The rumour mill has churned out any number of interesting possibilities. Jaromir Jagr, almost certainly coming back to the NHL, possibly with the Detroit Red Wings, maybe with his old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. But why couldn’t it be the Montreal Canadiens, where Jagr could play with close friend Tomas Plekanec or former linemate Scott Gomez and wear the uniform of an Original Six team for the second time in his career?
Most people suspect Ryan Smyth will finish his career with the Edmonton Oilers, but will it happen next year – which would necessitate a trade with the Los Angeles Kings – or the year after, when his contract expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent?
Though the Flyers insist negotiations are ongoing, Ilya Bryzgalov has a chance to become the highest-paid goaltender in the game, assuming he signs with Philadelphia as soon as the NHL confirms that next year’s salary cap will top out at $64-million (all currency U.S.), giving the Flyers the payroll room to absorb a $5-million to $7-million annual salary hit. And who does GM Paul Holmgren move to shoehorn Bryzgalov’s salary onto his already hefty payroll? Kris Versteeg? Jeff Carter? Or does he permit Ville Leino to depart as a free agent? If Carter is ever in play, any number of teams looking to fill gaping holes at centre (yes, we mean you Toronto Maple Leafs) will be lining up to take a crack at a deal.
Questions, questions, questions
Can the Calgary Flames find a taker for one of their high-priced defencemen, say a Jay Bouwmeester, who might look good in Columbus? Will the New York Rangers move Marian Gaborik’s contract to free up room to sign Brad Richards as an unrestricted free agent? And if Gaborik is on the market, shouldn’t the Ottawa Senators be after him to fill the salary hole created by Dany Heatley’s departure?
The Senators purged contracts at the trade deadline, but by signing goaltender Craig Anderson and defenceman Chris Phillips to new deals, signalled that they weren’t about to follow the Edmonton Oilers into scorched-earth territory as part of their rebuilding process.
Who will the Phoenix Coyotes land as their starting goaltender to replace Bryzgalov? Maybe the answer is as simple as fellow Russian Evgeni Nabokov, property of the New York Islanders. Nabokov would likely welcome a return to the Pacific Division.
The NHL’s annual entry draft/swap meet takes place here Friday and Saturday, and it will be an opportunity for the league’s seven Canadian teams to replenish their stock of young players.
Consider that 10 of the first 30 picks belong to Canadian teams and the new Winnipeg franchise, along with Edmonton and Ottawa, will all draft in the top seven.
But what makes the draft intriguing is the trade talk that, sad to say, has featured lots of smoke but limited fire in recent years. Remember when Montreal played host in 2009? Vinnie Lecavalier was supposed to land with the Canadiens in a blockbuster deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. All of his relatives said so (anonymously, of course, to the tabloid press). Never happened. The next year, only two deals of consequence occurred, Chris Pronger on draft night to Philadelphia, Bouwmeester to Calgary the next day.
And last year? All the good stuff happened before everyone descended on Los Angeles. Jaroslav Halak, Nathan Horton, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Arnott plus a third of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning team were all traded the week before the draft. It was left for the Vancouver Canucks and general manager Mike Gillis to make the biggest draft-day splash – that Keith Ballard blockbuster with the Florida Panthers. And the one general manager who could be counted on to do something practically every year, the Calgary Flames’ Darryl Sutter, isn’t on the job any more.
But it’s an interesting year, because as the salary cap jumps to $64-million, an increase of $4.6-million over last year, the salary floor will also rise to $48-million, the minimum that every team will need to spend next year to meet its obligations under the collective agreement. In some situations, teams may be willing (for a price) to absorb a salary dumped on them by a free-spender just to reach the minimum spending requirement.
It also means that salaries approaching the silliness of the prelockout era may return, and any number of young players approaching free agency – the Nashville Predators’ Shea Weber, the Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos – will likely leverage their desirability into huge paydays.
So there is talk, and many teams that have made little impact at these gatherings are in the thick of things this time around, looking for players and prepared to move draft choices.
Unhappily, for the past three years anyway, reality at the NHL entry draft never quite matched the hype and speculation. Cross your fingers. Maybe this year will be different.