Wednesday, February 26, 2003 Updated: January 20, 1:50 PM ET
Exec on Burke: 'Phoenix is moving this guy'
By Tom Wheatley Special to ESPN.com
Less than than two weeks until the March 11 trade deadline, here's what's shaking on the NHL grapevine, as gleaned from nearly two dozen scouts, coaches and team executives:
The part you haven't heard before
The annual Blues goalie search is on hiatus. The Blues called Phoenix about Sean Burke, but hung up when the Coyotes asked for defenseman Barret Jackman, the Calder Trophy candidate.
"The Blues would be nuts to trade Jackman,'' said one Western scout, "but (Phoenix) would be nuts not to ask for him.''
An NHL executive said, "There's no way St. Louis is trading Jackman. If (Chris) Pronger can't play again, this kid's their future.''
The Coyotes don't have a No.1 pick in this June's draft and they are hungry to replace it. But they believe that a top goalie like Burke is also worth a bona fide regular or two, plus futures. The Blues apparently offered forward Cory Stillman, who scored exactly one goal in the season's third quarter and makes $2.1 million. Blues minor-league forward Justin Papineau, high on the Phoenix want list last season, has slipped on the ice and dropped in value.
Snubbed out west, the Blues then turned east to Arturs Irbe.
Like the rest of the league, they passed when Irbe was waived by Carolina. The Blues gagged on the $5.2 million due him over the next two years. Sources said the Blues asked Carolina to eat some of Irbe's contract.
"Carolina told them, 'You want him, you take him,' " one scout said. "Then they asked Irbe to re-do his deal and take a million dollars less. He told them to forget it."
But starter Brent Johnson, who strained his groin Tuesday, and backup Fred Brathwaite continued to wobble badly. So the Blues, with a $63 million payroll, will try to make do with rookie Curtis Sanford, who played his only three NHL games earlier this season before being hurt.
Meanwhile, the Burke deal may not be dead. Nevermind assurances from Phoenix that he is the team linchpin and marquee attraction for the new rink opening next season.
"I don't care what they say in Phoenix,'' added the NHL exec. "They need to move his salary. He makes over $4 million next year. Sean Burke is a great kid when he's on. He's 36 and he's not durable. He's got a bad back, a bad hip and a bad knee. And (Brian) Boucher played pretty well in his last four starts.''
Phoenix also is high on Zac Bierk, who must stay as the third goalie or risk waivers if demoted.
"Sean Burke is going somewhere," said the NHL exec. "His price will come down as they get closer to the deadline. St. Louis is a logical choice. It won't be for Jackman, but Phoenix is moving this guy.''
Leafs still fishing for Nolan?
Toronto is bidding against itself for Owen Nolan.
The Sharks are fed up with their crude and moody captain. He has alienated himself from his teammates and bosses like no skipper in recent memory. His talent is not in dispute . . . when he feels like using it. Personality aside, Nolan makes $5.5 million this year, $6.5M next year and is signed through 2005-06, with various options.
Denials aside, the Sharks are actively shopping Nolan. Good luck, said over a dozen NHL talent evaluators.
Speaking for the majority, one exec said: "He's interesting in that he could score goals ... if his head is screwed on right. But I don't know who would want this funny personality guy."
The answer: Toronto. GM/Coach Pat Quinn had no problems with Nolan on the Canadian Olympic team and believes that Nolan will be refreshed on a new team with a lighter leadership load. But Nolan does not want to leave San Jose. He owns restaurants there and his wife is pregnant.
The view from the outside is this: If Nolan is miserable where he wants to be, how miserable will he be where he DOESN'T want to be?
The Leafs are basically dangling the players that Pittsburgh rejected for Alexei Kovalev: defensemen Wade Belak and Karel Pilar and forward prospects Brad Boyes and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
"I heard it was (Alyn) Macauley, Boyes and a No. 1 pick," said one scout, who added that a decision wheather to fish or cut bait will be made by the Leafs in the very near future.
Rumors aside, center Nik Antropov was not offered to Pittsburgh. And he is not likely to be offered to San Jose.
So both sides face a dilemma. Even if the Sharks can add little in trade, are they better off by subtracting Nolan? Even if the deal is cheap, is the risk too high for the harmonious Leafs?
The solution: The Leafs need defensemen, not another top-six forward. They covet San Jose's Bryan Marchment, who is fading but still is a feared hitter. The Leafs may settle for that safer option, especially if San Jose tries to bluff up the price on Nolan.
"There's nobody else in the bidding,'' said a Western scout. "If they've got a team who will take him, they better not be too choosy.''
From MVP candidate to trade bait?
Is Iggy in or is he out in Calgary?
While specualtion swirls around Jarome Iginla, Colorado, Detroit and Philadelphia are asking about Flames defenseman Bob Boughner, sources said.
"Everybody's gonna be in on Boughner that has aspirations for a Cup,'' said an NHL official. "He's a depth guy and a hard-nosed guy.''
Said another scout: "I don't think they'll trade him. Especially not to Colorado, in their own division.''
Boughner is more likely to move than Iginla. GM Craig Button has said -- privately as well as publicly -- that he is not peddling his franchise player.
"But Craig's listening on Iginla," said the official. "He's talked to a dozen teams, mostly in the East.''
The Rangers are the only one with a known offer. Several sources heard the names of young Rangers Radek Dvorak, Jamie Lundmark and Dan Blackburn before they popped up in the press. Two sources said defenseman Tom Poti was also in the mix.
Like Phoenix with Burke, Calgary is sending signals that it will only trade Iginla if the deal is almost too good to be true. But the jury is not convinced that Calgary will move Iginla, who wants to stay and is a fan favorite.
One Western source said that when his GM called about Iginla, "Craig said he's not moving him.''
And another Western source said with a laugh, "Craig told one team, 'If I trade Iginla, they'll hang me.' And if he does, they should!''
Deserting the desert
Is Teppo tempted to move?
Detroit, looking for a top-four defender, is pushing hard for Teppo "I'm Not the Fifth Marx Brother'' Numminen. The Wings can offer a low-salary, high potential package that includes the No.1 pick that Phoenix craves, said a source familiar with the deal. But Numminem has a year left at $4.75M, which Detroit finds hard to swallow. And even if the budget stretches in Detroit, there is a snag in Phoenix.
Numminem, whose wife is expecting a baby in April, has a no-trade clause and no urge to waive it. Phoenix GM Mike Barnett, the former agent, will not arm-twist a player to get a no-trade waived. Claude Lemieux, for example, dropped his veto and opted for Dallas, so he could play his 12 minutes per game with a contender. So far, such an upgrade has not moved Numminem.
Sabres not holding a fire sale
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the bankrupt Buffalo Sabres are not holding a Pittsburgh Penguin-like fire sale.
Buffalo GM Darcy Regier is not looking to dump their two best -- and most expensive players -- defenseman Alex Zhitnik and forward Miroslav Satan. Each makes $3.5 million. One scout said the Blues had talked about dealing Stillman and defenseman Bryce Salvador for Zhitnik and forward J-P Dumont.
But a source close to the situation said, "The Blues called about a defenseman, but it's not Zhitnik.'' Apparently, that defenseman is Rhett Warrener.
Regier did trade rugged Vaclav Varada to Ottawa, which had also inquired about left winger Brad May of Phoenix. But several sources said the Sabres, now being run by the league, would not strip major assets before a new owner took over.
Will Keenan return to the Rangers?
The speculation started as soon as the Rangers fired Bryan Trottier as coach. Now it may be true: Mike Keenan may be headed back to New York as coach and possibly GM. Two NHL sources said Rangers GM Glen Sather is balking at a contract extension that is on his desk. Sather is in the third year of a five-year deal that has an escape clause after this season.
"They want to tie him up long-term, believe it or not,'' said one scout with a laugh. "Slats doesn't know if he wants to commit that long.''
Keenan recently extended his contract in Florida, where he is on good terms with ownership and often at odds with GM Rick Dudley. Rangers CEO James Dolan is said to be a fan of both Sather and Keenan, so Iron Mike's return to the bench is not farfetched.
"That would be a disaster upon disaster for the Rangers,'' said one NHL exec upon hearing that scenario.
But as one scout put it, "How could Keenan screw them up any worse than they already are?''
Tom Wheatley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.