There was a fresh new wave of Vincent Lecavalier trade rumors last week, with the New York Rangers again linked to the star center. But the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning wants everyone to know there's absolutely nothing to them.
"We have never talked to the Rangers about Vinny," Oren Koules told ESPN.com on Saturday morning. "And by the way, Vinny has 50 points; he's not having a bad year. He's having a great year."
As I've written before, Lecavalier has a no-movement clause, so he alone will decide his NHL future, not the Lightning. There's no point worrying about it until then.
In the meantime, Koules made an interesting point about Lecavalier's production. When he had a slow start in October, Lecavalier was largely written off, and it certainly didn't help when Team Canada skipped over him for the Olympics on Dec. 30. But Lecavalier has come on of late. He entered Saturday's play 15th in NHL scoring, ahead of the likes of Zach Parise, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Semin and Jarome Iginla.
Lecavalier is on pace for 82 points; still, not really worth the $10 million he's earning this season, but certainly not a bad year at all.
Meanwhile, I also asked Koules about the reports regarding the team's financial problems. While he confirmed the league is assisting him in actively trying to find a buyer or investor, he denied that the Lightning has been forwarded an advance share of revenue sharing to help pay the bills.
It's clear the league wants to find a buyer/investor ASAP for the Lightning.
The 28th-ranked Toronto Maple Leafs will be sellers ahead of the March 3 trade deadline, but they'll be in a unique position compared to any other club in the NHL. They've got cap space to sell, but more importantly, budget room.
In other words, they may be sellers and buyers at the same time. Confused? Unlike, say, Carolina or Edmonton (teams that solely want to shed salary like traditional sellers would), the Leafs are ready to take on huge contracts if the deals include draft picks or prospects in the process. And that's exactly the message being sent to the buyers around the league right now by GM Brian Burke and assistant GM Dave Nonis.
Burke has had this financial muscle at his disposal all along, but has been waiting for the right time. That time is coming.
For example, pretend you're a Cup contender. You want to make a deal to help your team March 3, but you don't have enough cap room. The Leafs are telling those types of clubs they'll take a contract off their hands for a pick or prospect. No other seller, in all likelihood, will offer that scenario to buyers because no other seller is willing to park big money in the AHL to make these deals happen. This is where the Leafs hope to start recouping some assets, especially after dropping a pair of first-rounders to Boston for Phil Kessel.
In the meantime, the Leafs are getting feelers for pending free agents, such as Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan, and even guys under contract past this season like Niklas Hagman (two more seasons at $3 million per). A handful of the free agents will almost surely be moved out. Ponikarovsky, hot of late, could be a fetching pickup for a team looking for second-line offense.
The Leafs' pro scouting staff, led by vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin, met Friday and Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to prepare for the March 3 trade deadline. Burke joined them Saturday. The staff ranked every player on all 30 teams over the two-day period so Burke and Nonis can quickly pull up those individual reports once trade talks heat up.
Know this: The Leafs' desire is to be extremely busy from now to March 3. We'll see if they find willing partners.
Any player headed for unrestricted free agency is available in Carolina, but the Hurricanes are getting lots of calls on a player that's under contract for next season.
Joni Pitkanen has another year on his deal at $4.5 million for next season. The Canes like him a lot and are not trying to move him in any way. Yet, the interest from other teams is so high for the puck-mover, one wonders if Carolina will be able to say no before March 3 if the offers are too good to resist. The 26-year-old leads all NHL players in ice time per game, averaging just over 27 minutes. There won't be many top-four defensemen moving before March 3, so the high interest in Pitkanen is reflective of a barren marketplace for that position.
One player who will very likely move if he allows it with his no-trade clause is winger Ray Whitney, as I mentioned last week. To me, Pittsburgh and Calgary are screaming for this kind of move, as both clubs need offensive help and a boost to their power plays.
Here's the thing: He's cheaper to acquire now than on March 3. If the Hurricanes could unload him now, they'd save on their payroll. Come March 3, there's only five and half weeks left on Whitney's $3.55 million salary, so the Hurricanes wouldn't be saving nearly as much. In the meantime, teams will be scrambling for his services that day and the price will go up. Either way, the Hurricanes are hoping to recoup a first- or second-round pick and a prospect for Whitney.
The Rangers, understandably, weren't happy when their star player, Marian Gaborik, got beat up by Flyers agitator/tough guy Daniel Carcillo on Thursday night. I don't blame them. I can just imagine their anger Friday when these Twitter posts were sent out by the Flyers:
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 1:06p
In case you missed it, here's video of the Carcillo/Gaborik fight from last night.
sent via TweetDeck
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 9:44a
Check out last night's media availability following the game, inc. Carcillo's "licking his chops" comment (video): http://bit.ly/71Pv6V
sent via TweetDeck
"I can't say I was aware they were doing this," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com via e-mail Saturday. "It's not in violation of any existing policy we have."
There are no rules against it, but it's in poor taste, in my mind.
This and that
• The phone calls keep rolling in to Atlanta with inquiries about Ilya Kovalchuk, and it's going to get more serious over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a source described contract talks with Kovalchuk as "pretty quiet" of late. I think a trade is inevitable at this point.
• Had a chance to touch base this week with Finland Olympic GM Jari Kurri. The former Oilers great said he couldn't believe it when both Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne went down with injuries in back-to-back games recently. But Koivu is slated to return this week, and Kurri said he was confident the "Finnish Flash" would also be ready for the Olympics. "He should be OK," Kurri told ESPN.com. "Our understanding is that he'll be back in time, but it's going to be close, for sure."
• The Phoenix Coyotes are on the lookout for cheap offensive help; they can't take on too much of a payroll bump. Ideally, they're looking to make a dollar-for-dollar move. That's not an easy thing to do in this market right now, although that's exactly what Minnesota and Montreal pulled off in the Guillaume Latendresse-Benoit Pouliot deal (both players are earning the exact same salary).
• The New York Islanders continue to cast their fishing lines around the league in an attempt to move goalie Martin Biron ($1.4 million salary, UFA July 1). The Isles are pretty open to what they'd want in return: a draft pick, a defenseman or a left winger. Any one of those three apparently will do.