I haven't given much credit to the New York Islanders and general manager Garth Snow since he got the gig two seasons ago, but if the rumors are true that he's going to draft Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman first overall on Friday evening in Montreal, then maybe he deserves a couple of kudos.
For one, Snow gets a quality player, the kind who can anchor a defense for years to come. Hedman may need the requisite time to develop, but quality franchise defensemen are hard to come by in any era, and he looks like a can't-miss in that regard.
Snow's choice likely won't impress Islanders fans, considering that they are clamoring for, and expecting, a golden-boy scorer in John Tavares, but it takes courage to stick to a game plan. The Isles GM appears to at least be willing to try and impose his will on a franchise that has long been short in regards to courageous decisions from the hockey department.
Snow also gets a plus for making the draft sooooooooooooooo much more interesting.
In passing on Tavares, the consensus No.1 (and remember, this move is still in the rumor stage), he opens the door to a world of intrigue as to what happens next . . .
Toronto GM Brian Burke has made no secret of his hope to move up from No. 7 and draft Tavares, and if Snow does select Hedman, Burke has a chance. He would likely need to make some incremental steps, but if he can get from seven into the top three or four, he likely can convince Tampa Bay to move down from No. 2 in exchange for a package that would allow the Lightning to take a quality player in the draft -- say Matt Duchene or Brayden Schenn -- and include players and/or prospects as well as the pick Toronto had at seven or something else (like taking on players to give Tampa some salary cap relief.)
Obtaining Atlanta's No. 4 pick, said to be in play, could be the opening that Burke is looking for.
The Lightning signaled their willingness to move when GM Brian Lawton said he was open to looking at all options. That was about the clearest statement the organization has made in weeks, what with a well-reported feud within ownership and a debate as to whether to keep or trade star center Vinny Lecavalier before his 10-year, no-trade contract kicks in on July 1.
Of course, Snow could open the door to a world of different possibilities if Burke somehow gets to the No.2 pick. In that scenario, Snow could reverse course on picking Hedman and threaten Burke with taking Tavares unless Burke sweetens a trade pot enough for the Islanders to stay with Hedman, but with the second pick.
It's all part of the draft intrigue and ripple effect, particularly when Lawton signaled even more intent by saying that this year's crop runs nine or 10 players deep at the top. That's the underplayed story that is being missed here. North American players tend to get the bulk of the publicity coming into the draft, but the Euro list is deep and there are reports from noted talent assessors that Sweden alone could have as many as six players going in the first round, several of them in the top 10.
That's what makes Lawton's "nine or ten" comment valid and enhances the possibility of wheeling and dealing with teams moving down as well as up in the drafting order.
Let the moving and shaking begin.
I'm not a betting man per se, but I'd be willing to wager that the Ottawa Senators can't move Dany Heatley at the draft. The big sticking point for most potential bidders is the $4 million payout owed to him on July 1. Heatley, who seems to have the same sense of obligation to Ottawa as Brent Sutter did to New Jersey, has submitted a list of teams that he's willing to be traded to (big of him, eh?). But Ottawa GM Bryan Murray has said that if he doesn't get the deal he wants and has to pay the $4 million, then Heatley will just have to suck up his discontent and play for the Senators.
If Murray truly believes that will happen, then you should get on board with the idea that Sutter will be returning to the Devils due to a bout of conscience. Murray can't bring Heatley back without poisoning his locker room and undercutting his new coach. The likely scenario is that Murray swallows hard, takes a deal that brings precious little compared to what he's being forced to give up, and, like Jersey's Lou Lamoriello, cuts his losses and moves on.
On the plus side, some other team will have to deal with Heatley's talent and character flaws and find a way to get the positives of one to override the shortcomings of the other.
Those Vinny Lecavalier-to-Montreal rumors are all the rage again in Montreal. But the deal, which was very much alive until an internal debate between Tampa Bay's owners scuttled it around the All-Star Game, can't be made until Oren Koules and Len Barrie get their act together. The two were in the commissioner's office earlier this week asking Gary Bettman to resolve who is in charge and thus free to make the ultimate decisions regarding the operation of the franchise. Bettman told them to work together, but that's not likely for the long term.
In the short term, however, a deal that would get the cash-strapped owners out from under a burdensome contract they really can't afford and that makes no sense for the club's long-term economic future, is well worth pursuing. If they can hold their relationship together long enough to make the deal happen, it will be good in one way: it will improve the long-term value of the franchise for any owner who wants to leave it to a new investor who is crazy enough to buy into the league's biggest mess after Phoenix, Florida and Atlanta.
Can't help but wonder if an NHL lawyer will be sitting at the Coyotes' table in Montreal. The league has to approve every transaction the Coyotes make, given that the NHL is fronting their bills. Of course, draft picks aren't as important contract-wise as any transactions that GM Don Maloney would like to make. Picks are pretty much locked into entry-level contracts and even their bonuses are capped to a degree, but a veteran player acquired in a trade is likely to have a contract that must be balanced by money going out of Phoenix in the deal.
While still on the topic of the Coyotes, the NHL has won a series of small victories in the bankruptcy proceedings, but the big cards are yet to be played. The NHL still has to convince the judge that the much-rumored offer from Jerry Reinsdorf of Chicago fame will be large enough to be palatable to the court in terms of satisfying creditors. If so, the city of Glendale still has to sign off on massive lease reductions that it had refused current owner Jerry Moyes, and either the judge or city will likely demand that whoever the league puts up as the new owner makes a real commitment to keeping the team there rather than just having someone hold it until the NHL can arrange for it to be transferred somewhere else, like Kansas City.
It's hard to imagine that departure scenario hasn't at least been considered, what with Tony Tavares said to be aligned with Reinsdorf's bid. Tavares is known in NHL circles as the former president of the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and is experienced in moving sports franchises. He had a role in executing the departure of the Expos from Montreal when Major League Baseball was seeking to control that complicated transaction. He's also said to be aligned with an outfit that may purchase the Florida Panthers for a group seeking ownership of a sports property somewhere in the U.S.
As we've said on many occasions in this space, the Phoenix battle is far from over.
Sources say the Detroit Red Wings have put their best and likely final offer on the table for forward Marian Hossa, a genuinely good player who was a genuine disappointment in the playoffs.
Remember all those pundits who pretty much awarded the Red Wings the Stanley Cup last offseason once Hossa agreed to spurn a multi-year offer from the Penguins? Those were the same people who said Hossa's move to a one-year deal with Detroit was brilliant in that he would win the Cup and thus position himself for long-term free-agent riches afterward.
That isn't happening.
Detroit's offer is rumored to be a good one, but not in the "highest-paid in the league" category. There likely will be interest in Hossa if he spurns it, but not at nearly the amount envisioned at this time last season. Hey, he rolled the dice and lost. It won't be a crap-out loss, but it will be a smaller number just the same -- likely smaller than what the Penguins were offering. Had Hossa re-signed there, he just might have ended up with the Cup rather than watching his old team hold it over him while he stared at a cut in projected pay.
Last week, we wondered aloud about the true reasons for Brent Sutter's departure from New Jersey. He'd said it wasn't about being a quitter and was all about being close to his family and business interests in Alberta.
He's sticking to that story and saying it was strictly his brother Darryl's decision to ask the Devils for an exit visa so Brent could coach the Calgary Flames. Actually, both Sutters are sticking to that story, but you don't need the IQ of the fired Mike Keenan to see there are a few holes in that story big enough to drive a cattle rancher's manure truck through.
There is no compensation going to New Jersey for the loss of a coach who still has a year left on his contract. That's the result of an edict from Bettman a few years back, but if Sutter didn't quit the Devils to take the Flames job, he still quit, and living in Alberta is still going to make it tough to be close to his family and business while the Flames are on extended road trips.
Even Flames home games are some 90 miles away from the Sutter family ranch, and when you consider that he has to be at the arena to design a game plan, review video and run a morning skate, well, it sure seems as if either the kids at home or the kids on the ice are going to lose a little of Sutter's time and attention. He's going to take heat for that. Any way you slice this thing, it has an odor to it that's not likely to go away anytime soon.