Editor's note: Our weekly "Faceoff" features ESPN.com NHL writers Scott Burnside (based in Atlanta) and Pierre LeBrun (based in Toronto), who duke it out over any given hockey topic. Let the games begin!
This week's topic: Where will free agent Mats Sundin land?
Scott Burnside: Hello, Pierre. How was your extended stay in Florida? I rarely get snowed out of Atlanta, which is something I could never be sure of in Toronto. Oh well, there are worse places to be stranded. And there's lots going on for us to kick around, no? We even had a Sean Avery-Mats Sundin tie-in that we were chasing around: the possibility that the Rangers will try to make cap room for Sundin by dealing Michal Rozsival to Dallas in exchange for Avery, whom they would send to their AHL team in Hartford. We both talked to sources who didn't think the likelihood of such a deal was all that great, but I think it's going to be fascinating watching teams trying to make room for Sundin in the coming days.
Pierre LeBrun: I did indeed manage to survive one more night in Florida. Even met a guy from New Zealand last night who insists he's a huge hockey fan. Go figure. And he did ask me about Avery. That was an interesting rumor floating around yesterday involving the Rangers, but at this point it's very much a rumor. It's not surprising to see New York involved in gossip involving Avery given how well he played for the Rangers last season. I suspect if Avery ever went on re-entry waivers, Rangers GM Glen Sather might think long and hard about what to do. At $2 million a year, Avery might be worth the risk.
Burnside: That might be Plan D for the Rangers, as I get the impression they're ready to make a good, hard run at Sundin in the coming days -- if they can find the cap room. They definitely look like they're missing an ingredient if they're going to try to get beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Sundin would look good in Rangers blue. But I think a lot of teams think that way, too. Do you think there's a team that'll jump out of nowhere to make a play, or will it ultimately end up being one of the teams whose names we've been kicking around for weeks: Chicago, Montreal, Vancouver, Philadelphia?
LeBrun: It is interesting that Sundin will be in New York this weekend for a poker event and is scheduled to meet with Sather. Imagine the forward duos coach Tom Renney would have on his hands: Sundin and fellow Swede Markus Naslund; Chris Drury with Scott Gomez; Nikolai Zherdev with Brandon Dubinsky. Now you're talking. But they need to clear up some cap space ASAP. Vancouver is a team without any cap issues, which continues to make the Canucks an obvious option for Sundin. Their $10 million-a-year offer remains on the table, and again this week in West Palm Beach, at the NHL's board of governors meeting, Canucks GM Mike Gillis reiterated his keen interest in signing the big Swede. The Canadiens, Blackhawks and Flyers all would have to move considerable salary to get in on the action, which isn't to say they can't.
Burnside: It's funny that we always talk about how hard it is to make trades in the new NHL because of the cap situation. Well, unless it's Vancouver, because the team can simply write a check, we may be looking at a blockbuster of sorts for any team hoping to land Sundin's services. If you're talking Chicago, obviously GM Dale Tallon would be looking at moving Nikolai Khabibulin or Martin Havlat; the Habs would have a more pressing issue given the number of potential unrestricted free agents they have in their lineup. Do you see them moving Alexei Kovalev to make room? The Flyers could move Mike Knuble and maybe one of their young defensemen once they get healthy, but if I'm Paul Holmgren (and I've never pretended to be), I'd be worried about upsetting the chemistry in the room. Indeed, I would think that's an issue for all teams looking to get in on the Sundin sweepstakes, no?
LeBrun: I don't think it's as big an issue as you do. Sundin has a track record of being a tremendous team guy in Toronto. I've never heard one single negative thing about him from a former teammate. I think he could fit in nicely anywhere, although I will tell you of one NHL GM whose team decided not to enter the fray on Sundin precisely for that reason. He likes what he has and doesn't want to mess with it. What could also be interesting, though, Scotty, is not only the moves one of these teams may have to make to sign Sundin, but what kind of moves end up being made by the teams that miss out on Sundin. Perhaps that's when Michael Nylander finds a home, or Brendan Shanahan?
Burnside: Yes, there's definitely a ripple effect that could result from Sundin finally making a decision. I didn't mean to suggest Sundin was a difficult fit in the dressing room, but rather that sometimes plunking an A-list player into a lineup ruffles feathers. It sure means guys who were getting top-six minutes and power-play time will be pushed down the ladder, and that sometimes leads to hard feelings. And you're right: If Sundin ends up somewhere other than New York, do the Rangers take another look at Shanahan? Do the Flyers? I also wanted to ask you about the board of governors meetings and whether you got the sense that teams are really going to change their attitude when it comes to free agency, especially as it relates to length of contract. Have we seen the end of the monster multiyear deals that have marked the league since the end of the lockout?
LeBrun: Shanahan, we were told yesterday, has drawn interest from three or four teams, including the Flyers, but they're all in wait-and-see mode right now given their cap problems. Another guy to remember is Peter Forsberg. I was told yesterday that he still wants to play, although he has yet to find a solution to his ankle and foot problems. If he does, I would expect the Flyers, Blackhawks and Canucks to be among the teams that might take a look at him if they strike out on Sundin. But that's a big if right now -- Foppa simply isn't healthy. And, yes, to answer your last question, a number of the team executives I spoke to this week believed they would be more conscientious about long-term deals. Although as Wings GM Ken Holland said -- and without using his name, it was obvious he was referring to [Henrik] Zetterberg -- he has no problem still doling out long-term deals to core star players as long as the cap number is OK. Still, commissioner Gary Bettman repeatedly mentioned during his media scrum with us that he'd be a big proponent of short-term deals.
Burnside: I think one of the interesting things to watch as we consider where Mr. Sundin and others might land is the role of teams that have cap space they'd be willing to rent, in exchange for prospects or picks. Toronto and Los Angeles both have tons of cap room and each could be a landing place for unwanted salary, and either might be willing to take that on for a pick or two. Wouldn't that be ironic: the Leafs taking on a guy like Rozsival or Knuble so that another team could sign their former captain? Oh, the irony.
LeBrun: Your theory is not unprecedented. Last season I was told the New York Islanders were willing to take one Bryan McCabe only if the Toronto Maple Leafs also threw their first-round pick into the deal. Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher quickly hung up the phone. But the point is, Islanders GM Garth Snow, following your theory, believed that helping the Leafs create cap room should come at a price. I think cap management will be bigger than ever given that it appears more than likely the salary cap should go down for the 2010-11 season.
Burnside: OK, one last thing before you pack up for the Great White North: Where does Sundin land? By next week, you and I likely will be debating his impact on Team A and the ripple effect his move has on the rest of the league. What jersey will he be in? I will start (and thus ruin your chances) by saying I think Sundin is Broadway-bound. You?
LeBrun: Well, you picked the team I was leaning toward. I'll take the Canucks. I know he's already got enough money to challenge IKEA in his home country, but that's still a tremendously generous offer from Vancouver. In my heart, however, I would love to see the Blackhawks get him. The rising stars in the Windy City adding a veteran superstar like Sundin? And just in time for the Winter Classic? Now that's a story. OK, I'm off to the airport Scotty. Talk to you again in seven days, mon ami.
Burnside: Au revoir, my friend. (That's "goodbye," in case your French is rusty after spending all that time in Florida.) Until next week.
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.