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GM rumblings: Bernier, Backstrom & more

6/19/2013
Jerome Miron/US Presswire

BOSTON -- These are anxious times for young goalie Jonathan Bernier, who waits by this phone to find out where he might continue his NHL career.

It’s time for him to go elsewhere and become a No. 1 goalie, something he can’t do with the Los Angeles Kings with star goalie Jonathan Quick in place.

“I’m still part of the L.A. Kings and it’s been a great ride, but I feel really confident and I want to get to the next level to get a real chance to hopefully be a No. 1 somewhere,” Bernier told ESPN.com over the phone Wednesday. “I’m sure the Kings will make the right decision. If I’m staying there, I’m staying there. If not, I’m ready for the challenge.”

General manager Dean Lombardi indicated to Bernier that he would try to accommodate him if it’s a deal that makes sense for the Kings. The whole trade talk scenario is a new experience for Bernier.

“It’s actually exciting,” Bernier said. “But I really can’t control anything. It’s up to Dean. If there’s the right trade for him, I’m sure he’ll make the right call.

"I spoke with Dean at the end of the season, and he told me he can keep me there but also feels he kind of owed me the chance to be somewhere else [as a starter]. So I guess we’ll know in the next few weeks.”

Sources indicate five teams are in the mix on Bernier, to varying degrees: the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers.

For the Wild, it really depends on what happens with pending unrestricted free agent netminder Niklas Backtrom. If they can sign him in short order, then they would bow out of the Bernier mix. But if it appears they can’t re-sign Backstrom, they can go harder after Bernier or other possible netminders.

The Flyers, meanwhile, have shown interest in Bernier but obviously still have Ilya Bryzgalov on their books. As one source told ESPN.com Wednesday, they’re only going to buy out Bryzgalov if they have a concrete Plan B in place in terms of a goalie coming their way, whether that’s Bernier, Backstrom or any other goalie.

Stay tuned.

SPEAKING OF BACKSTROM ...

GM Chuck Fletcher said Backstrom, 35, has fully recovered from sports hernia surgery. Backstrom was injured minutes before the start of Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks and did not play in the five-game series loss.

“We’ve had some conversations with his representation, and had a good meeting with Niklas before he went back to Finland," Fletcher told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I think clearly he would like to come to back to Minnesota. We certainly would like to have him back. So the will is there from both parties. Now we just have to find a way, with respect to term and the cap and how do we manage all of that."

One of the issues for the Wild is durability, given Backstrom’s injury and the health issues being confronted by backup Josh Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis prior to the start of the season.

Fletcher said he thought the lockout-shortened season was an anomaly, and with Harding missing time, they rode Backstrom hard. That shouldn’t be the case next season.

“I think it’s a fair concern, but certainly we believe Nik will be fully healthy going into camp -- and we hope it’s our camp,” he said.

Although there has been some speculation the Wild might use a compliance buyout on a player like Dany Heatley, who has one year remaining on a contract with a $7.5 million cap hit (but only $5 million in actual dollars), Fletcher said the team wasn’t thinking in general about using the compliance buyout option.

“It certainly isn’t our first choice,” Fletcher said.

LETANG UPDATE

The agent for Kris Letang and Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero met Wednesday before the NHL’s general managers' meeting, but a resolution is far from certain at this point.

“We’ve agreed to have further talks,” agent Kent Hughes told ESPN.com after the meeting. “Not going to say more at this time.”

“He’s a very valuable player for our team, and ideally I’d like to sign him and get him extended," Shero told a media scrum after the meeting. "But we’ll see where that goes over the next few days and weekend, so we’ll see."

Again, as I stipulated in Tuesday’s blog, I don’t believe Letang will take a whole lot less than $7 million a year in a new deal, and I suspect that message was reaffirmed by Hughes in Wednesday’s meeting.

My guess is the Penguins need that figure to be lower in order for Letang to fit into the cap puzzle moving forward.

The question now is: If Shero can’t get Letang signed over the next week or two, does he trade him or let him play out his final year in Pittsburgh?

“I think there’s a lot of speculation if we can’t have a deal next week what might happen,” Shero said. “But I can’t go that far. He’s under contract for another year. I think when we get into next week, we’ll cross that bridge and see what happens. But my focus is going to be trying to sign him.”

STARS COACHING UPDATE

Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, in a perfect world, will have his new coach in place by the June 30 draft. However, that’s not set in stone.

“I don’t want to have a set deadline, and all of a sudden it comes and goes,” Nill said after the GMs meeting. “There’s too many candidates out there. I want to make the right decision.”

While Nill would not name his candidates, it’s believed Lindy Ruff and John Tortorella are near the top at this point.

BOLTS PICK

In light of Joe Sakic’s comments that the Colorado Avalanche might not pick Seth Jones with the first overall pick, one wonders what kind of impact that might have on other teams drafting behind the Avs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, are drafting third overall, and clearly their number one need is a defenseman. However, GM Steve Yzerman says he doesn’t believe in drafting on need only.

“We believe in taking the best player available,” Yzerman said after the GMs meeting. “That’s been our philosophy. Your needs change from year to year. When these kids are available to play, your needs may be entirely different for various reasons. So that’s a rule of thumb we’ve had.”

Would he move his pick up or down?

“We’re quite comfortable with the third pick, but we’re open to any scenario which we think makes us a better organization,” Yzerman said.

Recently, local reports in Tampa suggested the possibility of a compliance buyout for Vincent Lecavalier.

Asked generally whether he would use his buyout options, Yzerman responded Wednesday: “It’s something to consider. … Given that we finished in 28th place, we should be looking at every possibility of improving our team and what are options are. Other than that, I can’t say much.”

CLARKSON/DEVILS

New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello remains committed to trying to re-sign power forward David Clarkson before he hits the UFA market July 5.

“We’ll do everything we can to sign him,” Lamoriello said Wednesday. “We’re not looking to do anything else.”

Contract talks have been ongoing. One thing Lamoriello has traditionally not done is trade a pending UFA’s rights during this time period, like the Islanders recently did with Mark Streit.

“You never say you’ll never do something, but we have not philosophically believed in that,” Lamoriello said. “If a player said he didn’t want to play [in New Jersey], that’s another story. You never know, but that’s never come across us.”

BLUES' FUTURE

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has his hands full this summer, with key restricted free agents Patrik Berglund, Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk to bring under contract.

“It’s funny you can sign guys a year before you have to sign them, but when it’s two weeks before it takes a long time,” Armstrong said.

But he made it clear to other GMs: Don’t bother trying to poach those players with an offer sheet.

“With the new ownership group we’re financially solid," he said. "These are core players, and we want to pay them fairly. I’m not concerned at all about an offer sheet, because we’re going to match anything on those guys because they’re good enough players."

One situation in St. Louis that is less than clear is how the goaltending will play out next season, with rookie Jake Allen playing well in relief of an injured Jaroslav Halak and a struggling Brian Elliott.

“We’ve called it cloudy, but I think it’s a good cloudy," Armstrong said. "Jake doesn’t need waivers next year, so he can go down, and a fourth year in the American league won’t kill him. Last year Jaro, every time he got ready to get going, the groin went. Brian had such a terrific ending to the season with a less-than-memorable start. We might be best served to come back with all three and let the chips go where they are. But we’re going to continue to debate that internally."

It’s clear, though, that Allen’s development is going to be important moving forward.

“The one thing is we need Jake to get ready, because both those guys (Halak and Elliott) are unrestricted after the year’s over,” Armstrong said.

FLAMES GOALIES

Speaking of goaltending, the Calgary Flames’ goaltending situation remains in a state of flux. GM Jay Feaster said Wednesday he’s still unsure whether veteran netminder Miikka Kiprusoff will retire.

"I don’t think anything’s changed from the where he was at the end of the season," Feaster said. "I think if we forced to make a decision right now he’d say that he’s finished playing. We’ve said we’re going to give him time, and that’s what we’re going to do."

To prepare for Kiprusoff’s potential departure, the Flames signed Joey McDonald to a one-year extension after acquiring him from Detroit during last season. They traded for the rights to former Tampa Bay prospect Karri Ramo and will sign him in July, Feaster said. They also acquired the rights to Swiss netminder Reto Berra and signed him to a contract.

After missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year and being forced to trade captain Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline, the Flames are desperate to return to the postseason dance and respectability.

“We’re looking at everything right now," Feaster said. "As I’ve said, we have three picks in the first round; we have cap space.

"I think it’s unique in that we certainly have an ownership group that’s willing to spend to the cap. We’re looking at guys that might be compliance buyout victims or however you want to call that. Looking at free agency and looking at making trades, too."

The GM did say he wasn’t contemplating any compliance buyouts at this point in time.

NEW PENALTY

NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell says GMs also agree to implement a two-minute penalty for fighters who remove their helmets before a fight. So it would be a five-minute penalty for fighting, plus two more minutes for the helmet violation. The new penalty is pending Board of Governors approval.