With Kovy traded, teams turn to Plan B
Editor's note: There's the March 3 trade deadline, and then there's the Olympic roster freeze that runs from Feb. 12-28. Between now and Feb. 12, ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun will look at 10 potential trade baits and which teams have a chance to land some much-needed help.
Turning to Plan B
Scott Burnside: Well, Pierre, Thursday was a pretty exciting day, no? Ilya Kovalchuk was traded to New Jersey, but some teams that lost out on the star forward have to turn to Plan B. The focus also shifts to the rest of the rental players who are available before the deadline.
I'll start with Columbus' Raffi Torres. The gritty winger has struggled through injuries the past couple of seasons but is back on track this season, just in time to sign a new contract, as he'll become an unrestricted free agent in July. Remember how good he was for the Oilers back in 2006 as they cruised to a surprise berth in the Cup finals? Torres was a key part of that team. He has 16 goals this season, including three game winners, and will be on the move before March 3. I think he'd be a nice addition for a team looking for a little sand and offense. Thoughts?
Pierre LeBrun: You're right, the focus now shifts to those rental players available, and I can tell you the phone lines were burning back up at the Maple Leafs' offices in Toronto, where 19-goal man Alexei Ponikarovsky is available. But let's start with Torres, as you suggested. I checked in with a Blue Jackets source this morning, and there's nothing really new on that front other than that it's a near certainty the UFA-to-be will move. With his ruggedness and offensive talent, Torres would be a real nice playoff pickup. I can't help but think the Pittsburgh Penguins are keeping an eye on him; then again, I think the Penguins may end up with one of three wingers: Ponikarovsky, Torres or Ray Whitney.
Burnside: I wonder whether teams like Los Angeles or maybe even Colorado will be looking at Torres, given his playoff experience. I spoke with Colorado GM Greg Sherman this week, and the Avs will be pretty cautious about moving their young assets. Still, Torres might be a nice fit with a gritty, young Avs team that remains in the hunt for the Northwest Division title and home-ice advantage through the first round of the playoffs. (Both would be huge for a team trying to reconnect with its fan base.) Likewise, the Kings will want to add more playoff experience, as they also are in a position to have home-ice advantage in the first round. If they can't agree to a contract extension with Whitney, maybe Torres would be a nice Plan B for GM Dean Lombardi.
LeBrun: I think ownership will put some level of pressure on Lombardi to do something because it will have known he was on the final short list to land Kovalchuk. Whitney, at age 37, can't expect a three-year extension, not with the 35-and-older rule that says a player's average salary counts against a team's cap each year of the contract, even if he retires. The Kings would be willing to do a one-year extension; I have to think cooler heads will prevail there. But we'll see. The Penguins, I'm sure, are hoping the Kings miss out on him. From what I was told Thursday, the Penguins haven't called Carolina yet because they simply can't afford him right now. It's not so much that Whitney's $3.55 million salary is that big a deal, but it's the fact that Carolina won't take any salary in return in any Whitney swap. The Hurricanes want picks or prospects. So, if you're Pittsburgh with its tight cap room, it appears you have to wait until March 2 or March 3 to enter the fray.
Burnside: It will be interesting to see how Ponikarovsky fits into the picture. He is a big body, has 19 goals and has played in 23 playoff games for the Leafs. Obviously, his playoff experience isn't recent, but it's something. And if the asking price for Whitney is too high, both in terms of what goes back to Carolina and what Whitney might want in terms of a contract extension to waive his no-trade clause, the Toronto forward, like Torres, will be an interesting alternative for teams such as Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.
And what about Atlanta? Thrashers GM Don Waddell said Thursday night he'll be a buyer assuming his team stays in the hunt, and Ponikarovsky has played with Thrashers forward Nik Antropov. Hmm. Given the flurry of trades we've seen in the past week, do you think there will be pressure on GMs like Lombardi to try to get something done ahead of the Feb. 12 Olympic roster freeze, especially knowing a team like Pittsburgh likely will have to wait because of its cap issues?
LeBrun: I wouldn't be surprised if Ponikarovsky is the guy who ends up in Pittsburgh, but that's just a hunch. While we're talking about contenders, I should update a situation with the San Jose Sharks. It does appear a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, from what I've been told, could go through as early as today. (The Sharks would acquire Niclas Wallin.) San Jose was hot to trot for a blueliner, and it appears it has one now. The trade was first reported by TSN in Canada on Wednesday night, but it has taken a while to complete the deal because of Wallin's no-trade clause. Good pickup for Sharks GM Doug Wilson if the deal is indeed completed. OK, my friend, enjoy your weekend!
• You also can get up-to-the-minute trade discussion in Rumor Central.