Busy week for NHL as owners meet Wednesday before Friday-Saturday entry draft

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First the league's 30 owners gather for a board of governors meeting in New York on Wednesday, then the focus shifts to Columbus, Ohio, for the NHL entry draft Friday and Saturday. In between there'll be plenty of trade talk.

"If there's a flurry of trades it wouldn't surprise me," veteran GM Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes said Tuesday.

There were some big moves at this time last year. Vancouver GM Dave Nonis made the brilliant deal to acquire star goalie Roberto Luongo from Florida, but other names also moved, such as Pavol Demitra to Minnesota, Andrew Raycroft to Toronto, Alex Tanguay to Calgary and the seeds of the Chris Pronger blockbuster from Edmonton to Anaheim were also planted.

"There seemed to be more trades last year and I think with the cap system now you're going to see more movement where teams start to prepare for July 1 (free agency) and start to prepare their team for next year," said Rutherford.

The Philadelphia Flyers got the ball rolling Monday with the trade-and-sign of winger Scott Hartnell and defenceman Kimmo Timonen from the Nashville Predators, moves that were met with mixed reaction around the hockey world.

On one hand, some hockey people felt Flyers GM Paul Holmgren should be praised for his boldness and creativity in acquiring the rights of two players that would have been highly sought-after come the July 1 free-agent market. But on the other hand, the $25.2 million over six years given to Hartnell and $37.8 million to Timonen were seen as a ton of money.

"He overpaid, no question," said one agent.

Either way, the Flyers are now a better team. And they're not done. Expect them to take a serious run at potential unrestricted free agent Daniel Briere if the star centre makes it to July 1 still unsigned. The Buffalo Sabres were expected to touch base with the Briere camp sometime this week for the first time since their season ended last month.

Doug Risebrough, meanwhile, may be a popular man at the draft. The Minnesota Wild GM will be a target for teams looking for a No. 1 goalie. Manny Fernandez, who has two years and US$9.25 million left on his deal, is potentially available after Risebrough re-signed standout netminder Nicklas Backstrom, adding to a goalie glut that also includes up-and-comer Josh Harding.

But while dealing Fernandez could happen as early as this week in Columbus, it could also wait until the trade deadline next season.

"There's no hurry in my mind, but I know if there's opportunities I have to look at it," Risebrough said Tuesday.

While the GMs talk trade, their owners congregate Wednesday where the league, among other things, will give owners an update on the Nashville Predators' pending sale to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie. But there will not be an actual vote on the transfer of ownership from Craig Leipold. That will have to come later this summer.



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