Puck stops here!

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

CALGARY - The separation has begun in the NHL standings.

For those hoping for a more interesting trade deadline day, it offers hope. The more teams out of it — and willing to accept it — the more teams who will be in a seller mode. In turn, there will be more than enough teams to do the buying.

With just over three weeks to the deadline, it’s hard to imagine the bottom six teams in the Eastern Conference capable of going on enough of a run to slip into a playoff spot.

Scary to think it’s already seemingly so clear, but the Buffalo Sabres, the Florida Panthers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators, the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils don’t have squads to pull into the fray. Sure, the Devils have the team with playoff-calibre talent, especially with a healthy Zach Parise, but a 20-point deficit with 30 games remaining is a tougher climb than Mount Everest.

In the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers have long been written off, while the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues — shockingly after that hot start — are nearly in the same boat.

By the time the Feb. 28 deadline comes, another team or two will be in the selling mode. What’s not known is whether they’ll find much of a price for their wares.

Draft choices are starting to become like gold to GMs around the NHL. Look at the deals already this season for players in that wheelhouse.

When the Devils sent Jamie Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars, they received conditional picks, starting with a third-round choice.

A second rounder is added to the pot if the Stars win a first-round playoff series or if they re-sign Langenbrunner, a potential UFA, before July 1.

If the Stars don’t win a playoff round and re-sign Langenbrunner after July 1, the Devils still get the Stars’ 2011 third-round pick and will also get the Stars’ 2012 second-round pick and send their 2012 third-rounder to Dallas.

That’s the price for a pending UFA and team captain who has Stanley Cups on his resume. What do people think a fifth defenceman or third-line winger will be worth?

It may not be a whole lot.

FLAMING C-NOTES

Kudos to the Flames for sending Ales Kotalik to the minors and burying his US$3-million-per-season contract in the minors. For all his talent, the end result just wasn’t worth it at the NHL level. Not that fellow teammates cared — Kotalik was broody — but that salary cap space may be worth something come trade-deadline day. Good on the owners for their willingness to pay for such a contract to be elsewhere ... Even though acting GM Jay Feaster has repeatedly said he’s not going to trade Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Robyn Regehr, it won’t stop the anonymous “insiders” around the Internet from saying they have sources touting a deal. Sigh. If only there was an ignore button for them...

HOCKEY TALKY

The New York Islanders don’t receive enough credit when they do things the right way. Re-signing Matt Moulson is a good step for a beleaguered team ... The Chicago Blackhawks keep going in fits and spurts, but you can’t help but think they’ll find a way to flip the switch in time to go on a run to pull into the playoffs ... Did anybody notice the San Jose Sharks are starting to roll? They’re 6-0-1 and climbing the charts. If they add a top-four defenceman, the Sharks could do some damage ... Reason why a standout goalie is so important: The Tampa Bay Lightning since acquiring Dwayne Roloson. Four shutouts in 11 games since going from the New York Islanders and the Lightning are on a six-game winning streak ... Two TV stories for hockey fans to follow: Shaw wants to start up another national sports channel (do we need more poker on the tube?), and the exclusive window for Versus to negotiate a new deal with the NHL has passed. Versus does a fairly good job with the hockey and puts effort into it, but the league could use the exposure of ESPN, provided that network would actually care and not relegate the hockey to The Ocho or whatever minor channel.

YOU DON'T SAY

“He’s got long arms.”

Isles goalie Rick DiPietro after a one-punch KO at the hands of Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Brent Johnson.

twitter.com/RandySportak


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