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Sunday, November 2, 2008
Latest on Kovalchuk, Sundin rumors, and the work ahead for Habs, Gainey


How about that Friday night shootout between Vancouver and Anaheim? Whoa. And I'm the guy who recently said the shootout is stale. Maybe I'm wrong!

Here are a couple of notes for you puckheads as I chat up some of my sources this weekend.

There were reports coming out of Russia this weekend that star winger Ilya Kovalchuk was on the trade block. Not so, Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell told us. "I can you tell you that is definitely not the case."

He didn't want to comment any further, so I'll take the ball from here.

First of all, Kovalchuk has another year left on his deal after this season at $7.5 million. He's not eligible for unrestricted free agency until July 1, 2010. Why the heck would Waddell be shopping him now? In my mind, Waddell would be writing his own pink slip if he did that. But certainly, if he can't get him to sign an extension next summer or next fall (see Marian Gaborik), then maybe at that point Waddell has to put him on the market.

More on Mats
Is there a free agent that's received more coverage in the history of the NHL than Mats Sundin? Let me add more!

As you probably have heard, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis had an audience with Mr. Sundin and his agent, J.P. Barry, on Thursday in Los Angeles (where Sundin is working out). But the Canucks aren't the only NHL team who has met with Sundin.

We're told the New York Rangers also had a chat with the Big Swede. And apparently, this week, the Anaheim Ducks may also have a sit-down with Sundin. The point is, several teams will get a crack at him before he decides what to do. No team, however, has more cap room than the Canucks. Teams like Anaheim and the Rangers, and Chicago and Philadelphia (other teams interested in Sundin), would have to move bodies to make it work.

Debate on hits to the head
Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford will continue to push hard on the issue of hits to the head.

"I think the hits to the head needs to be pursued and I hope we can have a good discussion about it at the March [GMs] meeting," Rutherford told ESPN.com. "It's the most vulnerable position on a person's body and it's the one place that we don't seem to want to protect as much."

Rutherford, who lost rookie Brandon Sutter last weekend to a serious head injury, believes if there's a penalty or suspension for hits to the head, players will adapt to the rule change just like they did for obstruction, slashing and cross-checking in front of the net.

"Every time we put in a new rule, the players adapt to it," said Rutherford.

Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations and executive vice president, disagrees.

"I respect Jim Rutherford's opinion," said Campbell. "I don't get a vote [at the GMs meeting], but my own personal opinion is that I wouldn't change it. I played the game, I have a son the plays the game, I coached the game, I watch the game every night. I think we've done a good job making the game what it is. I don't like seeing people hurt, but also I don't think you can keep the fabric of the game the way it is without having hitting in the game. And that's going to happen."

Lots of work ahead for Montreal's Bob Gainey
The Montreal Canadiens are off to a tremendous start on the ice. Off the ice, GM Bob Gainey has his work cut out for him. He's got 10 potential unrestricted free agents at season's end, including Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Mike Komisarek, plus potential restricted free agents in Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec.

We're told contract talks have yet to begin on any of those fronts. It's a tough situation for Gainey. The risk of signing one guy is that it may look like you're playing favorites. But, on the flip side, some agents for these players are getting a little restless. My sense is that Gainey may take care of a few of these players in the second half of the season or near season's end.

Of course, the interesting thing in all this is whether the salary cap possibly goes down next season because of the global economic meltdown (at this point, it's impossible to tell either way). But the Habs might be in the best position of all -- they won't be in a payroll jam like most other teams.