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NHL teams prepare for annual shopping trip

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Bob Duff, CanWest News Service; Windsor Star
Published: Saturday, February 03, 2007

DETROIT - The starting lineup for the St. Louis Blues revealed the unique problem facing the team.

Four of the six starters - goalie Manny Legace, defenceman Eric Brewer, left winger Keith Tkachuk and right winger Bill Guerin - will be unrestricted free agents at season's end.

With 48 points following Friday's 5-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, the Blues find themselves 12 points in arrears of a playoff spot in the NHL's Western Conference.

Friday was Groundhog Day, with its annual weather reports from furry rodents. It's still more than three weeks from Feb. 27, the day when NHL general managers emerge from their bunkers following the trade deadline to forecast whether they've done enough to weather six weeks of playoff hockey and emerge with the Stanley Cup.

At this point in time, everyone thinks they've got a shot. Even the Blues, who list seven UFAs on their roster and must decide very soon if they will be buyers or sellers come deadline day.

"Most teams I talk to right now are focused in on trying to make a run at the playoffs," Detroit GM Ken Holland said. "They'll assess where they're at a couple of weeks from now."

Holland is under no such constraint. He's buying.

"People wonder if we're tough enough," Holland said. "Are we gritty enough? We'd like to get grittier, but I don't know if we can or we can't.

"If I could have my fantasy hockey league, I'd like a gritty forward who has the ability to score. The problem is, we're not running a fantasy league. It's a real league and those type of players are coveted by all teams."

This season, though, those types of players appear to be in abundance.

"We've had all our meetings, and we've identified some players that we think we've got some interest in, if they're available," Holland said, naturally declining to get into specifics.

It isn't difficult to speculate what names might be on the list.

Guerin certainly fits the mold. Ditto for Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth, Toronto Maple Leafs' Darcy Tucker and Florida Panthers' Todd Bertuzzi, who, like Guerin, are all headed for unrestricted free-agent status this summer.

All would suit Detroit, where the lack of someone to garner those dirty goals has destined the Wings to early playoff exits in recent years.

That's the thing about trade rumours, though. Deals are easy to make up, not so easy to make.

"I can tell you what I want to give, but if the other guy doesn't want it, then there's no deal," Holland said.

Holland makes no bones about what lengths he's willing to go to make it happen.

"To trade a player off our roster, we're going to have to get a much better player," he said. "Would we trade away a draft pick? Yeah, we'd trade a draft pick."

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