Cross Checks: Alexei Ponikarovsky

The spotlight shines brightly even in the offseason around the NHL. Christian Ehrhoff, James Wisniewski and the entire Florida Panthers roster have all enjoyed some moments in the sun as they prepare to try to make the best of new environs. But what about the under-the-radar guys, the players who may have quietly assumed new addresses but who may be ready to make a significant impact? Here's a look at 10 such players:

Alexei Ponikarovsky, Carolina Hurricanes

OK, so the big former Leafs winger has scored just seven times in his past 77 regular-season games and was a bit of a bust in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. But Ponikarovsky should find a comfort zone with head coach Paul Maurice, for whom he played for in Toronto. And Ponikarovsky has scored 20 or more goals (and once scored 19) three times in his career, so he has something to bring to a Carolina team that will take all the production it can get.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado Avalanche

Given his injury history and uneven play the last couple of seasons, it's easy to forget that Giguere has collected at least 30 wins in four seasons since the lockout. He was, lest people forget, the goaltender of record when the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. At age 34, there should still be lots left in the tank, and, given the lack of durability for young netminder Semyon Varlamov -- the man tabbed by the Avs as their goaltender of the future -- Giguere could be asked to do a whole lot more than just offer mentoring and open the gate at the end of the bench.

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

It's easy to overlook the arrival of the big (6-foot-2, 214 lbs.) winger, given all the other moves made by the Flyers this offseason. But if Paul Holmgren is right, people won't be overlooking the contributions of the former seventh overall pick in the 2007 entry draft. Yes, Voracek didn't become the player the Columbus Blue Jackets thought he would be -- has anyone in Columbus outside of Rick Nash become the player they hoped he would be? -- as he topped out at 16 goals in his three years as a Blue Jacket. But guess what? He's going to play with top-end talent in Philadelphia and get a chance to put that big body to use.

Anthony Stewart, Carolina Hurricanes

We must admit being a bit mystified that the Winnipeg Jets didn't bother to make a qualifying offer to keep the big winger in the fold, and we wonder whether they'll regret playing against him six times a year now that he's landed in Carolina. Admittedly, Stewart -- the 25th overall pick in 2003 -- has been slow to develop, but he did show some good net presence in Atlanta last season, scoring 14 times and finishing with 39 points. Five of those goals were on the power play and, like Ponikarovsky, the 26-year-old Stewart should get many opportunities to improve on those numbers in Carolina.

Andrew Cogliano, Anaheim Ducks

Another first-round draft pick that didn't show enough promise for the Edmonton Oilers, Cogliano may find Anaheim more to his liking. Right now, he's likely a third-line center behind Ryan Getzlaf and Saku Koivu but he can also play the wing. With a more talented cast around him, the 24-year-old may finally blossom after twice scoring 18 goals for the Oilers. He had just 11 goals a year ago but has never missed a game in four seasons in Edmonton, something the injury-plagued Ducks will be pleased about.

Ian White, Detroit Red Wings

No one is suggesting that White will replace the retired Brian Rafalski in the Red Wings' lineup, but White has more tools than he's given credit for possessing; watch for head coach Mike Babcock to take full advantage of them. White had nine points in 17 postseason games for the Sharks last spring -- the Sharks dispatched Detroit in a thrilling seven-game set in the second round -- and will be a nice addition to a Red Wings team that still has plenty of game left.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins

Will Sidney Crosby be back? How hungry is Evgeni Malkin? What does Steve Sullivan have left? In a city hungering for a return to contender status after two disappointing playoff seasons, it's a little bit easy to overlook James Neal. The big winger was acquired before the trade deadline from Dallas for Alex Goligoski, but, with both Malkin and Crosby injured, Neal never really found a groove for the Pens. He scored just once in 20 regular-season games and then added one more in a seven-game first-round playoff loss to Tampa. Look for a lot more this season from the big winger, who will turn 24 over Labor Day weekend.

Niclas Bergfors, Nashville Predators

Every year, Nashville GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz conspire to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial scoring hat. Two years ago it was Patric Hornqvist; last year it was Sergei Kostitsyn. Could it be Bergfors this season? The former first-round pick (25th overall by New Jersey in 2005) went to Atlanta as part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade and was shipped to Florida at the trade deadline last season before signing with the Preds as a free agent this summer. Bergfors had 21 goals between New Jersey and Atlanta in his first full NHL season in 2009-10, including nine power-play markers. Look for him to get lots of opportunity in Nashville to make good on his potential.

Mathieu Garon, Tampa Bay Lightning

Although there were lots of goalies whose profiles might have been higher, Tampa GM Steve Yzerman went after journeyman Garon as his backup to Dwayne Roloson, who signed a one-year deal with the Lightning after a superlative effort in leading the Bolts to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals. Roloson will turn 42 before the regular season is a week old, and the Lightning will want to make sure he has plenty left in the tank for what most expect will be another playoff run next spring. That means Garon will have to shoulder the load for, what, 30, 35 games? The two netminders played together in Edmonton, and head coach Guy Boucher said in an interview that he expects them to form a strong tandem.

Roman Hamrlik, Washington Capitals

Talk to Washington GM George McPhee and he'll tell you that one of the main reasons the Caps folded against Tampa in the second round of the playoffs had more to do with the health along the blue line than it did players' efforts. With Tom Poti looking like he won't be able to play anytime soon and with Scott Hannan departed for Calgary, the Caps added some veteran insurance in the form of Roman Hamrlik. Although he is 37, Hamrlik can still log heavy minutes, as he averaged 22:16 a night during the regular season and then saw that number increase in the Canadiens' first-round loss to Boston. Hamrlik was particularly impressive the previous spring as the Canadiens advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in spite of a badly depleted defensive corps. As for a mentor for rising defensive stars John Carlson and Karl Alzner, you couldn't ask for a better guy than the classy Hamrlik.

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,'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.

Matt Cullen and Marek Svatos

Scott Burnside: Well Pierre, the clock is ticking down to the Feb. 12 Olympic roster freeze, and as you reported Sunday, the Carolina Hurricanes finally got the Niclas Wallin deal done and sent the veteran defenseman to San Jose along with a 2010 fifth-round pick for a 2010 second-round draft pick.

But Carolina GM Jim Rutherford is still a busy man. He'd like to move forward Ray Whitney, as we've already discussed in this space. But the player I'm curious about is center Matt Cullen. One of the game's good guys, Cullen was part of the Canes' Stanley Cup squad in 2006, so he knows the ropes and is one of the few centers available on the market right now. He is comfortable playing the point on the power play and relatively inexpensive at $2.8 million with a slightly higher cap hit ($2.875 million). What say you maestro of the trade machinations?

Pierre LeBrun: You know, despite Cullen's impressive credentials, he's not a name I've heard very often in my conversations around the league. Perhaps that's an indication there's a bigger market for wingers than centers. I think Cullen would be a good fit in both Nashville and Phoenix; but as everyone knows, money is a problem with both franchises, and Carolina, as was the case Sunday, is not taking money back in any trade. Another name that surfaced this past weekend is Marek Svatos. He's an unrestricted free agent July 1, and a couple of sources say he's being shopped by Colorado. If Pittsburgh can't land a Whitney or an Alexei Ponikarovsky, wonder if Svatos wouldn't be a good consolation prize come March 3.

Burnside: Svatos' stock sure has fallen, hasn't it? He had 32 goals and was a part of the Slovak Olympic effort in 2006, and now has just nine points in 39 games for the Avs this season and is minus-11. Buying teams likely won't have to part with much to acquire the winger. But back to Cullen for a moment. Rutherford couldn't wait to get Cullen back to Carolina after he signed with the New York Rangers a couple of season ago, which speaks to his character and ability to fit into a dressing room. His abilities on the point would make him attractive to teams like the Rangers, who have struggled on the man advantage. Or how about the Atlanta Thrashers? GM Don Waddell insisted they'll be a buyer before March 3 if they can stay in the playoff hunt (they began the week one point out of eighth), and with Ilya Kovalchuk gone, there is a need to beef up the Thrashers' power play. Hmm.

LeBrun: One player I've always admired is Ethan Moreau. The Oilers are shopping him and many more as they try to break their logjam of contracts and rebuild the club. Moreau has one more season at $1.75 million. He's a fearless leader and ultimate playoff-type ingredient in my mind. I know Washington probably already addressed that void with Mike Knuble this past July, but I would love to see the Caps pick up Moreau. But I suspect GM George McPhee is quite happy with his current roster, given the team's 14-game winning streak!

Burnside: It's not really an issue with Cullen, who has 11 goals and 37 points, but for some GMs looking to add offense before the deadline, it really requires a leap of faith. Like almost every player in Edmonton, Moreau has fallen on hard times with just four goals, but as you point out, history shows he can be a productive player and he is a warrior. But is that enough to make a GM kick in a third- or fourth-round draft pick and the balance of his contract? That's the question.

LeBrun: Good point, Scotty. The compensation in these deals is always a guessing game. As much as I'm sure Carolina hopes to recoup a first-rounder for Whitney and Toronto hopes for at least a second-round pick for Ponikarovsky, it's interesting to remember Pittsburgh paid only a third-rounder for the best pickup at last season's deadline, Bill Guerin. The Sharks paid a second-rounder for Wallin, although they also got a fifth-rounder in return. I don't see a lot of first-round picks changing hands this year. Until tomorrow, my friend.

• You also can get up-to-the-minute trade discussion in Rumor Central.

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,'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.