Predators got ball rolling

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

I don't usually watch poker games on television. Once a year I consider making an exception.

For what is the NHL trade deadline if not the culmination of one big card game?

The day the 30 general managers can finally take off their poker faces after make their final bluff, call or raise.

While 30 NHL head coaches watch with interest from the shadows.

When all the bets are in, some are in better shape than others.

Take Andy Murray, the pride of Gladstone, Man., who's been busy working a miracle in St. Louis, bringing the previously disinterested Blues back to respectability.

The Blues have been a different team since Murray took over earlier this season, clawing from a share of the basement to 11th place in the Western Conference.

His reward? Seeing two of his best players, Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk, traded away the last few days. We can only hope Murray is around to enjoy the benefits of all the draft picks the Blues received in return.

In some ways, Murray can thank the Nashville Predators organization, which includes another Manitoba product, head coach Barry Trotz.

After all, wasn't it the Preds who upped the ante two weeks ago by swinging that trade for Peter Forsberg?

Yesterday, the rest of the players at the Western Conference card table were busy matching the bet.

We'll see your Forsberg with Guerin, the San Jose Sharks said.

The Detroit Red Wings countered with Todd Bertuzzi, via Florida.

Dallas came up with Mattias Norstrom, erstwhile captain of the L.A. Kings.

Vancouver was already in, with Bryan Smolinski and Brent Sopel, acquired a day earlier.

Talk about an arms race.

"Everybody reacted off what we did," Trotz said from San Jose, where the Predators face the Sharks tonight. "We just did it early. A lot of people were saying we paid a lot for Forsberg. But I look at the prices and, well, we were dead-on what the pricing would be. And maybe we got a little bit of a bargain, too."

Sure enough, first-round picks and prospects were the order of the day, and then some.

Look at the top six teams in the West, and the Anaheim Ducks are the only one to basically stand pat, acquiring journeyman forward Brad May, and nothing else.

Should that make Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle nervous?

Not necessarily. You could argue the Ducks made their move last summer, when they grabbed defenceman Chris Pronger from Edmonton.

The move has helped the Ducks stave off Dallas and San Jose for first place in their division.

Funny how you look at the three division leaders, the top three teams in the West, and they all have Manitoba connections calling the shots behind the bench. There's Trotz in Nashville, plus the last two head coaches for the Manitoba Moose: Carlyle in Anaheim, Alain Vigneault of Vancouver.

Three pretty good candidates for the NHL coach-of-the-year award, I'd say.

Neither one can say their GMs have been cheap with the poker chips, either.

Thanks to the salary cap, Detroit is no longer the only heavy bettor at the table. I mean, who'd have thought we'd ever see the Red Wings react to something a team in Nashville did?

So how will all this action affect the Stanley Cup chase?

I wouldn't want to bet on that.

Other than to say it should be even more interesting to watch than yesterday.

Everybody will show their cards, and we'll find out if the bets match the hands. Or if somebody's bluff backfires.

"Everybody feels like they have a chance to win," Trotz said. "It's going to be great in the playoffs. It's going to be absolute war. It'll be fun."


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