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Saturday, February 5, 2011
Weekend wrap: Trade talk heats up, Jagr up for NHL return, Heritage sponsorship strong

By Pierre LeBrun

Trade talk is finally on the uptick in the NHL, several GMs told ESPN.com Saturday, but there still is the sense most transactions will drag out until closer to the Feb. 28 deadline. As always.

"The chatter has picked up tremendously," a Western Conference GM told ESPN.com Saturday.

Ottawa is a good place to start. Sens GM Bryan Murray will be as busy as any of his peers as he attempts to bring change to a roster that has greatly disappointed this season.

Center Mike Fisher, signed through 2012-13 at a $4.2 million cap hit, is a popular name when other teams phone the Senators these days. His no-movement clause expired last summer, so the Sens are free to deal him. They aren't shopping him, but other teams sure are interested. It would take a pretty good offer to move him. But he's not an untouchable. I believe the Nashville Predators are among the many teams that covet Fisher.

The most obvious player to move is Chris Phillips, a UFA July 1. Phillips and Murray have recently chatted, the GM asking the veteran defenseman to get back to him by the end of next week on whether he'd waive his no-trade clause. Montreal and Boston are among several teams that have shown interest, league sources told ESPN.com. The Habs make sense for him because his family wouldn't even have to move for now with the Canadiens just 90 minutes down the highway. The Bruins have obvious connections with former Senators teammate Zdeno Chara and GM (and former Sens executive) Peter Chiarelli.

Emery's comeback

Expect to see Ray Emery sign a one-year, two-way deal Sunday or Monday with the Anaheim Ducks. Emery will begin his comeback in the AHL, but to do that, he will need to clear NHL waivers because he's a veteran. He could avoid waivers if the Ducks simply assign him to a two-week conditioning assignment, but everyone involved, most notably Emery, feels he'll need more time than that to get his game back.

Leafs' trade talk heating up

The action on Francois Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg has gone from kicking the tires to legitimately heating up. Beauchemin has a list of 12 teams he'd be willing to move to, although some teams that aren't on the list have called as well, in which case the Leafs would just run it by him if they decide to make one of those deals. Both players have one more year on their respective contracts.

On the Tomas Kaberle front, status quo as of Saturday. There has not been a list of teams handed to Toronto from the Kaberle camp (he's got a no-trade clause). My sense is that Toronto is just going to have to go to him and agent Rick Curran closer to the trade deadline with the best offer they've got and run it by him.

Again, I think Northeast Divisional rivals Boston and Montreal both have interest in Kaberle, as do the New York Rangers, but as one NHL executive told ESPN.com on Saturday, "Any team looking for a top D-man is interested in Kaberle."

Rangers interested in defensemen

The Rangers' power play has consistently struggled (23rd), so a veteran point man such as Kaberle, Bryan McCabe or Sheldon Souray would likely interest the Blueshirts. Each would also provide a veteran presence on a really young Rangers blue line.

McCabe, UFA on July 1, is still injured. He began off-ice workouts last week, and it's still not clear when he'll begin to skate. Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon, by the way, had preliminary contract discussions with McCabe agent Ian Pulver at the Top Prospects Game last month. The price has to be right for the Panthers. McCabe told ESPN.com at the start of the season that he loves it in South Florida and doesn't want to leave.

Savard's future and Bruins' options

Marc Savard was scheduled to meet with agent Larry Kelly on Saturday night to discuss his future. Kelly also met with Chiarelli before Saturday's game. In all likelihood, Savard is going to be shut down for the season. You have to feel for the guy with everything he's gone through.

So what now for the Bruins? They've got major cap savings to spend. I'm told they'll be on the lookout for both a defenseman and a forward.

As mentioned above, Phillips is of interest. Kaberle would interest them as well, as would Versteeg. But Boston is looking at many options at this point.

Oilers put high price on Penner, Hemsky

The Oilers are not desperate to deal Dustin Penner or Ales Hemsky (both of whom have one more year on their deals), but as one opposing GM told ESPN.com on Friday, "Believe me, those two guys are in play, but right now they're asking for too much."

My sense is that the Oil will only move them if they really like what's offered. No urgency to move them.

Red Wings' goalie situation

The Red Wings are 19th in goals against, strange territory for them, and given their failed pursuit of Evgeni Nabokov, the question many Detroit fans have asked in cyberspace is whether GM Ken Holland will try for another goalie given the struggles of Jimmy Howard and the injury to Chris Osgood.

"At this time, unless I get bad news on the rehab front between now and the deadline on Chris Osgood, I'm not looking to do anything in goal," Holland told ESPN.com Friday.

"Jimmy Howard was a Calder Trophy nominee last year. The last month we haven't played well defensively. We know we have to play better defense. We've also been able to score a lot of goals and maybe that's why we haven't always buckled down. But long-term, that's not a winning a formula."

As for the impression Detroit wanted to upgrade in goal with its pursuit of Nabokov?

"We took an opportunity with Nabokov for a variety of reasons," said Holland. "A major reason was that he was prepared to do a cap number ($570,000) that would allow us to carry three goalies after March 1. He was UFA, there were no assets I had to give up. He was a Vezina runner-up in 2008. Last year he took his team to the final four. It was a combination of things. It was a unique opportunity. The rest is history. He belongs to the New York Islanders."

Jagr would consider NHL return

Had a chance to catch up with Jaromir Jag after his team's 18-16 win in the KHL All-Star Game on Saturday, in which Jagr netted a hat trick.

I told him he's got lots of people back in North America who miss having him around.

"I miss you guys too," Jagr said with his trademark laugh. "It was a great run for me there."

He added that he's having a blast in the KHL, especially this season with Avangard Omk leading the standings.

It just so happens, however, that Jagr has options after this season.

"Yes, I'm a free agent after the season," Jagr told ESPN.com. "I want to finish season here and then think about what I'm doing next. But right now our team is doing really well, we're first overall in the league. We have a pretty good chance to do something good and that's why I'm really excited, although you never know what can happen in the playoffs."

But, I pressed on, what if an NHL team called next summer?

"If I had a chance to join a team that has a chance to win, maybe I'd think about it," Jagr said. "I'd like to go on a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup or at least get into the playoffs and go far. I'd like just to help a team like that on the second or third line."

Jagr turns 39 on Feb. 15. Are the legs getting heavy?

"I actually feel better now than I did my last year in the NHL," said Jagr. "More skating here on the big ice. I don't feel my age."

Heritage Classic to top Winter Classic?

With all due respect to my pal Scott Burnside who considers the Heritage Classic the ugly Canadian stepchild of the Winter Classic, here's something that might raise a few eyebrows.

"Sponsorship on this game is going to surpass even the Winter Classic to give you a sense of the size of this thing," NHL COO John Collins told ESPN.com Friday. "And the Winter Classic was a beast."

Iconic Canadian brands such as Tim Horton's and Canadian Tire have jumped on board with guns a blazing as have other companies for the Feb. 20 Montreal-Calgary game at McMahon Stadium. The gate revenue won't be as much because there aren't as many seats in the CFL stadium compared to Heinz Field. But the corporate base has really jumped on board.

"To really make the model work in these less than NFL or big-time baseball stadiums, sponsorships needs to really carry the day," said Collins, the mastermind behind the Winter Classic. "I think the size of the sponsorship market and also the activation by the sponsors is going to be even bigger than the Winter Classic."

From a business perspective, that's why it was no-brainer for the NHL to extend itself with two outdoor games. Still, the question remains whether or not having two games will dilute the product. Not to mention the fact there are only six Canadian NHL teams, so that means lots of repeat performances by the same six clubs in the Heritage Classic? Or maybe not ...

"I always resist the idea that the Winter Classic is a U.S.-only event, similarly now I'm going to resist the fact that the Heritage is just a Canadian event," Collins said. "At the end of the day, these events should appeal to all hockey fans."

To be clear, I asked Collins if he was talking about maybe putting Canadian teams in the odd Winter Classic and maybe an American team in the odd Heritage Classic?

"We're always kicking around everything," Collins said. "That's the fun part of this gig, to be creative. This is a league that's taking risks and pushing the envelope."

The fact is, the future of these outdoor games will depend greatly on the next U.S. TV deal. Once the U.S. TV deal is in place, it allows for a more concrete discussion of where these outdoor games are headed.