By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - Players are in for a restless weekend as Monday's National Hockey League (NHL) trade deadline approaches with general managers ready to wheel-and-deal and the rumor mill already spinning at warp speed.
Deadline Day has evolved into a sort of hockey holiday in Canada with the country's three all-sports networks dedicating the entire day's programming to tracking trades or lamenting the lack of deadline deals.
No one will be getting an official day off but work place production is sure to drop with hockey mad Canadians likely to spend a good part of Monday glued to their mobile devices, computers and tablets tracking the day's activity on special trade day apps.
The buildup has been Oscar worthy with weeks upon weeks, even months of endless speculation over which players could be on the move.
The rumor mill was sent into overdrive last week when the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets put All-Star captain Rick Nash on the market.
Whether he is on the move or not, Nash, a highly skilled power forward, will be the main focus of day.
TSN, Canada's top rated all-sports network, will offer 10 hours of live coverage from an army of correspondents manning NHL arenas across North America while experts dissect the smallest transaction.
The network says more than 2.6 million hockey fans tuned in at some point last year while TSN.ca recorded its second busiest day ever with 14.9 million page views across all platforms.
Last year, 16 mostly smaller deals were consummated but in 2010 a record 31 trades, involving over 50 players and 25 draft picks were completed.
Several teams will be under immense pressure to pull off a blockbuster deal before the trade window closes but most will be looking to tweak their lineups for the post-season push.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the NHL's richest franchise but have not made the post-season since 2004 and are determined to end that six-year drought.
The Los Angeles Kings are also sliding towards desperation mode as they look for the pieces to make them a serious Stanley Cup threat.
Both Toronto and Los Angeles are among the teams expected to take a run at Nash but the price is steep with Columbus general manager Scott Howson reportedly demanding a player who can make an immediate contribution, a highly rated prospect or two and at least one number one draft pick.
Nash has given the Blue Jackets a short-list of teams he is willing to move to, but Monday could very well end with the big winger still in Columbus.
In the salary cap era, it is not only need but economics that swing a deal, and with Nash in the second year of an eight-year $62.4 million contract, teams must have room to accommodate a cap hit of close to $8 million.
There are plenty of other intriguing names to keep the rumor mill churning.
The last place Blue Jackets have also put Jeff Carter up for auction but with an 11-year $58 million contract only teams with expensive tastes will be interested in the disgruntled forward.
Anaheim Ducks power forward Bobby Ryan and Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter will attract plenty of suitors if their teams turn sellers while netminders are also a hot commodity.
Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo's backup in Vancouver, showed during last year's playoff drive he is ready for a starting job and could be available.
The Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller may be having an off year but there would be no shortage of teams interested in acquiring the former Vezina Trophy winner, who helped the United States to a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Gene Cherry)