Cross Checks: Joni Pitkanen
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate the "tradability" of Alexei Kovalev, plus share the latest on Tomas Kaberle, Joni Pitkanen and John-Michael Liles:
Burnside: How's the weather in Tampa? It looked like it was pretty hot last night when the two best teams in the Eastern Conference tangled and Philadelphia edged the Lightning in a 4-3 shootout.
How did you think Kris Versteeg looked in his first game with the Flyers after being dealt by Toronto on Monday? I saw he got a chance in the shootout, but couldn't beat Dwayne Roloson, another traded player making a big impact with his new team.
Hard to imagine the Flyers doing much more before the Feb. 28 trade deadline given their cap situation, but what about the Lightning? You had a chance to chat with GM Steve Yzerman; will he be looking for defensive help given how wide open the East is with Pittsburgh and Washington both falling back for various reasons? One thing is for sure: There won't be many dull moments between now and the deadline.
LeBrun: Versteeg looked a little out of sorts in the first period, but settled down in the second and third periods alongside Mike Richards. I think he'll be fine in that role. Nikolay Zherdev, meanwhile, took a seat in the press box again last night, and from what I'm hearing, the Flyers are looking to see if there are any takers for him. He just hasn't fit. But while the first-place Flyers picked up Versteeg, the second-place Bolts don't feel the need to necessarily respond.
"We're going to run our team and make or not make whatever moves are necessary based on what we have to do, and I can't react to what another club is doing," Yzerman told a few of us Tuesday. "Obviously giving up draft picks and adding a talented, legitimate player, they've deepened their roster and improved their team, but it really doesn't affect what we want to do."
Yzerman was coy when asked what he was specifically looking for.
"You're constantly trying to improve your team," Yzerman said. "If there's something that would make sense to help us this year or even beyond this year, you'd have to consider it."
With the injury to Mike Lundin (abdominal), I would add another blueliner, if possible, if I were Yzerman. But the GM also made it clear he has no interest in dealing away his first- or second-round picks.
Burnside: Maybe Yzerman will get in on the Tomas Kaberle sweepstakes. A lot of rumors about whether the Toronto defenseman has agreed to a trade and if the only team he'll OK is Boston.
Let me say this about that: Kaberle must really want to play in the playoffs if he's limited Toronto GM Brian Burke to dealing with only one team. I know it's Kaberle's prerogative, but if that's the case, you have to question the man's determination to play hockey at its highest level at the most important time of the season. He hasn't played in a playoff game since the lockout (like the Leafs) and if I'm a GM, I have to worry about committing assets for a player whose priority seems to be getting to the nearest golf course come April.
But I'm more interested in what you think about a couple of other defensemen: Joni Pitkanen in Carolina and John-Michael Liles in Denver. Pitkanen can become an unrestricted free agent this summer and logs a ton of minutes. The Canes are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, but GM Jim Rutherford won't be keen on seeing Pitkanen walk on July 1. I am guessing the GM will look at the market if he doesn't think he can sign him.
Liles was on the block in 2009-10, but has played well for long stretches this season for the Avs. But Colorado is in the tank, and you have to believe GM Greg Sherman will be looking to clear some veteran salary before Feb. 28. Liles might be a nice alternative to Kaberle given his skating and puck-handling skills.
LeBrun: A source close to Kaberle told us last night the defenseman had not waived his no-trade clause for any team, but it's clear the Bruins would fit the bill and Kaberle is among the blueliners the Bruins covet. As for Pitkanen, I don't think the Canes will move him unless they fall further back over the next 12 days.
The Avs have done plenty of falling back, and Liles would be a nice consolation prize for the failed Kaberle suitors. There was a trade last night in which Ottawa sent checking center Chris Kelly to the B's for a second-round pick. And the dismantling Sens aren't done.
"Well I hope there's another one or two moves," Sens GM Bryan Murray told me this morning. "We've got a couple of unrestricted [free-agent] guys I haven't touched yet. It depends what I get offered, obviously, but certainly there's a few more veterans I'd look to move."
Defenseman Chris Phillips is one of those UFAs, but there were no new trade developments there as of Wednesday morning.
Murray indicated veteran agent J.P. Barry of CAA was now helping Stacey McAlpine in representing Phillips and they were discussing things before getting back to him. Phillips has a no-trade clause.
Burnside: The player I'm most curious about in Ottawa is Alexei Kovalev. The enigmatic winger has been a dog in Ottawa, everyone knows that. But there's still something about his skill set and the possibility he could regain his fire over a few short weeks (especially with his contract in Ottawa coming to an end) that will make him attractive to some GM.
I talked to a scout last night that thought he would be a nice fit in Pittsburgh (assuming Sidney Crosby returns at some point from a concussion), and I tend to agree. Can't believe Murray would be asking for anything of value (fourth-round pick? fifth?) to get Kovalev and his salary off the books. Remember, in Kovalev's last 22 playoffs games, all with Montreal, he had 21 points. Hmm.
LeBrun: With every trade, the market price adjusts. Kelly went for a second-round pick, which seems a little high. He's not a rental, having one more year on his deal next season at $2 million. Once again, a non-rental moved yesterday. Francois Beauchemin, Versteeg, Joffrey Lupul, Mike Fisher and Kelly all have term left on their deals past this season. So, to answer your question on Kovalev, the market has yet to yield a price for rentals this close to the deadline. Until tomorrow, my friend.
The Feb. 28 trade deadline is creeping up on us, isn't it?
Colorado and Boston have made a few trades since the start of the season, and the Avalanche are the big winners so far (Tomas Fleischmann is on fire for them).
But otherwise, it's been predictably quiet. The salary cap and parity in the standings are forcing teams to wait until closer to the deadline to make their moves. Keep in mind there's also a holiday NHL trade freeze from Dec. 19-27 (starts Sunday).
Let's take a look at 10 players who could possibly move before Feb. 28. Repeat could; this doesn't mean they will move.
The Stars' leading scorer has been dynamite so far this season and is an unrestricted free agent July 1. Tough call for Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. His team sat third in the Western Conference as of Thursday morning, although only three points clear of ninth. Where he sits in the days leading up to Feb. 28 will have some bearing on his decision.
Nieuwendyk wants to re-sign Richards and remove that tough trade decision come Feb. 28. The young GM is hoping to sit down with Tony Tavares at some point after he's named Dallas' new team president to convince him to keep Richards past this season. Keep in mind Richards has a no-movement clause, so he controls his fate.
It's about saving money now in Florida, and there's little chance the rebuilding Panthers will be re-signing the veteran goalie. He has a $5.7 million cap hit this season, which is an easier pill to swallow come Feb. 28 because most of the salary has been paid. Look for GM Dale Tallon to see what's out there, but keep in mind Vokoun has a no-movement clause. He would be a big-time addition to a playoff-bound team looking for an upgrade in goal.
Kaberle's agent, Rick Curran, told ESPN.com last week that his client wasn't looking to go anywhere this season. Kaberle has a no-trade clause. He's also UFA on July 1 and clearly doesn't seem to fit in Toronto's future plans. Unless Kaberle and Curran have a change of heart (which is possible closer to the deadline), the Leafs may their asset for nothing after the season. Best chance for Toronto is a big-time contender calls just before Feb. 28 and entices Kaberle into a Cup run.
Lupul has looked good since his return from a long-term injury. That's good news for the Ducks, who could possibly try to move him in exchange for help on defense. The Ducks have nice depth up front and can afford to lose a solid forward like Lupul. But he's not UFA and he has two more seasons left on his deal that pays him $4.25 million per season, so teams may shy away.
Set to become UFA on July 1, the veteran, mercurial winger will be 38 years old once the trade deadline rolls around. His days in Ottawa won't extend past this season, that's almost for sure. GM Bryan Murray insists he's not shopping Kovalev, despite the player's public feud with coach Cory Clouston. But if the Sens are out of it come February, Kovalev (earning $5 million) might be moved, although he's in control with a no-movement clause.
Again, this depends greatly on whether the Sabres will have worked themselves back into the playoff bubble come the last week of February. Connolly, earning $4.5 million, is UFA on July 1, and given his inconsistent performance this season (13 points in 23 games) the Sabres likely aren't interested in bringing him back. He could be a nice addition for a playoff-bound team needing a power-play boost.
The 36-year-old center, earning $4.5 million, has a no-movement clause, but given how things are going in Newark these days we can't imagine that being much of an issue. UFA on July 1, Arnott has Stanley Cup-winning experience and could be a valuable commodity for teams looking for another key ingredient.
Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey Devils
The 35-year-old Devils captain is earning $2.8 million this season and will be UFA on July 1. Does he want to go down with the sinking ship or re-energize with a playoff-bound team? Up to him. The Team USA captain would be a big-time addition in the grit and character department for a playoff-bound team. I love him as a fit on teams such as Los Angeles, Montreal or Vancouver. He could help any playoff team. But would Devils GM Lou Lamoriello move one of his favorite players?
Two years removed from a career-high 31 goals, the 23-year-old winger has disappointed and frustrated the coaching staff in San Jose. He has two goals in 22 games this season, having also missed time with injury. He's earning $1.8 million this season and is a restricted free agent come July 1. The Sharks could target a top-four blueliner before the deadline. Could they move Setoguchi to make room for such a move? They don't have to trade him, since they have all their 2011 draft picks in hand and some terrific prospects in the minors. But we know other teams covet Setoguchi.
There has been a lot of attention on Kaberle, but here's a top-four blueliner who had 46 points last season. Earning $4 million this season, he's UFA on July 1. He's the type of puck-moving, power-play blueliner that's always in demand. Of course, he'd only be available if the Hurricanes aren't close to a playoff spot come Feb. 28. Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose are among other UFAs the Hurricanes have on their roster. If they fall out of playoff contention, some of them may move.