By Stu Hackel
Will Gary Bettman lean into the microphone at the podium during tonight's first round of the NHL Entry Draft and utter the words so many expect to hear -- "We have a trade?"
If you believe the rumors, lots of big names could be in different sweaters next season, but whether it happens before or during the draft, at some point afterward or never, all that's really certain is the confluence of a few trends: the relative weakness of this year's draft class, the desires of teams to make immediate improvements to their rosters, salary cap issues, pending free agents whose rights could be dealt, and a number of disgruntled players. These things have created a perfect storm for hockey gossip mongers.
But despite predictions that some players, Rick Nash for example, would already have a new address, there's only been one trade so far this week -- the Blue Jackets shipping Sergei Bobrovski to Columbus early Friday -- not for Nash, but for three draft picks, the highest being a second rounder, 45th overall.
"There are so many players, it seems, whose names are involved in [discussions of] trades," Penguins GM Ray Shero said (quoted by Dave Molinari of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). "That's good for the buzz, but it doesn't mean anything's going to happen."
So let's look at the latest scuttlebutt and see how much butt there is to scuttle.
Many of the hottest rumors in the past 24 hours have to do with big name forwards -- Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, James Van Riemsdyk and, the biggest surprise of all, Jordan Staal.
Staal's name has been out there for a while as a possible trade target, largely because it was thought that the Pens couldn't afford their excellent third line pivot (who would be a first liner for lots of NHL teams) along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their center slots. But the Pens did make him a contract offer, and a big one if the reports are true -- 10 years at $60 million. So when TSN's Bob McKenzie tweeted late Thursday afternoon that Staal had rejected the offer and his agent Paul Krepelka confirmed, "Jordan is not prepared to enter into a contract extension at this time," the bullseye on this trade target bloated like Alex Ovechkin during the offseason.
"Let the Jordan Staal trade rumors begin," McKenzie wrote in a second tweet -- and they did, with the suggested destinations being Carolina, to play with his brother Eric, or the Rangers, to play with his brother Marc.
All well and good -- except that Pierre McGuire had dinner with Shero on Thursday night and if what the Pens' GM told him is accurate, he's in no rush to move Staal anywhere. Shero would undoubtably deal him for a big return, but with only one year left on Staal's contract, the offers Shero hears may not be overly generous.
"They understand it's part of the negotiation," McGuire said of the Penguins over Team 1200 in Ottawa (audio) on Friday morning, "and they're more than prepared to have Jordan Staal come back and honor the last year of his contract with the Penguins and then lose him for nothing, because they think their team is good enough that they can compete for the Stanley Cup with Jordan Staal as part of their group. If they can win the Stanley Cup next year and then Jordan Staal moves on, they're more than happy with that."
We'll see if Shero's sentiment is also part of the negotiation or if Staal remains in black and gold for the last year of his deal -- and perhaps beyond. But don't expect him to be elsewhere by Saturday.
Staal's name is one of a few being bandied about while those who have been watching Rick Nash look for alternatives. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson continues to balk at what he's heard from teams who want his best player, telling Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch that he hasn't been close to accepting any offers. “Not at all,” Howson said. “A lot of things can happen between now and when the draft is over. I’m not counting on anything. Obviously, our goal is to do what’s best for the hockey team, and that’s how we’ll continue to operate.”
Howson has had talks with at least seven clubs — the Rangers, Flyers, Sharks, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs and Senators are believed to be in the mix — while a handful of others have made inquiries," reports Portzline. Nash has the hammer -- a no-trade clause that allows him to reject a deal with any club he doesn't want to play for. The only hammer Howson can swing is waiting until he hears something he likes. On Montreal's TSN Radio 990 on Friday morning, McKenzie said he didn't think Nash would be moved until after July 1, when the free agent season begins.
Another alternative to Nash is Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, who was a hot rumor last November until GM Bob Murray decided to axe coach Randy Carlyle instead. Those rumors dried up, but they're back, fueled by another McKenzie tweet earlier this week.
"Ryan has 136 goals four-plus seasons but often hasn't meshed his stick handling game well with (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry, hasn't fared well when not on a line with the two, and is an average defensive player in his end," writes Eric Stephens of The Orange County Register. "But while using Ryan in a trade could help fill holes on the roster or upgrade at certain areas, the Ducks also know they would be giving up perhaps their most dynamic player, a proven sniper who hasn't reached his peak, and a media-savvy marketable presence. The feeling is the Ducks won't deal Ryan unless they are blown away by an offer."
Where have we heard that before?
GMs who chase Ryan won't have to pony up as much as it might take to land Nash, who is the more established scorer and better all-around player. But they wouldn't have to pay Ryan as much, either (a cap hit of $5.1 million through 2014-15 for Ryan; a $7.8 million hit through 2017-18 for Nash). And Ryan doesn't have the NTC.
One team rumored to be interested in Ryan back in November was the Flyers, in part because he's from the Philadelphia area and because his family has a long-standing friendship with Flyers legend and executive Bobby Clarke. And so those same rumors have returned, as Pierre LeBrun on ESPN.com was told by a source that the Ducks would like center Brayden Schenn in return. But that's not going to happen, LeBrun reported, saying that the Flyers like Schenn too much. And since Philly is thought to be shopping James van Riemsdyk, it was thought JVR would be a good candidate to head west in exchange for Ryan.
Whether van Riemsdyk qualifies as an offer that would leave Murray "blown away" is questionable. For all his great moments in the 2011 postseason that had observers predicting wonderous things for him, van Reimsdyk battled injuries and inconsistency last season.
But out west, Kevin Kurtz of CSN Bay Area believes that the Sharks might have interest in JVR if they don't think Nash will fall their way. "Columbus continues to insist that Logan Couture be the centerpiece of a deal for its captain, and Couture is, rightfully, a non-starter with Sharks general manager Doug Wilson," Kurtz wrote. "The Flyers need defense...They could also use some more goaltending depth, in case Ilya Bryzgalov’s struggles in his first year with the Flyers continue into his second....The Sharks have assets at both positions."
Speaking of goalies, the Roberto Luongo Watch seemed to be reaching some sort of conclusion earlier this week when -- after Josh Harding re-upped with the Wild -- some concluded that a deal to ship Luongo the Maple Leafs was pretty much a fait accompli. The Leafs had no better options and the Canucks had no other takers, went that line of thinking.
Well, somehow that is all changed now, primarily because the Jets and their MVP goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, seem to be at odds on a new deal. "Pavelec has reportedly been made an offer for one year at a rate north of $5 million with St. Petersburg in the KHL and is willing to leave the Jets and the NHL if he can't get what he wants," reported Gary Lawless of The Winnipeg Free Press. "The Pavelec camp reportedly wants a four-year deal with an annual rate around $4 million. The Jets must have a lower number in mind or a contract would have been signed by now....People around the NHL, however, are talking, and the viewpoint is that a deal is so far from being closed that Pavelec may be on the trading block."
If Pavelec is indeed available, the Leafs would be fools not to be interested (and this is hardly the first time that "Leafs" and "fools" have been in the same sentence). So would a few other clubs.
In addition to the Leafs, the Blue Jackets may want more depth in goal even though they secured Bobrovski. He's got only limited NHL experience and was a backup last season to Bryzgalov. The Panthers, who have a blue chip prospect in Jacob Markstrom but believe he'd benefit from another year of AHL seasoning, might want Luongo back (although his big money long-term deal would seem to be at odds with their hope that Markstrom will ascend to be their top netminder some day). The Blackhawks, too, could be looking to solve their netminding inconsistency and might think that Luongo or Pavelec will be the answer. So the goalie market is really not so quiet and all the Luongo-to-Toronto talk was obviously premature at best.
We haven't heard much about defenseman being moved in the last few days, but the Panthers have been unable to get Jason Garrison's name on a new deal and he's set to become a UFA on July 1. Garrison opened a lot of eyes this season with his 16 goals, and GM Dale Tallon is hoping to be able to keep him. But at a certain point, if a deal isn't going to happen, Tallon might move him to get something back rather than just have him walk away for naught.
Now, let's not forget to factor in what might happen with some of those 211 draft picks that will start getting filled tonight. It hasn't gotten a great deal of attention, but three teams -- the Capitals, Sabres and Lightning -- each have two first round picks. Any or all of these teams could decide to move one in a deal to a team without a first round selection or for a veteran player they have their eyes on.
And the Oilers have claimed they plan to hold on to Number 1 after entertaining thoughts of moving it, but not everyone is convinced because Edmonton really needs a big-time defenseman and, with none available among the draft-eligibles, there continues to be speculation they'll deal a shot at Nail Yakupov for a burgeoning blueliner. Friday morning, GM Steve Tambellini said he's still taking calls about that pick although -- surprise, surprise -- the offers he received were "obviously not good enough to make me really think about discussing with our staff."
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