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Thursday, February 26, 2009
Bouwmeester's agent: We've had ongoing dialogue with Panthers


TORONTO -- Some 135 player agents congregated for their annual meeting with the NHL Players' Association at a downtown hotel here Thursday, and there was plenty of buzz ahead of next week's trade deadline.

We sought out Bryon Baltimore, the elusive agent of Jay Bouwmeester, who, like his client, keeps a low profile and stays out of the media spotlight. But he was kind enough to chat with ESPN.com before rushing off to the airport and heading back to Edmonton. He downplayed the drama and trade rumors surrounding his client ahead of Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.

"I can't say that it's that interesting a week in the sense that Jay's focus in on the playoff run and helping the Panthers get there," Baltimore said. "That's been his focus all year."

The Panthers have been unable to get Bouwmeester, a pending unrestricted free agent July 1, to agree to a contract extension, and that's why they are contemplating moving him next week if the deal is right.

"We've had ongoing dialogue and whatnot," Baltimore said of contract talks with the Panthers. "I've always treated the business end of it and the negotiating end of it as confidential, so I can't say that we have not spoken, but I have to leave it at that."

Asked whether he and Bouwmeester would be amenable to a window to talk contract to another NHL team in order to facilitate a trade, Baltimore said it wasn't up to his camp to make that call.

"We don't grant that window," Baltimore said. "If there was that request, that's up to the Panthers to determine whether they wanted to do that and whether that's the direction they wanted to take or not.

"Jay's concentration is very much on the season and the playoffs."

Across the hall at the swanky hotel, we spotted Pat Morris, the veteran agent from Newport Sports, who was wrapping up a phone call with Chris Pronger, one of his many clients. Obviously, Thursday's trade that sent blueliner Ryan Whitney to Anaheim had many people connecting the dots and wondering if Pronger would be moved, whether that was before the deadline or at the June draft.

"He's an Anaheim Duck. He'd like to remain an Anaheim Duck for the rest of his career, if possible," Morris told ESPN.com. "But he knows that certain things have been established within that organization, there's a new management regime and the potential for him to be moved is certainly there. As to whether that's now or in the future, that's up to the Anaheim directory.

"He understands that's a business. He just wants a level of control and respect. I think he's deserved that over the years, and to date and going forward, I think Anaheim respects Chris Pronger."

In other words, if you read between the lines, Pronger is hoping to have a say in where he lands if a move is made before the deadline.

We also bumped into Richard Evans, the agent for Ottawa Senators defenseman Filip Kuba. He's slated for UFA status July 1 and is a candidate for a trade unless both sides can come to an agreement on an extension. He also has a no-trade clause.

"We're talking with Ottawa," Evans said. "Filip is focusing on what he has to do on the ice. We'll continue to have dialogue, and we'll see what happens."

Kuba is the kind of guy that's sort of under the radar, but he's had a good season on a struggling team and could be a great pick-up for the teams that miss out on the bigger names. But then again, maybe he'll sign an extension and stay put. The Senators aren't exactly deep on puck-moving defensemen.

One juicy rumor that made the rounds Wednesday night as agents gathered for a pop or two was that Tampa Bay star winger Martin St. Louis had nixed a trade to Pittsburgh.

Lightning owner Oren Koules vehemently denied that to ESPN.com in an e-mail, while also stressing the team had never approached St. Louis about any trade or about waiving his no-trade clause. Penguins GM Ray Shero also strongly denied there was any truth to it when contacted Thursday. In fact, he found the rumor comical, given there was no basis for it.

It's that time of year!

The meeting

The agents weren't in town just to trade deadline gossip. They were all ears while NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly and union executives Glenn Healy and Ian Penny spoke to the group.

"Obviously, part of what I talked about included the economy and how it would affect the salary cap," Kelly said.

The NHLPA boss told agents he expected next season's salary cap to be somewhere around $54 million and $57 million, very much close to where it is now at $56.7 million.

But obviously everyone's concern is the cap for the 2010-11 season, when diminishing revenues as the recession really hits at all levels will likely bring down the cap. But Kelly said they focused more on next season because anything past that is like trying "to predict the weather."

One concern both the NHLPA and agents shared Thursday was the potential for NHL teams to bury some players in the minor leagues over the next few years in order to alleviate cap issues. Neither the union nor player agents like that idea at all. Unfortunately, there's nothing in the CBA that prohibits it unless the player in question has a no-movement clause.

Overall, the six hours were described as a good exchange of information from some of the game's big power brokers.

"The NHLPA is very organized. Its staff has grown in leaps and bounds over the last year and that can only lead to productive things for the players and the game," Morris said. "They're certainly more inclusive of our role, they know what we can do and how we can help. That's a good partnership going forward."