Now that Sundin has a new home, which players will move next?
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: Now that the Mats Sundin saga is over, who will be the next most-sought-after players before the March 4 trade deadline?[+] EnlargeScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesMarian Gaborik returned to action Wednesday after missing time with a "lower-body injury."
Scott Burnside: Hello, Pierre. Ca vas? That's French for "How are you?" Are you excited about the NHL's holiday roster freeze that takes place Friday night? Seriously, though, do you think when the freeze ends at midnight Dec. 27 we'll start to see some movement? Everyone is waiting with bated breath for GM Brian Burke to make his first move in Toronto. Do you think we'll see some shifting of personnel, or will it be closer to the March 4 trade deadline before things start to shake loose?
Pierre LeBrun: I know Burke is taking a lot of calls from fellow GMs. I'd be surprised if his first move wasn't to add more toughness to his lineup, whether it's a legitimate heavyweight or just a gritty third- or fourth-liner. But aside from that, I still think the majority of the trades will be closer to the March 4 deadline. That's what's happened since the lockout because of the salary cap. The later the moves, the easier it is to absorb the cap hit. Having said that, now that the Sundin saga is over, all those other teams that were eyeing him might have to move to Plan B. Like maybe Chicago and Michael Nylander?
Burnside: I was reading with interest the game story from The Los Angeles Times after the Kings lost to the Rangers in a shootout, and how the thing that is really holding the Kings back is the lack of consistent goaltending. Erik Ersberg is out and Jason LaBarbera hasn't shown he's an NHL starter, so maybe the long-awaited move of Nikolai Khabibulin out of Chicago could happen after the roster freeze. And that would pave the way for Nylander's return to Chicago.
LeBrun: It wouldn't surprise me if the Kings made a move for Khabibulin, or at least inquired. Pure speculation on my part, but I just think the Kings have surprised so far this season with a nice-looking young core that is emerging. But they're not very good in goal. Given all the cap room the Kings have, GM Dean Lombardi could possibly send a positive message to his young players by adding Khabibulin for the short term. It would tell them he believes in them and their hard work matters. But that's just me.
The other goalie I wonder who might move before March 4 is Olaf Kolzig in Tampa. I know the Lightning have had calls on him this season, and so far, the Bolts have told teams they want to keep the veteran backup. But I think as it becomes more obvious they're going to miss the playoffs and need to look forward, they might as well see what's out there for him.
Burnside: How about the dilemma facing Jacques Martin in Florida? Jay Bouwmeester is their best skater (netminder Craig Anderson is by far their MVP), but he's also going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. And barring some sort of miracle, he will be looking to play in a market where fans can tell the difference between a puck and a piece of blackened tuna. But the Panthers are in 10th in the Eastern Conference, just two points out of eighth. What's a GM to do? Bouwmeester is the real deal even if he is, well, kind of boring. Got to be a lot of teams lining up to take a shot at him before March 4. Maybe Edmonton, Bouwmeester's home town? How about Burke's Leafs?
LeBrun: That's a tough one for sure in Florida. Reminds me of Atlanta and Marian Hossa last season. At one point last season, the Thrashers still had a shot at a playoff spot, and yet it was clear Hossa was not going to re-sign. I think it greatly affected the team in terms of being a distraction. In the end, GM Don Waddell made the right call to trade him. I think for the Panthers, they will move him regardless of where they are in the playoff hunt. That's just my gut feeling. I just don't think Jacques Martin could stomach losing him for nothing July 1. Having said that, Martin will definitely make a push to sign him next month. So we'll see where that goes. If he is traded, I think Philadelphia would definitely inquire, and possibly Montreal. The Habs' power play stinks, and Bouwmeester would be a great help.[+] EnlargeScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesIlya Kovalchuk can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2009-10 season.
Burnside: Montreal is interesting because they're still a team that could make noise in the playoffs once they get Mike Komisarek and Carey Price healthy, but you're right -- the power play, their staple the last couple of seasons, has been junk. And then there are the free agents GM Bob Gainey has to worry about. Aren't there eight potential UFAs? Could you see Gainey moving a couple of them to take a run at Bouwmeester if he thought he could get him to sign long-term? I know Waddell keeps saying he won't trade Ilya Kovalchuk, but the Thrashers aren't going to be anywhere near the playoffs again this season. Why not start the rebuild now, get another draft lottery pick and then a great package for Kovalchuk? What about Kovalchuk in Montreal? Or in Pittsburgh? Yikes.
LeBrun: I don't think the Habs will move any player that can help them this season. It's all about the short-term right now. The centennial anniversary has added extra pressure to win now. I don't blame Waddell one bit for not wanting to move Kovalchuk right now. He's not a UFA until July 2010. What's the rush? If you move him now, aren't you signing your own pink slip if you're Waddell, given the team has even less of a chance without that superstar in the lineup? If I'm Waddell, here's what I do: At the June draft in Montreal, you meet with Kovalchuk's agent and you tell him, "If we're not doing a contract extension right now past 2010, then I'm moving him this week here at the draft." He would still get a ton in return at that point, given that Kovalchuk still has a year left. But I keep him at least for this season and try and put butts in the seats at Philips Arena!
Burnside: Well, not to belabor the grisly situation in Atlanta, but the worst thing the Thrashers can do is mirror the Leafs, finish 11th or 12th and miss out on the really good players at the top of the draft. And I disagree; your package for Kovalchuk is going to be better in March than June, because he might be the guy to bring you a Cup. As for the notion that trading Kovalchuk is waving the white flag, that baby has been fluttering at half-empty Philips Arena all season. And don't worry about ticking off the fans -- they're all gone already.
Who else, before we bid adieu for the holiday roster freeze? What about Marian Gaborik, the erstwhile Minnesota Wild superstar who showed up Wednesday night and scored even though the Wild lost again? I figure, like Bouwmeester, Gaborik's a goner as soon as he puts together a decent stretch of play without getting hurt again. Interesting though, as the Wild have gone into a mini-free fall. So does GM Doug Risebrough try and get points with Gaborik in the lineup, or move him as quickly as possible so he doesn't become any more of a distraction than he's been all season?
LeBrun: If you're Risebrough, you check one last time with the agent, and when you know for sure he's not going to sign an extension, you definitely move him ASAP. But you're right -- first Gaborik needs a nice stretch where he produces some points and looks healthy. That'll drum up interest again. Not sure if the Wild would ever contemplate moving him within their own division (doubt it), but I think Vancouver loves the player. The Canucks may have to wait until July 1, however, to stake their claim. Here's the thing about Minnesota, though: The Wild aren't scoring goals. Risebrough has to make sure if he moves that asset, he gets some offense back in return, not just draft picks for the future. One last name before I let you go, you fiery redhead Jason Spezza?
Burnside: I know the natives are restless in Ottawa, with the Senators looking very much like a team that's going to miss the playoffs. And Spezza has become the favorite whipping boy. But what's wrong with that team? They can't score. So what, you trade your best center? Doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're thinking of rebuilding with some nice young talent, both up front and on the blue line. The reason Spezza's name comes up is that he has a no-trade deal that doesn't kick in until next summer. A GM told me he thought it would be a huge mistake to move him. But you can bet GM Mike Gillis in Vancouver would be interested if Spezza's in play. OK. Have a great holiday, my friend. See you in Chicago.
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com. Neither Scott nor Pierre are on the trade block.
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