Cross Checks: Brent Sopel
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun break down today's deals, including the Pens' acquisition of Alexei Kovalev, the Ducks-Lightning goalie swap and Montreal's move to add more D:
Burnside: Another busy morning in the NHL. It's further proof that you and I are destined to spend most of our time in Bristol next week with our feet up drinking cappuccinos!
First, the Anaheim Ducks tried to stem the bleeding in goal by acquiring Dan Ellis from Tampa Bay in exchange for Curtis McElhinney. Then, Pittsburgh picked up enigmatic winger Alexei Kovalev from Ottawa for a conditional seventh-round pick.
I'm sure Ottawa fans would suggest a 12th-round pick might have been better value for Kovalev given how big a disappointment he's been in Ottawa, but this move works for both clubs. Ottawa gets out from under the remainder of Kovalev's $5 million deal (they picked up Marek Svatos off waivers presumably to fill that gap), while the Penguins get a forward who can help on the power play and recently showed in Montreal a couple of years ago that he can still deliver the goods in the playoffs (he has 14 points in his past 16 playoff games).
If Sidney Crosby returns to the Pens' lineup, Kovalev and James Neal (acquired from Dallas on Monday) provide a potentially significant upgrade on the wings. If Crosby doesn't come back and the Pens are one and done, GM Ray Shero hasn't exposed himself to long-term contract headaches.
LeBrun: You and I both speculated about Kovalev's possible return to Pittsburgh because it just made so much sense. As I reported Saturday, Shero phoned Ottawa over the weekend and showed even more interest. Since Kovalev is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, I agree Shero has taken zero risk here.
By the way, that seventh-round pick becomes a sixth-round pick if the Pens win a playoff round and Kovalev plays at least 50 percent of the games in that round. Complicated, I know.
Shero has loaded up on the wings with Neal and Kovalev; now he just needs a certain superstar center back in the lineup! But there is still no timetable for Crosby's return. The good news for Pens fans was the reacquisition of Kovalev; the bad news was blueliner Brooks Orpik will be gone "approximately" four weeks with a broken finger.
Burnside: Yes, things are looking pretty tenuous in Pittsburgh, which is too bad given how hard coach Dan Bylsma has that squad playing. Terrific game against San Jose last night, but once again not nearly enough finish. They will certainly need Neal and Kovalev to make an immediate impact.
Speaking of which, it was an interesting move by Anaheim GM Bob Murray, who is fast seeing his overachieving team free fall out of the Western Conference playoff race. It just goes to show you how important goalie Jonas Hiller has been to the Ducks. But with Hiller sidelined with some sort of lightheadedness issue (his comments to reporters suggest something along the lines of vertigo), Murray had to decide whether to make some sort of move.
Adding Dan Ellis may not seem like much given how he struggled at times in Tampa Bay, which prompted GM Steve Yzerman to acquire Dwayne Roloson on Jan. 1. But Ellis has some playoff experience from his Nashville days; while he has another year left on his deal at $1.5 million, it's not a huge risk moving forward. Murray and coach Randy Carlyle now have to decide whether to roll the dice with Ellis, who has played in only five games since Jan. 9, or go with the recently signed Ray Emery, who is hoping to come back from a career-ending hip injury. Wow.
Tough times for a Ducks team that has defied the odds to stay in the playoff hunt.
LeBrun: Hiller was taking shots in practice today, so hopefully that's a good sign; but kudos to Murray for getting insurance in Ellis. From a Tampa Bay perspective, this was about clearing cap space for next season. I think the Lightning want a cheaper backup than someone making $1.5 million. In the meantime, Yzerman put goalie Mike Smith on re-entry waivers Thursday. If he clears Friday, he'll be the backup to Roloson. If another team claims Smith at half the price, McElhinney becomes the backup. Either way, none of those goalies are under contract past this season, so Yzerman is free to reshape his net if need be. If Roloson plays well in the playoffs, I think Yzerman will try to re-sign him.
Burnside: Back to Pittsburgh for a second. With Orpik essentially out until the start of the playoffs with a broken finger, will Shero look to add another piece along the blue line? What about Craig Rivet?
As you noted on Twitter, you're expecting Rivet, who cleared waivers at noon Thursday, to be put on re-entry waivers. He is making $3.5 million, so the Pens would only be responsible for the remaining amount, and he will be a UFA this summer. Here's another option. With the Avs looking to rebuild their foundation, does Shero take a run at John-Michael Liles, who has another year left on his deal ($4.2 million cap hit)? Liles isn't very physical, so not sure if that's what Shero is looking for. And there's always Chris Phillips, pending whether he will waive his no-movement clause, let alone go to Pittsburgh with his former teammate Mr. Kovalev. Still more shoes to drop on this one, I think.
LeBrun: A source told me this afternoon the Penguins are shopping for another defenseman, although it won't be Liles. In the meantime, the Montreal Canadiens picked up veteran defenseman Brent Sopel and forward Nigel Dawes from the Atlanta Thrashers for minor league prospect Ben Maxwell and a 2011 fourth-round pick.
The move comes after the Habs recently picked up another blueliner in Paul Mara. With both D-men, the Habs have simply added depth. D-man Jaroslav Spacek (knee) remains out, while Josh Gorges (knee) is out for the season.
Sopel is earning $2 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. I give the team credit for not overpaying for a bigger-name rental. They're not going win the Cup this season, so I wouldn't be trading away high-valued assets.
Sopel is a good penalty-kill man and shot blocker: two things the Habs have missed dearly since Gorges was knocked out of the lineup.