Cross Checks: Paul Stastny


Isn’t it nice when a plan comes together and actually works?

One of the many reasons the St. Louis Blues were so aggressive in getting Jori Lehtera to sign last summer and leave the KHL is that they knew the Finnish center had nice chemistry playing in Russia with Vladimir Tarasenko in 2011-12.

It wasn’t the only reason, but it was an important one.

[+] EnlargeSt Louis Blues
Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty ImagesThe chemistry between Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko is paying big dividends for the Blues.
"We felt Lehtera could bring us a top-nine forward because of his play we saw in the Olympics and world championships," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said after the board of governors meetings Tuesday. "We knew that he and Tarasenko had chemistry in the KHL. Now, because it’s chemistry in the KHL doesn’t mean it’s going to be chemistry in the NHL. We were hoping.

"When he got over here in the first couple of practices you could see that chemistry. [Coach] Ken [Hitchcock] was bright enough to put them together early and keep them together. It looks like that chemistry has transferred over. Lehtera is a great passer and Tarasenko is a great shooter, so it’s a good match."

It doesn’t always work that way. In fact, Armstrong pointed to 1997, when Wayne Gretzky was traded to St. Louis. The obvious thought was that The Great One would have instant chemistry with his old pal Brett Hull.

"They never really found it," Armstrong said.

And when you look back to July 1, it was Paul Stastny's signing in St. Louis that generated way more buzz than Lehtera's signature, but Stastny took a while to hit his stride with his new team.

"I think his training camp was the feeling-out process and then he got injured early and the team started playing well," Armstrong said. "I think anytime a player comes in to a situation with that type of character, they want to come in and they don’t want to rock the boat.

"He was . . . I don’t want to say relinquishing ice time that he needed to fight for, and now I think he’s fighting for that ice time and demanding with his play that he’s on the ice at certain times. And we’re the benefactors of it. He’s scored goals in recent games and was an excellent player against Long Island [Saturday]."

If Lehtera keeps it up, that’s one heck of a one-two-three punch down the middle with David Backes, Lehtera and Stastny.
No one was happy in St. Louis when the highly touted Blues made a hasty exit from the 2014 NHL playoffs.

The Blues built a 2-0 series edge against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference quarterfinals only to surrender that lead to their hated division rival in a stunning six-game set.

That bitter defeat will be a sore subject when training camp begins next month, no doubt, but according to former Blues star Keith Tkachuk, it may serve as quite the learning experience as well.

[+] EnlargeKeith Tkachuk
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonKeith Tkachuk likes how his former team is building for postseason success.
“I think everyone in the organization was disappointed, fans clearly were, when we were up two games to none [and lost],” Tkachuk told ESPN.com in a recent phone interview. "The young guys, I think it will be beneficial to them to be a little aggravated, to see them knocked off by Chicago, which is a good rivalry here in town.

“I think you’ll see a lot of angry guys, pissed-off guys [in camp].”

Those young guys are the key to the Blues’ future and remain a bright spot for a team that has gone into recent postseasons as one of the elite squads out West and then run into some of the most fearsome opponents.

Tkachuk, who recorded 1,065 points in 1,201 NHL games and spent nine seasons with the Blues, sees defenseman Alex Pietrangelo thriving this season with another year of experience under his belt. And he views Jake Allen as a strong competitor who will push Brian Elliott for the starting goaltending job.

Tkachuk says the 24-year-old Allen has done things “the proper way,” paying his dues and rising up the ranks steadily after years in junior hockey and the American Hockey League. He also has good size, keen stickhandling skills and a growing sense of confidence. Tkachuk thinks his development, and the Blues’ stability in net, will benefit from that.

“This is the perfect situation. Elliott is a little bit later [into his career] and Allen who needs more NHL seasoning,” said Tkachuk. “If you have Elliott, who is a great pro, and they push each other in practice, Elliott’s working habits in practice will have a big-time influence in Allen. Whoever’s playing well is going to play.”

That’s not to say that Tkachuk did not support the Blues’ bold move to trade for Ryan Miller in February last season. It was a bold decision from management, namely general manager Doug Armstrong, that indicated the club was ready to go all-in on the 2014 postseason.

But the acquisition did not go as planned. Miller posted a pedestrian 10-8-1 record with a 2.47 goals-against average and .903 save percentage for St. Louis, and the Blues chose not to re-sign the longtime Buffalo Sabres netminder, who subsequently signed a free-agent deal with the Vancouver Canucks in July.

“It was definitely worth a shot,” said Tkachuk, who spends the majority of his time traveling to watch his two teenage sons play hockey and coaching his youngest in midget minor. “Last year, there were a lot of question marks with Jaroslav Halak, so [the Blues] made the move and I’d have done the same thing. It didn’t work, but it’s not all on him. As a team, sometimes you need a change. Jake Allen, as well as he did in Chicago, deserves to be here.”

Tkachuk also said he loves the signing of center Paul Stastny, which adds depth down the middle and gives captain David Backes some help at the position.

“It brings some much-needed offensive help, not just 5-on-5 but on the power play, which is huge,” Tkachuk said.

Heck, in a Central Division that keeps raising the caliber of competition, the Blues had no choice but to ante up.

“It’s a challenge every night,” Tkachuk said. "You’ve got the two-headed monster in [Patrick Kane] and [Jonathan] Toews, who really played well [in the playoffs]. You know Colorado is going to have another good year, especially adding [Jarome] Iginla. Dallas has gotten better with [trade acquisition Jason] Spezza.

“I think Stastny was a huge move shown by management and ownership that we want to take it to the next level, but it’s definitely a tough division. We have to close out teams when we have them.”


The St. Louis Blues made quite the splash Tuesday, signing the most coveted center on the unrestricted free-agent market, Paul Stastny.

Just imagine had they also traded for Jason Spezza on top of that?

That’s exactly what the Blues would have attempted had the Ottawa Senators not dealt him so early in the day.

The priority in St. Louis was to make sure Stastny was going to sign there, but a source told ESPN.com the Blues would have also circled back to the Senators after that to inquire about what it would take to get Spezza as well.

Go big or go home, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not convinced the Blues would have offered as impressive a package as the Stars did, so the Senators probably made the right decision to trade with Dallas.

More on the Stars later. But let’s finish up with the Blues first. Major kudos to GM Doug Armstrong for sticking to his guns on not signing any contract past four years with Stastny. That was really important to Armstrong, but it’s hard to have that kind of self-control on July 1 when sometimes your emotions get the better of you with all the money flying around the NHL. He gave Stastny top dollar, averaging $7 million per year, but was able to get the term he wanted at four years, buying exactly the best four years of Stastny’s career from age 28 to 32. That’s mighty impressive.

At the end of the day, Stastny could have gone elsewhere for more term, but the Blues were the runaway front-runners if he was going to leave Colorado. He grew up in St. Louis and had long ago made that club a target if he couldn’t say with the Avs. He didn’t stay because Colorado just couldn’t move enough on term or salary to ever really come close.

Now the Blues will likely feature a top line of Stastny between Alex Steen and David Backes.

Stastny wasn’t the only free-agent center signed on this day by St. Louis. While it didn’t get nearly as much fanfare, the Blues were through-the-roof delighted to get Jori Lehtera to finally sign and leave overseas, where he has been a consistent top point producer in the KHL and before that the Finnish League. The Blues drafted him in 2008 but failed in a few attempts to get him to come over. Now he’s arriving as a matured, 26-year-old pivot who may turn some heads next season.

And those stars …
So in a league where team execs will always tell you it’s impossible to acquire top-end centers, Stars GM Jim Nill has picked up Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza within 12 months.

"Jim Nill is doing an incredible job there," a rival GM said Tuesday night.

The funniest thing about the Spezza trade is that, as late as Saturday, Nill was under the impression that Spezza didn’t want to go to Dallas. There was some miscommunication or confusion with Ottawa on that. Once that got cleared up over the weekend, Nill got back hard into the Spezza situation.

There had also been some dialogue with San Jose previously regarding Joe Thornton, but Jumbo still isn’t ready to leave the Sharks. So Spezza certainly made plenty of sense for the Stars, who tried to keep up with a Western Conference arms race at center.

With Ales Hemsky also signed Tuesday, you’ve got yourself a Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin pairing on the top line perhaps and Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky on the second unit. Um yeah, there’s a few goals there.

Blackhawks get Richards
Word is Brad Richards had solid interest from the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, but in the end he was really sold on having a chance to win another Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Conversations with Hawks GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville over the past few days were all Richards needed to take a one-year flyer with the perennial Cup contenders.

To me, that’s a great fit for both sides and a smart play by Bowman to make it work at $2 million.

Brodeur still waiting
Martin Brodeur told us before free agency he knew he’d have to be patient once the market opened, and that patience is certainly being tested.

Tampa Bay was looking for a backup and spoke to Brodeur's camp, but then chose to go with Evgeni Nabokov.

The Pittsburgh Penguins talked to Brodeur’s camp but couldn’t make the money work, so they signed Thomas Greiss instead.

You have to believe there’s room somewhere for the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie, even at the age of 42, but it appears it’s not going to be easy.

Habs deal GorgesS
It wasn’t an easy few days for Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin after word leaked out of an attempted trade of Josh Gorges to Toronto, only to have the veteran defenseman block the deal to the Maple Leafs via his partial no-trade clause.

Word first leaked Saturday via TSN’s Bob McKenzie and, while it produced angry comments from Gorges, the Habs hung in there with Toronto for a few days, allowing the Maple Leafs to try to convince Gorges to change his mind. Bergevin waited until Tuesday morning, but when he was told the answer was still no from Gorges (the Habs it appears would have gotten Cody Franson in return), Montreal quickly turned its attention to Buffalo and got a deal done for a second-round pick in 2016. The Canadiens eventually got their right-handed defenseman elsewhere when they signed Tom Gilbert.

Many Habs fans and even some Montreal players are not happy to see the popular Gorges go. But with four more years on his deal at $3.9 million per season, Bergevin and the Habs front office made a calculated yet unpopular decision that Gorges’ play in the last two years of that deal would not warrant the cap hit, not to mention the necessity to open up more playing time on the left side of defense for youngster Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

Said one Western Conference GM: "I think Bergy did the right thing even if it was tough to do. Gorges is a warrior, but those miles will catch up to him."

Meanwhile, another popular player also left town Tuesday: Habs captain Brian Gionta joins Gorges in Buffalo via free agency, signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. A source told ESPN.com the Canadiens didn’t waiver from offering Gionta only a one-year extension, so that decision to leave was fairly simple for Gionta.

Between both veteran players, that’s a lot of leadership out the door and certainly two players that teammates valued. I’d say the risk here isn’t so much on the ice with these two departures, but rather off of it. There’s a leadership void to fill.

Rangers sign Boyle
Dan Boyle left "a lot" of money on the table from other teams, according to one source, in order to sign for $4.5 million per season over two years with the New York Rangers. Fact is, the allure of playing with old bud Martin St. Louis plus quarterbacking the Blueshirts power play made the Rangers the front-runners for Boyle.

Toronto, Tampa, Montreal and Detroit also had interest in Boyle.


After yet another disappointing playoff exit for the Cup-hungry St. Louis Blues, there was a lot of debate about just how they might get over the hump. Or would they ever?

The acquisition of netminder Ryan Miller at the 2014 trade deadline at great cost to the Blues wasn’t the answer, as the Blues blew a 2-0 series lead against Chicago and lost four straight for their second first-round exit in the past three seasons.

But credit GM Doug Armstrong for staying on task as he shook off that disappointment and landed the top center on the free-agent landscape, signing longtime Colorado Avalanche Paul Stastny to a four-year deal worth $28 million early Tuesday afternoon.

Stastny has seen his career revived in the past couple of seasons, beginning with a star turn at the 2013 World Championships. That led to a second straight berth with the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, and he enjoyed a strong 2013-14 season with a revitalized Avs team, scoring 25 times in the regular season and then adding an impressive five goals and five assists in the team’s seven-game first-round series loss to the Minnesota Wild.

A solid two-way player, Stastny will fit in well with the blue-collar work ethic long espoused by Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. As was made obvious by the Dallas Stars’ earlier acquisition of Jason Spezza, it’s no longer simply good enough to have a top center in the Western Conference; you have to have a bunch of them. Adding Stastny to play behind (or in front of) captain David Backes will take pressure off the rugged Backes, who last year formed one of the league’s most dynamic forward combinations with Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie.

But by the end of the playoffs, Backes was worn down (in large part due to a dirty hit courtesy of Brent Seabrook) and the team’s offense dried up. During the team’s final four games they scored just six times.

Now, with Stastny perhaps centering Vladimir Tarasenko and/or Jaden Schwartz, the Blues will be in a much better position, at least in theory, for the rigors of a long playoff run.

Although the Avs anticipated Stastny’s departure -- acquiring veteran center Daniel Briere in exchange for P.A. Parenteau on Monday -- the Blues’ acquisition also ups the ante within the suddenly competitive Central Division.

As noted, Dallas made things much more interesting in the Central with its addition of Spezza to play behind Tyler Seguin. And the Blackhawks are another team looking for help down the middle, as is Nashville, which acquired sniper James Neal from Pittsburgh on Friday at the draft but needs to find a top center to help get him the puck.

Stastny would have looked good with the Preds or the Blackhawks or even staying with the Avalanche. But that’s not how it turned out and that’s good news for Blues fans who are anxious for such good news to translate into playoff success.
Quick evening update before the big day tomorrow:

Where will Iggy land?

Unless Jarome Iginla takes a pay cut, not sure how the cap-challenged Boston Bruins can re-sign the veteran UFA winger, although never say never.

If Iginla does hit the free-agent market, which opens at noon ET Tuesday, among the teams that we’ve heard have interest are Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Colorado and Detroit.

On the Paul Stastny front, as we reported earlier in the day, the long list of suitors was cut down Monday and the Winnipeg Jets were among those that didn’t make the final short list.

To me Stastny is looking at three scenarios:
      1. Re-sign with Colorado, where he really wants to stay, but take less money than he’ll get anywhere else.
      2. Sign in St. Louis, where he grew up, and with a Blues team that will definitely make him an offer. But, word is the Blues won’t offer a long-term deal; it will likely be something more in the three- or four-year range. I think the Blues will offer top dollar, just not long term.
      3. Take the biggest money offer there is from another team.


Elsewhere:
  • Veteran agent Steve Bartlett said he expected to speak with the Montreal Canadiens at some point Monday night regarding captain Brian Gionta, set to become UFA Tuesday.
  • To me, Dan Boyle likely goes to one of four places Tuesday: Detroit, Toronto, Tampa Bay or the New York Rangers.
  • If either the Dallas Stars or the St. Louis Blues get serious in trade talks with Ottawa on Jason Spezza over the next week, it wouldn’t surprise me if both clubs would want Spezza to sign a one-year extension before trading away assets to get him.
  • With the Jets out on Stastny, they continue their search for a center. Mikhail Grabovski and David Legwand are among the names they were looking at Monday.
  • The Ottawa Senators are looking at UFA winger Benoit Pouliot, among others.
  • Word is Anton Stralman has a long-term offer worth between $4.5 million and $5 million coming his way from another team, which is why it’s going to be hard for the Rangers to retain him, although I’m sure the Blueshirts will take another crack at it.
The NHL’s all-time winningest netminder was intrigued on the eve of free agency, wondering exactly where he’ll end up.

"I’m excited and intrigued to see some of the options [that] will be laid out in front of me," Martin Brodeur told ESPN.com on Monday. "It’s something that’s new to me; it’s going to be fun."

Technically, Brodeur did in fact enter free agency two years ago, but that was really just because it took Devils GM Lou Lamoriello some time to come around on the idea of a two-year deal.

This time, it’s for real. Brodeur is almost surely changing teams, something Devils fans probably never thought they would see in their lifetime. But Brodeur is eager for a new challenge before he wraps up an incredible career. He’s got one of the sport's big-time agents in Pat Brisson of CAA Sports.

[+] EnlargeMartin Brodeur
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsMartin Brodeur is ready to say goodbye to New Jersey and begin a new chapter in his career.
"We’ll see what noon [ET] tomorrow will bring," Brodeur said. "I’m just sitting back and letting Pat do his thing."

Brodeur is willing to look at different types of fits.

"It depends on the opportunity," Brodeur said. "I’m pretty open-minded about things. For me, this is a year that’s going to be a challenge for me regardless of where I land, first because it’ll be in a different organization, second because it’ll be a new [role]. It’s something where I think I’m just going to really enjoy the game and not worry about carrying a team. I’m just going to be a piece of the puzzle for a team, hopefully."

Whether that’s mentoring a young starting goalie or even helping a more established starter, Brodeur is ready to be that guy.

"It’ll be fun for me just to see what the opportunities are," he said. "But I’m open-minded, whether it’s a team with a good young goalie or being in a spot where I’ve got a chance to win a Stanley Cup again ... just look forward to seeing what’s out there."

Brodeur also knows it may not happen on Day 1 of free agency for him. He needs to patient as Brisson works out the market for him.

Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan publicly stated over the weekend Toronto had some interest, although I don’t think there’s much money to spend there. Not to mention James Reimer hasn’t been traded yet.

What about Tampa Bay? It needs a backup goalie. Just a thought.

What now for Tampa?
The Tampa Bay Lightning shed $5.65 million in cap space Sunday night with their three trades, fueling no end of speculation that the club was going to be quite active come Tuesday. Perhaps ... but this is about Tampa creating roster/payroll flexibility moving forward whether that’s for signing a player or two come Tuesday or for having that space to do something over the next few months.

"It gives us some options," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com on Monday. "Really, prior to yesterday, other than trying to sign a backup goaltender, we really weren’t in a position to do anything at all. And we may end up doing nothing [Tuesday] other than signing a backup goaltender, but we’d like to explore [the free-agent market]."

Yzerman pointed to possibilities both up front and on defense.

"We’d like to get potentially a center or maybe a winger," said Yzerman. "And then, we have seven defensemen signed and we’d like to carry eight. Depending on fit and contract, whether it’s a really expensive guy or a low-end one-way, we’ll try to add one more defenseman."

Yzerman said he'd prefer a right-handed defenseman. The Bolts GM would not discuss specific names, but sources have confirmed Tampa’s interest in UFA blueliner Matt Niskanen as well as veteran Dan Boyle, among others.

Tampa joins the likes of Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and the New York Rangers on the list of teams interested in Boyle, as well as places where he would be happy to sign, according to a source.

Niskanen, well, he’s wanted by nearly everyone. He could fetch north of $6 million a year on the open market Tuesday. I don’t believe Tampa will bid like crazy; the deal would have to make sense for them.

Around the market
  • Speaking of Niskanen, likely the most sought-after blueliner on the market Tuesday, his agent, Neil Sheehy, was busy Monday trying to pare down the long, long list of teams interested in signing his client.

    "We are narrowing the list to a workable number today. I can't say how many but rather a workable number," Sheehy said via email.
  • Brad Richards is set for free agency for the second time in his career. Bought out by the New York Rangers, the veteran center would be a valuable addition at the right price. His leadership was on full display during New York’s playoff run and his hands are still capable of helping any power play. Reached via text Monday, Richards didn't want to comment, saying he wanted to keep a low profile on the eve of the market opening.
  • Paul Stastny’s agent, Matt Keator, was working Monday to shorten the list of suitors. Some 15 teams showed interest since the speaking window opened. Keator said Monday morning it was time to work it down to a more workable list, planning to speak with Stastny to identify the top suitors, which another source suggested would include St. Louis. Colorado, of course, also would remain in the mix right to the end, either way.

    The Stastny situation continues to affect the Jason Spezza trade scenario to some degree, most notably with the Blues’ interest in both players. One source did suggest Monday that the Dallas Stars might renew their exploration of the Spezza situation. As I reported Saturday, the Stars have talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton, but either way would like to pick up another top-end center.
  • About eight to 10 teams have circled back to the Thomas Vanek camp with interest. Minnesota, of course, is one of those teams, although as we reported last week, the Wild have expressed to Vanek’s camp that they won't do a long-term deal. Despite that, Minnesota remains very much part of Vanek’s wish list, although where exactly he ends up Tuesday remains to be seen. Sounds like he’ll have to decide between a shorter-term deal in Minnesota (where he really wants to play) or a bigger offer elsewhere. Meanwhile, Vanek met with Wild coach Mike Yeo on Sunday, a source confirmed, to talk about his possible fit.
  • After Josh Gorges refused to accept a trade the Toronto, the Habs must either find a trading partner with one of the 15 teams on Gorges’ approved teams list or put him on waivers, my TSN colleague Bob McKenzie reported earlier today. Will the prospect of going on waivers convince Gorges to take the trade to the Leafs?
  • Jussi Jokinen hits the market Tuesday as it appears the Penguins won’t be re-signing him.

    A source told ESPN.com that Jokinen’s camp offered to re-sign for $4 million a year, a raise over the $3 million he made this past season, but the cap-challenged Penguins feel it’s too much money.

    Jokinen’s agent, Todd Diamond, wouldn't divulge those kinds of details, only to say he still hoped to hear back from Pittsburgh before the market opened Tuesday.

    "Our last conversation was that they would get back to us, but we haven’t heard back yet," Diamond said Monday morning.

    "We have three or four other teams that we’ve spoken to. But I think with these potential trades possibly happening [Jason Spezza, etc], that may also create more interest for Jussi and other players in his position. It’s a pretty fluid situation right now."

    Diamond also represents forward Leo Komarov, who wants to return to the NHL after a year in Russia. The former Maple Leafs forward played well in the Olympics for bronze-medal winner Finland, and there’s a lot of interest in him, according to Diamond.

    "I don’t have enough fingers to count how many teams have called," said Diamond. "He’s a very popular player right now. He’s 27 and brings lots to the table."
  • Speaking of interest, there's plenty as well apparently in Martin Havlat, who became an unrestricted free agent after the San Jose Sharks bought him out. A source told ESPN.com approximately 10 teams have called on him since he was bought out. The long list of injuries have minimized his impact over the past few years, but at the right price, there are teams that can’t help but wonder if getting him on the rebound would be a nice bargain and a solid gamble if he can stay healthy.
  • TSN's Darren Dreger reported Monday that the Maple Leafs would make one more push on pending UFA center David Bolland, but it wouldn’t be more than five years or above $5 million a year. Not sure that’s going to get it done.
  • Pending UFA winger Radim Vrbata has seven or eight teams on his trail, although the Coyotes remain in the mix. It was expected agent Rich Evans and the Coyotes would talk again Monday at some point.


PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps emotionally driven and certainly frustrated, veteran general manager Bryan Murray revealed more than a little after the NHL draft Saturday regarding his failed attempts so far to trade star center Jason Spezza.

For starters, the Ottawa Senators GM said a potential deal with the Nashville Predators was scuttled because Spezza didn’t want to go there -- the Preds are on Spezza’s list of 10 teams he won’t go to.

"[Preds GM] David [Poile] talked to me, and we couldn’t go there," Murray said. "I told [Spezza’s agent] Rick Curran that today, I had a deal sitting there if I wanted to do it, but he was on the list of no-goes."

Poile also confirmed the potential deal.

“I've talked to Bryan about Jason, and I was told through [Spezza’s] agent that he didn’t want to play for us. And that was confirmed by Bryan," Poile said Saturday.

The hint was that Murray could have gotten Patric Hornqvist and Nic Spaling, the two players who went to Pittsburgh for James Neal.

“They’ve done their James Neal trade, so that has gone away,” Murray said. "Anaheim’s gone away with Kesler, so the field narrows a little bit. But yeah, they might need to have a little change in approach, as well as I do.”

The question now is whether Spezza would consider changing his mind on Nashville if his situation drags on. After all, he is the one who asked for a trade.

“Maybe David and I will have a conversation later on, I don’t know that,” Murray said. "We talked today but didn’t indicate anything about a trade because of the Neal trade. But he may come back to me.”

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNashville is one of the 10 teams that Jason Spezza will not accept a trade to.
But a source close to Spezza told ESPN.com that, at this point, he has no intention of changing his mind on Nashville.

It’s clear that the classy Poile had a hint of frustration in his voice as he talked about Spezza not wanting to go to Nashville.

“I’m not going to pitch somebody if they don’t want to play for us,” Poile said. "This game is hard enough as it is. You’ve got to be fully committed.”

Poile sees Nashville as an attractive place for a player with a team that’s improving.

“I want to be optimistic. I think we’re closer than a lot of people are giving us credit for," Poile said.

“I have no problem selling my team, and I think it’s an easy sell. What we have on the ice, what we have off the ice, the city, the atmosphere, no state taxes, there’s a lot of advantages to playing in Nashville.”

And what he’d dearly love is a center of Spezza’s talents, or perhaps Paul Stastny (UFA on Tuesday).

“If I had it on my wish list, I would like to get a No. 1 center, and we’re going to try to get that,” Poile said. "If that happens the next couple of days or it happens in free agency or it happens through a trade that would be great. If it doesn’t happen right now, I have patience. I don’t think we really have an age problem on our team, but I think we’re really getting the correct pieces in place to be a more competitive club than we’ve been in the last couple of years.”

For the Senators, it may very well be that once Stastny is taken off the market, some of the teams who were chasing him will come back on Spezza.

"We’ll continue to talk and, over the course of time, I’m sure people that miss out on July 1 may come knocking, but we’ll have to wait and see," Murray said.

"Jason’s a 80-90 point guy, and you don’t get that return in any kind of trade in this league today, but I’m hoping we get something fair for the organization, so that we can put a player on the ice and maybe get a prospect or two and go from there."

A source told ESPN.com that Murray had another conversation about Spezza with St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong on Saturday morning, the Senators trying to pry the Blues’ second-round pick in a possible package. But the Blues stood pat for now, although it’s believed their interest in Spezza remains strong. The same can be said for the Chicago Blackhawks, although they’ve got to figure out their salary-cap situation to have any chance to make a deal work with Ottawa.

The Blues also have interest in Stastny, so that’s another potential avenue, although half the teams in the league have approached Stastny’s camp.

HABS TRY TO MOVE GORGES
Talk about out of left field, news broke by my TSN teammate Bob McKenzie on Saturday that the Maple Leafs and rival Montreal Canadiens had talked about a potential Josh Gorges trade. Only one problem, Toronto isn’t among the 15 teams that Gorges has listed on his partial no-trade provision as clubs he’s willing to go to. But what it does tell you is that Gorges is in play, only thing is, Montreal needs to find a partner among those 15 teams listed.

Gorges, 29, has four more years on his deal at a $3.9 million cap hit.

The Leafs did trade for a blueliner, getting Roman Polak from St. Louis in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and the 94th overall pick. Toronto retained $200,000 of cap space in the transaction.

NEW SALARY CAP
Perhaps the biggest buzz item of the weekend was the salary cap, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association announcing Friday that it would be $69 million for next season.

That’s about $1 million less than what most teams had budgeted for, which is no small deal.

For teams like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, every dime matters when you’re a cap team and having a lower-than-expected cap greatly affects potential moves and certainly the ability to spend.

"Yeah, it affects every team that’s close," Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Saturday. "It affects us for sure. We’ve got to find a way to get below it. It was a little lower than we thought and hoped."

The Blackhawks are trying to find a No. 2 center, the Bruins had hoped to re-sign Jarome Iginla, the Rangers have Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman headed to free agency, and the list goes on.

Having a cap that’s a $1 million less than expected is far from ideal for many of these cap teams.

What’s most interesting is that in the negotiations over setting the cap number, it was the NHL Players’ Association wanting it at $69 million while the league wanted it at $70 million. The NHLPA’s concern was that a $70-million cap would lead to more escrow payments for players next year.

That’s a valid point, it’s just rare for the players to be arguing for less spending and the league wanting more.

"Role reversal," chuckled one team executive.

STARS BUSY?
Stars GM Jim Nill said he’d like to add a piece or two to his forward group but did not divulge his specific targets.

Sources suggest he’s talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton and also to Ottawa about Jason Spezza.

What he found out is that Thornton at this point has no intention to waive his no-movement clause.

AVS TO TALK TO STASTNY
Agent Matt Keator was a popular man this week in Philadelphia, courted by half the teams in the league on the subject of his client and pending UFA center Paul Stastny.

It’s clear Colorado will need to boost its last offer to Stastny (believed to be a number that starts with 5) in order to retain his services.

"We’re going to continue talking, I’m going to talk to him probably tomorrow," Avs executive Joe Sakic said Saturday. "We’ll see where we’re at."

Stastny dearly wants to stay in Denver. But he’s going to get offered more money elsewhere, so he will have to balance those two thoughts.

"That’s what you get when you’re an UFA, the ultimate decision is Paul’s," Sakic said. "I’m sure there’s lots of teams that have interest, where they’re going to go financially, I don’t know, but I know what we can do. Hopefully it will work out, but we’ll see."

ALFIE'S FUTURE
Daniel Alfredsson, 41, continues to mull over his playing future.

"I think right now, Daniel -- not unlike a lot of veteran guys in his situation and his age -- just wants to take his time and make the right decision," his agent J.P. Barry of CAA said Saturday. "He wants to feel 100 percent before he makes any decision.

"I think he’s leaning towards playing, we all think that, but at the same time he needs that time in the summer to feel 100 percent."

If Alfredsson does return, it’s likely only for Detroit.

NISKANEN READY FOR MARKET
Matt Niskanen is almost surely gone from Pittsburgh, the cap-challenged Penguins unable to match what the UFA blueliner will fetch on the open market both in term and dollars.

Don’t be surprised to see Niskanen and his agent Neil Sheehy fetch north of $5 million a year and term around five or six years for the puck-mover.

FLORIDA'S NO. 1 PICK
Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he was close on one particular offer to trade away the No. 1 overall pick Friday night.

And while Philadelphia and Vancouver made strong pitches, the club that made Tallon think the most was Tampa Bay, a source said.

Imagine if the two Florida clubs had gotten together for that kind of blockbuster.


UPDATED: 6:04 p.m. ET

The Ryan Kesler trade talks have taken an interesting twist on the eve of the NHL draft’s first round.

Sources around the NHL have told ESPN.com that the list of teams pursuing Kesler has grown over the past 24 hours.

We reporter earlier this week that Anaheim and Chicago were the two known front-runners on a short list. But it appears more teams have tried to jump into the race.

The question is, will Kesler allow them to? Armed with his no-trade clause, Kesler controls his destination and may not approve of some of these teams.

Stay tuned.

STASTNY UPDATE
The No. 1 center on the unrestricted free-agent market continued to generate a lot of interest on Day 2 of the window to talk to free agents, and as of late Thursday afternoon around 15 NHL teams had communicated in one way or another with Paul Stastny's camp led by agent Matt Keator.

We reported Wednesday that the St. Louis Blues were among the inquisitive teams, add the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks to the long list of teams that have checked in on the Stastny camp. The Jets could certainly use a top-six center and their interest in Stastny is said to be quite legitimate. The Blackhawks have spoken to Vancouver about Ryan Kesler in their search for a No. 2 center. Imagine Stastny centering Patrick Kane? Problem is, not really sure how the Hawks could afford Stastny under their cap when you consider that the Stastny camp is telling clubs they don’t intend on taking a pay cut from the $6.66 million a year the Team USA Olympian was making on his expiring contract.

For the Blackhawks, the more people you talk to around the league the past few days, the more you hear about Chicago making calls and looking at a number of different scenarios. They might very well be an active team here over the next seven to 10 days.

However this process plays out for Stastny -- likely going right to July 1 -- the Stastny camp will certainly circle back to the Colorado Avalanche to give them a chance to improve their offer and try to retain Stastny.

WILD IDEAS
A year ago the Minnesota Wild had so little cap room they had to essentially sit on the sidelines while the free-agent market played itself out.

Now with the cap going up plus Dany Heatley’s $7.5 million hit coming off the books, GM Chuck Fletcher can get back in the game.

"Yes, it’s nice to be able to get involved more, I spoke with several agents yesterday," Fletcher told ESPN.com on Thursday morning.

Fletcher would not say who he spoke to, but a separate source confirmed he had spoken with, among others, agent Steve Bartlett, who represents UFA winger Thomas Vanek. Whether or not that gets done -- as so many have been predicting for a year -- remains to be seen. I think it’s really going to depend on term, not sure the Wild want another super long-term deal on their books. If Vanek signs in Minnesota, it’s not for more than three or four years in my estimation.

As of late Thursday afternoon, we’re told eight to 10 teams had communicated some level of interest in Vanek, although at this point I’d rate about four teams with series interest.

While Fletcher would not comment on specific UFA targets, he did identify general needs.

"If we don’t re-sign [winger] Matt Moulson and [defenseman] Clayton Stoner, then we have to replace those players," Fletcher said of his two pending UFAs. "In an ideal world, we’re looking for a guy who can chip in offensively up front and a fifth/sixth defenseman. Obviously there’s options in both those areas where the price tag might vary a little bit."

It doesn’t sound very probable for Moulson to re-sign.

"I think he’s got to look at what the best fit for him is. We do, too," Fletcher said. "I think it’s fair to say both sides are looking at what’s out there."

Elsewhere:
  • Veteran agent Don Meehan and his Newport Sports team met Thursday with Montreal Canadiens management regarding RFA star blueliner P.K. Subban. There have been people speculating about a possible offer sheet but that appears to be a waste of time, a Habs source telling ESPN.com that the club would match it in no time.
  • The Edmonton Oilers acquired and signed defenseman Nikita Nikitin on Wednesday but they’re far from done. Or hope not to be. A source says the Oilers still want to acquire another established defenseman and also upgrade at center.
  • Matt Niskanen, one of the top UFA defensemen, informed the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday that he was going to the July 1 market to see what’s out there.

    "Matt has decided to see what the free-agent market is," Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy, told ESPN.com on Thursday. "He’ll make a decision after he’s seen all the teams interested and decide what’s the right fit. Pittsburgh isn’t out by any means, but I think where the market is going to be and what they’ll be able to do is going to be a contrast. So we’ll see where this all leads."
  • Former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. will be joining the Boston Bruins front office, a source told ESPN.com. Ferguson has been with the San Jose Sharks for a number of years.


For years Dan Boyle tuned in on July 1 to watch all the fun.

He was never personally involved, so he would watch from afar with interest.

Now that’s changed, and for the first time in his career he’s going to market himself.

"It’s definitely exciting to watch when you’re not involved. It’s definitely a different experience when you’re in the middle of it," Boyle told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

The window for teams to reach out to other unrestricted free agents opened at 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. And the Boyle camp was a popular target.

"Good deal of interest, there are going to be good options for him," Boyle’s agent, George Bazos, said Wednesday. "We’ll sift through it the next few days and see where it all leads."

All they can do is talk, nobody can sign a free agent from another team until July 1. But within the rules of the UFA talking window, teams can certainly lay out the parameters which they’d be willing to agree to.

"We’re just trying to figure out what the place for me would be and there’s definitely a few options out there," Boyle said.

Getting a two-year deal is very important and Bazos is confident he can make it happen for Boyle, who turns 38 on July 12. Contracts signed by players who are 35 and over count against the salary cap regardless of whether the players complete them or not. That’s why there’s risk involved.

"I still think he can really help a team, he’s still a great skater and a terrific character guy," said one Eastern Conference team executive Wednesday.

Boyle indeed remains a terrific skater and puck mover, so two years doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch.

"It’s not to say that I can’t play any longer than that, but mentally and physically I’ve committed myself to two years. I feel great right now," Boyle said.

"The only thing I know for sure is that I have two very good years left in me and then I can see after that."

While neither Boyle nor Bazos would divulge which teams had already shown interest, other sources around the league confirmed Toronto, Detroit and the New York Rangers were among the several teams that have shown interest in Boyle.

One source described the Maple Leafs' interest as "serious." And the Rangers are also very interested, especially pending the outcome of talks with UFA D-man Anton Stralman.

And of course the New York Islanders remain an option. Montreal had a bit of interest in case talks with Andrei Markov went south, but now that he’s re-signed, the Canadiens are likely not a player on Boyle.

Elsewhere:
  • Agent Matt Keator’s phone started ringing at 12:01 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning when the UFA talking window opened, with lots of teams calling in a hurry on Paul Stastny, the top center available on the UFA market.

    In the meantime, the Colorado Avalanche will be kept in the mix throughout.

    "Paul’s first choice is to re-sign in Colorado but we’ll listen to what teams have to say and make an informed decision," Keator told ESPN.com on Wednesday morning.

    According to a source, the St. Louis Blues were among the many teams that reached out to the Stastny camp. Given the Blues’ pursuit of Jason Spezza, getting Stastny instead would be a cheaper acquisition in terms of not having to give up assets to get him.
  • Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon keeps listening on offers for the first overall pick, but as of Wednesday at noon ET still nothing close enough to get a deal done.

    "Not much new," Tallon told ESPN.com. "There’s some offers from teams in the middle of the pack. But I want to stay top 10 if I can."

    To move down, Tallon would want an established player that fits into his team’s young core. Plus, as he said, he still wants to pick in the top 10.

    Right now, that offer isn’t there.

    "We’re in a good spot. We’ll take the pick if nobody steps up," said Tallon, who expected the offers to get more serious as we get close to Friday evening’s first round.
  • Talks are ongoing between the Montreal Canadiens and captain Brian Gionta (UFA July 1). Agent Brian Bartlett said Wednesday he was "cautiously optimistic" something could get done with the Habs, although finding the right term/dollar match remains a work in progress. Bartlett also said other teams had already called to inquire about Gionta once the window opened Wednesday.



The Colorado Avalanche are at an interesting crossroads in their rebirth as a buzzworthy team.

They've won back some of their fan base after a surprising and exciting 2013-14 season that saw the team razzle-dazzle its way to a playoff berth. The sky seems to be the limit with youngsters Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene leading the way.

But now comes the business part of the equation: two of their top forwards need new contracts, center Paul Stastny a pending UFA while Ryan O'Reilly will soon be RFA and carries his own unique set of circumstances.

It's not like the Avs are up against the salary cap, far from it. But it's about keeping things within the organization's financial landscape when it comes to trying to sign both important forwards.

"They're both part of our core, and we'd like to have them both here," Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, the team's executive vice president of hockey operations, told ESPN.com Thursday evening. "That said, we have our internal structure; we don't want to change that. We signed Landeskog, Duchene and [Semyon] Varlamov all within our core structure, and we’d like to have both Ryan and Paul fit in there as well."

Ah, but what exactly is the magic number?

Stastny, 28, is coming off a five-year deal that paid him $6.6 million per season. One assumes the Avs would like to bring him back at less than that number. Tough call for Stastny, who would easily be the No. 1 targeted center on an otherwise lean UFA crop come July 1.

As soon as Wednesday, other teams are allowed as per the new CBA to reach out to Stastny's agent, Matt Keator.

"Paul has been open about the fact he wants to stay in Denver," Keator said Friday. "We will keep talking with Joe throughout the process and give them every chance to retain Paul. We will meet next week and see where things go."

The plan is for Keator and Sakic to speak in Las Vegas during the NHL awards.

"I'm going to touch base and see Matt next week," Sakic said. "But I also understand Paul has the right to listen to other teams. We hope we can keep Paul, but he's in that situation where it's his choice. I don't blame him if they choose to see what's out there."

Then there's O'Reilly, at 23 already a fierce team leader and coming off a career-high 28 goals, which led the team (he was third in points with 64). On the one hand, he's one of Patrick Roy's favorite players, which the head coach and vice president of hockey operations reiterated at a Thursday news conference in Denver. On the flip side, there's history here with O'Reilly resolving a contract dispute with the team after the lockout by signing an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames. The Avs matched it the same day.

And, Sakic warned, any team trying that again will see the same result.

"We're going to match that," Sakic said, when asked about a possible offer sheet for the restricted free agent.

The team announced last Sunday that O’Reilly was designated for club-elected salary arbitration.

It's certainly within the team's rights in the CBA, but not usually a popular move with the player.

The sensitive disagreement right now resides with O'Reilly having been paid $6.5 million in salary this past season but as the team points out, carrying a $5 million cap hit (because the two-year deal had a $3.5 million salary in Year 1).

While agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports no doubt would like the departure point in discussions to be $6.5 million, the Avs in turn no doubt would point to the $5 million cap hit as a good place to start.

In arbitration, a player can't be awarded anything less than 85 percent of his base salary from the year before, so O'Reilly is guaranteed at least $5.525 million as an award. Whether that's a decrease in salary or a raise depends on each viewpoint.

"He was a $5 million cap hit this year, so to me it's still a raise," Sakic said. "I mean, at the end of the day, you have to look at the whole contract. That's beside the point; my first option would be to sign him long term and avoid arbitration. The whole idea, though, with arbitration is that if we don't get to an agreement is have an arbitrator dictate what's a right deal, whether that's one or two years. From our standpoint, we want Ryan O'Reilly here."

What the Avs have going for them in terms of leverage is that they've once again become a destination team. They're on the rise. Players around the league are going to want to hitch a ride on this train over the next number of years.

Just like the old days.

"I think so," said Sakic, part of two Cup-winning sides in Denver as a player. "We've got great young players. With Patty coaching, we have a great system. The fans have come back, it's a great city to live in, but at the end of the day you have to win. Winning gets players interested. All players want to win. If you can put a winning product on the ice, and you look at the players we have, I think this is a destination [free agents] will at least look at."

Which is precisely part of the front office's sales pitch on both Stastny and O'Reilly. This team is going places. Why would you want to leave now?

"Well, it is," agreed Sakic about the team's direction. "We'll have Ryan for at least two years but we hope it's longer-term. Paul has spent his whole career here, he loves the city. From my point of view, I'll respect whatever decision he makes, and hopefully it'll be [to stay] here. I was a UFA too, I know the situation and I respect the process. At the end of the day, it’s going to be Paul's situation and I hope he stays here. If not, I wish him the best. But we’d like both players to remain part of our core."

Gallant in running for Panthers' gig
As we reported in Thursday's blog, the Florida Panthers hope to have a coach in place by Monday.

While Dan Bylsma had started off as the strong front-runner, we keep hearing that Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant has made strong headway in the discussion. Stay tuned.

Spezza, Kesler, Thornton talk
The Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues are among the clubs to watch when it comes to the big-name free-agent centers.

Both clubs, we hear, have talked to the Vancouver Canucks about Ryan Kesler and to the Ottawa Senators about Jason Spezza, although they are hardly alone; several clubs have checked in on both available assets.

It's not surprising that Anaheim has inquired about both, as the Ducks' desire for a high-end No. 2 center is hardly a state secret, especially when the club tried too hard to get Kesler at the March 5 trade deadline.

What we're hearing out of both Ottawa and Vancouver is that the price is too high for each center, perhaps because we haven’t gotten to draft week yet in Philadelphia when things are expected to heat up.

Then again, the Canucks view Kesler as quite a bargain at a $5 million cap hit the next two seasons. Spezza has only a year left on his deal, but his offensive talent is a major drawing card the Senators are banking on cashing in on a trade.

It just so happens that the Senators and Ducks made a big trade a year ago -- the Bobby Ryan deal -- which among other assets netted Anaheim a first-round pick in next week’s draft. Because Ottawa surprisingly missed the playoffs, that pick became the 10th overall selection. I’m willing to bet the farm that Sens GM Bryan Murray would want that 10th overall pick back as part of the package in a Spezza deal with Anaheim. And I’m equally willing to bet that Ducks GM Bob Murray does not want to part with it.

On the Joe Thornton front, one thing to keep in mind amid all these trade rumors, as far as I can tell the San Jose Sharks captain has not indicated that he wants to leave San Jose. And since he has a no-movement clause, that means he won’t be moved until the day comes he changes his mind. Could he change his mind at some point? Sure. But we’ve yet to hear that.

In the meantime, teams have called to inquire about Thornton.

One club we’re told that is intrigued is the Detroit Red Wings, although at this point it's just that, pure intrigue and other than a very preliminary discussion, there hasn't been much work done on that front.

For starters, I don’t think Detroit can do something of that magnitude as long as Stephen Weiss and his $4.9 million cap hit remains on the books for the next four years. Good luck moving that contract.

Secondly, who's to say Thornton would include Detroit on his list of teams if the day should ever come that he decides to accept a deal?

It’s worth repeating, there’s no indication yet that Thornton wants to move on. At least not yet.
John Stevens knew he had a decent shot at being a head coach again, and most of the rest of the hockey world did, too.

It’s believed the Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, would have wanted to chat with him as part of their coaching searches.

But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sticking with a Stanley Cup champion isn’t such a bad thing, and the Los Angeles Kings made sure staying was a really good thing by promoting Stevens on Wednesday from assistant coach to associate head coach (read: pay raise).

[+] EnlargeJohn Stevens
Abelimages/Getty ImagesJohn Stevens stayed with the Kings because he's happy, not because of a succession plan.
And with that, a fairly hot name was taken off the coaching market.

"I think the promotion, the confidence the organization has shown in me, they pulled me off the scrap heap and brought me out here four years ago, I feel indebted for that," Stevens told ESPN.com Wednesday night.

"But I love being part of this group. I’ve never been in a hurry to move on to something else. I was more than willing to put my time in the minors because I loved what I was doing. And to me it’s not about the next step always, it’s about being with good people and doing what you love to do. That’s certainly my situation right now and that’s why I chose to stay."

He’ll be a head coach again one day in the NHL, just not now.

"I think I’ll get those opportunities one day, but it’s not something I wake up thinking about," Stevens said. "I love to coach, and I love being in a position where we have a chance to win, and we certainly have that here."

We talk a lot about championship teams trying to keep their players together, but it’s just as important to keep the front office and coaching staff together.

On May 9, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi promoted Mike Futa to vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel, a step up from co-director of amateur scouting. The Buffalo Sabres earlier in the season (before they hired Tim Murray as GM) and the Canucks this spring (before they hired Jim Benning as GM) had sought permission to talk with Futa. The Canucks never got to. Lombardi made sure of it with the promotion.

Now he’s done the same with Stevens.

It tells you a lot, too, about coach Darryl Sutter. Stevens had been brought to L.A. four years ago to work alongside coach Terry Murray.

"And that was terrific working with Terry again," said Stevens, who worked with Murray in Philadelphia.

When Murray was fired midway though the 2011-12 season, Sutter inherited Stevens. That’s not always a great situation, but the two veteran coaches formed a solid relationship, evidenced by Stevens’ decision to stay put.

"You get to know Darryl, he’s just an honest man, right?" Stevens said. "There’s no B.S. with Darryl. If you’re committed to winning and committed to doing everything for the team to help them win, I think you’ll get along fine with Darryl."

One of the popular theories out there is that Stevens stayed put because there’s some sort of succession plan for him to eventually replace Sutter as coach. Not so, Stevens said.

"I stayed because I wanted to stay with this group in my current role -- period," he said.

A Kings front office source also said that no such plan exists, that this was simply Sutter and the Kings wanting to keep Stevens -- and the feeling was very much mutual.

Elsewhere ...

-- Talks between Paul Stastny’s camp and the Colorado Avalanche are expected to continue next week in Las Vegas at the annual NHL awards. Stastny is a pending unrestricted free agent and easily would be the top center available on the July 1 market. The Avs also have the Ryan O'Reilly contract situation on their hands (he’s a restricted free agent and the team elected club arbitration on him), so there’s a few hot potatoes the Avs are juggling right now.

-- The Florida Panthers continue to entertain inquiries for their first overall pick for next week’s draft.

"We've had one, maybe two, concrete offers," Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com. "About 8-10 teams have showed interest but at this point nothing I would do. We'll see what happens next week."

Tallon also said he hoped to have a new coach in place by Monday. Gerard Gallant, Tom Renney, Dan Bylsma and Marc Crawford are among the candidates.


ARLINGTON, Va. -- Injuries are always going to play havoc with the selection of Olympic rosters no matter which country is involved, but the U.S. management team will be paying close attention to the health of center Ryan Kesler. When he’s been healthy and at his best, Kesler has proved he’s a dominant player, a difference-maker. But the former Frank J. Selke Trophy winner as the game’s top two-way forward has struggled with a variety of injuries over the past couple of years. He is finally healthy.

“I’m good. Finally. Two years,” he said Monday.

The injuries and the time spent recovering from them took their toll on the Vancouver Canuck.

“Mentally tough. It wasn’t fun, especially this time around when you go through 10 months of rehab and break your foot on your first game back, that was tough to take. But it makes you stronger as a person. I’m healthy now and finally able to enjoy a summer with no rehab,” said Kesler, who played in only 17 regular-season games after the lockout.

Not only is Kesler hoping to parlay good health into Olympic success, he’s also looking forward to getting the Canucks back on a Stanley Cup track after two straight first-round playoff exits.

The Canucks were swept by San Jose this past spring, and it cost Alain Vigneault his job as head coach. He was replaced by John Tortorella, who was an assistant coach with the U.S. Olympic team four years ago.

“We have the same core. Obviously we know what that core can do,” Kesler said. “I think we’re going to have a new identity this year. Obviously a new coach behind the bench. He’s going to coach a little differently than our last coach, and that’s good sometimes. Sometimes you need change and a fresh face to energize your group.”

“I’ve played for Torts a little bit, and we all know what he’s all about.”

Looking for luck

If there is one player attending the U.S. orientation camp who could use a little Olympic karma, it’s Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin.

As a young player with the New Jersey Devils, Martin was selected to the so-called taxi squad for the 2006 Olympics in Torino. He, Matt Cullen and Hal Gill were in Italy in case of injury but did not stay in the athletes’ village and were in many ways isolated from the rest of the U.S. team.

Four years later, a virtual lock to make the 2010 team, Martin was struck by a puck early in the season and broke his forearm.

“Bill Guerin missed the net by six feet and hit me with the puck,” Martin said.

Initially the prognosis was that he would be out eight weeks, but that stretched to 10 or 11. Then the doctors worried the arm wasn’t healing properly, so Martin ended up at a specialist who ordered surgery the next day.

Even then, with pins and plates in his arm, Martin was hopeful he would heal in time to make the trip to Vancouver. But slowly it became clear it wasn’t going to happen.

“It was tough," Martin said. "As far as disappointment and frustration as far as an athlete goes, that has been my toughest thing to get over so far in my career. I didn’t have expectations as far as was I going to be on the team. But I think when you realize that that opportunity’s there and you get named but you can’t do it, it was a tough pill to swallow, and I struggled with it for a while.”

After a dreadful 2011-12 season, Martin rebounded last season to the kind of form that made him a shoo-in for the Vancouver team. He and defense partner Brooks Orpik were tasked with shutting down opposing teams’ top lines every night and were key penalty-killing specialists, while Martin was also an effective member of the Pens’ power-play unit.

Orpik was a member of the 2010 Olympic team and is also an invitee to the orientation camp.

“I think it definitely helps," Martin said. "I think there is that comfort factor there. Especially after the year last year, I think we found our identity again and especially me. He’s so easy to play with, and obviously he played in the last Olympics and with the coaching staff that we have, I’m very familiar with."

At 32 years old, Martin is a realist. He knows he must take advantage of this opportunity, as it might well be the last chance at playing in an Olympics.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity and the chance to play. Wherever it might be, right side, left side, I just want to play,” the Minneapolis native said.

“I just want to go.”

Where to keep a medal

One member of the Vancouver team who is at the orientation camp has a special place for his silver medal.

“It’s tucked away. I’ve been meaning to put it in a safe, but it’s in this fake stack of books, but it opens up. It’s not really books, it opens up,” forward Zach Parise said.

Does he take it out and look at it sometimes?

“Yeah, I had to bring it out. I don’t just at night grab it and sit on the couch and look at it, but I had to bring it out to New York a couple of weeks ago. I guess that was kind of the first time in a year or two that I’d looked at it. It’s cool to have,” Parise said.

Starting strong

One thing U.S. GM David Poile has made clear is that players who play well at the start of the season will be doing themselves a favor as far as making the final roster. Knowing that they are being scrutinized by the management team that includes NHL GMs Stan Bowman, Dale Tallon, Dean Lombardi, Ray Shero and Paul Holmgren along with former GMs Brian Burke and Don Waddell may be a bit unnerving, especially for the younger players.

“It’s hard to not think about it. The best way to do it is just try not to think about it,” said New York Rangers center Derek Stepan, who is looking to play in his first Olympics.

“It’s definitely not going to be easy at all.”

Building the sport

St. Louis Blues captain David Backes said he still runs into people who talk about the 2010 gold-medal game and how important the game was to them. He said he believes that NHL players being in the Olympics is important for growing interest in the game, not just in the United States but around the world.

“If you watched that gold-medal game and didn’t get turned on to hockey, I don’t know if the game’s for you,” Backes said.

Rising star

One member of the 2010 team who saw his stock rise in recent months is the Colorado Avalanche's Paul Stastny, who was a dynamo for the U.S. at the world championships with 15 points, second among all players as the U.S. won a surprise bronze medal.

After he reached a career-high 79 points in 2009-10, Stastny’s production has declined, but he said he’s hoping to carry over the same style of play that gave his success at the world championships.

“I think I just will try and play the way I did there. Kind of just play at ease again and just have fun,” Stastny said.

Early in a player’s career, he plays with nothing to lose, Stastny noted. “Then sometimes maybe you put a little bit too much pressure on yourself when things aren’t going well,” he said.

With a new coach in former Avalanche star Patrick Roy and new management under former Avs captain Joe Sakic, Stastny said there’s a different buzz around the team, and he’s looking forward to being part of that.

“I think it’s just that sense of urgency, that passion. There was already that feeling going on all summer,” he said.

TORONTO -- Their cherub faces on the ice were all smiles and chuckles during Monday's morning skate at Air Canada Centre.

Funny what a four-game winning streak, all on the road no less, can do for the confidence of the NHL's second-youngest team.

But it's not arrogance you sense as you walk into the Colorado Avalanche dressing room. Far from it. It's the feeling of a youthful core that is growing in belief.

"Everyone's clicking," Avs star center Paul Stastny told ESPN.com ahead of Monday night's game against the 3-0-0 Toronto Maple Leafs. "It's a young team and guys are having fun. Obviously when you're winning, confidence is high. But even throughout the preseason, you felt something different about this year."

[+] EnlargeAvs
Francois Lacasse/Getty Images The Colorado Avalanche are off to a 4-1-0 start.

An atrocious second half last season sank the Avs. That's why, despite the obvious young talent on this roster, the experts were largely unsure of what this season was going to bring.

"I think the easy prediction is that we weren't going to do that well this year. Obviously, a lot of people felt way," Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson said Monday.

But Johnson points to the devastating injuries the club suffered last season. Just from a health standpoint alone, he said he believes that is one major factor for a turnaround.

"I also think we're one of the deepest teams down the middle with Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly and Jay McClement," Johnson said. "Varly [goalie Semyon Varlamov] has been tremendous. ... We've got a lot of confidence in this group, but we want to stay even keel. That's what we're preaching right now."

And that's the key for this young Avs team. Impressive road wins in Boston and Montreal, in particular, tell you this team can get it done. But it's whether such a young club can deliver consistently over 82 games.

Sometimes the pitfalls of a young club, once a bump in the road comes along, it can become a wall. Can this young collection of talent avoid that this season?

"We have to learn from last season," Avs GM Greg Sherman told ESPN.com on Monday. "We know there's 77 games to go, and that's a long way to go. Consistency is what we need to attain as a group. That was part of the learning experience last year."

It was only one game, but the young Avs survived a comeback from the Habs and came back themselves to tie it before winning in a shootout Saturday in Montreal, one of the most intimidating rinks in the league. It showed resiliency; a year ago, they might have folded in that situation.

"When you look at the group as a whole, our identity is pretty straightforward. We're a young, energetic, enthusiastic team,” Sherman said . "Our plan hasn't changed in how we're putting this franchise back on track."

Attendance has dipped in Denver over the past few seasons in what was once an automatic sellout at the Pepsi Center. The club was 24th last season, 27th in 2009-10 and 26th in 2008-09. The club must renew acquaintances with fans that were spoiled during the Joe Sakic/Patrick Roy/Peter Forsberg days.

The team has a long way to go to get back to those heady days, but this young roster can play an entertaining game. That can sell tickets, or at least that's the hope.

"It's up-tempo. We want to put an exciting brand on the ice," Sherman said. "Back in the days when we had Sakic and Forsberg down the middle, now we have Stastny, O'Reilly and Duchene down the middle. We feel really strongly about what we've done on the blue line. And finally, we addressed our issues between the pipes."

Varlamov was the marquee offseason addition, as the Avs traded away their 2012 first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder in 2012 or 2013 to Washington for the services of the young Russian netminder.

Some people viewed that as a heavy price to pay, especially when there were veteran UFA goaltenders such as Tomas Vokoun available who wouldn't cost any assets to sign. And there was a lot of buzz about the first-round pick they gave up. If the Avs have another season like 2010-11, the Capitals could have a lottery pick on their hands.

The Avs, however, wanted to bring in a starting goalie who fit in with the youth movement, and they got that in Varlamov, a player who's ready to help this team right now.

"Absolutely within the plan, he's 23 years old," Sherman said. "He's a former first-round pick. We just felt as an organization it was the right time to bring in a person like that and not have to move any of our roster players or current prospects."

If they keep playing the way they have so far this season, they won't have to sweat that 2012 first-round pick too much.

Playing it safe with Mueller

Avs winger Peter Mueller was set to sit out his third straight game Monday night.

"He could have been available to us tonight, but it was my decision to have him take a few more days," Avs coach Joe Sacco said Monday.

The Avs don't play again until Thursday, so Sacco said he thought the extra few days would do Mueller good. The Avs' first-line winger missed all of last season with a concussion.

Strong start for Kessel

Maple Leafs star winger Phil Kessel was named the NHL's first star of the week after posting five goals and three assists in his team's opening three games of the season.

"It's just the flow right now," Kessel told reporters Monday. "I'm just going out there and playing the game and doing whatever it takes to get wins."

Kessel's plus-7 rating jumps out, and he has been rewarded with ice time late in games.

"Statistically, it's pretty clear the way he's played," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "There were some great performances obviously throughout the league, but Phil's done it in every game, so I think it's deserved."

The Buffalo Sabres waived their captain Craig Rivet Wednesday and hope he finds a new NHL home out of it.

"It really came down to the likelihood of him getting into our lineup [he's been scratched a lot this season], and hopefully giving him an opportunity to play [elsewhere]," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told ESPN.com Wednesday. "We'll know more at noon tomorrow and we'll go from there."

No team contacted Regier and asked him to waive Rivet. The Sabres GM discussed this move with Rivet's agent Pat Morris on Tuesday morning. Rivet, 36, is earning $3.5 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.


Fans from the Blackhawks and Canucks were especially asking me Wednesday whether their teams would be interested in Rivet. The answer is no. But hopefully Rivet finds a home somewhere. He's a quality person.

The Sabres, meanwhile, continue to examine ways to improve their team before next Monday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. But it's clear they're not in the market for a rental player [players who are UFA July 1].

"Where we are, we have to take a longer-view of both trying to make playoffs and helping ourselves for next season at a minimum," Regier said.

In other words, any player the Sabres acquire between now and next Monday will be signed at least through next season.

"That's the goal," Regier said.

Elsewhere:
  • In Ottawa, Sens GM Bryan Murray and the agent for Chris Phillips, J.P. Barry, chatted Wednesday about the blueliner's future. Phillips is an UFA July 1 and has a no-movement clause. Will he stay or will he go? Phillips is either going to sign an extension and stay, or there won't be an extension and he'll be traded. "Discussions are ongoing," Barry told ESPN.com. "I'm sure Bryan is trying to get a handle on what certain players are worth on the trade market, including Chris Phillips. In our case, he has to compare that value to the benefit of keeping Chris via an extension going forward. Nothing has been decided yet, and we will continue our talks as he gets a gauge on the market."
  • In Toronto, while the Maple Leafs continued their search for a defenseman, cyberspace was filled with talk from Leaf fans that somehow Phil Kessel was being shopped. I should know better but given how many Toronto fans kept asking me about it Wednesday, I went straight to the top and asked Leafs GM Brian Burke via e-mail whether he was shopping his star winger.

    "No. He has not, and will not, be shopped," Burke told ESPN.com via e-mail.
  • My colleague Scott Burnside tweeted Wednesday that it's possible the Atlanta Thrashers claim Nikolay Zherdev off waivers Thursday. In no way was Burnside saying it was a definite, simply that the Thrashers were considering it. Zherdev, who simply never fit in with the high-flying Flyers, is earning $2 million this season and will be an UFA July 1.

    Once the Flyers shed Zherdev's salary off their salary cap, expect them to search the market for a depth defenseman.
  • The fallout from Peter Stastny's scathing comments regarding Colorado's trade of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis continued to buzz around the league. Matt Keator is Paul Stastny's agent and also knows Peter Stastny well.

    "Peter is a passionate guy," Keator told ESPN.com Wednesday. "He really enjoyed watching his son play with Chris Stewart because they had great chemistry and synergy together. I think he was just frustrated that Paul lost his linemate."

    Keator didn't think the father's outburst would be an issue for Paul.

    "No, he's a low-key guy, he's very well-like by his teammates," Keator said. "This won't be an inflammatory issue."

    It just so happens that Paul's name has surfaced in trade rumors this week and some rumors also had the player asking for a trade out of Colorado. Not true, said Keator.

    "Absolutely not true," said Keator. "Paul loves it in Denver and loves playing there. He doesn't want to leave."
  • Tomas Vokoun wasn't slated to be in net for Florida on Wednesday night, backup Scott Clemmensen getting the start instead. That raised eyebrows that maybe Vokoun was close to being traded. But Panthers GM Dale Tallon, via e-mail, told ESPN.com that Clemmensen starting was a "hockey decision."

Count Hall of Famer Peter Stastny as one person who did not like this past weekend's Avalanche-Blues trade.

Stastny, whose son Paul plays for Colorado, sounded off to radio station KMOX in St. Louis on Tuesday night. He said the blockbuster deal -- which sent winger Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a second-round draft choice to the Blues for former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson, forward Jay McClement and a first-round pick -- "destroyed" the Avalanche.

More from Peter Stastny (audio of the clip here, courtesy of the All Things Avs blog):

"This young team was ready to challenge, almost, for a Stanley Cup this season. They were so good. All they needed was some more chemistry, and some synergies. Instead, they destroyed the team. I mean, that was a one-way deal. Mr. Armstrong will look like a genius. I don't know what they were thinking in the Colorado organization. I should not have said this, but I'm so, so mad what they've done to this team. They've moved the team about two to three years back again."

Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun speculated earlier today about Paul Stastny's future in Colorado. Burnside spoke to a source familiar with the situation in Denver who said he wouldn't be surprised to see Stastny being shopped.

Stay tuned.

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