National Hockey Leaguers -- the Maple Leafs included -- might want to hold off making firm Christmas Day dinner plans for now.
There are still nine days until the holiday roster freeze and with two-thirds of the league separated by just 12 points before last night, some clubs might commit to a major change now, either to firm up their internal roster, shore up playoff hopes in a trade or get the jump in a seller's market.
The roster freeze will be in effect from midnight local time on Dec. 19 through midnight Dec. 27. Players can't change teams, but can be called up in event of emergency.
Teams have begun testing the "new" NHL's cap rules with deals, headlined by recent explosive transactions involving Sergei Fedorov and Joe Thornton.
"Those deals certainly weren't small, but they (cap mechanics) are still new to a lot of clubs," Toronto general manager John Ferguson said yesterday. "There are discussions on a number of fronts, but nothing to suggest it will be busy heading towards the 19th."
Historically, the Leafs aren't holiday hawkers. Their most recent such move was the acquisition of Guy Larose from the New York Rangers for Mike Stevens on Boxing Day 1991.
But the Leafs aren't idle either, keeping a scouting presence in St. Louis the past two weeks, where many teams are likely to flock as the 30th-place Blues scrape the bottom. If it's blue-line depth that Ferguson is seeking, he already took a starter off his old team via free agency in Alexander Khavanov and St. Louis was so thin on experienced defence this week that they claimed Kevin Dallman off waivers from Boston.
Keith Tkachuk has had a rocky relationship with Blues management, but it's not believed any team will seriously pursue him until his $7.6-million US salary lightens toward the March 9 trading deadline.
The talk of a Jason Allison trade has faded in recent weeks, though it remains a curiosity that he is still on a line with Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, all three frequently mentioned in the rumour mill.
The Leafs, who will try and avoid a season-high three-game regulation-time losing streak tonight against the Dallas Stars, have an internal roster concern, as defenceman Staffan Kronwall nears recovery from a knee injury. That will mean either Kronwall or Carlo Colaiacovo is demoted to the Marlies.
Kronwall's return, likely by next week, will put the Leafs one over the 23-man roster.
"THEY ARE STILL NEW TO A LOT OF CLUBS."
JOHN FERGUSON ON CAP MECHANICS