Orr & Messier & YzermanGetty ImagesWho's the best player from their respective franchises? Vote now!
Time to step up, people.

We want you to name your favorite player from your favorite team -- of all time. Not just this season, not just the past five years, not just that one time when they should have won the Stanley Cup but were robbed by a bad call. Of all time. Columbus Blue Jackets fans, you've got less work to do than, say, fans of the Montreal Canadiens. And keep in mind that the player is representing the franchise, not just the team. New Jersey Devils fans, don't forget about your complicated lineage. Winnipeg Jets fans, remember those long, hot winters in Atlanta. Etc.

So, who's it going to be? Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque or Zdeno Chara? Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull or Jonathan Toews? Marcel Dionne or Jonathan Quick? Mike Modano or Cesare Maniago? Yes, it's a tough gig, picking players from different positions and different eras. Who cares if Bobby Clarke had to finish his career wearing Cooperalls? The bottom line: Does he deserve to be named Mr. Flyer over Bernie Parent? Or Eric Lindros (wouldn't that be ironic)?

We need representation from all 30 teams, or it's just not going to work, so vote now and vote often. Vote for players on teams you love, vote for players on teams you don't.

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from the Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL. We'll sift through all of the comments and isolate the most insightful and invective-free for a grand and provocative unveiling later in the summer.

The time for bellyaching is over. You can't complain if you don't vote. Now, go!

David Legwand agrees with Sens

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
3:27
PM CT

OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators signed veteran center David Legwand to a $6 million, two-year contract on Friday.

Legwand split last season between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings. He had 51 points in 83 games.

The Detroit native played the first 15 seasons of his NHL career with Nashville before a March 5 trade sent him to the Red Wings. He has 577 points in 977 games.

"David is a good, veteran center, a guy that skates pretty well, gets up and down the ice," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said in a statement.

"We just think the way things shook out for us that having an experienced center that can be a decent faceoff man, be a good defensive player, get points, was very important at this time."

Ottawa needed a top-two center after trading Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday for right wing Alex Chiasson, a draft pick and two prospects.

The Senators also re-signed defenseman Eric Gryba to a $2.5 million, two-year deal. Gryba had 11 points in 57 games last season.

Murray said the Senators "continue to talk" about a trade, adding "it's just a matter of if we can get satisfaction both ways."


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Dallas Stars re-sign Vernon Fiddler

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
6:22
PM CT

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars re-signed center Vernon Fiddler to a two-year, $2.5 million contract Wednesday.

The 34-year-old Fiddler will provide depth behind Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza, who was picked up in a trade with Ottawa on Tuesday.

Fiddler had six goals and 17 assists in 76 games last season, when the Stars ended a five-year playoff drought and lost to Anaheim in six games in the first round. He has 77 goals and 129 assists in 656 games in 11 seasons with Nashville, Phoenix and Dallas.

The Stars also signed 22-year-old Brendan Ranford to a three-year entry-level contract. He spent his first pro season with the American Hockey League champion Texas Stars.


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Early free agency grades 

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
9:53
PM CT
Brooks Orpik, Paul Stastny & Jonas Hiller Getty ImagesThe new deals for Brooks Orpik, Paul Stastny and Jonas Hiller met with very different reactions.
The opening hours of NHL free agency were truly frenetic, with signings being announced in a flurry shortly after noon ET.

Some teams made their mark ahead of time -- the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars made major upgrades down the middle by trading for Ryan Kesler and Jason Spezza, respectively -- but for the rest of the teams that made impact signings, it's time to grade just how well they did for themselves on Day 1.

Note that these grades reflect the talent and fit of the players signed, as well as the reported length and dollars in their deals.

Buffalo Sabres: C-plus

The Sabres are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project under GM Tim Murray, but it was important for him to surround the young talent with veteran leaders who can help break them in to the NHL. In former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta (three years, $12.75 million) and Matt Moulson (five years, $25 million) the Sabres have done exactly that.

Neither player is the kind of impact player who is going to put the Sabres in any danger of spoiling the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, but both are quality players and individuals who will help Ted Nolan instill a professional culture in Buffalo. The Sabres also inked Andrej Meszaros to a one-year deal that’s a pricey $4.125 million. On the bright side, he gives them more trade ammunition at the deadline.

Calgary Flames: C

The Deryk Engelland contract (three years, $8.7 million) was immediately criticized, considering he’s a borderline No. 6 defenseman on a good team. That’s a lot of dough for that kind of player, but at the same time, the reality is that teams in Calgary’s position have to pay a premium to land anyone on the first day of free agency, and there was competition for his services.

“There are lots of teams after him,” said one source close to Engelland on the eve of free agency. And, he certainly fits the truculent identity Brian Burke and GM Brad Treliving are trying to build in Calgary, along with bringing strong character. The Flames may not make the playoffs, but they’ll be miserable to play against. Landing a starting goalie in Jonas Hiller on such a short term (two years at a total of $9 million) helps make up for the questionable Engelland deal.

Chicago Blackhawks: A

Considering the high price his counterparts paid to address their needs at center, Chicago GM Stan Bowman deserves credit for bringing in Brad Richards on a one-year deal worth just $2 million.
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The St. Louis Blues made quite the splash Tuesday, signing the most coveted center on the unrestricted free-agent market, Paul Stastny.

Just imagine had they also traded for Jason Spezza on top of that?

That’s exactly what the Blues would have attempted had the Ottawa Senators not dealt him so early in the day.

The priority in St. Louis was to make sure Stastny was going to sign there, but a source told ESPN.com the Blues would have also circled back to the Senators after that to inquire about what it would take to get Spezza as well.

Go big or go home, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not convinced the Blues would have offered as impressive a package as the Stars did, so the Senators probably made the right decision to trade with Dallas.

More on the Stars later. But let’s finish up with the Blues first. Major kudos to GM Doug Armstrong for sticking to his guns on not signing any contract past four years with Stastny. That was really important to Armstrong, but it’s hard to have that kind of self-control on July 1 when sometimes your emotions get the better of you with all the money flying around the NHL. He gave Stastny top dollar, averaging $7 million per year, but was able to get the term he wanted at four years, buying exactly the best four years of Stastny’s career from age 28 to 32. That’s mighty impressive.

At the end of the day, Stastny could have gone elsewhere for more term, but the Blues were the runaway front-runners if he was going to leave Colorado. He grew up in St. Louis and had long ago made that club a target if he couldn’t say with the Avs. He didn’t stay because Colorado just couldn’t move enough on term or salary to ever really come close.

Now the Blues will likely feature a top line of Stastny between Alex Steen and David Backes.

Stastny wasn’t the only free-agent center signed on this day by St. Louis. While it didn’t get nearly as much fanfare, the Blues were through-the-roof delighted to get Jori Lehtera to finally sign and leave overseas, where he has been a consistent top point producer in the KHL and before that the Finnish League. The Blues drafted him in 2008 but failed in a few attempts to get him to come over. Now he’s arriving as a matured, 26-year-old pivot who may turn some heads next season.

And those stars …
So in a league where team execs will always tell you it’s impossible to acquire top-end centers, Stars GM Jim Nill has picked up Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza within 12 months.

"Jim Nill is doing an incredible job there," a rival GM said Tuesday night.

The funniest thing about the Spezza trade is that, as late as Saturday, Nill was under the impression that Spezza didn’t want to go to Dallas. There was some miscommunication or confusion with Ottawa on that. Once that got cleared up over the weekend, Nill got back hard into the Spezza situation.

There had also been some dialogue with San Jose previously regarding Joe Thornton, but Jumbo still isn’t ready to leave the Sharks. So Spezza certainly made plenty of sense for the Stars, who tried to keep up with a Western Conference arms race at center.

With Ales Hemsky also signed Tuesday, you’ve got yourself a Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin pairing on the top line perhaps and Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky on the second unit. Um yeah, there’s a few goals there.

Blackhawks get Richards
Word is Brad Richards had solid interest from the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, but in the end he was really sold on having a chance to win another Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Conversations with Hawks GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville over the past few days were all Richards needed to take a one-year flyer with the perennial Cup contenders.

To me, that’s a great fit for both sides and a smart play by Bowman to make it work at $2 million.

Brodeur still waiting
Martin Brodeur told us before free agency he knew he’d have to be patient once the market opened, and that patience is certainly being tested.

Tampa Bay was looking for a backup and spoke to Brodeur's camp, but then chose to go with Evgeni Nabokov.

The Pittsburgh Penguins talked to Brodeur’s camp but couldn’t make the money work, so they signed Thomas Greiss instead.

You have to believe there’s room somewhere for the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie, even at the age of 42, but it appears it’s not going to be easy.

Habs deal GorgesS
It wasn’t an easy few days for Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin after word leaked out of an attempted trade of Josh Gorges to Toronto, only to have the veteran defenseman block the deal to the Maple Leafs via his partial no-trade clause.

Word first leaked Saturday via TSN’s Bob McKenzie and, while it produced angry comments from Gorges, the Habs hung in there with Toronto for a few days, allowing the Maple Leafs to try to convince Gorges to change his mind. Bergevin waited until Tuesday morning, but when he was told the answer was still no from Gorges (the Habs it appears would have gotten Cody Franson in return), Montreal quickly turned its attention to Buffalo and got a deal done for a second-round pick in 2016. The Canadiens eventually got their right-handed defenseman elsewhere when they signed Tom Gilbert.

Many Habs fans and even some Montreal players are not happy to see the popular Gorges go. But with four more years on his deal at $3.9 million per season, Bergevin and the Habs front office made a calculated yet unpopular decision that Gorges’ play in the last two years of that deal would not warrant the cap hit, not to mention the necessity to open up more playing time on the left side of defense for youngster Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

Said one Western Conference GM: "I think Bergy did the right thing even if it was tough to do. Gorges is a warrior, but those miles will catch up to him."

Meanwhile, another popular player also left town Tuesday: Habs captain Brian Gionta joins Gorges in Buffalo via free agency, signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. A source told ESPN.com the Canadiens didn’t waiver from offering Gionta only a one-year extension, so that decision to leave was fairly simple for Gionta.

Between both veteran players, that’s a lot of leadership out the door and certainly two players that teammates valued. I’d say the risk here isn’t so much on the ice with these two departures, but rather off of it. There’s a leadership void to fill.

Rangers sign Boyle
Dan Boyle left "a lot" of money on the table from other teams, according to one source, in order to sign for $4.5 million per season over two years with the New York Rangers. Fact is, the allure of playing with old bud Martin St. Louis plus quarterbacking the Blueshirts power play made the Rangers the front-runners for Boyle.

Toronto, Tampa, Montreal and Detroit also had interest in Boyle.

Stephane Robidas to Maple Leafs

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
1:23
PM CT

Veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas has signed a three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The deal is worth $9 million, a league source told ESPN.com's Craig Custance on Tuesday.

Robidas, 37, spent 11 seasons with the Dallas Stars before being shipped to the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline in March.

The well-respected defenseman suffered a broken leg this past season before his trade to Anaheim and reinjured his leg during the playoffs. He played in only three games for the Ducks in the postseason but drew significant interest on the open market when free agency began Tuesday.

TSN reported that Robidas is recovering well from the multiple fractures suffered this past season. He is reportedly skating already and anticipates being ready for training camp.

Robidas provides a boost to the Maple Leafs' back end, adding 14 years of experience to Toronto's defensive corps.

Information from ESPN.com's Katie Strang was used in this report.


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The deal

Stars get: Jason Spezza, Ludwig Karlsson

Senators get: Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul and 2015 second-round pick


Dallas Stars: A+

When GM Jim Nill first arrived in Dallas, his immediate priority was strengthening the team down the middle. No easy task in a league where everybody from Anaheim to Winnipeg is looking to fortify their center position. Now, in just two offseasons, he’s built a team that has Tyler Seguin centering the top line and Jason Spezza anchoring the second line. That’s impressive.

He’s done it without trading a single first-round pick, an important distinction for a GM who still believes he’s building this team through drafting and player development.

Spezza has his flaws. For one, he has trouble staying on the ice and a player with a history of back problems comes with risk. Second, he was ill-suited as the captain of the Senators -- although this is something that won’t be an issue in Dallas, where Jamie Benn has grown into the leader -- and isn’t necessarily the strong two-way center other top centers are in the West. He’s a rental, in that he’s entering the final year of his contract, but even that has its advantages. Spezza has a $7 million cap charge, which isn’t an issue for a team like the Stars who haven’t been a cap team. But the final year of his deal carries an actual salary of just $4 million, no small consideration for a budget team in Dallas.

According to an NHL source, a contract extension with Dallas wasn’t discussed as part of this deal. If it doesn’t work out for whatever reason in Dallas, Nill can always spin him at the 2015 trade deadline, when contending teams will better be able to fit his high cap number because it will be pro-rated at midseason.

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Maybe you wondered if Jim Nill, who spent all of those years working behind the scenes with the Detroit Red Wings, would have the stuff to be a big-time NHL general manager on his own with the Dallas Stars.

Maybe you'll stop wondering now.

In one calendar year, Nill has stocked his team with two elite centers and has the Stars in a strong position to not just build on this season's surprise berth in the playoffs, but to make some noise next spring.

Nill followed his July 2013 acquisition of Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins in a blockbuster deal by acquiring disgruntled Ottawa center Jason Spezza on Tuesday, about an hour before the start of the free-agency period.

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
Graig Abel/Getty ImagesJason Spezza gives the Stars a potent 1-2 punch at center alongside Tyler Seguin.
The Stars sent Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul and a second-round 2015 draft pick to Ottawa, which continues to reshape its roster. The Senators have lost their past two captains in successive years, with Daniel Alfredsson signing as a free agent last summer with Detroit.

The Stars also got prospect Ludwig Karlsson in the deal.

Chiasson, a 6-foot-4 winger, looks to have the most upside of the group, enjoying a strong start in his rookie season with the Stars but cooling off in the second half, finishing with 13 goals and 35 points (including six power-play goals and four game-winners).

He’ll presumably get a chance to play top-six minutes with a team that must redefine itself offensively. The Senators are coming off a disappointing season in which they missed the playoffs despite remaining relatively healthy. They made surprise postseason appearances in each of the previous two seasons.

The Stars, of course, get the best player in the deal in Spezza, the second overall pick in 2001 who had spent his entire career in Ottawa and had grown tired of playing there.

Still, the move doesn’t come without question marks for Dallas. (Is there a deal of this magnitude that ever gets done without some questions about the players involved?)

Spezza has had injury issues, most notably back problems that limited him to just five regular-season games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He has played 80 or more games in a season just twice in his career.

Spezza remains a top talent, though, and has managed to collect 52 points in 56 postseason games. Those are numbers that will be important to the Stars, who pushed the Anaheim Ducks to six games in the first round of the playoffs this spring.

That series was instructive to Nill and Lindy Ruff, who was in his first year as the Stars’ coach.

Teams in the Western Conference must have the goods down the middle if they’re going to compete with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim struck pivot gold by acquiring Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks before the June 27 draft. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators have been scrambling to fill in down the middle as well.

The Stars began the draft period looking like it wouldn’t be in the running for players such as Spezza, who identified 10 teams to which he wouldn’t accept a trade.

And yet Nill and Ottawa GM Bryan Murray managed to get a deal done that gives the Stars a nice complement to Seguin, who blossomed with 37 goals (eight game-winners) last season after spending two tumultuous years in Boston, where the No. 2 overall pick in 2010 spent much of the time playing wing.

Now look around the Western Conference and contemplate these center combinations: Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter in Los Angeles; Ryan Getzlaf and Kesler in Anaheim; Logan Couture and Joe Thornton (if he stays) in San Jose; and now Seguin and Spezza in Dallas.

In a matter of days, the balance of power has been dramatically altered in the West, home to a preponderance of the NHL’s top teams.

Spezza has one year left on a deal that pays him just $4 million in real money but comes with a $7 million cap hit. Nill will presumably be looking to extend Spezza, but that’s something to consider down the road. And if the Stars hit the skids, they could of course consider flipping Spezza at next season's trade deadline.

And let’s be honest: Frankly, the Stars aren’t quite there yet. But when you factor in Seguin, Spezza and Cody Eakin, who had 16 goals last season, the Stars’ complement of centers is impressive. Throw in Jamie Benn (34 goals), emerging Russian talent Valeri Nichushkin and new signing Ales Hemsky (who played some with Spezza after going to Ottawa at the trade deadline last season) on the wings and the Stars will be able to go toe-to-toe offensively with most of the competition in the West.

Defensively, the team is still maturing and we must admit a certain ongoing skepticism about goalie Kari Lehtonen staying healthy enough to carry the Stars beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Still, as the free-agent market opens, there is little question the Stars are better than they were a few hours ago and are forcing teams to scramble for other options.

Stars acquire Jason Spezza

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
10:40
AM CT
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The Ottawa Senators have traded center Jason Spezza and prospect Ludwig Karlsson to the Dallas Stars for forward Alex Chiasson, prospects Nicholas Paul and Alex Guptill and a second-round draft pick in 2015.

Spezza had been on the trading block for weeks after requesting a deal from Ottawa, with both the Stars and St. Louis Blues emerging as two of the most aggressive suitors in acquiring the former Senators captain.

Stars general manager Jim Nill won that sweepstakes, adding one of the top centers available to a lineup that already boasts young pivot Tyler Seguin and star forward Jamie Benn.

The team also signed free agent forward Ales Hemsky on Tuesday to a contract reportedly worth $12 million over three years.

Hemsky and Spezza were briefly teammates in Ottawa last season.

"I'm thrilled because we had great chemistry at the end of the year," said Spezza. "So it's nice to hear. We got to know each other pretty well pretty quickly."

The 31-year-old Spezza is coming off a 23-goal, 66-point season for the Senators. He has recorded four seasons of 30 goals or more in his 11 years with Ottawa.

Spezza has one year remaining on a seven-year deal that pays him $7 million annually.

He was one of the top three centers that became available on the trading block leading up to what has already been a wild offseason.

Ryan Kesler


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Paul StastnyKarl Gehring/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPaul Stastny's destination in free agency could shift the balance of power in the Western Conference.
Editor's note: This column posted prior to Paul Stastny agreeing to a four-year, $28 million deal with the Blues.

It’s the one day a year teams that can close the gap on the NHL’s best without giving up an asset outside of cap space. The prices today at the start of free agency are going to be inflated -- and GMs are going to be a little uneasy about it -- but that’s how it goes when parity rules and there’s a gap to erase between the best and those trying to catch them.

There’s no better example of this than the battle to fortify the center position in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Kings are set, with four high-end centers, anchored by Anze Kopitar. The Anaheim Ducks took care of their business early with the Ryan Kesler trade. The Chicago Blackhawks have an advantage simply because they have Jonathan Toews.

That leaves teams in the middle such as the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild figuring out the best ways to counterattack these powerhouses down the middle.

Today becomes a critical day in that effort, with Paul Stastny in the middle of it.

Stastny is the best center available, the only one on the free agent market who can be in the same conversation as some of these other elite Olympians. Where he ends up could help shift the power of the West.

His agent, Matt Keator, has said he’ll give the Avalanche the opportunity to match any offers out there, and Stastny loves playing in Colorado, so they still have that edge. If it’s not them, the Blues are the other leaders. Chicago is a wild card if GM Stan Bowman decides he’s willing to make the space for him.

That puts pressure on the other Western Conference teams to find a way to keep pace with the contenders at center.

“I can’t control that part,” said Stars GM Jim Nill, who is on the prowl for a center. “Of course, you have to keep up with them. Maybe our 'keeping up' is our kids getting better. We can’t speed up our process. That’s when we get in trouble. If I try to speed this up... that’s where you get in trouble.”

In Minnesota, GM Chuck Fletcher has a similar philosophy. He saw strides from Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula last season, and Haula played really well for the Wild in the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeWild
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesWild rookie Erik Haula had five points during the six-game series against the Blackhawks.
The Wild may close the gap, not by entering the arms race at center, but by strengthening the team around incumbents Mikko Koivu, Granlund and Haula. They have cap space, would like to add help on defense and for the right price (and term) will be in on Thomas Vanek.

The complication with the Wild is that they have restricted free agent contract negotiations coming over the course of the next couple years with Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Haula, Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and others. With Zach Parise and Ryan Suter already locked in long term, Fletcher will be trying to lure players without a big appetite to match some of the term other teams will offer.

“Our fear is going out too far with too many players, without knowing what the young guys are going to cost us,” Fletcher said. “What exactly is the role? Last year by the end of the playoffs, we had Niederreiter and Coyle on the second line. We had Pominville and Parise on another line. If you’re fitting someone in, how does that change our lines? There’s a lot into this.”

In Winnipeg, they made a bid for Stastny, but according to colleague Pierre LeBrun, didn’t find themselves on the pared-down final list.

Like the others, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is leaning on drafting and developing, but he’s also open to being creative to find other ways to fill their need at center.

“You’re looking at free agency, a lot of times those things aren’t necessarily there for everybody. Someone might get the couple players that are there. You look at it from a trade perspective,” Cheveldayoff said. “Sometimes you end up staring at it. It’s something you’re consciously trying to do, but there are only opportunities maybe to do it at different times. Nothing is ever final. You’re always looking.”

The Stastny domino is a key one, but there are a lot of other moving parts as free agency gets rolling at noon ET today:

• Vanek was offered some monster contracts from Buffalo and the Islanders, but has been insistent since day one that he’s going to test the market. While the preference is always to go long-term for the player, that won’t be a deal-breaker for him today. If there’s a fit on a team Vanek is comfortable with, he’s willing to go shorter on the term of the deal.

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EhroffFrederick Breedon/Getty ImagesAfter being bought out, Christian Ehrhoff has risen near the top of many teams' shopping lists.
Initially unable to finalize a deal to send Sam Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes from Tampa Bay, Arizona GM Don Maloney came up with a plan with Steve Yzerman.

“I said, ‘I’m going to have a beer. You have a glass of wine,’” Maloney said. “If you can come up with an idea, call me back.”

Internally, the Coyotes concluded that if the Tampa Bay Lightning could retain enough salary on Gagner, he was the guy they wanted. But they couldn’t do it otherwise.

A determined Yzerman made it happen. He kept one-third of Gagner's salary; that is better than buying him out, which was likely the other option.

And now, the question for Tampa Bay is this: What was all of this for?

With the trades, the Lightning have an additional $5.65 million in cap space after sending Teddy Purcell to Edmonton, Gagner and B.J. Crombeen to the Coyotes and Nate Thompson to the Anaheim Ducks. According to CapGeek.com, the Lightning now have $9.5 million in cap space, and that’s before they put Mattias Ohlund on long-term injured reserve. In October, the Lightning will have even more flexibility.

It makes the Lightning one of the most fascinating teams to watch when free agency finally opens on Tuesday at noon ET.

A couple of factors may provide clues as to exactly what the Lightning are looking for. Colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that the Lightning made a push for the No. 1 overall pick before the draft in Philadelphia. It was the package that came closest to making Panthers GM Dale Tallon pull the trigger.

The prize of the draft was potential franchise defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who would give the Lightning a pretty darn good one-two punch with Victor Hedman and complements his style quite well.

The other factor, and it might have been absolutely coincidental, is that the Lightning cleared their cap space on the same day that defenseman Christian Ehrhoff became available.

The Sabres processed the buyout on the 31-year-old defenseman, and he immediately joined Matt Niskanen, Anton Stralman and Dan Boyle as the best defensemen available in free agency. For a weak class, those are pretty good options.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps emotionally driven and certainly frustrated, veteran general manager Bryan Murray revealed more than a little after the NHL draft Saturday regarding his failed attempts so far to trade star center Jason Spezza.

For starters, the Ottawa Senators GM said a potential deal with the Nashville Predators was scuttled because Spezza didn’t want to go there -- the Preds are on Spezza’s list of 10 teams he won’t go to.

"[Preds GM] David [Poile] talked to me, and we couldn’t go there," Murray said. "I told [Spezza’s agent] Rick Curran that today, I had a deal sitting there if I wanted to do it, but he was on the list of no-goes."

Poile also confirmed the potential deal.

“I've talked to Bryan about Jason, and I was told through [Spezza’s] agent that he didn’t want to play for us. And that was confirmed by Bryan," Poile said Saturday.

The hint was that Murray could have gotten Patric Hornqvist and Nic Spaling, the two players who went to Pittsburgh for James Neal.

“They’ve done their James Neal trade, so that has gone away,” Murray said. "Anaheim’s gone away with Kesler, so the field narrows a little bit. But yeah, they might need to have a little change in approach, as well as I do.”

The question now is whether Spezza would consider changing his mind on Nashville if his situation drags on. After all, he is the one who asked for a trade.

“Maybe David and I will have a conversation later on, I don’t know that,” Murray said. "We talked today but didn’t indicate anything about a trade because of the Neal trade. But he may come back to me.”

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNashville is one of the 10 teams that Jason Spezza will not accept a trade to.
But a source close to Spezza told ESPN.com that, at this point, he has no intention of changing his mind on Nashville.

It’s clear that the classy Poile had a hint of frustration in his voice as he talked about Spezza not wanting to go to Nashville.

“I’m not going to pitch somebody if they don’t want to play for us,” Poile said. "This game is hard enough as it is. You’ve got to be fully committed.”

Poile sees Nashville as an attractive place for a player with a team that’s improving.

“I want to be optimistic. I think we’re closer than a lot of people are giving us credit for," Poile said.

“I have no problem selling my team, and I think it’s an easy sell. What we have on the ice, what we have off the ice, the city, the atmosphere, no state taxes, there’s a lot of advantages to playing in Nashville.”

And what he’d dearly love is a center of Spezza’s talents, or perhaps Paul Stastny (UFA on Tuesday).

“If I had it on my wish list, I would like to get a No. 1 center, and we’re going to try to get that,” Poile said. "If that happens the next couple of days or it happens in free agency or it happens through a trade that would be great. If it doesn’t happen right now, I have patience. I don’t think we really have an age problem on our team, but I think we’re really getting the correct pieces in place to be a more competitive club than we’ve been in the last couple of years.”

For the Senators, it may very well be that once Stastny is taken off the market, some of the teams who were chasing him will come back on Spezza.

"We’ll continue to talk and, over the course of time, I’m sure people that miss out on July 1 may come knocking, but we’ll have to wait and see," Murray said.

"Jason’s a 80-90 point guy, and you don’t get that return in any kind of trade in this league today, but I’m hoping we get something fair for the organization, so that we can put a player on the ice and maybe get a prospect or two and go from there."

A source told ESPN.com that Murray had another conversation about Spezza with St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong on Saturday morning, the Senators trying to pry the Blues’ second-round pick in a possible package. But the Blues stood pat for now, although it’s believed their interest in Spezza remains strong. The same can be said for the Chicago Blackhawks, although they’ve got to figure out their salary-cap situation to have any chance to make a deal work with Ottawa.

The Blues also have interest in Stastny, so that’s another potential avenue, although half the teams in the league have approached Stastny’s camp.

HABS TRY TO MOVE GORGES
Talk about out of left field, news broke by my TSN teammate Bob McKenzie on Saturday that the Maple Leafs and rival Montreal Canadiens had talked about a potential Josh Gorges trade. Only one problem, Toronto isn’t among the 15 teams that Gorges has listed on his partial no-trade provision as clubs he’s willing to go to. But what it does tell you is that Gorges is in play, only thing is, Montreal needs to find a partner among those 15 teams listed.

Gorges, 29, has four more years on his deal at a $3.9 million cap hit.

The Leafs did trade for a blueliner, getting Roman Polak from St. Louis in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and the 94th overall pick. Toronto retained $200,000 of cap space in the transaction.

NEW SALARY CAP
Perhaps the biggest buzz item of the weekend was the salary cap, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announcing Friday that it would be $69 million for next season.

That’s about $1 million less than what most teams had budgeted for, which is no small deal.

For teams like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, every dime matters when you’re a cap team and having a lower-than-expected cap greatly affects potential moves and certainly the ability to spend.

"Yeah, it affects every team that’s close," Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Saturday. "It affects us for sure. We’ve got to find a way to get below it. It was a little lower than we thought and hoped."

The Blackhawks are trying to find a No. 2 center, the Bruins had hoped to re-sign Jarome Iginla, the Rangers have Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman headed to free agency, and the list goes on.

Having a cap that’s a $1 million less than expected is far from ideal for many of these cap teams.

What’s most interesting is that in the negotiations over setting the cap number, it was the NHL Players’ Association wanting it at $69 million while the league wanted it at $70 million. The NHLPA’s concern was that a $70-million cap would lead to more escrow payments for players next year.

That’s a valid point, it’s just rare for the players to be arguing for less spending and the league wanting more.

"Role reversal," chuckled one team executive.

STARS BUSY?
Stars GM Jim Nill said he’d like to add a piece or two to his forward group but did not divulge his specific targets.

Sources suggest he’s talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton and also to Ottawa about Jason Spezza.

What he found out is that Thornton at this point has no intention to waive his no-movement clause.

AVS TO TALK TO STASTNY
Agent Matt Keator was a popular man this week in Philadelphia, courted by half the teams in the league on the subject of his client and pending UFA center Paul Stastny.

It’s clear Colorado will need to boost its last offer to Stastny (believed to be a number that starts with 5) in order to retain his services.

"We’re going to continue talking, I’m going to talk to him probably tomorrow," Avs executive Joe Sakic said Saturday. "We’ll see where we’re at."

Stastny dearly wants to stay in Denver. But he’s going to get offered more money elsewhere, so he will have to balance those two thoughts.

"That’s what you get when you’re an UFA, the ultimate decision is Paul’s," Sakic said. "I’m sure there’s lots of teams that have interest, where they’re going to go financially, I don’t know, but I know what we can do. Hopefully it will work out, but we’ll see."

ALFIE'S FUTURE
Daniel Alfredsson, 41, continues to mull over his playing future.

"I think right now, Daniel -- not unlike a lot of veteran guys in his situation and his age -- just wants to take his time and make the right decision," his agent J.P. Barry of CAA said Saturday. "He wants to feel 100 percent before he makes any decision.

"I think he’s leaning towards playing, we all think that, but at the same time he needs that time in the summer to feel 100 percent."

If Alfredsson does return, it’s likely only for Detroit.

NISKANEN READY FOR MARKET
Matt Niskanen is almost surely gone from Pittsburgh, the cap-challenged Penguins unable to match what the UFA blueliner will fetch on the open market both in term and dollars.

Don’t be surprised to see Niskanen and his agent Neil Sheehy fetch north of $5 million a year and term around five or six years for the puck-mover.

FLORIDA'S NO. 1 PICK
Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he was close on one particular offer to trade away the No. 1 overall pick Friday night.

And while Philadelphia and Vancouver made strong pitches, the club that made Tallon think the most was Tampa Bay, a source said.

Imagine if the two Florida clubs had gotten together for that kind of blockbuster.


PHILADELPHIA -- The NHL draft is first and foremost about distributing the league's future talent among its franchises, but it's also an opportunity for each team to assess its overall needs and set the course of the organization for the coming weeks and months. With that in mind, we set to grade each team's efforts at the hockey-palooza that is the draft weekend. Each team received a grade for the talent they managed to acquire and another grade for how well the team's fortunes fared in the same 48 hours.

Corey Pronman provided the talent grades and emptied his notebook (including re-printing each first-rounder's scouting report from Friday's live blog) to give you a comprehensive glimpse at each team's future, while Frank Provenzano graded each front office's weekend.



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P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty Getty ImagesMontreal landed P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty in 2007. Oh, and there was that other player, too.
There’s a theory in hockey when it comes to the draft. Get two NHL players out of a draft class and you’re doing pretty well. Hit on three and you’re ahead of the game. Four? You could be building a dynasty if they’re impact players.

Teams that miss completely on a draft class, however, set their franchise back years. It’s devastating.

That’s what’s on the line this weekend when the NHL teams gather for the 2014 NHL draft in Philadelphia.

In the early days of the George McPhee era, the former Washington Capitals general manager didn’t like the results he was getting from his drafts. The draft is the lifeblood of a franchise, and there were just too many misses in Washington.

So they reviewed everything about the process -- a crucial exercise for any franchise.

“We didn’t change people, we changed the way we did it,” McPhee said when we chatted Wednesday afternoon. “Without giving ammunition away, we changed the way we did everything. The way we did our meetings. The way we put our list together. The way we did interviews, how we interviewed players. How we cross-pollinated with scouts and crosscheckers. And it worked.”

The McPhee era didn’t result in a Stanley Cup, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of drafts under his watch. There was and continues to be a pipeline of young talent in D.C.

In looking back at the best draft classes by team from the past 10 years, the Capitals have one in the top five. And it’s not even the one in which they landed Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green in the same year.

As they honed their strategy, they became more confident in it and how to execute it. For example, last year the Capitals identified 12 players they expected to be really good NHL players without holes in their game. After that, they had another five players they expected to be NHL players with just a few flaws that dropped them to a second tier.

That’s 17 players. The Capitals were drafting No. 23 overall.

So McPhee lined up a trade to move back if one of those 17 players weren't available. It’s about pick management as much as it is getting the right players.

When they were on the clock in Newark, however, one of those 17 players remained. They called off the trade and took the last guy in their group: Austrian Andre Burakovsky.

He put up 41 goals this past season for the Erie Otters in the OHL.

“We saw an elite talent, an exceptional hockey mind, exceptional hockey skill,” McPhee said. “It’s one of the things I liked most about the job was figuring out the draft and coming up with ways to operate so that you could be a good drafting team.”

Who are some of the best drafting teams? Here’s a look back at the 10 most impressive performances by teams in the last 10 years, weighing heavier on teams that hit on players outside the No. 1 overall pick.

1. Montreal Canadiens, Class of 2007

The Eastern Conference finals was a showcase as to just how impressive this draft was for the Canadiens, even if it might have been painful at times for Canadiens fans. On one side you had Ryan McDonagh anchoring the Rangers defense. On the other, P.K. Subban. Both picked by the Canadiens in this draft, with McDonagh going at No. 12 and Subban at No. 43.

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