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No break in the inaction

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / March 4, 2009
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None of the trade buzz diminished, but for all the rumors, insider knowledge, and shadowy figures whispering in a West End parking garage ("Follow the money!"), there wasn't a single significant trade yesterday in the NHL.

The league's trade deadline is 3 p.m. today, and as of last night, it appeared the Bruins would stand pat with the roster that has them holding on, if somewhat precariously, to first place in the Eastern Conference.

Maybe that's not the stuff that fills newspaper column inches, sates the blogheads, or delivers eyes to websites and ears to radio, but it is also not all that unexpected. The salary cap, now in its fourth season, has led to parity, and parity in 2008-09 has led to little in the way of last-minute roster nips 'n' tucks.

Most of the 30 NHL teams are buyers or holders, some with foolish hopes of making hay in the playoffs, and only a precious few are sellers. Count the Maple Leafs decidedly among the sellers. General manager Brian Burke last night held both Nik Antropov (RW) and Dominic Moore (F) out of Toronto's game at home vs. the Devils, all but guaranteeing they had logged their last ice time for the Blue and White.

Will there be deals today? Absolutely. And the Bruins could still do something. A strong possibility for the Black and Gold: Derek Morris (D) from Phoenix.

"I still think we'll get something done [today]," Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said last night. "How big? Right now, not [big], but there's no knowing what could happen. Things can change quickly."

Of course, the Bruins could cave to temptation, bite the biggest and juiciest apple of all, and execute a deal for either Chris Pronger (Ducks) or Jay Bouwmeester (Panthers), a pair of elite defensemen who assuredly would cost Boston at least one of its top young roster players, the likes of Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, or David Krejci.

Morris would come at far less of a premium, because he's less of a player, and also because the Coyotes don't want to take on pricey talent. The Desert Dogs are hemorrhaging red ink, to the point that it's surprising they haven't attempted to deal defenseman Ed Jovanovski (two more years with a $6.5 million cap hit). They'll get Morris gone, with the Bruins and Capitals believed to be the two most interested bidders. The Flyers, here last night, had an interest in Morris, too, but the Bullies don't have the available bucks.

A year ago, Chiarelli had a deal in place to ship out Glen Murray. But rather than risk disrupting team chemistry and unity, the GM held on to Muzz, only to see the veteran right winger: 1. go the Full Thornton (7 games, 0-0 -0) in the playoffs; and 2. take the club to arbitration when it bought out the last year of his contract to reduce the sting of his $4.15 million salary (the case is still pending).

Sometimes the best deals are those that aren't made. Not so in Murray's case. He has turned into the gift that keeps on taking rather than giving.

Across the league, the biggest news of the day was in New York, where the Rangers (who host the Bruins Sunday) brought back the ever-disruptive (for reasons good and bad) Sean Avery, whom they claimed from Dallas via reentry waivers. Avery now will be the spark that gets the Blueshirts going, or the one that leads to their self-immolation. Either way, he will be a show, guaranteed.

The Wild, drifting inexorably out of playoff contention in the West, extended the contract of their No. 1 goalie, Niklas Backstrom, who was headed for unrestricted free agency. Backstrom cashed in for a hefty $24 million over the next four years. No sweat off Jeremy Jacobs's checkbook, until Tim Thomas (backup to Manny Fernandez last night) shows up for his day at Boston's cash window. The Tank is three years older than Backstrom, but his numbers this year are better, and Backstrom's deal assuredly fixes Thomas's asking price at $5 million a year or better. A jump from $1.1 million.

Suddenly, Tuukka Rask's $3.5 million per year is looking like a deal, even though the star Finnish prospect has yet to prove he is an NHL tender. Go figure.

The Bruins were interested in acquiring Nicklas Havelid, but the Thrashers' shot-blocking defenseman was scooped up Monday night by the formidable-looking Devils. Morris, who has a booming slapper, would help the Boston back line, adding to the power-play options and overall depth - important over a playoff run that can go as long as two months.

Moore, a Harvard grad (like Chiarelli) and a Larry Kelly client (Chiarelli's former partner in the agent business), seemed a lock to return to the Hub of Hockey. DoMo, on the books for $900,000 this season, is looking for a pay boost to more than $2 million next year. However, a source familiar with the negotiations said last night that Moore will be traded, but not to Boston.

Antropov? Not believed to be on Boston's "want" list, but as options dwindle, there is no telling how seductive a 6-foot-6-inch forward might look when the barkeep issues last call today around 2:45 p.m.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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