Deals, not picks, the hot topic night before NHL draft
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- More muttering and whispering than news on the day before the NHL's annual entry draft, the first round of which goes in prime time here Friday night. Still, the talk suggests Friday could be a busy day. Here's a look at the buzz around Columbus.
Jiggy stays home
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks announced late Thursday afternoon they had signed Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a four-year, $24-million deal ($6 million per year). Giguere, the 13th overall pick in the 1995 draft and the MVP of the 2003 playoffs, had publicly expressed his desire to remain in Anaheim during the Stanley Cup finals.
The move stabilizes the Ducks' goaltending picture for the foreseeable future and it also eliminates the only elite netminder from the free-agent market. This will be good news for Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough, who is trying to peddle backup netminder Manny Fernandez, and Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, who would like to unload expensive backup Martin Gerber.
"My intention is not to splash, but make the team better going forward, and whether that be through the draft or some little tinkering trade, we'll have to see," Murray said in general about the potential to make a move this weekend. "There's nothing imminent right now, but I've had quite a number of conversations."
Senator on the move
Murray acknowledged Thursday he has had "a couple of teams inquire" about the availability of defenseman Wade Redden. There has been much speculation on Redden's future with the club given his uneven performance through much of the playoffs and the fact he could become an unrestricted free agent after next season.
Redden has a no-trade clause in his contract, and the fact he will make $6.5 million this season is also an inhibiting factor in moving the blue-liner. Edmonton, in dire need of defensive help, continues to be a rumored destination for the Saskatchewan-born Redden.
"There's nothing at this point in time that we're talking about. He has a no-trade clause and I haven't talked to him or his agent. I've had a couple of teams inquire, but that's where it ended at this point," Murray said.
As for hiring his replacement as coach, Murray said he's talked to "a couple of guys over the phone, but over the next day or two, I hope I can sit down with one or two and discuss the job."
Forsberg still in limbo
Of the handful of elite centers who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents July 1, one of the most interesting is Peter Forsberg. The oft-injured veteran had 55 points in 57 games with Philadelphia and Nashville last season, but a chronic foot problem limited his playing time and effectiveness.
A source familiar with the Forsberg situation said the talented center is back in Sweden and is still searching for answers to the problem. If Forsberg is confident he can play without pain and return to his normally high standard of play, he will almost certainly return to the NHL. If not, there remains the belief he will hang up the blades for good.
Those answers won't be known until after July 1, which suggests Forsberg will not be in play early in the free-agency period, assuming he's in play at all.
Blackhawks on track?
The beleaguered Original Six franchise was originally expecting a few hundred people to show up to a pre-draft party outside the United Center in Chicago. But the number of expected party-goers has risen in recent days to an excess of 3,500 and the party will be moved indoors where the Blackhawks' top pick will be featured in a satellite interview shown on the arena's main scoreboard.
The Blackhawks have the first overall pick in the draft for the first time in team history.
GM Dale Tallon said Thursday he's had lots of GMs kicking the tires to see if the team might be willing to deal the No. 1 pick. But unless the deal is overwhelming and includes significant futures, Tallon will stick with the pick. It's believed the Hawks have targeted London Knights forward Patrick Kane.
If Kane, a native of Buffalo, goes No. 1 and the Philadelphia Flyers follow with James vanRiemsdyk of Middleton, N.J., it would mark the first time American-born players were selected 1-2 in the draft. If that history is made, it would be yet another indication of the depth of young talent in the United States. A year ago, a record 10 American-born players were selected in the first round, the most in the history of the draft.
Even before he was officially bought out by the New York Islanders, enigmatic Russian star Alexei Yashin and his agents had been given permission by the Isles to contact other teams about signing a new deal.
Because his contract has been bought out, he is effectively a free agent now as opposed to having to wait until July 1 to negotiate with NHL clubs. Still, it's believed most GMs will wait on Yashin until they see what the market is for higher-profile centers Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Daniel Briere.
What makes Yashin attractive to some GMs is he seems prepared to accept a supporting role as a second-line center (he had a strong start under coach Ted Nolan but tailed off after a midseason injury). The question will be in establishing value for a player who has long had the reputation as someone who fades when the going gets tough. If GMs think they're going to get Yashin on the cheap because he's been bought out, they might be in for a rude surprise. Might Russia be beckoning?
I'd rather play with him than me
There are always interesting familial ties at every draft and this year is no different. Brandon Sutter, son of former NHLer Brent Sutter, is expected to go late in the first round, and Maxime Tanguay, little brother of Calgary forward Alex Tanguay, is expected to go in the second or third round. But one of the most interesting is Sam Gagner, son of longtime NHLer Dave Gagner, who is expected to be selected anywhere between sixth and 12th.
"I'd rather play with him than me," Gagner joked.
Gagner recalled his own draft weekend in Montreal in 1983 (all drafts were held in Montreal at that time). The then-sad New York Rangers selected him 12th overall and later asked for his sweater back so they could put it on the team's second-round pick.
"It was the best day of my life, but it was also disappointing in some respects," Gagner recalled.
Leap of faith
It used to be that players hit the contract jackpot after they'd proven something in the NHL. Now, NHL GMs are rewarding players based on what they might prove down the road.
That's the prevailing thought process behind the Flyers' controversial six-year, $25.2-million contract given to former Nashville Predator Scott Hartnell earlier this week and Thursday's six-year, $24-million contract signed by Florida Panthers forward Nathan Horton.
Hartnell has never scored more than 25 goals in a single season, but the Flyers believe he will evolve into a consistent 25-30 goal scorer and solid two-way player for a team trying to quickly revive itself after a disastrous 2006-07 season.
Horton, the third overall pick in the 2003 draft, had a career-best 31 goals this past season following up a 28-goal campaign a year earlier. If his evolution continues, the $4-million annual cap hit will look like a bargain by the end of the deal for the Panthers. "If" being the operative word.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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