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Thursday, February 9, 2012
Rumblings: Sellers starting to emerge

By Pierre LeBrun

Ray Whitney is on the radar of a few contenders and with good reason, the Wizard amazingly leading the Phoenix Coyotes in scoring at 39 years old.

An unrestricted free agent July 1, he could be on the move if the Coyotes fall out of the playoff race over the next two weeks.

Sources have told ESPN.com that Boston, San Jose and the New York Rangers covet the slick playmaker.

The tricky part is that Whitney has a no-move clause that calls for him to list eight teams to which he’d be willing to be traded. A source told ESPN.com on Thursday that that conversation had yet to happen, which makes sense since the Coyotes remain very much in the playoff race at this point.

Still, a name worth keeping an eye on.

RED-HOT ISLES


The New York Islanders are on a roll, and the last thing on their mind right now is the thought of being sellers come trade deadline day. They believe they’ve got a shot at a playoff spot in the East and that’s their only focus at this point.

"Yeah, we have a lot of belief in that locker room," Isles GM Garth Snow told ESPN.com Wednesday. "Within the last few weeks, we’ve really turned it up a notch as a team. Our specialty teams have improved. We’re just looking forward to the next game."

Veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov has been lights-out of late. He’s slated for unrestricted free agency July 1, which is why his name is often floated in trade rumors, but that’s not what Snow has in mind at this point.

"We have no intention of moving Evgeni," Snow said. "He’s been great for us. His performance speaks for itself."

There haven’t been any contract talks between the Islanders and Nabokov’s camp, but it’s not out of the question down the road.

"Yeah, we’d consider all options, we’re just not at that point yet," said Snow. "We just finished [signing] Frans [Nielsen] and we obviously have a few other players who are unrestricted free agents in July, so we’ll just chip away at them."

Among those other UFAs-to-be is forward P.A. Parenteau. Talks have begun there but still no deal.

"We’ve been having a dialogue with his agent and we’ll see where it goes," Snow said.

LEAFS HOST WINTER CLASSIC?


The Toronto Maple Leafs will play in Detroit for the Winter Classic next Jan. 1, the first step in what they hope is hosting one.

"We would definitely want to, the league knows we want to host it one day," Tom Anselmi, the COO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told ESPN.com Thursday. "We’d like to host it either in conjunction or in the lead-up to our 100-year anniversary. But obviously we need to figure out the building issue."

The 20,000-seat BMO Field, where MLS team Toronto FC plays, is the most likely site for an outdoor NHL game in Toronto. But 20,000 seats won’t cut it. The Leafs would need to expand the stadium, perhaps only temporarily, to have any chance at hosting a game.

Anselmi also reiterated the Leafs’ desire to host the NHL Entry Draft and the NHL All-Star Game somewhere around or leading up to the club’s centennial anniversary, which is in 2017.

SENS AT THE DEADLINE


Ottawa’s slide down the standings has certainly tied the hands of GM Bryan Murray. He can’t commit to being a buyer or seller at this point with his team on the playoff bubble.

"The one thing we have is a plan going forward, we think we know that we have some young kids coming that are valuable and we’re not going to trade them," Murray told ESPN.com earlier this week. "We’ll see if there’s anything that makes sense, but in all likelihood it’s status quo at the moment, anyway."

In a perfect world, if the Senators can climb back up the standings over the next two weeks and gain more comfort from the danger zone, they’ll look to add a forward.

"We’ll see, we’ll let it play out here," Murray said. "If we bounce back, we may have to make a different decision. But at the moment, we’re just going to hold and see if we can get our better players to play better."

Murray hasn’t sat on his hands over the past month, though.

"I did make a couple of calls," Murray said. "I found out an approximate price. It’s not cheap. I don’t know how many trades there are going to be this year, but the people selling are going to have high demands. It sounds like that anyway."

DUCKS AT THE DEADLINE


Based on what I’m hearing from other teams, it would appear more and more that if the Ducks were going to move one of their big guys, it would likely happpen in the offseason.

You never say never, because the Ducks could get an offer for Bobby Ryan they just can’t refuse before Feb. 27, but the prevailing thought around the league is that if the Ducks decide to move a big chip like Ryan or Ryan Getzlaf -- and that remains an if -- the offseason presents a better opportunity to involve more teams in the mix.

Just like the Flyers did with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last June.

Besides, the Ducks are on a roll right now, so they haven’t given up on the season.

Top offensive blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky could still move before Feb. 27, however, although the Ducks aren’t giving him away. He’s not a rental player, he’s got another year on his deal, so Anaheim will move Visnovsky only in a traditional hockey deal, not a rental deal where it gets a bucket of pucks.

The interesting part about Visnovsky is that while his cap hit for next year remains at $5.6 million, pretty hefty, his actual salary drops to $3 million, so that might interest some teams.

Niklas Hagman (UFA July 1) is getting some nibbles as well. He’s a versatile player and your typical depth forward, rental addition.

LEAFS AT THE DEADLINE


The Leafs would have preferred to have made their deal by now. GM Brian Burke doesn’t like adding players right at the deadline. He prefers to make his deals at least a month out so that the player or players have more time to get acclimated to the new surroundings.

But it didn’t happen for the Leafs, just like it didn’t happen for most other contenders who were shopping in January but found the prices too exorbitant given the lack of sellers.

The Leafs’ desire is to add a top-six forward with size. They’re not easy to find.

The other factor Toronto’s front office must weigh is that the team has gone gangbusters since the calendar flipped to 2012, and one must consider that when contemplating making a roster move to a dressing room that’s in sync right now.

"Yes, momentum and chemistry both factor in whether you shuffle the deck," Burke told ESPN.com Wednesday.

The key, at least in my opinion, is to make sure if you make a big addition that the reaction in the room is players feeling euphoric that the team has a better chance to win now. As opposed to wondering why a teammate they’re fond of has been dealt.

Speaking of the Leafs, second-line center Mikhail Grabovski -- slated to be UFA July 1 -- remains unsigned, although his agent Gary Greenstin did recently chat with Toronto.

"I spoke with Maple Leafs management a couple days ago and I believe they understand our position and we understand their position," Greenstin told ESPN.com via email Wednesday. "Like I said before, Mikhail loves the city, organization and the fans, and we know the fans like him too. He would like to stay in Toronto and win the Stanley Cup with them, but he is in his prime years in his hockey career and this has to be right for Mikhail and it has to be right for the Maple Leafs."

KUBINA WRINKLE


Veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, so naturally if and when the Lightning become sellers, he’d be a man of interest to contending teams.

One wrinkle to note, however. Kubina has a limited no-trade clause, which states the Lightning must ask him for the five teams he’d be willing to move to. That conversation has not yet happened.