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Carolina Hurricanes Ray Whitney hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Edmonton Oiler in game seven of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey finals in Raleigh, N.C., Monday June 19, 2006. (PAUL CHIASSON)
Carolina Hurricanes Ray Whitney hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Edmonton Oiler in game seven of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey finals in Raleigh, N.C., Monday June 19, 2006. (PAUL CHIASSON)

David Shoalts

Sellers holding out until last minute Add to ...

Minor deals remained the order of the day, as the handful of sellers decided yesterday to wait until the final minutes before the NHL trade deadline today in order to drive prices to the max.

"Yes," was the succinct e-mail answer of one general manager who has one of the prizes in the big auction, when he was asked if that is why none of the sellers pulled the trigger on a major deal yesterday.

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The GM, let's call him Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes, is pursuing a time-honoured and correct strategy. If you happen to have the best forward available, which is now Hurricanes winger Ray Whitney, why not hold on to create an auction as the clock winds down to the 3 p.m. EST deadline?

Doing the same are Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who holds one of the consolation prizes at forward in Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Columbus Blue Jackets boss Scott Howson, who has winger Raffi Torres. Burke, by the way, has a long list of players available, which does not include defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who wants to stay in Toronto. The trouble is, the list of available Leafs other GMs might be interested in is much shorter: Ponikarovsky, Kaberle.

Rutherford is demanding a first-round draft pick, plus a young player, for Whitney, who went into last night's game against the Leafs with 19 goals and 48 points. Here's how overheated the market may get today - Whitney, 37, will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and has a no-trade clause, which he is using to demand a new multiyear contract from any potential new employer. That scuttled one deal Rutherford had made with the Los Angeles Kings.

But the position to watch today, thanks to a couple of developments yesterday, is goaltender. Some frenzied bidding could erupt because of the bad news for the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders concerning Ray Emery and Rick DiPietro, respectively.

Islanders GM Garth Snow met with team doctors and was informed there are problems with DiPietro's surgically repaired knee. He is out of the lineup again with no word on a return. This leaves Snow in a dilemma.

When DiPietro made it back into the lineup in January, Snow was expected to trade Martin Biron, leaving him with Dwayne Roloson, 40, as the backup. Roloson started most of the Islanders' games this season and played well, posting a 2.86 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.

But it was Roloson, not Biron (4-11-2, 3.24 GAA, .899), who was attracting all the attention from other general managers as the trade deadline approached. The Flyers grew particularly interested yesterday, the chatter went, because Emery was officially lost for the season because of hip surgery.

The Islanders went into last night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks six points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. There are four teams between the Isles and that spot, but their chances of making it are not too bad.

So Snow has to decide if he wants to hang on to both Roloson and Biron and make a run for the playoffs, which is surely what owner Charles Wang would want, or trade Roloson for what could be a nice group of draft picks or players and not worry about the playoffs.

With the Flyers, Blackhawks and perhaps the Washington Capitals leading the hunt for a goaltender, GMs with a good one available could see some eye-popping offers.

The Flyers cleared about $2-million (all currency U.S.) in salary-cap space when they waived Danny Syvret and Riley Cote. It was thought the main purpose of this was to pursue Nashville Predators defenceman Dan Hamhuis, who still has not signed a new contract. But that would allow the Flyers to add both Hamhuis and Roloson, who has one year left on his contract for $2.5-million.

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is said to be giving mixed signals about his desire to replace No..1 goaltender Cristobal Huet, whose 24-11-4 record, 2.29 GAA and .903 save percentage is due mostly to the excellent defence playing in front of him. Bowman got a good look at Roloson last night and might join the party today.

Florida Panthers GM Randy Sexton is getting a lot of calls about his goaltender, Tomas Vokoun, but plays down the idea he might be available. There is also Dan Ellis of the Predators, who is headed for free agency, and maybe Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars.

One or more of those goaltenders could be the centrepiece of the biggest deal of the day.

 

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