- It's only fitting that the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals would go to a winner-take-all seventh game.
Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames have displayed tremendous determination in this series to stretch it to the distance. Both clubs found their gut check moments: the Flames in overtime in Game Five, the Lightning in double overtime in Game Six. Both rose to the occasion.
It's a shame that only one of these deserving clubs will win the Cup. Both have deserved to raise the big mug over their heads, but as the famous line in the movie "Highlander" goes, "there can be only one."
We'll find out on Monday night who that one will be.
- It would be tempting to suggest that midnight has finally struck on the Cinderella story that is the Calgary Flames. To have battled back from one-goal deficits in Game Six and to dominate the first overtime period, only to lose early in the second OT has to be a deflating experience for a team that appeared poise to win the championship on home ice.
But if this year's playoffs have taught us anything, it's that these Flames are a very resilient bunch. Remember, they faced a similar situation in Game Six in their opening round series against Vancouver, only to bounce back and win that series in overtime in the seventh game.
To write them off as a spent force now would be a big mistake.
- Speaking of resilient, the same can be said of the Lightning, who have yet to lose consecutive games in this year's playoffs.
The pressure facing the Bolts on Saturday was tremendous. Against a Cup-hungry Flames squad playing at home in front of over 20, 000 rabid Flames fans, the Lightning bowed at times but didn't break, especially in the first overtime where they weathered several lengthy stretches where the Flames dominated them in their own zone.
Before this year's playoffs, some critics said the Lightning were talented but lacked the character required to win it all.
Nobody's saying that about them now. Win or lose, the Bolts deserve respect.
- The Flames have a very poor record in this year's playoffs when Jarome Iginla is held off the board. I think they've won only twice whenever "Iggy" fails to generate a point.
A scoreless Iginla was once again a factor in a Flames playoff loss, as the Bolts shut down the Calgary captain in that crucial sixth game. He had nowhere near the scoring opportunities he had in Game Five, and if the Bolts hope to win the Stanley Cup, they must shut him down again in Game Seven.
Not an easy task, as Iginla has proven very capable of bouncing back from a scoreless game, especially when everything's on the line for his team.
- As this series heads toward it's final game, there must be some concern in the Lightning camp over the play of Vincent Lecavalier.
The Flames have shut down Lecavalier in this series, limiting him to just two assists, both of those coming in Game Two. Apart from his eye-popping scrap with Jarome Iginla in Game Three and Ville Nieminen face-planting him into the glass in Game Four, Lecavalier has been invisible in this series.
Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis have both stepped up when their club needed them and remain scoring threats every time they're on the ice, but Lecavalier seems to be playing the peripheral, scarcely garnering mention or notice when he's on the ice.
There's been suggestions he's playing hurt, that he may have sustained either a rib injury in his brawl with Iginla or a concussion after the Nieminen hit. His critics, who've been mostly silenced by his strong play prior to this series, are once again starting to question his heart.
Whatever the reason, Lecavalier will have to step it up when his team needs him most. His performance in Game Seven could decide the outcome of this series for the Lightning.
- So what tricks will Flames head coach Daryl Sutter pull out of his hat this time to focus his club on the next big game?
Sutter has stolen the spotlight in this series from the Lightning's flamboyent, loquacious bench boss John Tortorella. First came his low-key folksey joking style, a surprise to many reporters used to Sutter's more dour, monosyllabic press conferences. Then came his consipiracy theory comments about the league not wanting his club to succeed, which were designed to take the focus off his players to allow them to relax and prepare for the crucial fifth game.
Finally, he revealed after Game Five that he'd been focussing his players since February on breaking down the remaining regular season games into seven game increments, much like the Stanley Cup playoffs, in order to mentally prepare them for the tough slog of playoff rounds.
More than likely, he'll remind his troops that they've been here before, back in the opening round against the Canucks, and that they put disappointment behind them to win that series. Thus, they can do it again.
- Flames fans are likely chewing their fingernails down to the quick over the prospect of referee Kerry Fraser working Game Seven in Tampa Bay.
You'll recall Fraser was scheduled to work Game Six in Calgary, but the league rescheduled him to work the seventh game after Flames fans showered him with debris following Game Four, where a questionable early penalty call led to the Lightning scoring the game's only goal. To diffuse the situation, the league wisely decided to move Fraser to work Game Seven.
However, it's unfair to suggest that Fraser has it out for the Flames. The rest of that game was called rather well, and as one TV commentator noted, the Flames actually have a better winning record when Fraser works a game than they do under any other referee.
Although personally I can't stand Fraser, I won't call him biased, and certainly not against the Flames. The Flames lost Game Four because they couldn't beat Khabibulin in that game, not because of anything Fraser did to them.
If the Flames lose Game Seven, it'll be because the Lightning were the better team, not because Kerry Fraser had it out for them.
- Finally, it wasn't a goal, ok, disappointed Flames fans? The replays were inconclusive and the moment happened so quickly that even the Flames didn't ask for a video replay.
The league took a look at Martin Gelinas' near-gamewinning goal in the third period almost immediately after it happened, but the video replay was inconclusive.
You can bet, however, there will be some Flames fans pointing to that if their club loses Game Seven and the Stanley Cup to the Lightning as yet another example of the league screwing the underdogs.
But this isn't the infamous 1999 "No Goal" repeating itself, or poor replay work on the part of the league as was seen in the 2000 Sabres-Flyers series.
No one could conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt the puck crossed the line.
Close, but no cigar...
If there's a team in hockey right now that most deserved to win the Stanley Cup, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For years, they were the doormat of the NHL, a laughingstock of a franchise, awash in red ink, rudderless in the front office and behind the bench, a poster child for all that was wrong with the ill-conceived expansion of the league in the 1990s.
Since 2001-02, however, the Lightning turned themselves around, first by making marginal improvement in 2002, winning their division and advancing to the second round of the playoffs in 2003, and finally winning it all in 2004.
The rise of the Bolts was swift to the unobservent, but to those who followed the club since it's inception, and those like myself who first took a macabre interest in a franchise that seemed on the verge of collapse in the late 1990s, the Lightning's ascension to Stanley Cup champions was several years in the making.
It started when William Davidson first bought the team, bringing in hockey people like Rick Dudley and Steve Ludzik who'd successfully run his IHL franchise in Detroit.
Dudley and Ludzik would eventually be replaced, but Dudley would leave his mark on the franchise courtesy of the players he acquired via free agency (Martin St. Louis, Dave Andreychuk) and the trade market (Cory Sarich, Fredrik Modin and Nikolai Khabibulin). Dudley also brought in John Tortorella as head coach to replace Ludzik, a move that would also prove crucial in establishing the Bolts fast-paced, entertaining style.
Jay Feaster, hired as Dudley's replacement in 2001-02, raised eyebrows at the June 2002 draft when he traded away his first round pick (fourth overall) to Philadelphia for forward Ruslan Fedotenko. The Flyers selected Joni Pitkanen, and while this deal will probably work out in the long run in the Flyers favour, Fedotenko went on to become a crucial part of the Lightning's Cup run, even scoring the winning goal in their Cup-clinching seventh game.
Feaster, who was Davidson's right hand man during Dudley's final year as general manager, rejected Dudley's attempts to move promising forward 1998 first overall pick Vincent Lecavalier when he began feuding with Tortorella during the 2001-02 season.
It wouldn't be the first time Feaster would get between Lecavalier and Tortorella, but his insistence on smoothing the waters between those two went a long way toward building the Lightning into the champions they eventually became.
It sent a message that no one player was better than the team, regardless of the pedigree. It also sent a message to the coaching staff to improve the work relationship between the coach and his players. It sent a message that Feaster was committed to keeping as much of the team together as possible to allow it to grow.
Feaster resisted the temptation to deal away a promising young star for a quick fix package of veterans, which has too often been the downfall of building expansion clubs in the past.
Lecavalier wasn't drafted by Feaster nor for that matter was Brad Richards, Pavel Kubina, or Dmitry Afanasenkov. But Feaster knew what he had in these players, and knew Lecavalier, Richards, Kubina and the late developing Afanasenkov could form part of the foundation of a winner.
Feaster also helped put his stamp on the team with some savvy trades. When it became obvious he couldn't re-sign first line forward Vaclav Prospal after last season, he obtained veteran Cory Stillman from St. Louis, who became the club's second-leading regular season scorer after Martin St. Louis.
During the 2001-02 season, he stole Dan Boyle from the Florida Panthers in a move that provided the Bolts with the offensive blueliner they'd been lacking for years. In a less-heralded moved, he brought in gritty checker Chris Dingman from Carolina to add depth to his checking lines.
When it became obvious he needed both a capable backup for Khabibulin as well as a future starter for the day when "the 'Bulin Wall" may eventually depart, he landed John Grahame from the Boston Bruins. And when he needed blueline depth midway through the season, he parted with promising but tempermental young forward Alexander Svitov for the experienced Daryl Sydor.
But what truly brought this team together, what gave them pride in their logo and themselves, was Dave Andreychuk. It's no coincidence the Lightning improved with each passing season since he took over the captaincy.
Andreychuk won no Stanley Cups before this year, but he had the respect of his teammates. He was a longtime veteran of the playoff wars, and knew what it took to make the playoffs, and saw what it took during years of painful post-season frustration what it took by other clubs to go deep in the playoffs.
The Lightning built their club without throwing out huge wads of money for expensive free agents. They didn't toss away key parts of their future for quick fix trades. They did it through patience with their young stars, by smart management and strong coaching.
In short, the Lightning got to this point the old-fashioned way, the way winners used to be built.
And they're a team that's built for the long haul, provided of course they are able to keep them together, something that may not be an easy task.
The average age of their core players is 26, and they've yet to hit their prime. But if there is no "cost certainty" in the next CBA, it may be very difficult to retain Richards, Lecavalier, St. Louis and Modin down the road, since their value has gone up noticeably this year.
Khabibulin has only an option year remaining on his contract, and while the Bolts will no doubt pick it up, it's questionable if they'll be able to retain him beyond next season.
And what of Andreychuk? Having finally hoisted the Cup after 22 seasons, it may be time for him to go out on a high, like Lanny McDonald and Ray Bourque before him, and retire. But his absence could be a tough void to fill, considering how much he's meant to his young teammates.
The Lightning have formally announced they're the leading wave of the Young Turk teams that are bringing about a change in the NHL guard, but they're going to find that as tough a road as it was to get to the Stanley Cup, it's going to be just as tough to defend that title.
But those are issues to be addressed later. For now, the Lightning, particularly those who've been around since the horror show years of the late-1990s and the fans who've supported them since those days, have deservedly earned the Stanley Cup.
The changing of the NHL guard has begun.
- I tip my hat to the Tampa Bay Lightning for their amazing Stanley Cup victory, and to the Calgary Flames for pushing the Bolts to the full seven games.
The overall series was thrilling, but the first two periods of Game Seven was some of the worst playoff hockey I've seen in some time.
If it weren't for the Flames scoring a powerplay goal midway through the final frame to move to within a goal and making the game interesting, it would've been the dullest Game Seven of a Stanley Cup finals series I ever saw.
That award still goes to last year's Anaheim-New Jersey tilt, a series so dull that the only exciting memory was Paul Kariya's rebounding from a Scott Stevens hit to score in Game Six.
- The Stanley Cup Finals may not have been a ratings bonanza for ABC in the United States, but in Canada, the CBC experienced their highest ratings for the Cup Finals since 1994. Coincidentally, that was the last time a Canadian team made the Finals until the plucky Calgary Flames did it this season.
Prior to the series there were a few sour grapes comments by a couple of Toronto-area reporters who suggested Eastern Canadians probably wouldn't be that interested in a Finals involving a Western Conference Canadian club and would tune out Hockey Night in Canada.
Bang goes that theory.
-Speaking of the CBC, there's been rumblings for several weeks that Hockey Night in Canada might finally part ways with controversial intermission commentator Don Cherry.
Don't feel bad for Cherry if that does happens. TSN, Canada's equivilant of ESPN, and Rogers Sportsnet will engage in a fierce bidding war for his services if the CBC decides not to re-sign the popular, outspoken former Bruins coach.
- The number of pro hockey players from Canada's Atlantic provinces have been slowly increasing in recent seasons. That's due in no small part to the support of Junior A and B hockey in those provinces spawning dreams among young Atlantic Canadians that they too could one day make it to the NHL.
With PEI's Brad Richards winning the Conn Smythe as this year's playoff MVP, and Newfoundland's Michael Ryder a nominee for the Calder as this season's rookie of the Year, expect more kids from Canada's "down east" provinces to take to the ice with big league dreams dancing in their heads.
- Congrats to Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque and Larry Murphy for their well-deserved inductions into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
These three were, with Chris Chelios, consistently the best defencemen in the NHL during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Coffey and Bourque have to be ranked among the best ever.
- Speaking of the HHOF, why hasn't Butch Goring, Rick Middleton, and Dino Ciccarelli been inducted? Why are they continually passed over? What on earth did they do to piss off the HHOF committee?
No offence to Steve Shutt, Clark Gillies and Bernie Federko, but if they can be inducted, more deserving players like Goring, Middleton and Ciccarelli should be there, too.
- Are the Tampa Bay Lightning a dynasty in the making?
After winning the Stanley Cup, head coach John Tortorella won the Jack Adams trophy as the NHL's top head coach, forward Martin St. Louis won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP to go with the Pearson award for league MVP as voted by the players and the Art Ross as the league's top point-getter. And playoff MVP Brad Richards took home the Lady Byng as the most sportsmanlike player.
It's been a few years since a Stanley Cup winning team took home that much individual hardware for the regular season.
The Bolts also possess a top-flight goalie in Nikolai Khabibulin, an under-rated defence corps anchored by Dan Boyle, Daryl Sydor, Pavel Kubina and Cory Sarich, notable offensive talent in Vincent Lecavalier, Cory Stillman and Fredrik Modin, strong leadership in team captain Dave Andreychuk, and a good mix of scrappy checking talent.
It's tough in today's NHL to become a true dynasty like the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Islanders of the past, but if the Bolts can keep most of this roster together, they could dominate the next ten years in much the same way the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche dominated the last ten.
- As for the rest of the NHL awards, I didn't have much quibble with those who won the awards, except for the Calder and the Masterton.
Andrew Raycroft had an outstanding season, no question, but as I read on a Montreal Canadiens message board recently, he's not a true rookie like Habs forward Michael Ryder.
Raycroft had over 20 games of NHL experience spread over three seasons prior to 2003-04. Ryder, who came up the hard way as a ninth round pick that few expected would make the big time, had zero NHL experience prior to this season, yet he led all rookies in scoring.
Those who voted for Raycroft noted his contributions to the Bruins, citing correctly that the club wouldn't have done as well as it did this season without his goaltending.
But without Ryder's offensive contributions on a Canadiens team that was starved for offence last season, I believe the Habs might've struggled to make the postseason, if they would've even made it at all. Those sixty-plus points of Ryder's were invaluable to the Habs making the playoffs this season.
As for Bryan Berard, the award was well-deserved...last season.
Berard made an incredible comeback in 2001-02 from a serious eye injury that threatened his playing career, posting a respectable 23 points in 82 games with the NY Rangers. Foolishly, the Blueshirts let him get away via free agency, where he signed with the Boston Bruins for the 2002-03 season.
Berard's totals that season were even better: 38 points in 80 games. While far and away the Bruins best offensive blueliner, the B's management stupidly walked away from his arbitration award. He landed with the Chicago Blackhawks, and playing on a rebuilding, injury-ravaged franchise, he posted 47 points in 58 games.
He's been back in the league three seasons now and it's been obvious during that time his career won't be hampered by that eye injury. His accomplishments were noteworthy this past year, but to me they were more noteworthy a year ago and should've been recognized then.
That might anger fans of last year's winner, Steve Yzerman, but the Wings captain already had a full career when he underwent reconstructive knee surgery in the summer of 2002. Yes, his return was notable, but even if his career were finished, it had been a long and highly productive one. Berard, on the other hand, faced a career ending before it truly had a chance to grow.
Montreal's Sheldon Souray, on the other hand, faced the very real possibility of having his career ended from several wrist surgeries. He didn't play at all in 2002-03 and the Habs missed his presence on the blueline. Yet he made a remarkable recovery this past season, playing so well he earned a spot in the All-Star game and helped the Habs make it to the playoffs.
Berard deserved to win in 2003. Souray should've earned it in 2004.
When the Washington Capitals won the rights to the 2004 first overall pick in this past April's draft lottery, the consensus amongst fans and media was the club would use the pick to draft Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin.
The Capitals, in serious rebuilding mode after dumping most of their high-paid veteran talent over the course of last season, need a talented young superstar as their foundation player.
By most scouting reports, Ovechkin fits the bill, as he's drawn favourable comparisons to a young Peter Forsberg. A player who can play well at both ends of the rink is a rare catch and one who'd be perfect for the Capitals to build around.
But since winning the rights to the first overall pick, there's been speculation Capitals GM George McPhee might shop the pick for a package of young players.
I was among the first to make that suggestion back in April in my Foxsports column, noting there might be several clubs interested in McPhee's asking price for the talented Ovechkin.
But why would McPhee trade away the rights to draft a player tagged to be a "sure thing" for a package of young players who, as talented as they may be, aren't on the same level as Ovechkin?
As I noted in a subsequent Foxsports column, as promising as Ovechkin is he's still a gamble, like every first round pick before him. Some first overall picks, like Mario Lemieux and Ilya Kovalchuk, step easily into the NHL and become superstars. Some, like Joe Thornton, Guy Lafleur and Ed Jovanovski, need a few seasons to adjust to the NHL game before they blossom into stardom.
And some, like the 1974 first overall pick, Greg Joly, who was also drafted by the Washington Capitals, never make it as a star player and quickly disappeared from sight after a disappointing career.
There would also be tremendous pressure on Ovechkin to step right in and become a superstar, to carry the rebuilding Capitals on his young shoulders. That could be a burden too heavy for such a young player to carry.
There are other factors involved as well. If McPhee trades the picks for a package of two or three good young players, he at least knows for sure what he's getting. He'll know what those players are capable of at the NHL level and if they'll be able to develop further. As good as Ovechkin is projected to be, it's not a lock that he'll adjust well to the NHL game.
As noted earlier in this column, there's the depth factor. The Caps are seriously lacking depth at all positions after their massive fire-sale of veteran talent. The only defenceman of note is Brendan Witt, the only quality goalie in the system is veteran Olaf Kolzig, and both have been the subject of trade speculation for months, something that isn't likely to die down in the near future. Up front, there's little quality depth beyond Jeff Halpern, Dainius Zubrus and rookie Alexander Semin.
Would it not make more sense, if the right offer were there, to trade away the rights to Ovechkin for a package of quality youngsters to help plug some of those gaps more quickly?
Then, of course, there's the money factor. Ovechkin will seek the maximum salary under the current rookie cap, worth $1.07 million. But that's not counting the bonus clauses he and his agent are bound to seek.
Tally up the bonuses for goals, assists, points, and games played,and you're talking over $3 million per season. Should he win the Calder, that would push it up over $4 million US. And if his play by the final year of his deal got the Capitals back into the playoffs, that would also keep it over $4 million per season.
That, of course, is if the Caps are willing to spend that much to sign Ovechkin. While they'll own his rights, it certainly won't look good to the organization to have their star prospect holding out in a salary dispute to start next season.
After the free-spending follies of the past three seasons, team owner Ted Leonsis obviously decided it made more financial sense to return his club to the more tried and ture method of building from within and dealing for young, promising talent.
Factor in the uncertainty over the next collective bargaining agreement, and suddenly drafting a player of Ovechkin's talent and paying him nearly $4 million per season doesn't factor in well with the club's bottom line, especially if two or three young players could be had for the same as it would cost to pay Ovechkin.
And let's not forget what happens to players of Ovechkin's talent after his three-year rookie contract expires. Freed of the constraints of that contract, Ovechkin and his agent would pursue a much more lucrative salary. Depending on how well he plays in his first three seasons, he could seek a substantial raise starting at $5 million per season.Those demands would only go up as Ovechkin advances through his twenties.
Ah, but if the league succeeds in getting a hard salary cap into the next CBA, Ovechkin wouldn't be able to seek that much money, right?
To suggest certain GMs wouldn't make a pitch for Ovechkin and pay him a hefty salary under a new CBA with a hard salary cap would be akin to suggesting ten years ago that player salaries wouldn't rise under the current CBA, which has the most restrictive free agency in North American pro sports.
Somebody somewhere in the NHL would happily pay the luxury tax to have Ovechkin on their team and would pay him whatever he wanted. The last thing the Capitals want is a franchise player staging a lengthy holdout to force the club into paying more than they want to retain him, or to trade him to a club that would pay him a hefty salary.
I may be getting ahead of myself here, but it is something you can bet Leonsis and McPhee have mulled over. After getting burned by big-money talent, they obviously don't wish to repeat the process again.
So as the entry draft weekend approaches, speculation has heated up that McPhee could move the pick.
He's hinted that as many as five clubs contacted him over the past month making trade inquiries, while some reports suggest as many as 11 teams could get into the bidding.
One of those clubs was the Florida Panthers, at least until general manager Rick Dudley was axed. New GM Mike Keenan says he isn't interested, but the Panthers are a team with young, affordable talent, some of whom (Kristian Huselius and Stephen Weiss) didn't get along well with Keenan back when he coached the club. One shouldn't rule out the possibility.
One team that has admitted pursuing the first overall pick is the Chicago Blackhawks, themselves a rebuilding team loaded with plenty of young, affordable talent.
Once one of the most profitable and popular hockey markets in the United States, the 'Hawks have fallen on hard times in recent years, driving away their once-fanatical fans with years of mediocrity, bungled trades and financial pettiness.
Landing a player of Ovechkin's calibre would be a huge boost to the Blackhawks, for he could become the franchise player who brings back the fans. He'd also be a great fit on a team that, like him, is young and developing.
Blackhawks management obviously want to build their club following the model of this year's Stanley Cup finalists, the Calgary Flames and the champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and could visualize Ovechkin, teamed with the promising Tuomo Ruutu, leading the 'Hawks back to playoff glory.
But who would the Blackhawks part with to land the first overall pick?
Thus far there's been no names mentioned in the Chicago media, other than a report suggesting the only untouchable on the team is Ruutu.
The website Blackhawkzone.com suggested a major deal between the two clubs could be possible, citing an apparent friendship between Leonsis and 'Hawks owner Bill Wirtz.
To quote the report on the site, "they feel that Cam Barker and his sweet outlet passes plus two number two draft picks, along with Tyler Arnason, Kyle Calder and Steve McCarthy's salaries help out the Capitals in the long run." In return, the report claims the Blackhawks would get the first overall pick which they'd obviously use to select Ovechkin.
A deal of that magnitude hasn't been seen since 1992, when the Philadelphia Flyers dealt six players (including Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall and Steve Duchesne), two first-round draft choices and $15 million to the Quebec Nordiques for Eric Lindros.
But will such a deal go off? Would the 'Hawks part with such a steep asking price for Ovechkin? Would the Capitals get cold feet and retain the pick after all? Could another team make a richer offer?
CBA CLOUD TO HANG OVER PLAYER MOVEMENT.
The June entry draft weekend is typically a time when significant trades are made involving established NHL players. As exciting as tracking a team's draft selections can be for the die-hard fan, it's the anticipation over who could get shopped that usually adds spice to that weekend.
Heading into the 2004 trade weekend, there was no end of speculation.
The Florida Panthers were believed interested in Dallas Stars forward Bill Guerin. The New Jersey Devils were supposedly shopping Scott Gomez in either an attempt to move up in the draft or to bring in a more physical presence at centre. The Philadelphia Flyers were trying to move John LeClair and Tony Amonte, possibly to move up in the draft.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks were trying to move Petr Sykora and there was even talk on the draft floor of their sending Vaclav Prospal back to the Tampa Bay Lighting. The Toronto Maple Leafs were thought to be interested in Carolina's Jeff O'Neill. The St. Louis Blues were believed sniffing around for a starting goaltender, and Radek Bonk's days were considered numbered in Ottawa.
Out of all the speculation, only the latter two actually came to pass. On Saturday the Senators dealt Bonk to the LA Kings who then flipped him to the Montreal Canadiens along with backup goalie Cristobel Huet for netminder Mathieu Garon and a draft pick. The following day the Sens dealt Patrick Lalime to the Blues for a conditional fourth rounder next season, effectively confirming the worst kept secret in hockey: they're going to sign Dominik Hasek.
Apart from three relatively minor deals (the Habs sending Stephane Quintal to the Kings, the Edmonton Oilers dealing off Jason Chimera to the Phoenix Coyotes and the Mighty Ducks trading Niclas Havelid to the Atlanta Thrashers), nothing earth-shattering was done trade-wise during the draft weekend.
In fact, this year's draft weekend had more significant trade movement than last year's, but not by much.
So like last year at this time the big question gets asked again: where were all the big trades during the draft weekend?
The answer is even more clearer than it was last year: with uncertainty over the outcome of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, many teams are unwilling to engage in deals involving players with hefty salaries.
There's an added twist to it this season. It's expected that this year's Unrestricted Free Agent market could be the deepest in NHL history as teams cut loose Group II free agents they feel they can no longer afford to retain if a salary cap...oops, sorry, I mean, "cost certainty" is implemented in the next CBA.
If that's the case, teams may be able to both pare down payroll and at the same time sign quality players at bargain prices without giving up players in return, all with an eye on a potential cap on salaries next season, whenever that season actually is.
Hockey fans should remember what happened in last year's UFA market, when few Group III free agents earned top dollar for their perceived value. In fact, there was a significant decline in the amount of overall dollars spent last summer compared to the free-for-all spending frenzy of the summer of '02.
Those players who find themselves eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer are likely to be very disappointed in what they'll get for offers. Most teams are looking to chop payroll and simply won't be willing to pony up the big bucks as they did only two years ago.
For those players, they're about to find out just how much the next CBA is going to impact their salaries, a potential foreshadowing of what's to come if the owners succeed in getting their way.
As for those who could be traded, that's going to depend on how much they're earning, or are set to earn next season, and just how much of those salaries an interested team is willing to pick up.
The Stars are trying to rid themselves of Bill Guerin's $8 mil per season before their window of opportunity closes on July 22nd as stipulated in his contract, but unless they agree to pick up half of his contract, they aren't going to have much success in moving him. Even by absorbing half of his salary, there's no guarantee they'll find any takers.
At least Guerin is still in his playing prime and thus should attract some interest. LeClair and Amonte, on the other hand, are past their "best-before" dates, and the Flyers, to their regret, are stuck with them and their hefty salaries until they can reach the point where they can comfortably buy them out.
In a normal year, the Mighty Ducks would have little problem moving Prospal and the $10 million remaining on his four year contract, since the Ducks front-loaded his contract when they signed him last summer. Heck, in the past they'd have no trouble moving Sykora and the remainder of his 2 year, $7.8 million US contract.
But this is no normal year, thus the Ducks may have a tough time moving one or both players without picking up a portion of their salaries.
That's not to suggest there won't be teams out there willing to pay, but that number shrunk significantly over the past four years. An group that included the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals three years ago was cut in half last summer. This year, it's anyone's guess how many, if any, of those teams will be major off-season players. Even the biggest spenders, the Red Wings and Rangers, may make subdued offers this summer.
If the era of free-agent spending frenzies and numerous blockbuster deals for high-salaried players hasn't come to an end, it's certainly on hold pending the outcome of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. And what we see during this summer could be insight into what the future holds for player salaries under the next deal.