As the hockey world begins its descent on Pittsburgh (with a short stop in Vegas for some), all eyes are on the two teams at the top of the draft.
Edmonton and Columbus exert great control over the weekend activities, with the Oilers holding the number-one selection. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets own both the second pick and Rick Nash, who will be at the centre of the trade rumour storm.
Scott Howson's always maintained he will be patient and not deal Nash until he gets what he wants. He proved that at the trade deadline. He's going to be tempted here, though. One rival executive (a non-GM) says he's heard Howson's "been flooded" with phone calls over the past two weeks.
But, those two teams can't have all the fun. There are plenty of clubs looking for defencemen and others with an excess. Through an incredibly informal poll of NHL front-office types, here are those to be watched:
SAN JOSE: Doug Wilson loves Canada, but is no fan of July 1. He's called it "inflationary" on several occasions. However, Wilson knows his team needs improvement. The Sharks struggled to make the playoffs, only to be wiped out by St. Louis.
San Jose's got a good fan base, but the organization knows it must be a contender. The average ticket price is just below $50 US (according to Team Marketing Report) and the last time the Sharks missed the playoffs, season subscribers dropped by about 3,000. Reloading is essential for competitive and financial reasons.
They love Nash, but aren't willing to trade Logan Couture to get him.
Wilson is one of those GMs who likes to kick tires. He makes a lot of calls. But his peers think he's seriously interested in some roster surgery.
PHILADELPHIA: Paul Holmgren turned the 2011 draft on its ear with the Mike Richards/Jeff Carter deals. Don't know if they will be in on the Nash derby at the end, but the GM with "the biggest, brassest ones in the NHL" (according to one compatriot) is worth keeping an eye on.
Holmgren told reporters Monday he's "fairly certain" he can re-sign Matt Carle, but Chris Pronger's future remains uncertain.
"Philly is looking for a defenceman," said one exec.
PITTSBURGH: Hometown team+playoff unhappiness=GM ready to move. Sidney Crosby's contract and Jordan Staal's future are sexy topics, but what Ray Shero wants to do on defence may dictate things. Matt Niskanen declined his qualifying offer, so there's one necessary negotiation. Other teams believe the Penguins think Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo are ready for duty, which creates the possibility of an extra body or two.
In a league where many teams are looking for defensive help, how will Shero alleviate this logjam?
CAROLINA: Jim Rutherford is stepping up to the plate like Mark McGwire circa 1998. He wants to create buzz around a team he thinks has something brewing under Kirk Muller's core of Cam Ward, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. There are other names to include -- Brandon Sutter, Jamie McBain, Justin Faulk among them -- but if improvement happens via trade, Rutherford's going to have to give up something to get something.
Jordan Staal is the obvious name, but there's no guarantee Pittsburgh is dealing him yet. You could certainly see Carolina making a play for Nash. If there's an impact forward available, Rutherford will try to get him.
RANGERS: If Nash ends up in Manhattan for a big price, the Blue Jackets should buy Zach Parise a new Tourbillon every Christmas. Parise's declaration he won't go to the Rangers eliminated Glen Sather's biggest bargaining chip against Columbus. Even if New York decides not to go the Nash route, it will be in the market for a scorer.
This team is close. Nash would be expected to play to his Olympic level for a new team. If he delivered that, are the Rangers good enough to win? You could make a very convincing case.