Cross Checks: Filip Kuba

We’re about to find out whether Jason Garrison's breakout season with the Florida Panthers was as much about environment as natural skill.

Unable to come to terms with Garrison, who registered a career-best 16 goals this past season playing mostly with playmaking specialist Brian Campbell, the Panthers signed former Florida prospect Filip Kuba to a two-year deal worth $4 million annually on Sunday.

GM Dale Tallon said he expects Kuba to get a chance to play alongside Campbell next season where it’s hoped he can help replace the offense lost with Garrison’s departure via free agency.

“He’ll probably play with Soupy," Tallon told Sunday afternoon. "He’s got a big shot, too. He’s going to help our kids and help our power play."

Kuba, 35, has hit the 30-point plateau five times, including last season, when he played mostly with Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson in Ottawa and registered 32 points. He had a career-best 15 goals with Tampa Bay in 2006-07, but he’s never hit double digits in goals in any other season.

Still, Tallon said he feels Kuba is a nice fit on the ice but also in terms of dollar and term with youngsters like Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic vying for playing time along the Panthers' blue line in the coming months and years.

Tallon said he doesn’t blame Garrison, an undrafted 27-year-old, for testing the market after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.

“He had a career year. He’s got to go for it,” Tallon said.

A year ago, Tallon was a one-man free-agent frenzy, signing seven free agents and acquiring Kris Versteeg on July 1. With his team fresh off a surprise Southeast Division title, Tallon is much less active this year.

He did, however, shore up his goaltending situation by signing backup Scott Clemmensen to a two-year deal worth an average of $1.2 million.

“We’re protected now,” said Tallon, who also has veteran Jose Theodore under contract for another season.

The Panthers will continue to be linked to Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, who has asked to be traded and is believed to be amenable to a return to Florida, where he played the first five years of his NHL career. But with goaltending at a premium on the free-agent market, Tallon has given himself stability regardless of how the Luongo situation works out.
Keep an eye on the Carolina Hurricanes when it comes to how things play out on the Jordan Staal front with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As I wrote recently, the Penguins' top priority is to sign Sidney Crosby and Staal to contract extensions this summer -- both centers are UFA-eligible on July 1, 2013 -- but if they can't get both done in a cap-sensible manner, it could open the door for Staal to be dealt.

Several teams have already expressed an interest regarding Staal, but I believe the Hurricanes will be aggressive in trying to trade for him, with the idea to have him on same team as his brother, Hurricanes captain Eric Staal.

If the Penguins decide to open the trade market on Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh could get more out of Carolina in a traditional hockey deal than from other teams.

Why? While other teams might point to the fact that Staal has only one year left on his deal and won't want to give up too much for a pending 2013 UFA, the Hurricanes may be willing to take more of a long-term gamble that, given the sibling tie-in, they could re-sign Staal.

Either way, the Hurricanes are going to be an interesting team this summer. I believe they're going to add to their payroll and want to upgrade with one or two forwards.

Crosby update

Speaking of Crosby, no surprise that the Penguins have already begun talks with the captain's camp on an extension.

"Yes, we've had preliminary discussions with the Penguins. I've talked to [GM] Ray Shero about a contract extension for Sidney," Crosby's agent Pat Brisson told on Friday. "It's early in the process. Hopefully we're able to make some progress, obviously."

Deals can't be officially signed before July 1.

Thomas' future

Tim Thomas certainly chilled his trade value with his decision not to play next year. Or did he?

As one NHL team executive told, there is perhaps one solution still out there for the Bruins. There will be a few teams struggling to get to the minimum payroll floor -- expected to be around $54 million -- and they might be willing to pick up Thomas' $5 million cap hit just for that reason alone. As a suspended player next season, they wouldn't have to actually pay him his $3 million salary, but they would get his cap hit. Pretty good deal for a low-payroll team looking to make up the gap to $54 million.

Having said that, there will be a new collective bargaining agreement starting next season (whenever that is). What that new system entails in terms of the salary cap and the payroll floor remains unclear -- not to mention the rules governing cap hits on suspended players, etc.

Still, it might be something to keep an eye on.

Sens interest in Kuba

Senators GM Bryan Murray told on Friday that he has touched base with Filip Kuba's camp (including agent Richard Evans) and hopes to do so again in a week or so.

Kuba played most of the season alongside offensive machine Erik Karlsson in Ottawa and is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"We're interested in keeping him, but obviously it has to make sense for us financially," Murray said.

Kuba, 35, just finished a three-year deal that paid him $3.7 million per season. My guess is that Ottawa would want him back for south of that figure.

Karlsson, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent July 1. Murray said there was nothing new on that front at this point.

Suter thoughts

No news on the Ryan Suter front in the wake of his daylong meeting in Madison, Wis., on May 31. But here is what I believe is going to transpire: UFA-to-be-Suter goes to July 1 and explores what's out there on the market while keeping Nashville in the mix. Two years ago, Ilya Kovalchuk did this with New Jersey and ended up re-signing with the Devils.

Whether the Predators could match the kind offer Detroit is likely to lay out there, well, that's another question.

CALGARY, Alberta -- As we get set for the NHL's second outdoor game this season on Sunday, the debate continues as to whether it is one too many.

Well if you think that, you better sit down for this: The NHL is privately kicking around the idea of whether it shouldn't have three or four outdoor games a season, such is the insatiable demand from corporate sponsors and NHL teams to host these things.

Hey, at this point it's just spit-balling among league officials and governors, but it tells you what the appetite is for these events.

Ownership issues

The ownership situation is getting urgent in Atlanta. We were told this weekend that the league is trying mighty hard to find a new owner who's willing to keep the team in Atlanta. The league's sole focus right now is to keep the team in Atlanta and given its ability to find new owners in Tampa, Buffalo and Phoenix, it's not unrealistic to think the league won't be able to pull it off again. However, should a new owner not be found in the next six to eight weeks, we're told the Thrashers could indeed be up for relocation and Winnipeg would very likely be the new home.

Meanwhile in Phoenix, two sources involved in the transaction believe the sale will close in the next 10 days, so it appears the Coyotes aren't going anywhere.

Kovalev getting interest from Pens

Sens GM Bryan Murray has been a mighty busy man, and he's not done. I was told Saturday that three teams have shown interest in UFA-to-be winger Alexei Kovalev over the past few days, and one of those teams is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Speaking of the Pens, they had interest in UFA-to-be winger Curtis Glengross of the Flames but that was before Calgary got so hot it stopped listening to offers and is focused on trying to make the playoffs.

Ottawa, meanwhile, is trying hard to move defenseman Filip Kuba (who has one more year left on his deal at $3.7 million) so that they have money to re-sign UFA-to-be Chris Phillips. If they can't move Kuba, Phillips has to decide whether or not he wants to move. I believe Montreal is among the teams still interested in Phillips.

Leafs looking for D-man

Leafs GM Brian Burke hopes he's got at least another move left in him before the trade deadline. The Leafs have been scouring the market hard over the past few days looking for a defenseman. They kicked the tires on Zach Bogosian in Atlanta but there doesn't seem to be a fit there. They have zero interest in Sheldon Souray, whom the Oilers put on re-entry waivers Saturday (waiver period clears at noon ET Monday).

New concussion protocol to be discussed

The NHL is considering some important changes to the league's concussion protocol for next season. One idea is to force a player to the dressing room to get checked out after he got his bell rung. No more just checking him on the bench. The other more drastic idea also being discussed is not allowing a player back in the game under any circumstance if he looks woozy. Expect this to be discussed at the GM meetings next month in Boca Raton, Fla.

Avs say Hejduk not moving

So what now for the Avalanche after their blockbuster trade with St. Louis? A lot of people are wondering about veteran winger Milan Hejduk because he's an UFA July 1. But GM Greg Sherman told Saturday that Hejduk is not moving.

"We're not trading Milan," Sherman said.

McCabe, Vokoun in play at deadline

Bryan McCabe and Tomas Vokoun are both very much in play in Florida. The team discussed contract extensions with both players last month but there won't be any signings. The focus now is trading them. Both players have no-trade clauses, so they control part of their fate. The Panthers hope the Tomas Kaberle deal will help set the price for McCabe. The Rangers are among teams interested in McCabe, but I'm told they don't want to pay anywhere close to the price Boston paid for Kaberle.

Thrashers hold on to Bogosian

There's tons of interest in young blueliner Zach Bogosian, but the Thrashers really aren't sure they want to move him. One team offered them two first-round picks plus a prospect, but Atlanta said no because it still wants to make the playoffs this season and would have rather done a true hockey deal for players. Also, blueliner Johnny Oduya (one more year on his deal at $4M) is generating lots of interest. If the Thrashers feel they've fallen back in the playoff race by Feb. 28, they might move him.