Burnside rants: Truth to realignment rumors, Hulsizer and Heatley-Havlat fallout
That discussion about Winnipeg being destined for a revamped Central Division for the 2012-13 season? Better cool your, er, Jets.
Despite Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold's assertions to a local radio station earlier this week that the realignment question has been all squared away and the Winnipeg Jets would join the Wild in a new Central Division, the relocation issue is far from being resolved.
An NHL source told ESPN.com on Wednesday it was premature to suggest any decisions have been made on how the NHL will look a year from now. Multiple sources have also told us the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg will give the NHL an opportunity to rethink its entire structure, so the realignment question will not be resolved until all parties have had their say.
Our colleague Pierre LeBrun previously reported the NHL will take advantage of the Thrashers' relocation and consider paring down from six divisions to a four-division, two-conference set-up that would make it easier to install a balanced schedule.
Regardless of where teams land, the realignment decision promises to be an emotional one.
Detroit and Columbus are both itching to move to the Eastern Conference, while Nashville would also welcome a move from the West given its onerous travel schedule and the difficulty in garnering fans for late-night games on the West Coast.
It's hard to imagine the Wings moving to the East given how strong a draw they are throughout the Western Conference; there is also the issue of competitive balance given that the Jets will almost certainly continue to be a marginal team for the foreseeable future.
Most Eastern Conference teams would be opposed to a Jets-for-Wings swap since the Wings are a perennial powerhouse and would make the road to a playoff spot even more difficult.
While the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership situation remains status quo (that is to say, it remains a mess with no end in sight), their former suitor is definitely moving on.
Matt Hulsizer has visited with St. Louis Blues principal owner and chairman Dave Checketts about purchasing the Blues, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.
Nothing is imminent regarding a sale of the Blues, whose ownership situation has been in limbo for some time.
According to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hulsizer isn't the only party interested in buying the team. The chairman of Game Plan LLC, the group handling the sale of the Blues, told the newspaper that there are "five very interested parties."
But with Hulsizer moving on and exploring other NHL opportunities, one wonders if there isn't a lot of second-guessing going on in Glendale. Hulsizer's last proposal to local leaders was to purchase the controversial municipal bonds that were key to a new lease agreement between him and the City of Glendale. That proposal would have put an additional $5 million in the city coffers, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.
But city officials weren't interested -- or, at least, key city officials weren't interested -- and Hulsizer and his more than $100 million in cash may now be headed to St. Louis.
The Blues are in a vastly superior place in terms of the marketplace after rebuilding their relationship with the fan base but are not quite there yet in terms of the on-ice product. It is pretty much the opposite of what Hulsizer was looking at with the Coyotes.
The surprising Heatley-Havlat deal
This is no question a risk for both teams as both players carry significant baggage.
Havlat has battled injury and never quite lived up to the significant talent he possesses. The big winger had just 22 goals this past season, although the drop from the 29 he scored in 2008-09 might be attributed to a decline in ice time and power-play opportunities. (Of course, these are all chicken-and-egg issues; did Havlat see less ice time because he was less productive, etc.?) Regardless, Havlat will be given top-six ice time in San Jose. It will be a major disappointment to GM Doug Wilson if Havlat doesn't get back to the 30-goal vicinity given the talented cast surrounding him. This is all assuming he stays healthy, of course.
Heatley is likewise hoping to rebound after a season that saw his goal production drop to 26 from 39. That was followed by another mediocre playoff performance as the Sharks bowed out in the Western Conference finals for the second straight postseason. While Heatley's health may have been a contributing factor in his playoff performance, he was essentially a third-line winger for the talented Sharks. He will now see his profile jump considerably in goal-starved Minnesota, where his 26 goals would have led the team in the past few seasons.
Heatley is now on his fourth NHL team in less than 10 years of NHL play. Along with former Sharks teammate Devin Setoguchi (he was sent to Minnesota in a separate deal), Heatley will be expected to invigorate a moribund power play and re-energize a fan base that has grown weary of mediocrity.
Setoguchi and Heatley donned their Wild jerseys for the first time this week, and GM Chuck Fletcher said he has no concerns about Heatley's declining production or about his past issues in asking to be traded from Atlanta and later from the Senators. We said this three summers ago when Heatley forced his way out of Ottawa to San Jose, but maybe this is where the talented winger finally gets it right (the Wild are certainly banking big time that it is).
What about McCabe?
Let's be fair, the free-agent pickings left on the table are, well, pretty slim. But the one name that jumps out at us is defenseman Bryan McCabe.
He may never approach his high-water mark as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005-06 when he was a late add to the Canadian Olympic team; but he is a big body with a big shot and we still can't quite figure out why he hasn't been signed by someone like, say, the New York Islanders.
No team has as far to go to get to the salary cap floor of $48.3 million as the Islanders ($10.45 million according to CapGeek.com as of Tuesday).
The Islanders are an interesting group given their emerging young talent that includes rookie of the year nominee Michael Grabner and former No. 1 overall pick John Tavares. With Mark Streit returning from a season-ending injury, McCabe might be an interesting complement on a back end that needs to improve if the Isles are going to jump back into the playoffs for just the second time since the lockout.