BOSTON ? The most important games of the year are still a few months away, but many players will be feeling even more pressure over the next few weeks, especially players on teams that aren't going to be playing those important games in the postseason this year.
With the NHL trade deadline less than a month away, the speculation and rumors are heating up to their usual fever pitch. While fans may salivate over the potential deals to come, it's a less enjoyable time for the players looking at the possibility of having to uproot their families and join a new team.
No team is feeling that pressure more than the Carolina Hurricanes, who pay their final visit to Boston on Thursday mired in last place in the Eastern Conference. Despite the poor record, Carolina does have plenty of marketable assets, which has put these Hurricanes in the center of trade speculation storm.
Defenseman Tim Gleason was taken off the market when he signed a four-year, $16-million extension on Monday, but fellow blueliners Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek are veterans on expiring contracts who will draw plenty of interest. And forward Tuomo Ruutu, who is also slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, could be one of the top prizes available.
It?s not easy to be the subject of such speculation, and first-year coach Kirk Muller, who took over behind the Carolina bench on Nov. 28, has done his best to keep his players focused.
"I guess as a coach one good thing about being an ex-player is that you?ve gone through it," Muller said. "You just tell the guys to look after what you can control. If you play well, generally everything takes care of itself."
But Muller knows that?s easier said than done when it?s your life that could be turned upside down with a deal to a new team.
"It is tough," Muller said. "It is a tough time. There's some names here being thrown around daily. I commend our guys that are in that situation. They?ve been playing hard. Our last 10 games we?ve been playing well as a team. They?ve kind of set that aside. They know they?re professionals and their focus is on just their jobs here and playing. It hasn?t been a big issue yet with these guys, but I think it?s important and I've talked to them all and said, 'Just go out and play.' Like I said, if you play and do your job well, whatever happens, it?s going to be for the best."
The best thing may be moving on to a team with a chance to win a Cup. The Bruins offer that opportunity, and are expected to be in the market for some help both up front and on defense. Ruutu, who leads the Hurricanes with 15 goals and plays an abrasive, physical style, could be a perfect fit. At least one Bruin thinks so.
"He?s a very solid guy," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "He likes to play a physical game and he?s very skilled on top of that. He sees the ice well and he?s a smart hockey player."
Seidenberg played with Ruutu in Carolina in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, and has no doubts that the edge Ruutu brings to the game would be welcome in Boston.
"With the style here? Yeah," Seidenberg said with a laugh when asked if Ruutu would fit in the Bruins system. "He?s a very gritty guy. He throws his body around a lot, and that?s why he was injured a lot the first few years of his career, because he plays kind of a reckless game once in a while, but that?s what makes him such a good player."
The Bruins won the Cup last year playing that kind of aggressive, physical style. But their chemistry and camaraderie was also a huge element of their winning formula. Seidenberg doesn?t see any more concerns with how Ruutu would fit into the locker room mix in Boston than with how his game would translate to the Bruins system.
"He's a very nice guy," Seidenberg said. "I hung out with him quite a bit when I was there."
That team chemistry is one reason for the Bruins to be wary of making too many moves. While speaking highly of Ruutu, Seidenberg was also careful to point out that he was fully confident in the roster already assembled in Boston. At the same time, Seidenberg admits he does pay attention to which players may become available and knows that changes are inevitable in this game.
"You definitely think about who?s out there," said Seidenberg, who joined the Bruins in a deadline deal with Florida in 2010. "But I think for us, personally, if we play our game out there, I don't think we need any help. But there?s always ways to bolster your lineup and I?m sure the guys up there [in management] are thinking about it."