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Salary cap issues are likely to make for a very intriguing draft night


LOS ANGELES -- On the eve of the NHL Entry Draft, a teenage girl standing steps from the Staples Center was waving a homemade sign professing her love for Taylor. Of course, this is L.A., so the Taylor in question was unequivocally Taylor Lautner, one of the stars of Twilight: Eclipse, which enjoyed its star-studded premiere across the street at the Nokia Theater. It definitely was not Taylor Hall, the favorite to be selected No. 1 at tonight's draft.

That's the thing about teenage girls. They have no problem voicing or writing their preferences before the fact.

If only Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini were so forthcoming. But still, hours before he is to make his selection, Tambellini won't really let on which direction he's leaning, and the debate over Hall and top-ranked prospect Tyler Seguin rages on. Tambellini will, eventually, have to come to a decision and when he makes that public, shortly after 7 p.m. EDT (live on Versus), Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is expected to take the other top prospect.

As for what happens next, that is when things could get even more interesting. In the days leading up to the draft, the trade market has been buzzing with teams that were more active than they had been in recent years. The Atlanta Thrashers, under the stewardship of new GM Rick Dudley, picked up forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and defenseman Brent Sopel from the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks last week. Chicago, in desperate need of shedding salary, parted ways with the big Byfuglien, who scored a team-high 11 goals during its Cup run.

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On Tuesday, the Florida Panthers sent former first-rounder Nathan Horton and center Greg Campbell to the Boston Bruins, a team in desperate need of offense, for defenseman Dennis Wideman and the 15th pick in tonight's draft. The Bruins have the second overall pick via the Toronto Maple Leafs, who dealt it last year as part of the trade for winger Phil Kessel. So, without a pick in the first round, the Maple Leafs are still looking for ways to be active on the first day of the draft. GM Brian Burke has said that he's listening to offers for defenseman Tomas Kaberle, and yesterday he had four concrete pitches and interest from more than 10 teams. Nothing thus far has moved him enough pull the trigger, but he said, "That could change in one phone call or e-mail."

The Panthers, who hired former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon in June, are also keeping their eyes and ears open. With two picks (third overall and 15th), Tallon has assets in his pocket and will likely be listening to offers from teams looking to move up or just be a presence in the first round. Teams without a first round pick this year include the Leafs, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils.

Why does the market seem to be so much more active this year? Perhaps it's the fact that more teams are hugging the salary cap tighter than a pair of jeggings. The Blackhawks, of course, are the prime example, with 13 players signed for 2010-11 for $53.4 million, and about $4 million in bonuses from this season that will go on next year's payroll. So, while the cap is expected to be $59.4 million next season, the 'Hawks will essentially be working with a $55.4 million limit. Though their situation is by far the worst in the league, they are not alone. Teams like the Red Wings, Flames and Bruins could find themselves crunching numbers and looking to move players and salary to make all the pieces fit.

Though the free agency market took a hit in the last few weeks -- with the Sharks re-signing Patrick Marleau, and the Canadiens inking Tomas Plekanec -- the trade market remains very much alive, and the draft is a perfect place to make deals happen. It's only once a year that every front office in the league congregates in one room. The only shame is that it sometimes takes the attention away from the main event -- the new youngsters whose dreams are about to come true. Today is really their day, when the future is in the forefront and hope is alive.

"This is why the draft is exciting," Burke says. "There's a lot of activity when you get all these people in one place. It's a time of great hope for our league. We see these great young players coming in. Every guy we draft, we think is going to play even though a lot of them never do. Everyone gets to stand up and hug his mom. It's cool."

That girl outside should come in and check it out.