Most seasons, the Flyers are buyers at the NHL trade deadline. But other than the acquisition of Vladimir Malakhov in 2004, most trade deadline deals under former general manager Bob Clarke didn't result in a long playoff run.

Tuesday marks this year's deadline, the earliest it's been since before 1980. This year, the Flyers figure to be sellers - not buyers - given they're going nowhere fast.

They already have more than $22 million in salary cap space for next season, and if they were to lose a player, such as Geoff Sanderson, whose contract carries over, they'd have even more cap room for 2007-08.

Next year's cap is expected to rise from $44 million to perhaps $49 million, although many observers think it will settle at $47 million.

The Flyers intend to be active this summer in free agency, with the likes of Chris Drury, Daniel Briere and J-S Giguere available. Scott Gomez is a free agent as well, but New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello always seems to re-sign his top players.

All four of those players would qualify as candidates to be moved at the deadline if it weren't for the fact they play for teams that are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and are pivotal to their club's postseason success.

Going into the weekend, Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin were still out there.

The Flyers' strategy next week is to lose salary at the deadline and gain more cap space for free agency this July.

Forty players changed teams at last year's deadline. If Sanderson is dealt, it will mark the second time in three years he has moved at the deadline. On March 9, 2004, the winger was sent from Columbus to Vancouver for a third-round draft pick.

Mike York is another Flyer who could be moved. The Flyers have been shopping him for a while now. On March 19, 2002, the Rangers sent York to Edmonton for Tom Poti and Rem Murray.

The worst deal in recent years was in 2002. Clarke traded goalie Maxime Ouellet and the Flyers' first-, second- and third-round picks to the Washington Capitals for center Adam Oates. Clarke never re-signed Oates after the season, virtually wasting three draft picks. Ouellet still hasn't panned out.

Former Flyer Dan McGillis has been traded three times at the deadline. He's in the minors with the Devils now, but he joins Mark Janssens, Mike Gartner and Steve Konroyd as players traded three times at the deadline. Alan May was traded four times at the deadline.

Now that Peter Forsberg is no longer available, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he expects he'll get some calls this week about second-tier players. Until recently, the majority of calls were about Forsberg.

Interest in defenseman Derian Hatcher has cooled although Kyle Calder is stirring some talk, according to the Flyers.

Maybe they'll want goalie Robert Esche, who realized from the second that Michael Leighton arrived that he was on borrowed time as a Flyer. Esche is a free agent this summer, making it likely he could be moved without a cap hit to another team next year.

"I'd like to say something was going on right now, but there is nothing," Holmgren said on Friday.

General meetings

It looks as though the NHL is going to amend the instigator rule and allow a player to accrue five such penalties instead of three before having to serve a two-game suspension. The GMs agreed on relaxing the rule at last week's meetings in Naples, Fla. This is about protecting guys like Sidney Crosby. Dallas GM Doug Armstrong told Canadian Press, "You want to make sure that the star players have the ability to do their jobs. You look back in the late '80s and early 1990s, with players like [Wayne] Gretzky and Pierre Turgeon, and they were getting 150, 160 points on a regular basis. There was probably a little more freedom, a little more room there, and we want to make sure the next generation of players always can have that ability too."

More on meetings

Look for the Board of Governors to give a thumbs up later this spring on the instigator rule change. One subject that got shot down was awarding three points for a victory in regulation. "We had a long debate on that issue," Holmgren said. "Everyone seems comfortable where we are right now on that one." There is also ongoing discussion that would have the referees have a direct phone line to the league's main replay offices in Toronto as well as having TV monitors installed at ice level for officials to watch replays.

The latter idea could add unwanted minutes to the game. Just look at how out of control TV replays have gotten in the NFL with absurd delays.

Buffaloed

The Sabres have been hit hard by injuries this season - so much so, you have to wonder whether Buffalo's chances of winning the Stanley Cup have been severely compromised. Top centerman Chris Drury suffered a severe head gash and possible concussion during an incident that led to a brawl in Thursday's night game against Ottawa. There was no word on how severe his injuries are. Winger Ales Kotalik will miss four to six weeks with torn ligaments in his right knee, while Maxim Afinogenov, who was second on the club in scoring, broke his left hand last week. Did we mention Jiri Novotny has a badly sprained left ankle?

Add these players to guys already hurt: Tim Connolly (concussion; has not played this year); Jaroslav Spacek (fractured left hand) and Paul Gaustad, who's done for the season after slicing a tendon in his left leg. The key to winning the Cup is to remain healthy. If the Flyers had been healthy in 2004, they beat Tampa Bay in Game 7, then Ken Hitchcock outcoaches Calgary's Darryl Sutter, and the Flyers win that ever-elusive third Cup.

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio

at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.