Tomas Tatar had a feeling he was going to be on the move. It was just a matter of where.
A member of the Detroit Red Wings for the previous seven seasons, Tatar was sitting at home monitoring the TV on trade deadline day last February when the call came informing him he would be joining the Vegas Golden Knights.
"I said to myself, 'It can happen,'" the 28-year-old winger recalled of his thought process. "(But) you don't realize it until the thing actually happens. After a long time in Detroit, that trade was a new experience."
A number of NHLers — including a few big names — will be going through a similar range of emotions today, Feb. 25, ahead of the league's 3 p.m. ET deadline.
Wingers set to potentially walk for nothing as unrestricted free agents this summer could be in vogue, with Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators and Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers among the players looking most likely to be changing addresses. The same goes for Micheal Ferland of the Carolina Hurricanes, Kevin Hayes of the New York Rangers, Detroit's Gustav Nyquist and Marcus Johansson of the New Jersey Devils.
Clubs in need of help on defence could target Rangers blue-liner Adam McQuaid or Carolina's Dougie Hamilton, who has two years left on his contract.
Battling for a playoff spot in the wide-open Metropolitan Division, the Columbus Blue Jackets have already made a big splash, acquiring star centre Matt Duchene from Ottawa on Friday before general manager Jarmo Kekalainen circled back 24 hours later to pluck winger Ryan Dzingel from the last-place Senators.
The deals for the pending UFAs cost Columbus two prospects, a first-round pick, two seconds and winger Anthony Duclair. Ottawa will also receive an additional first-rounder if Duchene re-signs in Columbus.
The Blue Jackets also still hold what were previously thought to be two of the biggest potential trade pieces in winger Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who can both become UFAs on July 1, but it seems as though Kekalainen is content to go all-in as the franchise looks to win its first-ever playoff round and go on a run this spring.
The Dallas Stars made a couple moves of their own Saturday, acquiring winger Mats Zuccarello from the Rangers and defenceman Ben Lovejoy from the Devils.
In terms of Canadian teams, it's expected the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets will be in the mix as they attempt to load up for the playoffs, while the Toronto Maple Leafs could be in the market for an elusive right-shot defenceman or a winger with some grit.
For a couple of reasons, Toronto head coach Mike Babcock said he can't wait for the deadline to pass.
"As a coach, you're ecstatic," he said. "You can get on with it, you can get (back) some of the players that are thinking too much."
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz agreed the uncertainty surrounding Monday can be a distraction.
"For some players, it's a little bit of a nervous time ... there's no question," he said. "Their focus is not always on the game, it's on what's happening around the league."
But situations like Tatar's are a cautionary tale for teams prepared to relinquish assets to add to their rosters.
The Golden Knights surrendered first-, second- and third-round picks for the Czech forward last February as the surprising expansion club geared up for a post-season push that would lead all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
"We were not going to make the playoffs in Detroit for the second time in a row after 25 years ... people were not used to it," the 28-year-old said. "They were in rebuilding mode."
The move, however, was a miss for the Golden Knights.
With a salary cap hit of US$5.3 million through 2020-21, Tatar had just four goals and two assists in 20 regular-season games with Vegas, and was a healthy scratch in 12 of the team's 20 playoff outings, contributing just two points.
He was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens before the season as part of the deal for Max Pacioretty, and has since rebounded with 21 goals and 25 assists in 61 games so far in 2018-19.
"It was a great experience when I'm looking back," Tatar said of Vegas. "We were this close to making it all the way.
"First time traded, it was something new to me. I wouldn't say I didn't fit in, but guys got healthy and they were playing great hockey ... they were on a roll. I respected the coach's decision."
It was the type of risk a number of GMs will be wrestling with in the hours prior to the deadline.
— Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press