Andrew says that St. Jude is also well-positioned in the market for neurological devices, especially with its recent purchase of Advanced Neuromodulation Systems. William Blair has received compensation or expects to be compensated by St. Jude for investment banking services.

Another way St. Jude could factor into the equation would be as a possible acquirer of assets a combined Guidant-Boston Scientific might have to shed in order to gain antitrust clearance from regulators -- although Medtronic and Abbott Labs ( ABT) could be takers, as well.

For now, Boston says its proposal for Guidant is better than J&J's and contends its offer could be closed quickly. Brozak isn't as optimistic, saying Guidant would need weeks if not months to complete its due diligence, meaning the process wouldn't be finished by the end of the year.

And at least one analyst isn't going to be entirely surprised if J&J declines to hit back at Boston Scientific.

"Given all the trials and tribulations, we doubt JNJ will attempt to make a counter offer -- but as investors have learned over the past few years to never say never," Jason Wittes of Leerink Swann wrote in a research report. A director of Guidant serves as a director of Leerink Swann, but the firm doesn't provide investment banking services for the company.

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