Capitals earning plenty of interest

Updated: March 2, 2004, 3:13 PM ET
By Al Morganti | Special to ESPN.com

There's no truth to the rumor that instead of being greeted by "You've got mail" when they log onto AOL, Washington Capitals players are greeted by "You've been traded."

Although three of them -- Sergei Gonchar, Olaf Kolzig and possibly Brendan Witt -- may get that message before March 9, but it depends on a few factors.

First, there is the Colorado Avalanche's belief in goalie David Aebischer. Management and staff have been professing that the Swiss goalie can win in the playoffs. Though he's posted a 1.81 GAA and a .927 save percentage since the All-Star Game, he's just 3-4-1, which speaks more to his team's inability to score (they've been shut out three times in their last eight games). Still, if Aebischer carries the No. 1 label into the postseason, the Avalanche don't have any insurance should he falter.

Therefore, watch for the Avalanche to have some real interest in Kolzig. The bizarre twist here might be a decision to at least check out the possibility of Arturs Irbe, the Carolina Hurricanes goalie who had been banished to the minor leagues most of the season, but is back and could be a capable backup. In any event, the Avalanche will have a tough decision to make in goal.

The Avalanche are also in search of another center, so don't be surprised if they ask about Phoenix Coyotes pivot Chris Gratton. At last season's deadline, the Avalanche were undecided between Gratton and Bates Battaglia, and wound up trading for Battaglia, who they've since traded to the Capitals for former captain Steve Konowalchuk.

Then, there is the matter of New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, who is expected to be offered around the league. Let's say the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs get Leetch. In that case, there could be a trade deadline day showdown for Gonchar that could include the New Jersey Devils and whoever didn't get Leetch.

A lot of teams have shown interest in Witt, a physical, stay-at-home defenseman. But as the only one of his kind on the market, the Capitals likely won't part with him unless they receive an offer they can't refuse.

Short shifts

  • Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning are very much interested in getting Vaclav Prospal back from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Problem is, Tampa management really likes the chemistry of its team and doesn't want to take on a player who doesn't fit its style of play or style of management and coaching. But the Lightning know Prospal, who thrived in Tampa Bay until he left for Anaheim last summer. Knowing they have a very real shot to shake up the East in the playoffs, the Bolts could be willing to give up more futures than one might expect to get Prospal back -- as long as they don't have to write too big a check to the Ducks.

  • The biggest additions around the trade deadline are likely to be players returning to their own rosters.

    In Los Angeles, the return of center Martin Straka and defenseman Aaron Miller will have a bigger impact than any trade the team could engineer. On Long Island, the return of center Alexei Yashin (arm surgery) will have the same result. In Philly, Keith Primeau is on the road to recovery from a concussion, while Jeremy Roenick has not ruled out the chance he could be back from a concussion and broken jaw in time for some playoff action.

    And then there is the return of defenseman Derian Hatcher to Detroit. So, as they get healthier and stronger with additions such as Robert Lang and Hatcher, don't be surprised if the Red Wings fly to the Stanley Cup with Dominik Hasek sitting home and Manny Legace in goal.

  • Two season-deciding losses to the New York Islanders during the last two weeks are likely to spell the doom of Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier.

    Being a GM during an ownership change is always a tenuous existence, moreso when the team doesn't make the playoffs. And Regier, who is among the most patient of NHL GMs, didn't alter his team in an effort to earn a spot.

    To be fair, the team was playing well until it fell to the Islanders, and during his tenure he's be handcuffed by financial hardships. Still, for the last few seasons, Regier has had a strong hand to play with three young goalies -- Martin Biron, Mika Noronen and Ryan Miller -- but he stood pat instead. The last order of business that might save Regier could be trading Miroslav Satan at the deadline and re-defining the chemistry in the Sabres' locker room. He has made some sweet deals for the Sabres, but with new ownership there is not any loyalty to the past.

  • Will Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey finally make a deal? Gainey, who has kept a low league-wide profile since he was hired as GM last June, has acknowledged in the past that his team needs size up front.

    Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN. Click here to send Al a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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