Gaborik? Khabibulin? Team Canada? Developments on horizon
I know, I know -- strange how we have ours so early. We're also beating you on our national election. But I won't bore my American friends with that. It's the worst election race ever.
I'll tell you what Canadians really care about: the 2010 Olympic men's hockey team.
My sources indicate Hockey Canada should have the management team in place by the end of the month. Steve Yzerman will definitely play a central role. Then, there are a lot of candidates to join him in the group, people such as Ken Holland, Kevin Lowe, Bob Gainey and Jim Rutherford. And don't forget Wayne Gretzky. While The Great One won't be leading the charge this time for Canada, I suspect he'll still be involved in some advisory capacity.
Other notes from around the league:
• Marian Gaborik's days as a Minnesota Wild player appear to be numbered. Unless there's a dramatic shift in contract talks, he's a goner. The Wild have made more than one offer -- for more than $8 million a season -- but no deal. It's clear Gaborik wants to test the market as an unrestricted free agent July 1, when he'll be the No. 1 commodity. Hey, that's his right. Wild GM Doug Risebrough won't wait until the March 3 trade deadline, though; he'll want to maximize his asset value. That process hasn't started yet, but when it does, if I'm Risebrough, I phone up Pittsburgh . How good would Gaborik look on Sidney Crosby's wing? There are salary-cap issues, sure, but Pens GM Ray Shero would have to move other parts to make it work. Just a thought.
• The Chicago Blackhawks had given Nikolai Khabibulin's camp permission a few weeks ago to try and find work in Russia. Well, they tried and nothing materialized, so you can probably forget about that happening now.
Word is there weren't any big-money offers from the new KHL. Perhaps that's explained by the current global economic crisis as the price of oil continues to tumble (it closed Friday at its lowest price in more than a year). That isn't good news for some of the KHL owners, some of whom are oil tycoons. Suddenly, they don't feel so rich anymore. Will they be able to pay their big stars, like Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Radulov all season long? Keep an eye on that.
In the meantime, Khabibulin is in Chicago until Hawks GM Dale Tallon moves him in a traditional NHL trade. Cristobal Huet struggled in Chicago's season-opening loss at New York, while Khabibulin looked sharp in Saturday night's 4-2 loss at Washington. Stranger things have happened, but wouldn't it be interesting if the Russian reclaimed his job before Tallon finds a taker?
• Expect contract talks to get going between the Detroit Red Wings and star forward Henrik Zetterberg over the next 2-3 weeks when GM Ken Holland and agent Marc Levine should be meeting (they spoke in June at the NHL draft, but now comes the real negotiating). Unlike Gaborik, this will surely end up with an agreement for the potential unrestricted free agent. Zetterberg knows he could make as much as $10 million a year on the open market next summer, but he wants to stay with the Cup-champion Wings. The question is, what figure will work? In my opinion, Eric Staal's new deal, which pays him $8.25 million a season, will be an important figure to start with.
• Peter Forsberg, by the way, still wants to play in the NHL. But at this point, he's still trying to figure out a solution to his foot/ankle problems. He'll give that a go with the hope he can get healthy enough to join a team at some point this season just like he did last year. His former teams, Philadelphia and Colorado, will be natural headliners for him. But unless Peter Budaj shows me something I haven't seen yet, I suspect the Avalanche will need their remaining cap room to acquire a goalie. That leaves the Flyers, who I can tell you remain very much interested in Forsberg's services should he get healthy. As a long shot, I also like Vancouver. The Canucks have lots of cap room, and if they have a good first half of the season (after a nice 2-0-0 start), that makes them more appealing.