If Tuesday night was Matthew Barnaby's last game with the Blackhawks, he couldn't have asked for a better way to exit the stage.
Barnaby's empty-net goal sealed a 3-1 Hawks victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in their last game before Thursday's trade deadline.
Patrick Sharp's breakaway goal at the 6-minute-1-second mark of the third period was the game-winner. Craig Anderson had 27 saves to pick up the victory before turning the starting goaltender's job back over to Nikolai Khabibulin, who will play Thursday against Colorado.
Barnaby and center Tyler Arnason have been the Hawks mentioned most in trade rumors. For Barnaby, the potential suitors are Ottawa or Montreal, depending on which rumor is floating at the moment.
A 13-year veteran who has experienced deadline deals firsthand, Barnaby knew well Tuesday was likely to be the last game in which the 20 players in the dressing room would be together.
"It creeps in your mind, and we talked about it," Barnaby said. "Chances are someone is going to go. It's just the reality of it. I don't know if it's going to be me, but this is probably the last time we'll play together."
This time of year players ask more questions than journalists in NHL dressing rooms. Every greeting is followed with, "What are you hearing?"
So far, at least, the rumors far outnumber the deals. Though nothing significant has developed yet, many expect that to change Wednesday.
With 11 games on the docket, Tuesday could have been separation day, when teams that don't pick up ground in the playoff chase may become sellers. Going into play Tuesday, just five of the league's 30 teams had no realistic shot at the postseason.
One of those five, of course, is the Hawks, who have a handful of veterans who will watch another year go by without having a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Deadline trades can be bittersweet for players such as Barnaby, who is closer to the end of his career than the beginning and won't have too many more playoff opportunities.
But that doesn't mean he's wishing for a trade.
"You always want to get in the playoffs," Barnaby said. "When I signed here, I knew there could be some growing pains. But I signed to help this team get to the next level, and that's my primary goal. My allegiance is to the Chicago Blackhawks, but I can't control what they're going to do."
Having gone through this many times, Barnaby can talk freely about what it means and the emotions involved.
For Arnason, who collected his first point in four games with an assist on Radim Vrbata's goal, it's a different story.
This is the first time he has experienced speculation regarding his future. Anaheim reportedly is the latest team "interested," along with possibly Toronto and Edmonton. In Arnason's case, the questions appear to have become annoying.
"I try not to think about it, just go out and play," he said.
Whether he or any other Hawk plays his next game in Chicago is a question yet to be answered.
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