CBA uncertainty could lead to surprisingly quiet trade deadline
Posted: Tuesday February 24, 2004 11:40PM; Updated: Wednesday February 25, 2004 2:01AM
The NHL trade deadline is two weeks away, but due to next summer's impending labor uncertainty, the final fortnight of finagling could be more conservative than we're accustomed to.
Several big names are still being dangled, led by Sergei Gonchar, but teams are playing it close to the vest because they are uncertain what the financial future holds under a new collective bargaining agreement.
NHL teams don't want to pick up players who have significant salary commitments beyond this season, so unrestricted free agents will be the prime targets, as usual.
Big names like Sean Burke, Peter Bondra, Mike Comrie (twice), Jaromir Jagr, Danny Markov, Steve Sullivan, Darryl Sydor and Alexei Zhamnov have already changed addresses, so for the most part we will probably witness more subtle hole-filling by teams before the March 9 trade deadline.
The Gonchar Derby remains the most closely followed of the rumored big deals, with the Avs, Devils, Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Stars apparently clamoring for his services.
The Leafs continue to be the most likely destination for Gonchar, largely because he's said he would like to end up in Toronto, where he trains in the offseason. But the Leafs would have to part with prospect Carlo Colaiacovo and a young forward like Matt Stajan, Nik Antropov or Alex Ponikarovsky. If Toronto also wants to get Olaf Kolzig thrown into the deal to replace the struggling Trevor Kidd as Ed Belfour's backup, then Mikael Tellqvist would surely have to go to D.C.
The Capitals will also probably deal Kolzig, but they are likely to keep Robert Lang as the one veteran around whom they can build.
Among other teams in the midst of the trade maelstrom, Pierre Lacroix and the Colorado Avalanche normally lead the way with at least one shock-value trade. But having already acquired Bob Boughner from the Hurricanes and Kurt Sauer from the Mighty Ducks, the Avs appear to have eschewed the one blockbuster deal they usually make in favor of more subtle roster tweaks. Unrestricted free-agent-to-be Boughner will probably follow Bryan Marchment and Darius Kasparaitis as short-term rentals for Colorado, but the Avs will be happy to have the Boughie Man's rough, nasty attitude for the duration of the season.
Detroit is less inclined to make a deal with Derian Hatcher set to return soon. The Red Wings will treat Hatcher's return as if it were a deadline deal, with the hulking blueliner likely to start rounding into form just as the regular season wraps up. Detroit could be scary if Hatcher can return to his normal physical game without playing gingerly on his knee.
Tampa Bay still hopes to acquire a top six forward, having already filled its other major need be getting Darryl Sydor from the Blue Jackets on Jan. 27. Jeff O'Neill would be a great fit with the Lightning, but Tampa Bay doesn't want to give up 2000 first-round pick Nikita Alexeev, having already surrendered 2001 first-rounder Alexander Svitov to Columbus for Sydor.
Other players who could be calling the moving van in the next two weeks include Bryan Berard, Martin Biron, Rod Brind'Amour, Andrew Cassels, Manny Fernandez, Chris Gratton, Roman Hamrlik, Frantisek Kaberle, Alexei Kovalev, Viktor Kozlov, Brian Leetch, Shawn McEachern, Tom Poti, Geoff Sanderson, Ryan Smyth, Jaroslav Spacek and Brendan Witt.
Other quick thoughts from around the league:
Bobby Francis' firing in Phoenix would appear to pave the way for the Coyotes to bring in Marty McSorley as their head coach next season -- even though McSorley's 53-66-14-3 record in two seasons as head coach of the AHL Springfield Falcons will surely lead some to question Wayne Gretzky's continued cronyism.
The canning of Joel Quenneville by the Blues was more of a surprise, though it can hardly be called unexpected since St. Louis is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1979. After a torrid 20-6-3-1 start, the Blues have gone just 9-14-4-1 over the past two months, and the final straw for Quenneville was a 3-2 overtime loss to archrival Chicago on Sunday. Quenneville won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's coach of the year in 1999-2000 and won 40 or more games in five of his six full seasons with the Blues, but his sacking proves how much being an NHL head coach is a "What have you done for me lately?" business.
Jeff O'Neill's hissy fit about lbeing eft off Canada's initial 54-man list has paid off. Hockey Canada added O'Neill to its list of players being considered for the 2004 World Cup team Tuesday, bringing the number to 56. Red Wings grinder Kris Draper was added as the 55th player last week. This move may appease O'Neill in the short-term and get him to quit his whining, but he stands no chance of making the final roster. Gretzky and the Team Canada brass will reward players who have been loyal to Hockey Canada over the years, and O'Neill has turned down five invitations to play in the World Championships and he hasn't played for Canada since the World Juniors 10 years ago. That, combined with his disappointing 11-goal season and surly attitude, will most likely make him among the first player cut from the list.
The notion that Phil Sauve is struggling is for the most part a fallacy. Sure, David Aebischer's backup got off to a slow start with a 1-4-1 record in his first six games, but he went 6-0-2 in his next eight before getting rocked by the Oilers for four goals on Feb. 18. For the season, Sauve is 7-5-3 with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage, numbers that were hurt by his slow start. Grant Fuhr just made the Hall of Fame after playing on a team that outscored its opponents on most nights, so it's much too soon to give up on Sauve as a top-notch netminder for the future.
Blue Jackets rookie right wing Nikolai Zherdev will have his arbitration hearing in Zurich, Switzerland, on Thursday and Friday, missing Columbus' next three games in order to be present. Blue Jackets assistant GM Jim Clark and representatives from the NHL will be present at the hearing, which will determine if Zherdev still has a military obligation to the Russian Army. Zherdev joined the Jackets on Dec. 2 after starting the season with CSKA of the Russian Elite League. The flashy rookie has six goals and 10 assists in 39 games, and scored one goal and one assist in the YoungStars Game during All-Star Weekend.
And now on to your questions ...
Who would you say are the five to 10 teams most likely to win the Stanley Cup? Personally, I can only see four from the East and three from the West that I think have a legitimate shot. -- Adam, Montreal
I would agree with you that there are four from the East and three from the West, though without you telling me who your picks were, I'm not sure if we're thinking along the same lines.
In the East I think New Jersey, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto have the best shots, while the Western teams that look Cup worthy are Colorado, Detroit and Dallas.
This is meant as no disrespect to a quality team like San Jose, which actually has a six-point lead on the Stars in the Pacific Division. I admire the coaching job that Ron Wilson has done and the shrewd moves that general manager Doug Wilson has made. They are two of my favorite people in the NHL and you can't help but root for them to succeed. But the Stars' experience and ability to ride a hot goaltender like Marty Turco makes them a more likely pick to do some serious damage in the playoffs in my mind.
Among Eastern teams left out, both the Flyers and Bruins have solid lineups, but Andrew Raycroft is the likely Calder Trophy winner. Still, rookie goaltenders in the postseason don't have the best track record. In Philadelphia, Sean Burke's skittishness has the Flyers hoping that Robert Esche can regain his form quickly upon returning from his sprained left MCL.
It's certainly not just a seven-team race, but with 5 1/2 weeks left in the regular season, I'd be willing to wager that the Stanley Cup champion will emerge from that group.
The unbelievable drop in scoring in the NHL this season is not good for the game. It looks like the clutch and grab is back. Referees came down hard on holding and obstruction early in the season, but then let it get out of control. Will anyone get 100 points this year? -- Engin Suvak, Uniondale, N.Y.
Unless Lang, Martin St. Louis or Markus Naslund goes on a hot streak in the final 5 1/2 weeks, it's unlikely anyone will reach 100 points this season. Lang has 73 points in 62 games, putting him on pace for 96. St. Louis has 71 in 61 and is on pace for 95, and Naslund is on pace for 91. The drop is scoring is a big concern and that is what directly led to many of the suggested rules changes by NHL general managers at their post-All-Star Game meetings in Henderson, Nev.
There is still some confusion among my fellow hockey fans and myself as to what is an interference penalty in the NHL. Any clarification would be greatly appreciated. -- Phil Hartman, Pueblo, Colo.
Let me just say that NHL supervisor of officials Andy Van Hellemond and his staff of 46 referees and 37 linesmen could use some clarification, too. The description of Rule 67 in the NHL's 2003-04 rulebook starts by saying, "A strict standard of interference must be adhered to in all areas of the rink, with emphasis on interference in the neutral zone."
All 46 referees must have been missing those four pages from the books they received. The enforcement of this rule from game to game is more subjective than any other in the NHL, and the much talked about obstruction crackdown at the beginning of the 2002-03 season turned out to be a fallacy.
Who besides Pat Verbeek has scored 500 goals in the NHL and is not in the Hall of Fame? -- Mike Kelly, Ramsey, N.J.
Other than the active players who have scored more than 500 goals (Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille, Dave Andreychuk, Ron Francis, Brendan Shanahan, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Sakic and Jaromir Jagr), Dino Ciccarelli (608) and Verbeek (522) are the only retired players with more than 500 goals who aren't in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Verbeek will become eligible in 2007, but I would put the odds of him getting elected at less than 50-50. Ten of the 11 active players mentioned are likely to get in, with Andreychuk being the only borderline case. It's a shame that Andreychuk is likely to be punished for being such a power-play specialist, but the general sentiment is that he may need another 20-goal season after this one to really solidify his spot in the Hall.
Among active players closing in on 500 goals, Pierre Turgeon is at 489, but he would be a longshot even if he squeezes out 11 more in his rapidly declining career. Jeremy Roenick is at 474 and would be a good bet if he can overcome his current concussion troubles. Peter Bondra is at 473 and is a borderline case like Andreychuk. Alexander Mogilny is at 458 and is likely to be rewarded for being one of the pioneering Russian defectors in the NHL. Mike Modano is at 456 and is a lock because of his importance to American hockey. And Mats Sundin is at 456 and is a good bet based on his consistency and having captained the Maple Leafs for the better part of a decade.
How long can the Kings keep holding on with the huge number of injuries they are experiencing? -- Andreas Essex, Stockholm
As long as Andy Murray is behind the Kings' bench, they will have a shot at the playoffs. No coach in the game motivates his players better and keeps them more focused on the task at hand. Murray has a gift at being able to identify one facet of a game plan to focus on, and then getting his team to work hard on that particular point of emphasis for 60 minutes. The Kings have overcome another record season of injuries to key players, and for that alone Murray has to be considered among the favorites for the Jack Adams.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.