Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Trades, rumors and who'll be No. 1
By Scott Burnside
NHL draft week isn't always about the actual draft. Here are the top storylines to watch, from the top overall pick and beyond:
Who's No. 1?
OK, this is the draft, so let's start there. It's hard to recall the identity of a No. 1 pick being more closely guarded than the secret being kept by New York Islanders GM Garth Snow. While there is little consensus among scouts and GMs about the No. 1 pick with John Tavares, Matt Duchene and Victor Hedman all having supporters, there are those who think the uncertainty about which player(s) might be the best prospect(s) extends deeper into the first round. Maybe that's why Snow has taken a different tack than Tampa Bay last year, when the Bolts announced loudly early on that they were taking Steven Stamkos. Still, when the dust clears, it will be a shock if Tavares isn't an Islander by early Friday evening.
|Vincent Lecavalier trade rumors are heating up again heading into Friday's NHL draft.|
The future of Lecavalier
There are a lot of potential dominoes to fall this weekend in Montreal, but the biggest domino may not even be in play. Part of the problem in trying to handicap whether Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier is going to be on the move has been the ongoing chaos at the ownership level. Co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday to try and figure out who was in charge since the two have gone splits-ville in terms of the team's direction.
If Koules gets his way -- and our money is on him given his financial wherewithal -- then look for Lecavalier to be dealt, with Montreal and Los Angeles likely to express serious interest. If it's Barrie who takes control or if there remains a deadlock at the top, Lecavalier will stay; after July 1, his monster contract extension -- not to mention his no-trade clause -- kicks in, and chances are he'll be a Lightning for life.
Dany Heatley's trade request
One elite player we know will be on the move -- or at least Ottawa GM Bryan Murray hopes so -- is disgruntled Senators forward Dany Heatley. The former Olympian and goal-scoring machine decided he didn't like life in Ottawa and/or new coach Cory Clouston and is begging out. Complicating matters is that Heatley has a no-trade clause and has given Murray a "wish list" of teams he'd like to go to. Talk about hamstringing a GM.
The thinking is Heatley would like to go west to Los Angeles. Next door, the Anaheim Ducks could use scoring, but have no room for a contract like Heatley's, which has five years left with an annual cap hit of $7.5 million. The New York Rangers are hungry for an impact forward, but have a handful of unmanageable contracts of their own that will make dealing for Heatley difficult. It should be fun, though, as Murray is hoping to unload Heatley by the end of the weekend and before a $4 million bonus is due.
Duck, Duck ... trade?
This weekend should also provide some drama on the Anaheim Ducks' front. GM Bob Murray should know imminently whether defenseman Scott Niedermayer will return for at least one more kick at the can (the smart betting is he will). With Murray's shrewd acquisitions of Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of room economically or ice-time-wise for veteran Chris Pronger, who has one more year left on his deal at $6.25 million and/or soon-to-be free agent Francois Beauchemin.
Pronger's value on the trade market would be significant and it's not unthinkable Murray could pry one of St. Louis' top young offensive prospects from the Blues in a deal that would send Pronger back to Missouri. The other issue for Murray, who is looking to trim payroll, is netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The former playoff MVP had an off season and was replaced by Jonas Hiller. Giguere has a no-trade clause and two years left on a deal that carries a $6 million annual cap hit. If Murray can move Giguere, maybe Pronger stays. Either way, look for the Ducks to busy.
|John Tavares is the top North American prospect of this year's draft.|
Rumors fit for a King
Another guy bound to be in the middle of about a million rumors this weekend will be Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi, whose young Kings took a big step forward last season by hanging around the playoff picture well into the second half. Lombardi is now on the hot seat to get the Kings into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. He has cap space and is in the market for a big offensive gun to help solidify what should rapidly become one of the best young blue lines in the NHL. Will it be Lecavalier? Heatley? What about veteran leader Ryan Smyth, who is stuck in Denver where the Avs are in rebuild mode? Lombardi can always try the free-agent route if he can't get anything done draft weekend, but he will control the situation better if he can make a move sooner than later.
Who's calling the shots?
So, who's minding the store in Phoenix? Florida? Tampa? It will be an interesting draft weekend for a number of teams in the middle of management/ownership upheaval. Watch for assistant GM Randy Sexton to make a case to take over full time in Florida as he'll be running the draft show for the Panthers in the wake of Jacques Martin's abrupt departure to Montreal. Sexton already acquired Steve Reinprecht from Phoenix in the hopes of bolstering the Panthers' anemic offense.
Speaking of the Coyotes, wonder whether GM Don Maloney will have NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on speed dial for the weekend as the Coyotes must clear personnel decisions with the league given the team's uncertain ownership situation. As mentioned earlier, the Lightning will also be trying to sort out who makes the calls when they try and recover from last season's disaster, much of which can be attributed to ruinous personnel decisions.
There are a few rookie GMs on the clock at this draft, including Chuck Fletcher, the new man in Minnesota hoping to turn around a team that has seen its evolution grind to a halt under former GM Doug Risebrough and former coach Jacques Lemaire. Perhaps the most anonymous of all NHL GMs, Greg Sherman, will attempt to start rebuilding the Colorado Avalanche, but he's got his work cut out for him with difficult contracts belonging to Ryan Smyth and Darcy Tucker and uncertainty over the return of captain Joe Sakic.
Joe Nieuwendyk will also be riding herd on his first draft as new GM of the Dallas Stars. Nieuwendyk hit the ground running by firing respected coach Dave Tippett and installing former broadcaster and once-upon-a-time NHL coach Marc Crawford. The Atlanta Thrashers will be happy to have elite talent evaluator Rick Dudley at their draft table. He is on board as associate GM to Don Waddell as the Thrashers will try and reverse years of poor drafting and developing.
Big splash to Burke?
This will be Brian Burke's first draft as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and he's been unequivocal about wanting to make a splash. Whether that means boldly moving up from the seventh overall pick to take a crack at Tavares or perhaps adding a couple of top-notch forwards (did anyone mention twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin, soon to be unrestricted free agents in Vancouver) or a stud defenseman to work alongside Luke Schenn. One thing is for sure, Burke will know how to get his former assistant GM Bob Murray on the phone in Anaheim if he was interested in talking to Pronger. All eyes will be on the big man in Toronto to see if he can walk the walk after talking the talk.
New look for Flyers?
What's in store for the Philadelphia Flyers and their long-suffering fans? GM Paul Holmgren is already working toward making a significant change in the team's make-up for next season by repatriating Ray Emery from the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. That means Martin Biron is likely gone. Bigger question, though, is whether Holmgren can clear enough cap space to take a serious run at soon-to-be free-agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. That would likely mean trying to find a taker for Daniel Briere, who has six years and $34 million (average cap hit of $6.5 million) outstanding on his whopper deal.
It will be a busy time for GM Bob Gainey and the NHL draft host Montreal Canadiens. With almost half his team scheduled to become free agents of some form this offseason and coming off a disastrous season that saw the Habs fly out of the gate and then become embroiled in controversy on and off the ice, there is significant pressure on the classy Gainey to fix things.
He hired Martin away from Florida to replace pal Guy Carbonneau behind the bench, but now comes the hard work. He will try to fill out a roster in the hopes of installing some badly missing chemistry without doing too much and forcing Martin to start from square one. Does he try and keep Alexei Kovalev and Robert Lang? Does he let captain Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay walk? Does he use the significant cap space he possesses to try and bring in a big-ticket item like Lecavalier or Heatley? With new ownership (the Molson family) waiting to take over, there's never been more pressure on Gainey to deliver the goods for the Habs faithful.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.