Some of the NHL's biggest names - ranging from Ottawa sniper Dany Heatley, Florida free-agent defenceman Jay Bouwmeester and Tampa centre Vincent Lecavalier to San Jose captain Patrick Marleau, Anaheim defenceman Chris Pronger and Toronto defenceman Tomas Kaberle - will be on the move if the white-hot trade talk taking place at the site of the 2009 entry draft yesterday materializes into action today.
Other prominent players in play include former NHL goal-scoring champion Jonathan Cheechoo, Ryane Clowe, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.
Even Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla, one of the league's premier players, was the subject of trade rumours yesterday involving the Toronto Maple Leafs among other teams.
"I'm happy," said Iginla, in a phone interview. "I've made no [trade]request whatsoever. I like the direction we're going in."
One who appears to be staying put is Vancouver all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was pondering a contract extension with the Canucks last night. His current deal expires in 2010.
All in all, it figures to be a volatile and interesting 24 hours, as teams try to improve their rosters within an NHL salary cap that is likely to remain flat, in the $57-million U.S. range, for next season.
Tampa Bay is immersed in an ownership dispute and declining season ticket sales. Faced with paying Lecavalier $85-million over the next 11 years once his new contract begins July 1, the Lightning may move their captain as a cost-cutting measure and Montreal, by happenstance, is looking "a big, strong first-line centre if we can get our hands on one," GM Bob Gainey said yesterday, without referring to Lecavalier directly. He added: "I think it's going to require some patience, I think it's going to require maybe a little bit of luck, we feel like we have some of the assets needed to put a deal together."
Montreal has 10 pending unrestricted free agents, and Gainey has made a long-term contract offer to only one so far: defenceman Mike Komisarek. Montreal is not known to be among the dozen or more teams that have contacted Ottawa about Heatley, according to assistant general manager Tim Murray.
Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer, asked the Ottawa Senators to trade him earlier this month. GM Bryan Murray is trying to get the deal done at the draft because if Heatley is on the roster July 1, he will be entitled to one half of next year's $8-million salary up front, as a bonus payment. On the flip side, a team picking up Heatley may only be obliged to pay him $4-million for next season (with a $7.5-million salary cap hit) if the trade can be delayed until July 2.
Among the possible suitors for Heatley are the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames.
Minnesota, under rookie general manager Chuck Fletcher, is interested in Heatley's scoring touch but he has only a few legitimate bargaining pieces. Perhaps the most attractive - goaltender Josh Harding - doesn't appear to be a good fit as the Senators picked up their goalie of the future, Pascal LeClaire, in a trade-deadline deal with Columbus.
The Flames need a top-six forward to replace the departing free agent Michael Cammalleri and a top-four defencemen to replace Adrian Aucoin, but they will be backed into a salary-cap corner unless they can convince a trading partner to take Olli Jokinen and his $5.5-million contract off their hands.
Neither Iginla nor defenceman Dion Phaneuf was in play yesterday, according to sources. The Flames believe that Phaneuf can get his game back on the rails next year once reunited with Brent Sutter, his coach in juniors at Red Deer.
Calgary, often a newsmaker at the draft, is in the Bouwmeester sweepstakes along with favoured Vancouver and San Jose. Bouwmeester, a 6-foot-4 defenceman who scored 42 points in 82 games this season, can become a free agent on July 1. In the interim, the Florida Panthers are trying to obtain a mid-range draft pick in exchange for permission to discuss a contract with him. The Canucks are expected to wait, without surrendering the pick.
Marleau, the Sharks captain and a 38-goal scorer this season, is available because the club believes its leadership group needs to be revamped in order to carry regular-season success into the playoffs. Also available: Clowe, a left wing positioned to win big in salary arbitration, and the right wing Cheechoo, a skilled finisher who is coming off two injury-plagued seasons.
Many of the deals being discussed hinge on financial situations. The Ducks, for instance, want to keep Pronger but can do so only if Scott Niedermayer retires or they find a taker for goaltender J.S. Giguère, who has two years and $13-million left on his contract. Giguère can pick and choose, as his deal includes a no-movement clause.
Just about every front-line forward has been linked to Los Angeles because the Kings have the salary-cap room to accommodate an expensive player and the organizational assets to satisfy a potential trading partner.
Both the Kings, at No.5, and the Atlanta Thrashers at No.4 are listening to offers from teams wanting to move up in the draft order tonight.
The Red Wings, this year's Stanley Cup finalists, are trying to lock up unrestricted free agent forward Marian Hossa with a contract similar to the one signed by their winger Johan Franzen just before the trade deadline - a multiyear deal at a relatively low salary cap number ($4-million).
"We know we're going to lose some players," said GM Ken Holland. "We have to decide which direction we have to go. Even if the cap goes to $57-million, we're still going to be challenged to keep a lot of these parts in place."
Kessel had a breakout season (36 goals, 24 assists) for Boston last season, playing mostly on the top line with Marc Savard, but he is coming off his entry-level contract and figures to command $4.5-million or more on his next deal, which may be too rich for the Bruins.
Lupul, the Flyers' winger who has shuffled from Anaheim to Edmonton to Philadelphia since the lockout, is also a natural scorer, but with a reputation as a perimeter player, who doesn't make a difference often enough.
With reports from Tim Wharnsby and Sean Gordon in Montreal, and Matthew Sekeres in VancouverReport Typo/Error