years, it is difficult not to give him the benefit of the doubt (see: the Carcillo/Upshall trade). And it is difficult to imagine not waiting on the edges of our seats as the trade deadline ticks to its conclusion.