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Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler takes part in practice for the Heritage Classic NHL hockey game at B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday March 1, 2014. (The Canadian Press)

Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler takes part in practice for the Heritage Classic NHL hockey game at B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday March 1, 2014.

(The Canadian Press)


Duhatschek: The Ryan Kesler trade could get complicated Add to ...

Richards’s return may make it harder to sign unrestricted free agent forward Marian Gaborik to a contract. Gaborik had an excellent playoff – a league-leading 14 goals – but if he wants to squeeze every last dollar out of his next contract, he may have to go onto the open market to get it. You’d have to think that isn’t going to happen and that both sides find a compromise solution.

If they can’t sign Gaborik, then the Kings could simply move Williams to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown and shop for more scoring at next year’s NHL trading deadline. Wonder if Columbus will make anybody available to them again?

ROCKIE MOUNTAIN HIGH: The NHL hands out its annual awards in Las Vegas Tuesday and the Colorado Avalanche may need to back a truck up against the Wynn Hotel, with all the hardware they could haul off.

The Avs have a chance to take home four awards – Jack Adams, where Patrick Roy is nominated for coach of the year; Calder, where Nathan MacKinnon should be close to a unanimous choice; Lady Byng, where Ryan O’Reilly scored 64 points in 80 games while receiving only a single minor penalty, and Vezina, where Semyon Varlamov is considered the second favourite to the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask.

But even if they only get three winners, that’ll be a significant achievement from a franchise that made a dramatic rise in the Western Conference regular-season standings (which is what the voting is based on). The Avalanche is at a unique crossroads in terms of keeping their core intact because of that unexpected surge.

They are faced with the prospect of losing second-line centre Paul Stastny to unrestricted free agency because he can command more on the open market than the Avalanche can reasonably expect to pay him at this juncture in their development.

Wonder if Stastny will go to St. Louis, where the Blues are trying to find a centre to play behind David Backes and have been exploring trade options for the likes of Spezza and Kesler as well? If the Blues really wanted to make an impact, they’d trade for Spezza and sign Stastny. That would make the NHL sit up and take notice.

The Avs’ negotiations’ with O’Reilly are less pressing, given that they’ve already filed notice that they will take him to salary arbitration, if a contract can’t be negotiated – which means he is effectively signed for the next two years anyway; and only the dollar figures have yet to be determined.

Colorado’s on-ice relationship with O’Reilly has been great, but it has been far pricklier off the ice. In fact, the O’Reilly camp was getting nowhere in trying to get him signed after the last lockout ended, and as a result, he signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames coming out of the work stoppage.

Well, that was a mess – Colorado matched the Calgary offer, which saved the Flames from the embarrassment of surrendering a first-round draft choice to the Avs for a player they would have had to immediately waive, under terms of the expiring CBA.

That they’ve decided to go to arbitration already suggests there’s still a lingering difference of opinion over his real value to the team. But mostly what the Avs, in the early stages of a rebuild, are trying to do is keep their payroll reined in, so that there’ll be money to spend on the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene in the years to come.

O’Reilly had an excellent season last year, playing mostly wing on the top line alongside Duchene. Paul Stastny mostly centered the second line, with MacKinnon, another transplanted centre playing out of position. Stastny is an unrestricted free agent coming off a long-term contract that averaged $6.6-million per season. Even though Stastny had a great playoff and a decent regular season, it is clear the Avalanche don’t see him as a $6.6-million player. Someone could pay that in free agency, because free agency is all about overpaying to get an asset for nothing but the cash outlay, but in Colorado’s case, they have centres playing out of position that can slip back in the middle if Stastny bolts, a luxury few teams can boast.

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