Biggest bang in Raleigh? 'Canes trade up

Updated: June 26, 2004, 8:13 PM ET
By Tom Wheatley | Special to ESPN.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It may have been the dullest draft day in recent memory.

No major surprises on the selection front.

Only one major name changed teams, with Ottawa center Radek Bonk being fast-forwarded twice in a matter of minutes in the third and final round.

Ottawa sent Bonk, a 12-goal scorer, to Los Angeles for a third-round pick, 77th overall. Los Angeles then repackaged Bonk with goalie Cristobal Huet and flipped them to Montreal for goalie Mathieu Garon and a third-rounder, 95th overall.

Also on Saturday, Anaheim sent Niclas Havelid to Atlanta for fellow defenseman Kurtis Foster, but that was a pre-draft deal not revealed until the end of business.

The only other veteran to move was Edmonton's Jason Chimera, who went with a third-round pick to Phoenix for a second-rounder and a fourth-rounder.

The day's biggest bang came early, when NHL czar Gary Bettman announced that Columbus had dealt the fourth overall pick.

Even on Tobacco Road, hockey fans are swap happy. The throng of 14,862 -- which shrugged off a driving rain to rival the turnout for a Hurricanes game -- roared before hearing the terms of the deal.

Bettman picked up on that thirst for action with a deft ad-lib.

"Actually," said the commissioner, "you're going to like this one!"

The fans quickly picked up the hint, sensed a Carolina connection and roared louder.

When Bettman announced that Carolina did in fact land the pick, the crowd cranked up the decibel level, almost muffling the news the 'Canes had surrendered the No. 8 and No. 59 picks to Columbus.

The home team then chose Andrew Ladd, a high scoring left winger from the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.

Other than another "standing o" for Phoenix co-owner and living legend Wayne Gretzky, who took the microphone to reveal his team's first pick, that was it for buzz in the building.

Other than several pick-for-pick deals, why so quiet?

It's as simple as as ABC. Or CBA, to be exact.

As in the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players union.

This CBA expires Sept. 15, and the owners are threatening to lock out the players if a new deal is not in place for next season.

Meanwhile, hunting season for free agents will begin as usual on July 1.

The owners say the new CBA must have a lid on payrolls, so most teams are not looking to add pricier veterans in trade. Especially when teams can't afford to sign many of their own unrestricted free agents -- including restricted free agents who will be freed when their old teams choose not to make a pricey qualifying offer.

"A lot of teams want to see who gets qualified," said Calgary GM/coach Darryl Sutter. "You can do somebody else's work for them -- negotiate down and then trade them, rather than give up a 'future' today in a trade."

When the system is in flux, it makes for a dead draft day.

As Dale Tallon, Chicago's assistant general manager, said: "What it is, is probably the uncertainty."

So mum's the trade word, although few NHL execs want to elaborate on the obvious.

"Nobody's talking specifically about money," said Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe. "I was phoning, but everybody just wants to sit back and see what happens."

"I definitely think it's the uncertainty," said Washington GM George McPhee, who dismantled his overpaid, underachieving roster in midseason. "I just spent a year trying to move players. It's hard.

"I think there'll be opportunities in the future. But I think people are saying, 'Let's get this thing done today, and let the league and the union work out the agreement.' "

Toronto GM John Ferguson Jr. pooh-poohed the CBA angle.

"I didn't get that sense," said Ferguson, running his first draft table. "Then again, we didn't pick till the third round. We didn't have many chips on the table. The shell game wasn't coming our way. Nothing made sense for us today."

The day was quiet for other reasons, as well.

The closest thing to a buzz in Raleigh was the growling about hotel accommodations. The scattered setup was not the best set for a Let's Make A Deal production.

"We're so segmented," said Tallon. "The teams are not all in the same buildings or hotels, so there's not a lot of conversation going on."

And another veteran exec grumped that, "This is the worst place you could ever have it. We don't even have a sign up in our hotel that says the draft is here this weekend."

That's a problem for the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, which hopes to lure the NHL All-Star Game here one day soon.

Aside from the common problem of location, location, location, the 30 teams have their own internal situations to address here this weekend.

"We have nobody left to trade," Tallon cracked. "We traded them all last year."

In return, the Blackhawks got piles of draft picks, which copped the team's full attention on Saturday.

"We focused on skill and character and more character," Tallon said.

Chicago isn't the only team trying to get younger and cheaper. Or the only team to figure out that the best way to do that is to hoard those draft chips.

"I think teams have been drafting pretty well in the later rounds the last few years," Lowe said. "And they want to save their own prospects."

Nashville GM David Poile, who runs one of the NHL's thriftiest operations, was simply sticking to the plan for his 6-year-old club.

"We've got a lot of young players," Poile said. "We want to make sure we take care of them and our core players now.

"We'll figure out the future when it comes."

Tom Wheatley is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He is the co-author of "Bob Plager's Tales from the Blues Bench" and "The Memoirs of Bing Devine," both from Sports Publishing LLC.

ALSO SEE