Last week, following the GM meetings in Boston, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier was explaining why the market wasn't quite ready yet for major trades.
"It's too loose right now. Too undefined. Too many variables -- the cap, the potential buyouts," Regier said when we chatted. "It's a little bit like the airlines -- the flight's a little overbooked."
The flight is now ready for takeoff.
The variables are starting to be removed and teams have a better idea of whom they can sign and can't sign. The compliance buyout window is opening and teams are already taking advantage, with the Flyers clearing space with the buyouts of Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere. The Lightning freed up room with the buyout of Vincent Lecavalier and the Rangers are still weighing a Brad Richards decision.
The market is starting to loosen, setting up a draft weekend in Newark that could be one of the most active in recent memory. The cap is coming down, this draft is loaded with high-end talent (making draft picks extra valuable this year) and the Jordan Staal deal last year showed GMs the value in acting decisively in trading a player before his contract gets too close to its expiration date.
Regier has two key players in Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller entering the final seasons of their contract and when we spoke last week there was no talk of contract extension with either player. At this point it becomes about asset management and exploring the best option for each player because teams are learning more and more that talent can't leave the franchise without getting anything in return.
"We have a good idea what we want to do and where we want to go," Regier said. "It's not knowing yet whether what we want to do and where we want to go is going to be supported at this time."
The challenge when you're potentially trading big pieces like these two is determining the timing. Do you wait and try to take advantage of a team that misses out on free agency? Do you trade early when there might be more teams with needs?
But with the Bryzgalov buyout, the Flyers are now among the teams looking for a starting goalie. The only certainty that comes with waiting is that if you wait until after this weekend, you can't capitalize on this year's draft, something that teams trading major players will want to do.
"As the timeline moves along, you can't get to unrestricted free agency or after that and say, 'Oh, I wish I would have done something at the draft,'" Regier said. "You don't get to look at everything on a global basis at one time. Make the assessments as you move along."
Vanek and Miller aren't the only big names who could be on the move this weekend; here are eight more:
Last night, colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that Letang rejected an eight-year contract extension worth approximately $56 million. If Letang wants a salary north of $7 million per season, it may have to be outside Pittsburgh because the Penguins already have big numbers on the books with long-term deals for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Letang camp is well aware that Ray Shero may move quickly to deal the franchise defenseman if a contract isn't reached, as with Staal last summer.
But the big difference here is that there aren't two other franchise defensemen on the depth chart in front of Letang as there were at center. If Shero deals Letang, he has a huge hole to address on defense, which isn't easy. According to LeBrun, the Letang camp countered with a deal just south of $8 million per season -- which was too rich. There may still be a middle ground there because the preference in Pittsburgh is to get Letang signed.
This week in a meeting with reporters after hiring John Tortorella, GM Mike Gillis said he remains optimistic that a Luongo trade will still happen. Since the season ended, the Leafs have been removed from the equation and now the Flyers are a possibility. "We've been talking to teams like we have been for a long time," Gillis said. "In this business you do have to be patient sometimes and you have to be absolutely firm in what you want to do."