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Monday, February 18, 2008
With Forsberg out, trades 'logjam' should open

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

NAPLES, Fla. -- The biggest news of the day at the NHL general managers meetings Monday wasn't the addition of a player, but rather the subtraction of one.

Peter Forsberg, on the wish list of a handful of contending teams, announced through his agent Don Baizley that uncertainty over the durability of his wonky foot led him to decide not to return to the NHL this season.

Peter Forsberg
Peter Forsberg's agent said Monday that the veteran forward will not attempt an NHL comeback this season.

The decision was disappointing to teams that were still in the running to acquire the veteran forward's services because he represented a unique situation -- he was an unrestricted free agent and would not require a team to give up any assets beyond money to acquire him.

The decision, however, is expected to be a catalyst to the movement of other elite players like Mats Sundin and Marian Hossa.

Several GMs told ESPN.com before the start of the meetings that they believed other deals were being put off until Forsberg made his decision on which team he would sign with. Now that impediment is gone.

"This will break the logjam," Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster said Monday.

"I don't know. It'll be interesting to see what happens," added GM Paul Holmgren of the Flyers, one of the teams believed to be at the top of Forsberg's list.

"I'm disappointed just for Peter more than anything," Holmgren added. "I know how bad he wanted to come back and play with somebody in the NHL. It's unfortunate. He's been trying real hard to get himself back in position where he can come back and help somebody and it's unfortunate. It's also disappointing for the league, I think, because he's still an impact player and brings the league a lot of notoriety."

The Forsberg withdrawal is good news for one person and that's Toronto Maple Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher.

With Forsberg out of the picture, Sundin becomes the most desirable center who could be available at the deadline. Fletcher said Monday he has not approached Sundin or any of the other four Leafs who have no-trade clauses and won't unless he has a deal to take to them. He might not have to wait too long now.

Here are some other developments from the first day of meetings:


Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have thrown a monkey wrench into GM Dale Tallon's deadline plans by collecting points in six of their last seven to move back into the playoff picture. After completing a rugged seven-game road trip, the Blackhawks returned home and defeated Colorado in front of the largest crowd of the season at the United Center.

"If we go the other way [on the road trip], it's a different attitude this week," Tallon said.

After locking up defenseman Brent Seabrook to a three-year deal worth $3.5 million annually, Tallon is looking to add at the deadline. "Not buying, not selling, just building," he said.

The Blackhawks had been in the market for Forsberg and were willing to offer a three-year deal. It's believed most other teams who showed interest were offering a two-year deal. Still, even without Forsberg, the Hawks are seeing things going their way for a change. They are about to get healthy for the first time this season as Jason Williams (sports hernia) is expected back this week and Kevyn Adams (torn ACL) is skating and should be back in the lineup in a week to 10 days.

Chicago may be in the market for some help along the blue line, but it will also be looking to shed potential unrestricted free agents Martin Lapointe, Yanic Perreault and possibly Williams before the deadline.


Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks made one minor move at last season's deadline, acquiring Brad May. That worked out pretty well as Anaheim went on to capture its first Stanley Cup. This season, GM Brian Burke would like to add some offense to complement solid goaltending and the game's deepest blue line. Burke's most attractive asset is the 2008 first-round draft pick acquired from the Edmonton Oilers last summer in the Dustin Penner offer sheet deal.

But Burke said Monday he will not trade the pick (which could be a lottery pick depending on where the Oilers finish) for a "rental" player. That suggests any deal involving the highly coveted pick would have to include a player the Ducks could sign long term.

If, for instance, the Ducks were to acquire Sundin, a player they are rumored to covet, they would insist on signing the big Swede beyond this season if the Oilers' pick were part of the package; or the deal would have to include another Leafs player who would be part of the Ducks' future plans.

There are 104 players in the NHL who have either no-trade or no-movement clauses in their contracts ("no movement" means a player cannot be sent to the minors). Burke's Ducks have just one -- netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere, whose son was born with eye problems and the goalie wanted assurances he would remain near the same medical care when he re-signed with Anaheim last summer.

Burke believes the clauses are "coach killers."

"I don't like them. Never have," Burke said. "I'm going to try and stay away from them as best I can."


Toronto Maple Leafs
Speaking of the Maple Leafs, Fletcher will be waiting for solid deals to materialize before he broaches the issue of asking Sundin, Pavel Kubina, Darcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle or Bryan McCabe to waive their no-trade clauses. Although it sounds like a catch-22 (how can you work out a deal with a team that isn't sure if the player will agree to play for it?), Fletcher seems confident the deals will be presented without having to first determine if the player will agree. Time will tell if this strategy will work.


Dallas Stars
Brett Hull, co-interim GM of the Dallas Stars, is attending his first GMs meetings. The outspoken future Hall of Famer has never been shy about taking shots at the game over the years, but appears to have mellowed.

"I've come to the conclusion we have a great game," Hull said Monday. He doesn't think the game needs to be changed radically, but that discussion about what changes should or shouldn't be made is healthy.

Hull and his GM partner Les Jackson took over for Doug Armstrong earlier this season and the Stars have responded by moving into second place in the Western Conference and first in the Pacific Division. Dallas has done so with an injury-depleted blue-line corps. It's believed the Stars would like to add a scoring winger to play with Mike Modano, but Hull said he wouldn't be disappointed if the Stars' roster remained the same. "I think we've proven we can play with everyone," Hull said.

What many believe, however, is that once one of the Western Conference powers -- Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose and Dallas -- makes a significant move, the pressure will be on the other teams to improve their lineups.


Boston Bruins
The Bruins currently hold the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, but are tied in points with Buffalo. Boston would like to get bigger up front and add some scoring (it ranks 24th in goals per game). Hmmm. Marian Hossa is big and he can score. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli knows Hossa well from the days when they were both in Ottawa.

Does Chiarelli have enough assets to intrigue Don Waddell should the Atlanta GM decide to trade Hossa? Hossa, who will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Craig Custance there is only "a slim" chance he'll sign with the Thrashers. The addition of Hossa would be huge for the Bruins, who have missed the playoffs twice in a row since the lockout and have not won a playoff round since 1999.


Atlanta Thrashers
Decisions, decisions. Waddell has a doozy. The Thrashers have played well of late (6-3-0 in their last nine games) and were just two points back of division-leading Carolina on Monday. So, does Waddell keep Hossa and try to trade his rights before July 1? The return on that kind of deal isn't likely to be as high as it will be now, but if Hossa helps Atlanta into the postseason, it's likely worth it. The common theory is Waddell will not trade Hossa for just futures; he must get a hockey player back who can play now. This has raised suggestions that Waddell may target players like San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo, whose production has dropped significantly since he led the NHL in goals two seasons ago; Chris Higgins, a rising star in Montreal; or Valtteri Filppula of Detroit.


Tampa Bay Lightning
Another Southeast Division GM with lots on his plate is Feaster, who continues to negotiate a new deal with defenseman Dan Boyle (he can become an unrestricted free agent this summer). Boyle is engaged to a woman from Tampa and is planning to build a new house in the area (another home he owned burned down during the Bolts' run to the 2004 Stanley Cup); it's not as if Boyle is anxious to leave town. But Feaster will likely have to come up with upward of $7 million annually to keep Boyle in town. If he can lock Boyle down, Feaster will then set his sights on acquiring a top-level goaltender in the offseason and renegotiating Vincent Lecavalier's deal to lock him up long term. If he can achieve all of these things, something will have to give. Look for Feaster to try to move Brad Richards in the offseason. If he cannot sign Boyle by next Tuesday, however, Feaster will almost certainly deal the slick puck-moving defenseman for a package of high picks and prospects. "I've had lots of calls about Dan," Feaster said Monday.

One player Feaster will almost certainly move before next Tuesday's deadline is forward Vaclav Prospal -- and not because Prospal made some mildly disparaging remarks about coach John Tortorella after a recent Lightning win. While the comments (something about shoving his good performance up "someone's" behind) weren't exactly endearing, the real reason Tampa will soon be rid of Prospal is his belief that he will fetch somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million annually on the open market when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer. He might, but it won't be in Tampa. Prospal is one of the game's streakiest players. He had 79 points in 2002-03 for Tampa, 54 the next season in Anaheim, 80 points in 2005-06 back in Tampa and 55 in 2006-07. He is now back to almost a point-a-game pace with 55 points in 59 games. Look for his former employer, Ottawa, to consider Prospal as a rental.


Nashville Predators
One team that isn't expected to be particularly active between now and next Tuesday is the Nashville Predators, who have been down the rental road twice in the past two seasons. GM David Poile dealt a first-round pick to Washington in 2006 for hard-as-nails defenseman Brendan Witt and acquired Forsberg for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and two picks last season. The Preds managed to win two playoff games over the past two postseasons, losing both times to San Jose in five games.

One might expect Poile to have some regret about the deals. One might be wrong. "It was awesome to do it. It was cool," Poile said Monday.

The deals were done because he believed the Predators had as good a shot as any Western Conference team to win the Stanley Cup. "I wish I had those players, but I don't regret making the Forsberg deal," he said.

As for the immediate future, Poile must still lock up three potential restricted free agents -- Martin Erat, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. He said he will "for sure" sign all three, but the finances may be a bit dicey, especially as Weber will command something in the $3.5-$4 million range annually.

Poile expects the team to reach the attendance triggers that will see it receive revenue-sharing monies from the league, monies that will be crucial to re-signing those players. Last season, the Predators received more than $11 million from the fund.


Carolina Hurricanes
It's déjà vu all over again for Carolina GM Jim Rutherford. During the 2005-06 season, Rutherford made an early deal to acquire Doug Weight. He then lost Erik Cole for the balance of the season with fractured vertebrae in his neck, prompting him to add Mark Recchi at the trade deadline. The Hurricanes went on to win the Stanley Cup in June 2006.

This season, Rutherford acquired Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves from Ottawa for Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore only to see captain Rod Brind'Amour go down with a torn ACL a few days later. Rutherford is now scouring the landscape for some depth down the middle. He won't try to replace Brind'Amour through trade, but will rather move Eric Staal and Matt Cullen up the depth chart. He said Monday he isn't averse to a rental player, having acquired two players in Corvo and Eaves who are under contract for the next couple of seasons. One other deal that has worked out well for Carolina is the addition of Sergei Samsonov. Many believed the talented Russian had run out of chances when Chicago put him on waivers, but he's recorded 13 points in 17 games. The move takes on even more importance with Brind'Amour's injury.


Washington Capitals
The resurgent Washington Capitals, who are now just two points out of the Southeast Division lead with two games in hand, have had to turn people away from their past two home dates. The rising fan support has mirrored the Caps' inspired play since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach at Thanksgiving. The Caps aren't likely to be involved in any major deadline deals but GM George McPhee wouldn't mind adding a little defensive depth.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.