Reach for those hired guns

The trade deadline is looming, and it's already clear that major improvements are going to come with a hefty pricetag.

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They call it the "silly season" for good reason. The NHL's trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and you can rest assured that general managers have been burning out their BlackBerries sending out offers.

There is already tangible proof, in fact - the Toronto Maple Leafs have just traded Francois Beauchemin, the veteran defenceman, back to Anaheim in exchange for Joffrey Lupul, a 20-goal winger, Jake Gardiner, their 2008 first-round pick, and a fourth-round draft choice.

Not to be outdone, the Leafs' provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators, dealt Mike Fisher to Nashville for a first-round pick next June and a conditional pick in 2012. So, the asking price for hired guns has been set.

If contending teams want a veteran player of considerable impact - as both Beauchemin and Fisher are - it is going to cost a chunk of their future. Logically, mortgaging a potential franchise building block in exchange for a slightly increased shot at a championship is a steep price to pay.

However, the siren song of the Stanley Cup never fails to lure contenders to the brink and then, usually, completely over the edge of self-control. And that is part of why this new-age trade deadline day has become a made-for-television spectacle.

If your team are among the contenders, it is practically a prerequisite that they make some moves to get to the final. The fans want tangible evidence of tinkering.

If a club chooses to hold steady with their current roster and then fail to make the play-offs, you can be sure one of the first things the local reporters will point to will be the lack of last-minute additions.

If your team are out of the play-offs and rebuilding, it is time to ship out the veterans and inject some new blood into the line-up.

This approach, at least, seems to add up. While it is always tough to let go of the past, professional sport is about winning, and the chance to add a bright young prospect for a player on the back end of his career just makes sense.

The Leafs-Ducks and Senators-Predators deals sounded the opening bell, and there will be more trades leading up to the flurry of 20-plus deals on the final day, as the buyers and sellers sort themselves out on the basis of the league standings and, more pertinently, where the top 10 or 15 teams believe they belong in the league standings.

In the end, as always, one club will be "proven" right with a cup and a parade, while the other buyers will placate their fan base with the explanation that they tried, darn it, by making all the right moves when it was time to trade.