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Friday, November 4, 2011
Weekend Notebook: Price's value, spend-happy Preds and the lone star

By Pierre LeBrun

It took about 35 seconds after Pekka Rinne's seven-year, $49 million contract extension was announced by the Nashville Predators for Montreal Canadiens fans to flood Twitter with Carey Price comparisons.

And yes, there's no question that Price's leverage just went up even more, if it wasn't high enough to begin with.

They are not exact comparisons: Rinne was unrestricted free agent-bound, while Price will be a restricted free agent July 1. UFA-bound players always have a bit more leverage.

Still, they're both MVPs for their respective teams and top-five goalies in the world.

Contract talks haven't begun yet between the Habs and Price's camp, but the plan is for those discussions to begin before the offseason.

"We're expecting to have a conversation with Montreal sometime this season," Price's agent, Gerry Johansson, told ESPN.com on Thursday.

Price is earning $2.75 million this season, and that salary will easily double.

And What About the Preds?



Speaking of the story shifting quickly, it didn't take long for the Predators angle to move from Rinne's deal to the remaining two big free agents on the team.
Ryan Suter
The future of Ryan Suter in Nashville largely depends on the team's success this season.
Ryan Suter is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and captain Shea Weber will be a restricted free agent. We chatted with a half-dozen NHL team executives Thursday in the wake of Rinne's signing, and none of them believe the Preds can sign both. The betting money in the industry is that one signs, and the other one goes.

"I think it's going to be awfully hard to them to get both defensemen done," one NHL GM said.

What those executives may not know is what Preds GM David Poile shared with ESPN.com on Thursday evening: Ownership gave him the financial green light last week to sign all three of his impending free agents to "fair market value" deals. Which means if the Preds pull it off, their payroll will go from the third-lowest in the NHL this season to possibly top 10 next year.

Now, it's one thing for the Preds to have the green light to spend on Suter and Weber, but it's another for both players to agree on what fair market value is, or to want to say in Nashville. How the team performs this season will certainly also play a factor in both players' decisions.

First up for Poile will be Suter since his pending UFA status makes his situation a little more pressing than Weber's. Technically, Weber can't sign a new deal until January anyway, per the CBA rule for players on one-year deals.

As we reported Tuesday, Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy, plans to be in Nashville in mid-November to sit down with Poile and resume contract talks. Suter is earning $3.5 million this season. We'd be shocked if he wasn't looking to make at least $6.5 million, if not $7 million, in his new deal.

If the Preds don't have Suter locked up as the Feb. 27 trade deadline approaches, Poile will have a mighty difficult decision to make. He didn't move pending UFA Dan Hamhuis a few years back and saw him walk away to Vancouver in the summer. If the Preds aren't in a playoff spot Feb 27, it's a no-brainer: You move Suter and maximize his asset value. But if Nashville is once again in a playoff spot, it's white-knuckle time. The Preds likely would have to keep him for the playoff drive and swallow hard if he walks away July 1.

Did we mention the Detroit Red Wings have more than $20 million of cap room next summer?

Hurricanes Trade Talk



Much has been made of the surplus on defense in Toronto and the eventual and likely trade the Maple Leafs will make using that surplus sometime this season.

But another team that's willing to move a defenseman is the Carolina Hurricanes, a source told ESPN.com this week.

The idea is to give more ice time eventually to the likes of Justin Faulk or Derek Joslin, both promising young blueliners. The Hurricanes need to open up that ice time by moving a defenseman.

It's not clear whom the Hurricanes would be willing to move, but Bryan Allen is eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Hurricanes' Ownership



Veteran GM Jim Rutherford added minority owner to his title Thursday when the Hurricanes announced he is among 10 new minority partners joining principal owner Peter Karmanos.

"I feel very good about my longtime relationship with my boss and friend, Pete Karmanos," Rutherford told ESPN.com. "When this opportunity was laid out to local people, I was part [of] it and listening to it and realized it was something I wanted to do and was worthwhile to do."

Rutherford was already a mainstay at board of governors meetings for the Hurricanes, but now he'll attend those meetings with an ownership stake. We asked him, given the specter of a new collective bargaining agreement next year, whether that changed the way he viewed the industry now that he isn't just a GM.

"No, it doesn't change how I look at things," Rutherford said. "Really, over the last number of years I have really been excited about where the on-ice game has gone and where it's going. Also, as franchises get stronger, we see more growth in Carolina. So I'll look at things the same way that I have. I just think the league has done a good job."

Team USA 2014



We wrote a few weeks ago that if Steve Yzerman wants to run Team Canada's 2014 Olympic team, it's his job again.

But what about Team USA?

USA Hockey has not approached 2010 GM Brian Burke about it at this point. It's still early, obviously. We'd be surprised if Burke was not the GM again -- or at least was part of the operation in some capacity along with the committee of NHL GMs that USA Hockey will likely lean on again.

It's behind the bench that it might get interesting. Ron Wilson did a terrific job in Vancouver with a surprise silver medal. But it wasn't gold, so we're guessing that opens up the job.

The betting money from this perspective is on Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Again, a lot can change between now and USA Hockey's decision-making time, but we believe Bylsma is the early front-runner.

Howard Solid



Perhaps lost somewhat in Detroit's recent struggles -- the Red Wings entered the weekend on a six-game slide (0-5-1) -- has been the excellent play nonetheless of netminder Jimmy Howard.

"I hate to waste goaltending performances," coach Mike Babcock told ESPN.com this week.

Babcock made the comparison to a pitcher in baseball always throwing gems but still losing.

"If you're Jimmy Howard, you've got to be suing for no run support," Babcock said.

The Red Wings, as of Friday morning, were 25th in the NHL in goals per game. Nothing short of stunning.

Howard, meanwhile, entered the weekend with a 1.99 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.