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Sunday, March 01, 2009

(Less Than) A Week from the Trade Deadline, Part 3

Our look at the players most and least likely to move at the NHL's trade deadline finishes today with the player's who aren't going to be dealt by Wednesday. In fact, we guarantee it (note: not a guarantee).

I
apologize for not finishing this trilogy of trade deadline columns two days ago, as promised. Bob Gainey didn't think my head was in the game and gave me a couple of days off to think about things (note to Panther fans: this joke works just as well if you replace Gainey's name with Jacques Martin's).

You can see our list of players who will be moving at the deadline (also not a guarantee) and the list of guys who might or might not be moving (which included Bill Guerin, who has been traded according to several reports but nobody seems quite sure where as yet). Today, our focus is on players who's names have been seen in trade rumours this season, won't be packing their bags on Wednesday. Probably. Their particular combination of high salaries, no trade clauses, their team's place in the standing, and their importance to those teams means they'll be staying put.

The "Not Going Anywhere Despite the Rumours" Guys:
Alexei Kovalev (Montreal), Ryan Smyth (Colorado), Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay), Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta), Ed Jovanovski (Phoenix), Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay), Michael Nylander (Washington), Scott Gomez (Rangers), Jason Spezza (Ottawa), Nikolai Khabibulin (Chicago), Martin Havlat (Chicago), Nathan Horton (Florida), Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota), Chris Pronger/Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim).

- Alex Kovalev's name came up a few times in trade rumours, as his much publicized "time off" from the team last week had some saying he had played his last game in a Canadiens' jersey. Much as being sent home to think about things might seem the beginning of the end for some guys on some teams, with Kovalev and the Habs, well, it's a little different. Bob Gainey took a lot of heat for his decision to tell Kovalev to go away for a while; Gainey is not the kind of man who's going to set himself up for that much criticism without cause. If he were going to trade Kovalev, he'd have done it before sending him home. Besides, while Kovalev's play has improved since his benching, the Habs wouldn't get much more than a second round draft pick or so for an inconsistent 36 year old forward who's about to become a free agent anyway. If Kovalev can get his game back on track, and with seven points in four games since coming back that looks like a strong possibility, they're better off keeping him.

- Ryan Smyth's name has appeared in the rumour mill a great deal lately for some reason. While yesterday I mentioned that Colorado will be trying to lower their payroll by next season, and they're definitely a "selling" team at the deadline, what with being last in the Western Conference and all, don't bet on Smyth moving. This appears to be another one of those rumours that looks to have started in Montreal (though recent rumours also have the Kings interested in Smyth), probably when somebody said "wouldn't the Habs be a better team if they got 'Player X'?" and somehow by the time it reached a rumour web site became "Bob Gainey is interested in 'Player X.'" This theme will be evident with a couple of other players on this list as well. Anyway, the reality is, Smyth has a huge contract for three seasons after this one ($6.25 million a season), a no-trade clause, and even though he's having a good season, tends to be injury prone and is already 33 years old. Nothing about this suggests Smyth will be moved; the Avs would have to take a similar amount of salary back for this to make any sense for another team, and if they're trying to cut payroll, why would they do that?

- Number two on our list of "only being a trade rumour because it involved Montreal" (but number one in our hearts) is Vincent Lecavalier. The Lecavalier to Montreal rumours became a large sideshow around the All Star Game in Montreal a month ago, but even though some hockey rumour sites out there (not mentioning names) are keeping this one alive. Mark this down: Lecavalier is not being traded. Yes, it does seem that the mess of rumours about Vinny came about because Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton quietly let it be known Lecavalier could be had, for the right price, and that information leaked. But irate Lightning fans have apparently dissuaded Lawton to the point where he said last week that he would never move Lecavalier, and never intended to. There's still a slim chance somebody could make a move for him in the summer, but don't count on it. Let's just move on.

- Ilya Kovalchuk might be moved, but it won't be before March 4th. Kovalchuk can become a free agent in the summer of 2010, but that's not this summer. While Kovalchuk's given strong indications that he'll move on if he doesn't think the team is moving in the right direction, it would be foolish for the Thrashers to move him before they have even had a chance to talk to him about a contract extension. While it's possible he could be moved this summer, the more likely scenario sees him being traded before the deadline next season if Atlanta is once again a bad team next year. Stop laughing, they could be better next season. Really they could!

- As much as teams might want to add the talent of Ed Jovanovski, Martin St. Louis, or Michael Nylander at the deadline, all three veterans have no-trade clauses, and also make a lot of money for two more seasons after this one (quick quiz: which of the three has the biggest contract? If you guessed former league MVP and scoring leader St. Louis, you'd be wrong; Jovanovski makes $6.5 million in Phoenix, St. Louis pulls in $5.25 million, and Nylander $4.9 million). Phoenix's supposed desire to cut payroll motivated the Jovo rumours, but moving a contract that big just doesn't happen that easily. Pittsburgh was rumoured to be looking at St. Louis to play with Sidney Crosby, but after dealing Ryan Whitney to the Ducks for Chris Kunitz they may no longer be interested. As for Nylander, well, he's making nearly $5 million to be Washington's thid line centre right now, and it's starting to look like his free agent signing in the summer of 2007 was a mistake. But much as Washington might like to move him, that doesn't mean anyone will take him off their hands.

- Why has Gomez's name come up in rumours? Well, it appears to be because of New York's lack of salary cap space. The theory went that if the Rangers were going to make a move on somebody else, moving Gomez would be the prelude to that, giving them the salary cap space to do whatever they wanted, since Gomez is cheduled to make over $7 million for the next five seasons. But these rumours were mostly in connection with the Rangers either signing Mats Sundin to a free agent contract in December, which we all know didn't work out, or pulling one over on the Canadiens and getting Vincent Lecavalier, which is very unlikely. So it looks like Gomez is staying put, but unless he starts putting up better numbers soon, the size of his contract is going to look like a burden on the Rangers for a lot of years to come. As far as a lot of Senators fans are concerned, you could substitute Jason Spezza's name in that last sentence to describe how they feel about him in Ottawa right now. Spezza has a no-trade clause in his contract, which runs for six seasons after this one at $7 million a season, but it doesn't kick in until this summer. But it's littl emore than wishful thinking by Sens fans that he'll be moved by the deadline. Unless he and Gomez are traded for each other. Hmm...anyone know how to start a trade rumour?

- Earlier this season it seemed like a sure thing that Chicago would move Nikolai Khabibulin. After signing Cristobal Huet to a big free agent deal, Khabibulin looked like the odd man out. But the Blackhawks couldn't find a deal they liked and kept Khabibulin, which has looked like great strategy since Khabibulin and Huet have formed a great goaltending tandem. At this point the 'Hawks are still not going to find a deal they like for Khabibulin, not with his high contract and free agent status at the end of the year, but at this point they may as well keep him around.

- Martin Havlat is another one of those guys who's been persistently in trade rumours, but it seems like that's only the case because some who write such things think he'd be good for Montreal. But with Chicago firmly ensconced in a playoff spot and Havlat their second leading scorer, there's little to be gained in trading him right now, even if Havlat is a free agent this summer and might be looking for a raise on his $6 million salary. The Blackhawks are more likely to add a forward to play on Havlat's line than trade him. Trade rumours have seemed to dog Nathan Horton his entire NHL career, but like Havlat, he's currently one of the top scorers on a team that looks like a good bet for the playoffs. Unlike Havlat, he's signed long-term and still has a lot of room to improve his game. I've never really understood why his name comes up in rumours so much. He'll stay in Miami.

- Again from the "almost unfathomable rumour file," we have Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota, who supposedly might be traded if he doesn't sign a contract extension by Wednesday (he's a free agent this summer). Why this rumour is ridiculous: The Wild don't have a hope of making the playoffs without him. Minnesota currently sits 10th in the Western Conference, just two points back of Edmonton and Anaheim, who are tied for 7th right now. As good as Wild backup Josh Harding's numbers are, he hasn't shown the consistency he needs to be a starting goaltender. He's not ready to take over from Backstrom next week; the Wild will have to gamble that they can either re-sign Backstrom before he becomes a free agent, or that Harding is ready to take over by the start of next season.

- Finally, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer's names have both been making the rounds of the NHL rumour mill during the last few weeks. The Ducks are probably looking at having to cut payroll by next season, and Pronger and Niedermayer would undoubtedly add a lot to any contending team's blueline. The Ducks are also probably looking at starting a rebuilding process soon, one that can only be helped by trading one, or both, of their two star blueliners. Some took it as a sign that when the Ducks traded Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi they'd be trying to move one of these two by the deadline. However, the more likely scenario goes like this: with the Ducks competing for a playoff spot (they're in 8th place right now), they keep both defensemen and see how things play out this summer. Niedermayer will be a free agent, but if he wants to keep playing he'll probably re-sign in Anaheim, though the decision not to retire took him five months to make back in 2007. The Ducks can't afford to wait that long for him to decide again, but have apparently already told Niedermayer he won't be traded. Pronger, meanwhile, has a contract for next season, but other than Whitney he's the only proven NHL defenseman the Ducks have that does. The Ducks will keep both at this deadline, unless they get a truly knockout offer for Pronger that they can't turn down (which would probably involve a younger top-four defenseman, a good prospect forward, and a first round draft pick, at least), push Niedermayer for a decision on whether or not he'll return next season early in the off-season, then decide whether or not to trade Pronger before next season starts. If Niedermayer returns, Pronger will almost certainly be dealt; if not, they may keep him around.

To everyone reading this, I hope you enjoy the trade deadline as much as I will.

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posted by Brian P at | 0 Comments Links to this post


Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Week from the Trade Deadline, Part 2

Yesterday, we posted our best guesses about which players you're most likely to see traded at this year's trading deadline, which is now less than a week away. In the interests of full disclosure, I must tell you that neither Chris Kunitz nor Ryan Whitney were on it, but that didn't stop them from being traded for each other today.

Today, we'll take a look at the guys who might be on the move. These are guys that, whether they have no-trade clauses, large contracts and underachieving seasons, or because their team is still the fight for a playoff spot, have some complications to be sorted out before they can be traded. The only really safe bet is that some of these guys will be moved; exactly which ones or where they're going, well, quite frankly, your guess is as good as ours. There are some big names here, some of whom have been in trade rumours for months, but because of the salary cap and their current team's asking prices may not end up going anywhere. The Whitney for Kunitz deal proves, once again, that while speculating on who's going to be dealt is fun, getting it right doesn't happen that often. Once again, some thoughts and analysis follow the list below.


The "Your Guess is as Good as Ours" Guys:
Jay Bouwmeester (Florida), Tomas Kaberle/Pavel Kubina (Toronto), Tim Connolly/Max Afinogenov/Ales Kotalik (Buffalo), Bill Guerin (Islanders), Milan Hejduk (Colorado), Brett Clark/Ruslan Salei/Scott Hannan (Colorado), Keith Tkachuk (St. Louis), Brendan Morrison (Anaheim), Samuel Pahlsson (Anaheim), Kari Lehtonen/Johan Hedberg (Atlanta), Antoine Vermette (Ottawa), Christoph Schubert (Ottawa), Alexei Ponikarovsky (Toronto), Matt Stajan (Toronto), Ian White (Toronto), Scott Upshall (Philadelphia), Matthew Lombardi (Calgary), Mattias Ohlund (Vancouver), Marian Gaborik (Minnesota), Sean Avery (Dallas), Olli Jokinen (Phoenix), Derek Morris (Phoenix).

- Jay Bouwmeester is the most intriguing case at this deadline. At the beginning of the season it was all but certain he'd be traded by next week, but most people making that prediction did it on the assumption that the Panthers would be out of the playoff race by now. With Florida in 7th place, one point out of 6th, do the Panthers take the chance that they can still make the playoffs without Bouwmeester, who's having a great season and is clearly their best defenseman? Or do they keep him, even though he's all but shouted from the rooftops that he will see what free agency brings him the summer, meaning they'd be losing perhaps their best asset for nothing? This is why being a general manager is hard.

- Both Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina have no-trade clauses and refused to waive them at last season's deadline when asked. Speculation is that Kaberle will do so for a particular list of teams this season, but Kubina won't. The asking price for Kaberle, however, will be steep; Leafs GM Brian Burke said recently he expects it would take a good young player, a top prospect, and a first round draft pick for another team to get him to move Kaberle. Whether anyone will come up with that kind of offer for a guy with 4 goals who's -12 is anyone's guess. However, both Kaberle and Kubina have clauses in their contracts that say they can be dealt this summer if the Leafs don't make the playoffs; if neither moves at the deadline, expect one to be traded then.

- As for some of Toronto's other players, well, the expectation was that when Burke took over he'd spectacularly blow up his roster and rebuild the Leafs from the ground up. That hasn't happened yet. The truth is that the Leafs just don't have that many players a playoff bound team would want, and while I'm sure Brian Burke wouldn't mind moving players like Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, and Ian White, the three most likely to go by next week, as well as overpriced veteran guys like Jason Blake, Niklas Hagman, Jeff Finger, Mike Van Ryn and even goalie Vesa Toskala, it remains to be seen if anyone will even bother to call him about them. It's a similar situation in Ottawa, but the players GM Bryan Murray is most likely to want to move, like Antoine Vermette and Christoph Schubert, and possibly Chris Kelly and Jason Smith, aren't going to command much attention.

- Buffalo has a trio of forwards with no contracts for next season, as well as defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Teppo Numminen, but with the Sabres currently in the final playoff spot in the East they might not be trading anybody. The only reason they might move players out is the ankle sprain top goaltender Ryan Miller suffered last weekend; you have to think that with that injury, and with Buffalo holding onto the 8th spot by the skin of their teeth, the Sabres won't make the playoffs, but stranger things have happened. Whether or not there's much of a market for the oft-injured Tim Connolly, the streaky Ales Kotalik, or the badly underachieving Maxim Afinogenov, the three Sabre forwards heading into free agency, is debatable anyway.

- Bill Guerin, Milan Hejduk, Mattias Ohlund and Derek Morris would all be great additions to a playoff-bound team, but all four have no-trade clauses and might not agree to a trade. Morris is reportedly trying to negotiate a new contract with Phoenix, but he makes nearly $4 million, will be 31 this summer and is -12 this season, all factors unlikely to result in a new contract from the rebuilding Coyotes. Ohlund plays in Vancouver, where it looks like the Canucks will make the playoffs, but it also looks like he'll move on this summer. There was some speculation linking Hejduk to Pittsburgh, but that's less likely with Kunitz becoming a Penguin, and Hejduk may not be that interested in leaving the only NHL team he's ever played on. And Guerin...well, if Guerin were that interested in playing for a contending team he wouldn't have signed with the Islanders in the first place. Keith Tkachuk, Brendan Morrison, and Samuel Pahlsson are veteran forwards who, like Guerin, will be free agents this summer but don't have no-trade clauses and might be on the move next week (edit: Tkachuk apparently actually does have a no trade. Also, Pahlsson has mono, so is probably not going anywhere).

- It does seem certain that even if Colorado can't move Hejduk that they'd like to cut salary. The Avalanche are nowhere near the playoffs and might finish last in the West. Some are reporting the team would like to move Ryan Smyth; we'll talk more about that tomorrow. Colorado would probably like to move at least one of high-priced veteran defensemen Scott Hannan, Ruslan Salei and Brett Clark, but all three have at least one year remaining on their contracts past this one, and another team coming to the Avs offering decent trade value for one of them may or may not happen.

- Olli Jokinen's name has been making the rounds lately, and while I don't really think he'll be traded, I rather hope he does get traded. Why? Because Jokinen is now 30 years old, has played nearly 800 NHL games since 1998, and has never played a playoff game. Please, somebody, give the guy a break. He's a good player. Sure, he makes a lot of money this season and next (over $5 million) and Phoenix will be asking a lot for him, but come on! Show a little empathy!

- What's going on with Sean Avery? His troubles and suspension this season have been well-documented, and the expectation when he was assigned to the minor leagues by Dallas was that the Rangers would make a move for him. Although new Rangers coach John Tortorella was critical of Avery and his antics while working for TSN between coaching jobs, the Globe and Mail is reporting that coaching Sean Avery was a condition of Tortorella's employment. Adding yet another level of complexity to all this is that Avery isn't automatically going to New York; Dallas put him on waivers in order to send him to the minors, and have to put him on re-entry waivers before the trade deadline if he's going to play in the NHL this season. But re-entry waivers also means any team below the Rangers in the standings will have a chance to claim Avery before New York does. Does anyone else have the interest in committing to the three years Avery has left on his contract? Whew. It's complicated.

- Here are some other players in a similar situation to Avery, that is to say, players who have passed through waivers at some point during the season for various reasons (usually poor play coupled with a large contract) who have NHL-level talents who may be called up before the trade deadline for any team to claim, just like how the Rangers claimed Mark Bell from the Leafs the other day: Martin Gerber (Ottawa), Manny Legace (St. Louis), Kyle McLaren (San Jose), Peter Schaefer (Boston), Anders Eriksson (Calgary), Michel Ouellet (Vancouver), Jeff Cowan (Vancouver), Curtis Sanford (Vancouver), Danny Sabourin (Edmonton). The nice thing about these guys is that, unlike Avery, none of them (except Schaefer) are signed past this season, so if they don't work out, teams can just cut them loose in July.

- Finally, why list Marian Gaborik? Gaborik is a free agent this summer and it was thought that he would be a hot commodity to be traded by the deadline, but that was before he hurt himself (again). He's played just six games all season and might still be out as much as another month. However, with the offensively-gifted Gaborik said to be looking forward to the chance to sign somewhere besides Minny, where defense is the focus, and Minnesota unlikely to commit big money to a player who's hurt so often, this could very easily be Minnesota's last chance to get anything at all for Gaborik before he walks. And while any team trading for Gaborik would be gambling that he won't a) re-injure himself before the end of the season and miss the entire playoffs, and b) re-sign somewhere else this summer, despite being traded to a team other than Minnesota, it's still a gamble that could pay off very handsomely for a team willing to make a deal for one of the most explosive offensive players in the game.

Tomorrow, we'll bring you the list of guys who've been in trade rumours, but aren't too likely to be going anywhere.

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