APRIL 14, 2007.


DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Jean-Jacques Taylor recently reports Stars goalie Marty Turco is under pressure to step up his playoff performance this season and at the very least get the Stars past the first round. Should he fail, Taylor suggests Turco may not be around next season with the Stars. Taylor also notes the Stars have been grooming backup Mike Smith as an eventual successor for Turco.

Spector's Note: Two problems with moving Turco. One, he has a "no-trade" clause, meaning he'd have to waive it before he can be moved. Second, even if he did agree, the $5.7 million per season he'll be earning for the next three seasons will make it difficult for the Stars to find an interested party.


RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER: Lorenzo Perez recently reported forward Scott Walker, who was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes last summer and is an unrestricted free agent this summer, is hoping to re-sign with the team. Walker scored 51 points last season and earned $1.5 million.

Spector's Note: Having re-signed Ray Whitney yesterday, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutheford not only has to consider re-signing Walker but also defensemen Glen Wesley and Anton Babchuk and goaltender Cam Ward. Their payroll for next season is already close to $34 million and to re-sign these players and perhaps add some more depth could push it over $40 million.


BOSTON GLOBE/BOSTON HERALD: both reported on Tuesday of what Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli might have in store for off-season changes for his roster. The Globe article pointed to the club's lack of offence down the stretch ("signaling a need for another sniper and greater grit"), a need for better defence, and a goaltending upgrade. "Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom will both be UFAs, while Chiarelli said the Bruins will re-sign restricted free agent Hannu Toivonen and tie up prospect Tuukka Rask". The Herald meanwhile noted Chiarelli has between $8-$10 million in cap space for next season, and while he's targetted some UFA players isn't expected to make a major splash as he did last summer in signing Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard.

Spector's Note: It remains to be seen what Chiarelli will do this summer to address the Bruins woes, but he'll definitely have a busy summer in the attempt.

APRIL 13, 2007.

**UPDATED: 6:30 PM ET**


RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER: Luke Decock reported on his blog that forward Ray Whitney has re-signed with the Carolina Hurricanes to a three-year, $10.5 million contract.

Spector's Note: Hat tip to the good folks at Kukla's Korner. Analysis shortly at my blog.


THE SCORE: reports of "whispers that the Washington Capitals, who own the No. 5 overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, will try to peddle the pick in order to acquire immediate help". possibly by packaging defenceman Steve Eminger with the pick.

Spector's Note: The Caps have plenty of young players and are in need of some immediate help. They're expected to go shopping in this summer's UFA market, but one shouldn't rule out a trade or two, possibly involving their first rounder in this year's draft.


THE SCORE: reports former NHL forward Aleksey Morozov dominated in the Russian Super League this season with 89 point, impressive considering the defensive style played in that league. Morozov is an unrestricted free agent at the NHL level and might be of interest to several NHL teams.

Spector's Note: Morozov would have to be well-paid to return to the NHL as he makes good money in the RSL. There was speculation earlier this season he'd consider returning to the NHL for a contract worth over $3 million per season.


ARIZONA REPUBLIC: David Vest recently reported Phoenix Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky "has said the Coyotes won't sign free agents age 30 or older for a while", meaning the club will have to find replacements for Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan and Curtis Joseph, who are UFAs this summer. "Phoenix needs scoring help and likely will attempt to lure at least two top-six forwards to the desert", writes Vest.

Spector's Note: Sounds like the Coyotes could be pursuing younger UFA players this summer, but if they cannot land one or two, over thirty UFAs may be all that's available to them. Expect some player movement via trade and free agency in Phoenix this summer.


APRIL 12, 2007.


COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Aaron Portzline reports Blue Jackets ownership "will meet next Wednesday to discuss the state of the franchise, including the future of president and general manager Doug MacLean, a high-ranking source within the club said yesterday." Majority owner John H. McConnell declined last week to give current GM Doug MacLean a vote of confidence. "I'd rather not say right now, one way or the other."

Spector's Note: I'd earlier suggested that Ken Hitchcock's hiring might save MacLean's job, however, several Jackets fans were kind enough to point out that the decision to hire Hitchcock came from above and not from MacLean. It now appears that MacLean could be in danger of losing his job, although as Portzline notes it'll cost the Jackets a hefty buyout fee as he has two years remaining on his contract.


WASHINGTON TIMES: Corey Masisak recently reported the Capitals biggest need is a number one centre for Alexander Ovechkin's line. "While the Caps have other holes to fill, their quest for a No. 1 center will garner the most attention", writes Masisak. The two that could garner the most attention if available this summer are Buffalo's Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. "Other centers that could be available include Chicago's Michal Handzus, Ottawa's Mike Comrie and the Islanders' Viktor Kozlov. Older short-term options include former Capital Robert Lang and Florida's Jozef Stumpel", he writes, even suggesting former Cap Dainius Zubrus can't be ruled out.

Spector's Note: I also wouldn't rule out landing New Jersey's Scott Gomez if he hits the market. I doubt the Caps will bring back Zubrus as he's not the kind of first line centre they need to play with Ovechkin. It'll be interesting to see who they're able to land. Perhaps Kozlov, who's resurrected his career on Long Island, might be a good fit with Ovechkin. No, not because he's Russian but because of his own terrific skills.


CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Bob Foltman recently speculated on potential off-season moves for the Blackhawks. It remains to be seen what offer they'll make to Michal Handzus, especially after getting burned on a long term contract with Adrian Aucoin. There's also questions as to what decision owner Bill Wirtz will make, whether it'll be to increase payroll or go with the kids. If it's the latter, they may try to dump Nikolai Khabibulin's contract for young talent. Foltman also suggested shopping Martin Havlat for young talent.

Spector's Note: The "Khabibulin returns to Tampa Bay" rumour won't die, but quite frankly, I just don't see it happening. The 'Hawks will have a tough sell if they try to dump Khabibulin because of that $6.75 million per season contract. Few teams have the cap space to absorb that salary or are willing to move the affordable young talent. Ditto for Havlat and his $6 million.


COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Michael Arace recently reported on what the Blue Jackets personnel needs could be for next season. "If Sergei Fedorov continues as a defenseman, then the Blue Jackets need two centers to wheel the top lines and another top-four defenseman. If Fedorov shifts back to center, his natural position, then the Jackets need one more playmaking center and two top-four defensemen. These were their needs at the start of last season, and they remain", writes Arace.

Spector's Note: The Blue Jackets have work to do, and it remains to be seen if GM Doug MacLean will be around to address them. Rumours are swirling he could be the next NHL GM to lose his job.


"John" sends in the following on the Flyers: "Al Morganti and Keith Jones were speculating on the radio just now that the Flyers are likely to package one of their 1st round picks-most likely Nashville's in a deal to pick up a veteran-most likely from a cap-challenged team looking to create cap room while building their talent for the future. Morganti said the Flyers don't think they are that far from a real turn around."

"maytag" sends in the following on Mats Sundin: ""The Leafs apparently have the green light from the NHL to skip their $4.56 million one-year option on Sundin and it's cap hit under his old contract, in favour of a new two-year deal."

So it looks like the NHL bent the CBA slightly on behalf of Ferguson. I hardly expect he will get any credit for this from the Toronto media, despite the fact that he will probably free up as much as $1-1.5 million in cap space by getting a favourable ruling. This is half of Peca's salary, or a possibly a $1 million upgrade in any position through a UFA. Shades of Lou L. without the fanfare?"

APRIL 11, 2007.


CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Bob Foltman reports the Blackhawks won the NHL entry draft lottery yesterday, securing the right to select first overall in the upcoming draft. Foltman narrows down the potential choices to four: " One of them is Buffalo native Pat Kane, who, despite being just 5 feet 10 inches and 160 pounds, had 62 goals and 145 points for the London Knights of the Ontario League.

Czech-born center Jakub Voracek, who plays junior hockey for Halifax, is currently the top-ranked player according to the International Scouting Service. Voracek, 6-1, 188, turns 18 in August. Kane is ranked second by the ISS. Other candidates are Burnaby's Kyle Turris, 17; and James vanRiemsdyk, who plays for the U.S. under-18 program."

Spector's Note: Unlike the last couple of drafts there's no clear-cut "franchise player" in this year's draft, but of course that doesn't mean whoever they draft won't become one. GM Dale Tallon also admitted he'll probably get a lot of phone calls about the pick and hasn't ruled out the possibility of shopping that pick, but I would imagine the asking price will be steep. I think there's a better chance of the 'Hawks retaining the pick than moving it.


TAMPA TRIBUNE: reports Lightning goalie Marc Denis, who started the season as the club's number one goalie, won't be dressed when the Bolts open the playoffs. Having lost his starter's job to backup Johan Holmqvist, he's now lost the backup role to third stringer Karri Ramo.

Spector's Note: The Tribune wonders if Lightning head coach John Tortorella is sending a message or lost faith in Denis. I think it's the latter, given that Denis's salary ($2.8 million) is a lot to scratch just to "send a message". Denis inconsistency has cost him the confidence of his coach, and one has to wonder if that might result in his getting shopped in the off-season if this persists throughout the Lightning's playoff run, however long or short it may be.


RDS.CA: reported Tuesday Montreal Canadiens team president Pierre Boivin indicated the team will have the resources to pursue a top level free agent player this summer.

Spector's Note: The Canadiens biggest need is a top scoring centre, and the three biggest names in that regard could be Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, but if they hit the market the Habs could find themselves in a bidding war for their services. Failing to land a top UFA player will further reinforce the belief that Montreal isn't a choice destination for marquee free agent talent.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Pat Hickey yesterday reports defencemen Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov and forward Mike Johnson hope to re-sign with the Habs this summer. All three are unrestricted free agents. Hickey also reported today that it appears Alex Kovalev will be retained but Gainey will either try to trade or buy out Sergei Samsonov.

Spector's Note: GM Bob Gainey admitted during his press conference yesterday that he wants to retain Souray and Markov. Some disgruntled Habs fans believe Gainey shouldn't waste time with Souray as he'd be in their eyes too expensive. Some pessimists suggest all three will be lost this summer. It won't be easy but the Habs will have the cap space to retain them. Much will depend on their contract demands. Should be an interesting couple of months.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Pat Hickey also reported forward Alex Kovalev wasn't happy with his performance this season but dismissed the notion that he'd let his teammates down. Teammate Chris Higgins, however, wished that Kovalev would show more determination in his game. "It's hard to get inside his head. He plays his own game. People don't realize how strong he is and you wish he would just bury his head and go to the net instead of stickhandling around guys, but he's pretty good at that, too."

Spector's Note: Ladie and gentlemen, the future captain of the Montreal Canadiens has spoken, and he's absolutely right. Kovalev has the talent but he just doesn't turn it on as much. I've had a theory that Kovalev only plays well when he's got a superstar on his line, as he did during his career years in Pittsburgh when Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux were his teammates and linemates. When he's expected to be the go-to guy, he just doesn't seem to deliver. GM Bob Gainey suggested in yesterday's press conference that he want Kovalev to remain a part of the team. Who knows, maybe if they can land that elusive marquee UFA forward, that might bring out the best in Kovalev.


EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson recently reported the Oilers might make a pitch for Ottawa Senators defenceman, whose contract with the Sens expires July 2008. "If the Oilers want Redden -- they wanted to sign him as UFA last summer -- they'd have to give up a good young D man and a forward. I'd say the Sens would be looking at Jarret Stoll."

Spector's Note: Some folks in Ottawa (not associated with the Sens) are unhappy over Redden's performance this season, even though he missed 18 games due to injury, and that's given rise to some speculation that he might be available. While anything's possible, I doubt Redden get dealt.

EDMONTON SUN: Robert Tychkowski reports one of the Oilers off-season priorities will be to find a scorer for playmaker Ales Hemsky. Tychkowski also reports GM Kevin Lowe expects to add as many as eight new players to their roster for next season via trades and free agency.

Spector's Note: As maddening as Hemsky can be to Oilers fans who say he doesn't shoot enough, there's no question he's a great playmaker. Landing a sniper for his line could make a major impact on the Oilers offensive attack next season.


THE GLOBE & MAIL: David Shoalts yesterday reported Toronto Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr expects to have a new contract in place for team captain Mats Sundin by June 15th. "Sources say they are working on a two-year deal for about $5.75-million per year", reports Shoalts, who also reported Ferguson saying goalie Andrew Raycroft will return next season but indicated he may spend more for a backup who can play 25-30 games.

Spector's Note: Evidently the supposed implications of the Leafs rejecting the club option for Sundin to re-sign him to a new, affordable contract isn't a factor as previously believed. No surprise about Raycroft. For all the blather of late out of Toronto about the Leafs need to dump Raycroft and bring in another goalie realistically that wasn't gonna happen. Also sounds like "JFJ" will be back for another season, as anticipated, which should give his critics an entire summer to come up with all kinds of reasons why he should be fired.

TORONTO SUN: Mike Zeisberger yesterday reported Jeff O'Neill may not be returning with the Maple Leafs next season. His contract expires making him an unrestricted free agent this summer. O'Neill said he'd love to return but sees the limited ice time he received this season as indicative that it won't happen. He's also made no decision on retirement.

Spector's Note: O'Neill scored 20 goals this season but was a streaky scorer and that saw him benched down the stretch. He may not return to Toronto but it's possible he may land elsewhere as a UFA.


CAMDEN COURIER-POST: Chuck Gormley yesterday reported Flyers forward Simon Gagne and head coach John Stevens aren't ruling out the possibility of former Flyer Peter Forsberg re-signing with the club as a UFA this summer. The Flyers missed out on the first overall pick in the draft lottery and will draft second, but GM Paul Holmgren hasn't ruled out shopping that pick, perhaps to trade down in the draft. Holmgren also said it wasn't out of the question for Forsberg to return to Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Tim Panaccio reported yesterday Flyers GM Paul Holmgren will have to rework the defence, suggesting Denis Gauthier could be the odd man out on the Flyers blueline. Panaccio also suggested forward Geoff Sanderson may be on the bubble.

Spector's Note: Interesting that the Flyers haven't ruled out bringing back Forsberg, although they were talking like that when they trade him to Nashville. A lot will depend, however, on how they fare in this summer's UFA market.


WASHINGTON POST: Tarik El-Bashir reported Sunday Capitals owner Ted Leonsis won't divulge how much he intends to spend on team payroll next season, but a significant amount will go toward addressing the club's needs. "On the shopping list is a veteran center, a right wing and two quality defensemen", write El-Bashir, also citing that the club hopes to sign 2006 first round pick Nicklas Backstrom.

Spector's Note: The Caps have less than $19 million committed to payroll next season, after committing just over $30 million this season. If Leonsis should increase payroll to between $37-$39 million that'll give Caps management plenty of space to retain their key players and to be serious bidders in this summer's UFA market.


APRIL 10, 2007.

**UPDATED: 7:30 PM EST**



Hat tip to "Sandy". Analysis shortly on my blog.


CANADIAN PRESS: Bill Beacon reports both Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov hope to re-sign with the Montreal Canadiens. Both are eligible for UFA status but they've indicated they wish to give the club opportunities to re-sign them prior to July 1. Disgruntled forward Sergei Samsonov is expected to be bought out of his contract which has another year at $3.75 million remaining. Forward Alex Kovalev said he hoped to return with the Habs next season but rejected the notion that his poor stats this season meant he let the team down this season. Team captain Saku Koivu said he doesn't want out of Montreal but hinted that he may be getting impatient waiting for this team to improve. ""I don't want to be part of a team that's going to rebuild and rebuild and not make the playoffs again. Hopefully, we can compete against the best and have a chance to win."

Spector's Note: If Souray and Markov both want to return Habs management should do all it can (within financial reason, of course) to retain them. Samsonov will be bought out, and I believe the Canadiens should bite the bullet with Kovalev and buy him out, too. As for Koivu, it's sickening to read comments from Montreal fans and some pundits who want him traded or suggest he's not leading the team. This guy plays his heart out in every game, as his stats indicate. He's never whined about his situation, never demanded a trade, never staged a contract holdout and never demanded more than his worth. It's not his fault that the depth around him during his career hasn't been good. He's doing all he can, plays through pain (which accounts for his offensive drought back in February), including with an eye still damaged since last spring, and makes his linemates better. Trading him away is a stupid idea and those who suggest he's not a real leader or a good player obviously do not know what they're talking about.


TORONTO STAR: Kevin McGran reports Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin wants to finish his career in Toronto and has no interest in playing elsewhere. "Informal contract talks are believed to be already under way and could yield a two-year deal soon", reports McGran, noting the Leafs hope to re-sign Sundin to a two-year deal worth $5.5 million per season, which would be cheaper than his club option which would count against the Leafs cap as $6.333 million. McGran also notes "Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White and Alexei Ponikarovsky are sure to demand raises that will probably bring them close to $1 million each", whilst impending UFAs like "Mike Peca, Jeff O'Neill, Nik Antropov, Yanic Perreault, Bates Battaglia, Boyd Devereaux, Travis Green and J.S. Aubin" likely won't be back unless it's for "bargain basement prices", although the Leafs likely want to retain Antropov who had a solid second half. With almost $10 million in available cap space, "it's expected they'll go after some of the bigger names, including Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake of the Islanders and the Sabres' Daniel Briere and Chris Drury."

Spector's Note: It'll be interesting to see how the Leafs work out Sundin's salary situation, but rest assured, Leafs fans, he will be back, as will Antropov, I suspect, although I don't see him getting a big raise for the privilege. They will be in the hunt for the top UFA forwards this summer, and Smyth could land in Leafs Nation should he hit the market.


CHERRY HILL COURIER POST: Chuck Gormley reports Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren "said his goal this summer is to supplement that youth with some strong, talented veterans at both center and defense. The two players believed to be at the top of the Flyers' list are center Daniel Briere of the Buffalo Sabres and Kimmo Timonen of the Nashville Predators." Other potential targets include "veteran forwards Chris Drury, Danius Zubrus, Anson Carter, Michal Handzus, Joe Sakic, Todd Bertuzzi, Radek Bonk, Paul Kariya, Scott Gomez, Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth, Brendan Shanahan and Mark Recchi." Holmgren also has two first round picks "and a few marketable players" ("R.J. Umberger, Stefan Ruzicka, Ryan Potulny, Alexandre Picard, Randy Jones?") to use as potential trade bait. "Mike York, Robert Esche, Denis Hamel and Todd Fedoruk are all scheduled to become free agents on July 1 and Fedoruk is the only one likely to get a contract offer."

Spector's Note: Regardless of which players Holmgren eventually lands, expect him to be very busy in the off-season. There's a little concern about Philadelphia being a popular destination for potential UFAs, but I don't think one bad season will make it tough for the Flyers to attract marquee talent.


SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL: Steve Gorten reports Florida Panthers goalie Ed Belfour was arrested a"t a South Beach bar early Monday and charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting without violence after a scuffle with an officer, and teammate Ville Peltonen was charged with criminal mischief in a separate incident." Panthers GM Jacques Martin called the incidents "unfortunate" planned to review the incidents with the players today. Gorten suggests that Belfour's future with the team was already in doubt prior to the incident and it could impact any possibility of being retained by the team.

Spector's Note: Hat tip to GJ Berg. Belfour was voted the team's MVP this season, but unfortunately he has a bit of a history for getting into late night scraps in bars. It'll be interesting to see how the Panthers handle this and if this latest incident has any impact on bringing him back. If he becomes a UFA it could also adversely affect his value on the open market.


NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: John Dellapina confirmed yesterday's report that the NY Rangers re-signed defenceman Thomas Pock to a two -year contract extension, paying him "$650,000 next season and $685,000 in 2008-09."

Spector's Note: Hat tip to Mitch Beck for the link.

APRIL 9, 2007.

**UPDATED: 3:45 PM EST**



Hat tip to "Dave". Analysis shortly on my blog.



Hat tip to Sandy Gemmiti. Analysis shortly on my blog.


AUSTRIAN HOCKEY ASSOCIATION: reports NY Rangers defenceman Thomas Pock has signed a two-year contract extension with the team.

Hat tip to Doodie Machetto. I've checked the Rangers website but found no official confirmation of this re-signing. If any Rangers fans can follow up on this for me I'd appreciate it.


TSN.CA/THE GLOBE & MAIL/MONTREAL GAZETTE: reported changes could be in store for the Montreal Canadiens this summer in the wake of their failure to make the playoffs this season. All three sites single out forwards Sergei Samsonov and Alex Kovalev for their poor performances this season, with the consensus being Samsonov could be bought out or traded. All three also noted the Canadiens possess plenty of promising young talent, and noted the Habs have some decisions to make regarding several of their potential UFA players, most notably defencemen Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov.

Spector's Note: Samsonov's a goner via buyout, that much is certain. Nobody'll trade for him and it makes no sense to swap him for someone else's problem children (so enough of those stupid "Samsonov to Chicago for Adrian Aucoin" rumours!). The two years and $9 million remaining on Kovalev's contract makes him untradeable, but I think Gainey may take a serious look at buying him out, since it's been obvious over the past season that he's not happy in Montreal. The last thing they need is another petulant Russian forward sapping team morale or taking away playing time from a more deserving young player for the next two seasons. As for their impending UFAs, Markov's a lock to be re-signed long term for $3.5-$4 million per season. Souray, on the other hand, is a tougher call. He's suggested he'd like to stay in Montreal, he emerged as a leader and his big shot powered the Habs PP this season, but his defensive game was atrocious, he's got a lengthy injury history, and he could seek Bryan McCabe money to remain in Montreal. It's possible forward Mike Johnson could return, but it remains to be seen if Radek Bonk does. Fortunately, the Canadiens have plenty of available cap space to retain their key free agents and go shopping this summer, although given their track record in the free agent market, I wouldn't get my hopes up for a major signing, Habs fans.

TORONTO SUN/TORONTO STAR/GLOBE & MAIL: all speculated on what might be in store for the Maple Leafs after missing the playoffs for the second straight season. All three wondered if GM John Ferguson Jr would return or if Leafs ownership would fire him and find a replacement. "JFJ" is under contract with the club for one more season. The Globe & Mail noted Ferguson hasn't left himself much cap room for improvement, with $33.8 million already committed and the salary cap expected to rise to $47 million next season. It's expected free agents Jeff O'Neill, JS Aubin, Travis Green and Yanic Perreault won't be back. The Leafs still have to figure out a new deal for team captain Mats Sundin, re-sign their key RFAs and land a backup goalie. The Star believes the Leafs must upgrade in goal, where Andrew Raycroft struggled despite winning 37 games this season, and suggested moving Bryan McCabe, considering that no-trade clauses aren't a problem to overcome by using Keith Tkachuk and Peter Forsberg as comparables.

Spector's Note: There's seems to be some confusion about Sundin's contract status. The Leafs tried to get a buyout option regarding a rejection of their club option overturned in order to re-sign him to a more affordable deal but to date I've seen nothing to suggest this has been done. If anyone can find me a link or reference indicating otherwise, please let me know. As for their goaltending, the Leafs are stuck with Raycroft for two reasons: lack of quality depth in this summer's UFA market and lack of cap space to land one. If the Leafs are forced to pick up Sundin's club option that'll take a big bite out of their available cap space, which'll also prevent them from being a major player in this summer's UFA market. Forget about moving McCabe, as he won't waive that clause and with that hefty salary nobody'll take him off the Leafs hands anyway. The most logical cap move for the Leafs would be to bide Sundin farewell, but the Leafs won't do that because he's the face of their franchise. I foresee the Leafs retaining Sundin, re-signing their key RFAs, probably retaining Peca as he'll probably accept less money to stay in Toronto, and signing an affordable backup via the UFA market. There simply won't be enough cap space to land a big name UFA forward for Sundin's line or a star goalie.

**UPDATE**. Misread the G&M article (sorry about that, folks). That $33 million would include Sundin's salary, so it could leave up to $9 million for the Leafs to pursue UFAs this summer, plenty of room to land a couple of quality players. Hat tip to "maytag" for setting me straight.

RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER: Luke Decock recently reported the Carolina Hurricanes face changes after failing to make the playoffs one year after winning the Stanley Cup. Topping the list is whether or not to re-sign impending UFA forwards Ray Whitney and Scott Walker. GM Jim Rutherford said re-signing both is a priority but it won't be easy as both will seek significant raises over this year's salaries, especially Whitney who led the 'Canes in scoring whilst earning $1.5 million this season. "Anson Carter, David Tanabe, Josef Vasicek and (Glen) Wesley are all unrestricted free agents", writes Decock. "Only Carter, a trade-deadline acquisition, is unlikely to return." The club also has to re-sign goalie Cam Ward and defenceman Anton Babchuk, although the latter may have hurt his chances of remaining a 'Cane by his refusal to accept demotion to the minors at mid-season.

Spector's Note: The 'Canes will have roughly $30 million committed to payroll already this season, which would appear to give them plenty of cap space to retain those key aforementioned free agents, however, that'll depend on how much ownership is willing to spend. The 'Canes started last season with over $38 million in payroll, which eventually nudged up to $40 million with callups and trades. If the 'Canes only commit to $40 million or less, it certainly won't be easy to retain Whitney and Carter and still re-sign Ward.

MIAMI HERALD/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL: both reported on what changes might be in stores for the Florida Panthers this summer. The Herald suggests the club would love to land JS Giguere as a free agent but he'll be expensive and the Panthers would have plenty of rivals bidding for him. It's expected veteran Ed Belfour will return next season backed up by Alex Auld. The Herald also rejected rumours of the team trading captain Olli Jokinen. Defencemen Steve Montador or Alexei Semenov could be the odd men out on the Panthers blueline and forward Martin Gelinas could be lose to free agency. The Sun-Sentinel believes the Panthers could try to bring in more scoring depth this summer.

Spector's Note: I think the Panthers will inquire about Giguere and will base any further goaltending decisions on whether or not they can sign him or whoever else might be available. They could also consider trading for a goaltending upgrade. Team ownership has committed to giving GM Jacques Martin the financial resources he needs to improve the club, so expect the Panthers to make at least one splashy UFA signing or swing a major trade.


APRIL 8, 2007.


DENVER POST: Mark Kiszla reports former Colorado Avalanche and current Nashville Predators forward Peter Forsberg seems open to the possibility of returning to the Avs as a UFA in the off-season.

Spector's Note: Forsberg might consider it, and Kiszla is certainly pushing for it, but a lot depends on the status of Forsberg's reconstructed right foot, the willingness of the Avs management to bring him back, and of course the cost of doing so. If Forsberg seeks an expensive, multi-year contract, forget about it, but if he's open to an affordable, conditional one-year contract, it might - emphasis on the word "might" - be a possibility. That being said, I get the sense that new Avs GM Francois Giguere is looking to the future rather than to the past and his plans may not include "Foppa".


COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Bob Hunter and Michael Arace are calling for the Blue Jackets to make changes at the top, singling out current GM Doug MacLean for the team's inability to make the playoffs since the club's inception. "In the eyes of much of the fan base, the big picture is what is so damning. For nine years, MacLean has controlled the franchise and, on the hockey side, he has served with no great distinction. He has had seven drafts and six seasons and has shown nothing in the way of bold and creative thinking. He hasn't come close to delivering a playoff team. He is no longer an inspiring presence", writes Arace, who also listed several potential replacements, including Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill and former NHL GMs Dave Taylor, Craig Patrick, Bob Murray, Rick Dudley, Craig Button, Neil Smith and Pat Quinn.

Spector's Note: These two make a very compelling case for ousting MacLean, however, his hiring of Ken Hitchcock as head coach last fall could give him a reprieve for one more season. Regardless, it's obvious that MacLean's tenure as the Jackets GM could be in danger of ending soon, either this summer or at some point next season should the club fail to show any substantial improvement.


BOSTON GLOBE: Kevin Paul Dupont reports it's "highly doubtful" Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, who inherited Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen from his predecessor, " will leave the starting job to be sorted out among those two and, if still here, Joey MacDonald." Dupont notes Chiarelli could be restricted by limited cap space, having committed $28 million to half-a-dozen players, and suggests flipping winger Glen Murray, but he has a no-trade clause and his salary and recent injury history could make him a "tough sell". He suggests one potential target as San Jose's Evgeny Nabokov should the Sharks come up short in the playoffs, noting that Murray's "good pal" and former teammate Joe Thornton will enter the final year of his contract there. However, Dupont believes Sharks management would want more that Murray, perhaps targeting Patrice Bergeron.

Spector's Note: One serious flaw with this scenary is the fact Nabokov has a no-trade clause. It's unlikely he'll waive it, especially for a struggling club like the Bruins. A better target for the Bruins if they were truly interested in a Sharks goalie is Vesa Toskala, who's much more affordable that Nabokov and doesn't have a no-trade clause. Dupont's right about one thing, that the Sharks aren't likely to be interested in Murray. His age, injury history and salary does indeed make him a "tough sell".


CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Len Ziehm offers up "six ways the Hawks might dig themselves out of their sorry situation in time for next season". Among them, pursuing a star centerman like "Scott Gomez, Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Jason Blake and Peter Forsberg" via free agency, preferably Briere or Gomez; "cooling it" in contract talks with Michal Handzus, who doesn't appear keen to return to the 'Hawks; and re-signing goalie Patrick Lalime.

Spector's Note: Good luck signing any of those aforementioned UFA centers. Quite frankly, Chicago ain't a popular destination for top UFA talent unless the 'Hawks are willing to break the bank to do so like they did with Nikolai Khabibulin, and that's no guarantee of success. Ziehm's probably right about Handzus, and I agree with his suggestion about re-signing Lalime, who played reasonably well after returning from back surgery.


PALM BEACH POST: Brian Biggane reports goaltending looms as the largest question Florida Panthers management will have to address in the off-season. Veteran netminder Ed Belfour's play this season may earn him another season with the club but there could be other options available via free agency (Niklas Backstrom, JS Giguere, Mathieu Garon) or trade (Evgeny Nabokov, Manny Fernandez, Tomas Vokoun).

Spector's Note: Hat tip to regular contributor GJ Berg. The Wild will likely re-sign Backstrom, which could mean Fernandez would be available. Giguere will be far too expensive for the Panthers to sign. Garon will be affordable but he may not be much of an upgrade. Nabokov has a no-trade clause so rule him out. Vokoun's status could depend on his playoff performance.


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Chris Foster reports goaltending was the main problem area for the Kings this season, one that GM Dean Lombardi acknowledged needs to be addressed in the off-season. Lombardi did say, however, the team needs to develop a young goalie and intends to look to within to address his goalie woes. Dan Cloutier and Jason Labarbera are "the only two goaltenders guaranteed to be with the Kings when training camp opens in September." Lombardi also has to decide if he'll re-sign impending UFAs Mathieu Garon or Sean Burke.

Spector's Note: This isn't surprising for Lombardi, as he handcuffed himself with Cloutier's contract and has no choice but to hope he'll rebound from a horrible, injury-shortened season. Labarbera was impressive in the AHL this season but it remains to be seen if he can carry that over into the NHL. Garon and Burke are likely goners, unless the latter agrees to a two-way contract.


Bruce Garrioch reports the following:

- The stock of Ottawa Senators goalie Ray Emery could rise considerably should he have a strong post-season. He's an RFA this summer and might receive an offer sheet from a rival club seeking a goaltending upgrade. "Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Florida, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tampa Bay" are teams that may be shopping for goaltending depth this summer.

Spector's Note: An offer sheet for Emery is possible, considering the lack of quality goaltending depth in this summer's UFA market, but the Senators could match any offer. They have some key players to re-sign besides Emery, including Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, but if their payroll comes in around $45 million for next season they should be able to retain them. If the Sens can get Phillips re-signed soon, don't be surprised if they waste little time getting Emery under contract.

- New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello might hire San Jose Sharks head coach Ron Wilson should he get the boot if the Sharks fail to go deep in the playoffs this year. "Other candidates: assistant John MacLean, former coach Pat Burns and Boston assistant Marc Habscheid."

Spector's Note: I doubt Doug Wilson will fire Ron Wilson if the Sharks fail to go deep this season. Besides, it's widely believed MacLean will likely take over the role behind the Devils bench next season.

- Former LA Kings GM Dave Taylor could be the top candidate to replace Doug MacLean as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Spector's Note: The press in Columbus (see above) are calling for MacLean's head, likely reflecting the opinion of Jackets fans that a change is needed at the top. Still, MacLean's hiring of Ken Hitchcock as head coach earlier this season may have bought him one more season.

- "There's strong belief" the LA Kings might sign Robert Esche this summer to bolster their goaltending depth.

Spector's Note: As noted above, Kings GM Dean Lombardi acknowledged the need to improve the club's goaltending, which was its achilles heel all season. Esche could be an affordable option but as Lombardi noted above he doesn't expect to bolster his goaltending via free agency.

- The Boston Bruins are expected to move winger Glen Murray and his $4.5 million salary.

Spector's Note: Good luck with that. Actually, Murray's salary is $4.15 million per season with two years remaining on his current contract. Regardless, that'll be too steep for most teams to absorb unless the Bruins toss in one helluva sweetener.

- Edmonton Oilers forward Petr Sykora is a UFA this summer and likely won't be back with the Oilers. The Bruins and Flyers might be interested in him.

Spector's Note: Sykora has earlier stated his desire to remain with the Oilers but it remains to be seen if management believes he can be a part of their long-term plans.

- "The Capitals might take a run at Daniel Briere or Chris Drury if they make it to unrestricted free agency this summer. The club has promised young star Alexander Ovechkin they're going to put better players around him to try to help ease some of the pressure."

Spector's Note: Toss Devils centre Scott Gomez into that mix too, if he's available after July 1.

- Pavel Datsyuk's new contract could push Briere and Drury's asking price to between $6-$7 million per season.

Spector's Note: Datsyuk's new salary will definitely be used as a comparable by those two, as well as by Gomez.

APRIL 7, 2007.


ESPN.COM: Scott Burnside recently wrote tonight's Toronto-Montreal game could be Mats Sundin's last as a Leaf if the club fails to make the playoffs. Although Sundin has frequently expressed his desire to finish his career as a Leaf and the club has made the right noises about retaining him, Burnside suggests parting ways with Sundin "provides one of the only real clear paths to improvement" for the team.

Spector's Note: Burnside is suggesting that the money the Leafs would spend to retain an aging Sundin might be better spent pursuing a younger centre in his prime, like Daniel Briere or Chris Drury. Logically, it makes sense, but the Leafs will look at this from a marketing standpoint and since Sundin remains the face of the franchise, they'll likely retain him.

TORONTO SUN: Mike Zeisberger reports changes could be in the offing for the Leafs should they be eliminated from the playoffs. "A loss means a second-consecutive non-playoff season, opening the door to all kinds of scrutiny," writes Zeisberger. "Will the Leafs fire general manager John Ferguson or open talks for an extension? Will Sundin be back? How about Jeff O'Neill and Michael Peca?"

Spector's Note: Even if the Leafs making the playoffs puts these questions on the backburner as Zeisberger suggests, I'll be bold enough to predict the future of those four. "JFJ" and Sundin will be back, win or lose. O'Neill and Peca won't. Discuss amongst yourselves, Leafs fans.


COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Aaron Portzline reports forward Nikolai Zherdev remains an enigma to Blue Jackets management, coaching staff and players. "Zherdev's attitude and his spotty work ethic seem to have worn thin only 2½ years into his NHL career. He has been described by those who know him best thusly: stubborn, a malcontent and an enigma. "A diva," one fellow Blue Jacket said." Zherdev however appears unconcerned, saying "I can't help it". His stats dropped noticeably over last season's career year, he has few friends on the team and his teammates resent his attitude. "When coaches confront Zherdev, often he stares back at them blankly. Sometimes he smirks. When the anger and frustration fade, they wonder whether he'll ever get the message. Why?" Portzline also reports Zherdev compares himself to Montreal's Sergei Samsonov, and given the fact Samsonov's played on three teams over the past two seasons "that may send a chill down the Blue Jackets' collective spine."

Spector's Note: Porztline's article is a rather lengthy one so I posted only key extracts. One you've read the entire thing, you can't help but feel that Zherdev could not only be playing his way out of Columbus but potentially out of the NHL as well. Under the old CBA there's always be a team willing to take on a player like him either via trade or free agency in hopes a change of scenery would improve his game, but in today's cap world fewer teams would be willing to take that chance. If he tanks it again next season the Jackets will either try to trade him or failing that, buy out the final year of his contract following next season. With his well-documented poor work ethic and attitude, he'd have a very tough time signing with another NHL team. That probably wouldn't concern Zherdev, however, as he'd likely land on his feet either in Russia or with a top European club.


BOSTON GLOBE: Fluto Shinzawa reports forward Petr Tenkrat is eligible for UFA status this summer but hopes to return with the Bruins next season. He has 13 points in 63 games this season.

APRIL 6, 2007.

**UPDATED: 12:10 PM EST**




Spector's Note: Hat tip to "Barbara", "Edward from Detroit" (who says WDFN reports the Datsyuk signing is a four-year deal) and "hootinani" for the Datsyuk links and regular contributor GJ Berg for the Lombardi links. The Datsyuk signing is particularly significant as there were concerns he might test the UFA market if he didn't get a deal he liked from the Wings.

**UPDATED: 12:45 PM EST**

TSN.CA reports the deal is believed to be a six-or-seven year contract worth between $6-$7 million per season.

Spector's Note: That would be a stunning deal as earlier this season Wings GM Ken Holland dismissed the possibility of Datsyuk landing a deal worth over $6 million per season.


CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Bob Foltman reports there were rumours at the trade deadline that the Tampa Bay Lightning, the former team of Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, wanted him back. "Those rumors might heat up if the Lightning makes a quick exit in the postseason because of poor goaltending", writes Foltman, but also reported that Khabibulin hopes to stay. ""I've been a very loyal person, and the Blackhawks signed me to a contract and I really like it in Chicago," he said. "This is a challenge that I don't want to bail out on and that I think is unfinished. I'm pretty stubborn that way."

Spector's Note: The remaining $13. 5 million on Khabibulin's contract is also a great trade deterrant. As for the Lightning, they've got just under $32 million committed to payroll for next season, and team ownership hopes to hold the line at $40 million. The only realistic way the Bolts could bring back Khabibulin would be to dump one of their high-salaries forwards but management insists that won't happen.


MIAMI HERALD: George Richards reports Florida Panthers forward Martin Gelinas doesn't know if he'll return with the club next season. He's an unrestricted free agent and has plenty of family in the Calgary area, leading Richards to suggest that "it's assumed a serious offer from either the Flames or Edmonton could swing Gelinas' return to western Canada." Also, team owner Alan Cohen said he intends to keep payroll "in the same ballpark" as this season (close to $40 million) which'll allow GM Jacques Martin to bring in the players he sees fit. Richards suggests one potential target could be Anaheim Ducks goalie J-S Giguere, who's expected to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and could command up to $6 million per season.

Spector's note: If there's no offers coming from a Western Canadian team Gelinas might find himself back with the Panthers if there's room for him. As for Giguere, it remains to be seen if he'd sign with the Panthers, although he could be the missing piece needed that could finally turn them into a playoff club.


"Daniel" recently sent in the following on the Canadiens: "This is probably not possible to check if it's true or not but former referee Ron Fournier said yesterday on popular radio show "Les amateurs de sports" that Gainey's plan is to have Huet as a starter next season and have Halak or young Carey Price as a backup. On defence, the 7 starter planned are Dandenault, Markov, Streit, Komisarek, Gorges with young Jean-Philippe Côté and Ryan O'Byrne leading to the speculation that Souray and Niinimaa won't be signed and Bouillon will be traded somewhere this summer. He also said that Gainey want to pursue big UFA name such as Bill Guerin, Daniel Brière and Chris Phillips. Fournier said that there's some big surprise for the forwards and don't want to reveal them until the Habs season end. He also said that he has a source from the Habs management but don't want to say who it is. This have been heard on CKAC 730AM around 5PM tuesday."

APRIL 5, 2007.


EDMONTON SUN: Robert Tychkowski reports Oilers GM Kevin Lowe will have his work cut out for him to rebuild his team after this disappointing season. Lowe believes the team needs more balance and Tychkowski writes the Oilers GM's search begins right now, "and, judging from what he's seen over the last 18 games, Lowe will need a bigger shopping basket than he originally anticipated. Management said they'd learn a lot about their players during this stretch, and they have. But much of it isn't very good." Two players who've been singled out for their poor play this season were forwards Raffi Torres and Joffrey Lupul, although Lowe believed some of the criticism those two faced was unfair.

Spector's Note: Although it remains to be seen what moves Lowe has in mind, expect the names of Torres and Lupul to be prominent in Oilers trade rumours throughout the off-season.


OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports talks between the Senators and defenceman Chris Phillips have intensified in hopes of getting a new contract in place by this weekend. Phillips is eligible for UFA status and has said that his top priority is to re-sign with the Senators. It's believed management has offered him a three-year contract.

Spector's Note: The Sens appear determined not to lose another top blueliner to free agency and Phillips wants to stay. Whether it happens this weekend or anytime before July 1st, I think Phillips will be staying in Ottawa.


ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: Jeremy Rutherford recently reported Blues captain Dallas Drake might be playing his final season with the club. He's signed through next season, "but with the Blues' roster taking on the look of a youth movement, Drake's future with the club is uncertain." Blues president John Davidson, however, noted that Drake brings "intangibles" to the Blues game and is a character player.

Spector's Note: Drake's offensive game has declined but his leadership and grit still makes him valuable to retain for one more season.

APRIL 4, 2007.


BOSTON HERALD: Stephen Harris reports Montreal Canadiens winger Sergei Samsonov was a healthy scratch for the 11th straight game last night, but he's unconcerned over his status, saying he'll continue to practice hard and be prepared in case he's needed. "The Habs are expected to buy out the remaining year of the 28-year-old’s deal. He would then try to find the right team," writes Harris. As for Samsonov, he told Harris that it's too early to comment on what happens in the off-season.

Spector's Note: With the rise of several young Canadiens forwards this season, the club will likely buy out the remaining season of his contract. They could demote him to the minors but it's believed Habs management doesn't want to risk his potentially upsetting the development of their prospect players with his attitude.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Dave Stubbs reports the curtain is likely falling on David Aebischer's 13-month tenure with the Canadiens. The Canadiens have Cristobal Huet signed through next season and he's just been given medical clearance to return to action, where he'll back up red hot rookie Jaroslav Halak, who's been among the Habs youngsters credited with "saving" the Canadiens season. With so much depth in goal, the club isn't expected to re-sign Aebischer, who'll be eligible for UFA status this summer.

Spector's Note: Aebischer played well earlier in the season but struggled badly in the second half, leading to Halak taking over as the starter down the stretch. He won't find another contract at $1.9 million for next season and could have a tough time finding another starting role, but with the lack of quality depth in this summer's UFA market, he might find a role with another club as a backup.


CHICAGO DAILY HERALD: Tim Sassone recently reported forward Nikita Alexeev, acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline, might not have a future with the club. Calling Alexeev "a big disappointment", Sassone reported that it's "looking doubtful that Alexeev will be offered a new contract when he becomes a restricted free agent after the season."

Spector's Note: That's been the story of Alexeev's NHL career. The Bolts had high hopes for him when they selected him 8th overall in the 2000 draft, but he's failed to play up to expectations. He'd admitted last month that his play over the remainder of this season would determine if he got a new contract from the Blackhawks and so far it's not looking good. He might end up playing in Europe next season if the 'Hawks decide not to qualify him, as there may not be much interest in him as a UFA this summer.

APRIL 3, 2007.


BOSTON HERALD: Stephen Harris reports the Bruins have called up goalie Hannu Toivonen and are expected to start him in their next two games. "These will be important games for Toivonen, as the B’s brass makes plans for next season. If he could deliver a pair of strong showings, it will go a long way toward earning him a job in 2007-08. Or, perhaps, it might make his trade value somewhat higher, if the B’s opt to go that route, as some NHL insiders predict they will. "

Spector's Note: Or they could opt not to qualify Toivonen, making him an unrestricted free agent.


MIAMI HERALD: George Richards recently reports the Florida Panthers blueline corps could get a big crowded. The club signed Finnish league blueliner Cory Murphy last week to a two-year contract and have prospect Martin Lojek in their system. Branislev Mezei has another year remaining on his contract. "Steve Montador, Bryan Allen and Alexei Semenov are restricted free agents after this season with Florida holding their rights. Same goes for Noah Welch, acquired in the Gary Roberts trade with Pittsburgh. Jay Bouwmeester, Ruslan Salei and Mike Van Ryn are signed through next year", wrote Richards, who also suggests Semenov and Montador's final games this season could be seen as an audition for next year.

Spector's Note: Montador, Allen and Semenov could very well find themselves playing elsewhere after this season.

PALM BEACH POST: Brian Biggane reports Florida Panthers GM/coach Jacques Martin anticipates off-season changes among his forwards, but wants LW Ville Peltonen to return next season.

Spector's Note: Peltonen is a UFA this summer but if he wants to return it shouldn't cost much to retain him for at least another season.

APRIL 2, 2007.


ARIZONA REPUBLIC: David Vest reports Phoenix Coyotes forward Jeremy Roenick isn't ready to announce his retirement just yet. “I'm going to continue to work out and keep myself fit and if a team comes my way then I'd definitely consider playing (next season),” Roenick, 37, said." He's an unrestricted free agent this summer and won't be re-signed by the Coyotes.

Spector's Note: I think the only team which will make an offer to Roenick this summer will be a broadcasting team.


VANCOUVER SUN: Elliott Pap reports Canucks assistant GM Steve Tamballini isn't pleased with Todd Christie, the agent for forward Taylor Pyatt, accusing him of leaking salary figures of Pyatt's contract negotiations to the media late last week. "I'm not going to comment on the numbers, whether they are right or not, but I am surprised and disappointed that this has come out from the agent," said Tambellini, who noted that neither he nor GM Dave Nonis talked to CKNW. Pyatt expressed surprise, claiming he'd heard nothing about a supposed offer of a two-year, $2.4 million offer from the club. CKNW had reported Pyatt rejected the offer.

Spector's Note: Christie was on the defensive yesterday, telling the Vancouver Province the numbers didn't come from him. Well, they had to come from somebody, so unless CKNW pulled these figures out of thin air (which I don't believe), somebody spilled the beans. Regardless, they'll have to put this behind them, otherwise this could potentially ruin any chance of Pyatt re-signing with the Canucks.


NEW ENGLAND HOCKEY JOURNAL: Boston Globe reporter Kevin Paul Dupont report the Bruins "won't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to filling out the roster" for next season, meaning the club won't be making a big splash in this summer's UFA pool compared to last year. GM Peter Chiarelli said, "We came to the realization that we're probably not going to target elite free agents. I'm not going to dismiss (the possibility) totally, but it would take some maneuvering", admitting he'd target middle-tier UFAs. Dupont points out that "the B’s will have some $19 million to pay two goalies, four defensemen and five forwards."

Spector's Note: There's been some speculation outside the Boston media of Chiarelli trading winger Glen Murray, possibly back to the LA Kings, to free up cap space to pursue Anaheim goalie J-S Giguere in this summer's UFA market, but that seems like a fantasy move. Murray is still a decent goalscoring winger but will turn 35 in November and has another two years and $8.3 million remaining on his contract.

BOSTON GLOBE: Fluto Shinzawa recently reported Bruins blueliner Bobby Allen, who split time between the Bruins and their AHL farm team this season, becomes a UFA this summer. He's hopeful that he's proven himself to earn an NHL contract either with the Bruins or another NHL team.

Spector's Note: The Bruins are concerned over their blueline depth and given their now-limited cap space might be willing to re-sign Allen to a one-year deal at the league minimum.

BOSTON HERALD: Steve Conroy recently reported recently acquired goalie Joe MacDonald's solid play with the Bruins may give him "a nice running leap into the free agent market. "

Spector's Note: If Bruins management decides Hannu Toivonen isn't the goalie they believed him to be, they might decide to cut him loose and re-sign MacDonald instead.

APRIL 1, 2007.


BOSTON GLOBE: Kevin Paul Dupont reports "(O)ne theory around the league has ex-Boston University forward Chris Drury landing in Los Angeles as a free agent this summer. The former Hobey Baker winner, who could win a Cup this year with Buffalo, keeps a home in Manhattan Beach, not far from Kings defenseman Rob Blake."

Spector's Note: This theory may have gotten its start in the Ottawa Sun last weekend. As I noted in response to it then, the Kings "already have Mike Cammalleri (who has more points than Drury this season) and Anze Kopitar (who has only five points less thus far than Drury this season) so it really doesn't make sense for them to pursue him." The Kings needs to improve their goaltending and their defensive game. They don't need more scoring depth at centre.

BUFFALO NEWS: Bucky Gleason recently reported NY Islanders forward Jason Blake would one day like to play alongside Drury. Gleason suggests that as great a player as Daniel Briere is, Drury could be indispensible given his strong two-way play and his teaching the Sabres how to be a winner. If it comes down to a choice between Briere or Drury, Gleason suggests the latter should be re-signed by the Sabres. Gleason also noted that Blake is eligible for UFA status this summer.

Spector's Note: Gleason notes of recently speculation that the Philadelphia Flyers could make a big contract offer to Briere, so if he goes, perhaps a decent replacement would be Blake. Sabres management has declined to comment on contract talks with Briere and Drury although it's believed they hope to retain both players.


BOSTON GLOBE: Fluto Shinzawa reports Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has given head coach Dave Lewis a vote of confidence by confirming Lewis will return as the club's coach next season. There was recent speculation Lewis might be fired based on comments by team owner Jeremy Jacobs, who said he'd leave any decision over Lewis' future up to Chiarelli.

Spector's Note: Some pundits and fans suggest that Lewis's defensive system is what caused former Bruins Brad Stuart and Brad Boyes to struggle this season. Still, it may be premature to suggest axing the coach after only one season, a season that could be seen as an evaluation period for both Lewis and Chiarelli. The Bruins also have a history of frequent coaching changes, which doesn't foster stability.


VANCOUVER PROVINCE: Ben Kuzma reports Canucks forward Taylor Pyatt denied a recent radio report that claimed he spurned a two-year, $2.4 million contract extension from the Canucks. "It didn't come from me," said Pyatt's agent Todd Christie. "We've had some informal discussions, but nothing specific and I've never discussed numbers with the team -- just general concepts."

Spector's Note: It remains to be seen what Pyatt will seek from the Canucks. Kuzma reports GM Dave Nonis will have less than $10 million in available cap space to ink nine or ten players. Fortunately he has his core players signed for next season.


BUFFALO NEWS: Bucky Gleason reports Edmonton Oilers forward Raffi Torres has struggled this season. "He has 14 goals this season and was benched for all but three minutes in the second and third period last week against Nashville." Gleason suggests it could be time for a change of scenery for Torres.

Spector's Note: Torres has struggled this season, but then again, so have almost all of his Oilers teammates. It's possible he or another under-achieving Oiler (take your pick) could be moved in the off-season, but it may be premature to give up on Torres, a two-time 20-goal scorer, because of one bad year. Indeed, having already moved Ryan Smyth and Marc-Andre Bergeron, perhaps it might be best for management to keep their under-thirty underachievers and give them a shot at redemption next season.


Bruce Garrioch reports the following:

- There's a fifty-fifty chance Doug MacLean will be back as the GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets next season. It could cost the Jackets $1.6 million to buy out the remainder of his contract. The hiring of Ken Hitchcock as head coach could save MacLean's job if he can bring in the right players.

Spector's Note: I believe hiring Hitchcock could be MacLean's saving grace, as the team has performed well under the coaching of the former Stars and Flyers bench boss.

- The Detroit Red Wings may consider bringing back goalie Dominik Hasek next season. Hasek will discuss that possibility with his family after this season.

Spector's Note: Hasek's strong performance this season coupled with the lack of depth in quality goalies in this summer's free agent market suggests he'll be back with the Wings next season.

- There's talk of major changes in Dallas if the Stars fail to progress in the upcoming playoffs. It's believed goalie Marty Turco could be moved if he again fails to get the job done in the post-season.

Spector's Note: Turco will be under pressure to finally prove he can play as well in the post-season as he can in the regular season. Regardless, there are 5.7 million per season reasons why he won't be moved. That, and the little matter of his no-trade clause.

- Another goalie who could be on the move is San Jose's Evgeny Nabokov.

Spector's Note: Wrong. Nabokov has a conditional no-trade clause that prevents the Sharks from moving him if the team makes the playoffs, which they'll do this season. He's also shown notable improvement over last season so it's unlikely the Sharks will trade him. If a goalie's to be moved by the Sharks, it could be Vesa Toskala, who doesn't have a no-trade clause and carries a more affordable salary.

-There's little chance of the Montreal Canadiens re-signing defenceman Sheldon Souray, who's set to earn a big payday as a UFA. "The Kings, Avalanche, Stars, Sharks and Ducks make a pitch for him on July 1."

Spector's Note: It's been rumoured for months that Souray will bolt for free agency this summer, yet there's also been some reports suggesting the Habs stand a chance of re-signing Souray, who has also said he hopes to speak with Canadiens management about a new contract following this season.

- Tampa Bay defenceman Luke Richardson plans to play next season. He's been a health scratch of late.

Spector's Note: Given the fact the Lightning will cut payroll next season and intend on shopping for UFAs willing to sign for the league minimum or two-way contracts this summer, Richardson could return with the Bolts.

- Although Lightning GM Jay Feaster insists he won't trade away high-priced forwards Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis or Vincent Lecavalier this summer to free up cap space, Garrioch expects the Montreal Canadiens to make a pitch for Lecavalier.

Spector's Note: While it never hurts to inquire, I doubt very much that the Habs will do this. Lecavalier isn't going anywhere and Canadiens GM Bob Gainey appears to have made a commitment to rebuilding with youth.

- The Habs also won't offer backup goalie David Aebischer a new contract. His poor play this season could make it difficult for him to find a new NHL club to sign with in this summer's UFA market.

Spector's Note: If Aebischer is willing to accept considerably less than $1.9 million, he could find some takers. Still, it wouldn't be surprising if he opts to return to Switzerland where he could earn the same salary as he did this season in the NHL.

- "Don't be surprised if the Avs make a pitch for Smyth in the off-season. The talk is once they get captain Joe Sakic signed, they'll make their pitch to Smyth."

Spector's Note: The Avs go into this off-season with considerable cap space so they could be major players in this summer's market for some of the top UFAs, like Smyth.

MARCH 31, 2007.


DETROIT FREE PRESS: Helene St. James reports Red Wings GM Ken Holland "plans to touch base with Pavel Datsyuk's agent early next week, but there is little chance a contract will be done before the regular season ends Thursday." Nine Red Wings are eligible for UFA status this summer: "Forwards Robert Lang, Todd Bertuzzi, Kyle Calder, Kirk Maltby and Datsyuk; defensemen Mathieu Schneider, Danny Markov and Chris Chelios, and goaltender Dominik Hasek. Forward Jiri Hudler can become a restricted free agent, and the team almost certainly will re-sign him to a qualifying offer or a longer-term deal." St. James believes Maltby could be a "last minute signing", that Lang and Schneider likely won't be back, that Chelios will be re-signed, and that Bertuzzi, Calder and Markov likely won't get offers until after the playoffs when Holland has had time time to evaluate their post-season performances.

Spector's Note: Datsyuk's playoff performance will also have a bearing on his contract talks. If he's a playoff "no-show" again, Holland might just wash his hands of him.


CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Bob Foltman reports oft-injured young Blackhawks forward Tuomo Ruutu remains part of the team's future plans, but "it's believed they would entertain an offer for him this summer if it would upgrade the Hawks' skill level."

Spector's Note: Ruutu showed so much promise in his rookie season but two knee injuries, back and ankle injuries and a separated shoulder have hampered his development. If he can stay healthy for an entire season, he could become a very talented scoring forward. That injury history would probably kill any interest in him from rival teams.


SPORTSNET.CA: reports Vancouver radio station CKNW reporting the Vancouver Canucks have offered forward Taylor Pyatt a two-year, $2.4 million contract but Pyatt is seeking the same money ($1.5 million per season) as teammate Matt Cooke along with a three-year contract. Pyatt has scored 21 goals this season whilst Cooke only 8 thus far. Pyatt is eligible for UFA status this summer.

Spector's Note: The Canucks currently have over $38 million committed to payroll next season and could afford to give Pyatt that raise if they believe he's worth it. Pyatt's had a career year however he's also been a streaky scorer. Still, if the Canucks won't pay that raise, somebody else will.


OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports the Senators have opened contract talks with defenceman Anton Volchenkov. He's not eligible for UFA status until July 2008 but the Senators hope to lock him up to a long term deal well before then. Garrioch also reports contract talks between the Sens and veteran blueliner Chris Phillips are proceeding slowly but progress is being made.

Spector's Note: Losing Zdeno Chara to free agency last summer has obviously left a lingering mark on the memory of GM John Muckler, who seems intent to re-sign his better defencemen as soon as possible.


DENVER POST: Adrian Dater recently responded to his reader's questions regarding which impending UFA players could be re-signed by the Colorado Avalanche. Dater believes the club will retain forwards Tyler Arnason and defenceman Ossi Vaananen. He also doesn't believe the team will keep forward Ian Laperriere.


CAMDEN COURIER-POST: Chuck Gormley reports Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Todd Fedoruk is eligible for UFA status this summer, but it's questionable if management will re-sign him. "Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren faces the difficult task of deciding whether there is a place in the organization for a spirited tough guy who is coming off a season in which he made costly defensive mistakes on the ice and lost most, if not all, of the 10 fights he had", writes Gormley. Holmgren said it'll be difficult to re-sign Fedoruk unless the latter reduces his asking price.

Spector's Note: Bye-bye, Todd. Your time as a Flyer is done.

MARCH 30, 2007.


VANCOUVER SUN: Brad Ziemer reports Canucks defenceman Sami Salo took a hometown discount to re-sign with the club to a four-year contract worth $3.5 million per season, citing his family's love of the city of Vancouver. However, Ziemer points out Salo's re-signing could leave the Canucks with limited cap space next season, making it "difficult for the Canucks to re-sign defenceman Brent Sopel, who was acquired from Los Angeles at the trade deadline."

Spector's Note: Salo's $3.5 million mean the Canucks would have over $38 million committed to payroll for next season, so unless Dave Nonis can move some extra salary in the off-season, they'll find cap space tight once again.


BOSTON GLOBE: Kevin Paul Dupont reported Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is disappointed over his team's poor performance this season but he'll allow GM Peter Chiarelli to address the problems. Jacobs did, however, comment on the coaching of Dave Lewis, leading to speculation that Lewis might become the fall guy. Jacobs said he'd leave the decision on retaining or firing Lewis up to Chiarelli and won't second-guess him. For his part, Lewis claims he's not bothered by the possibility.

Spector's Note: One reason why the Bruins have struggled in recent years is their constant coaching changes. The team needs stability and that includes behind the bench. At least give Lewis another season to work with this team.


CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Len Ziehm reports forward Peter Bondra has had a minimal impact on the Blackhawks this season, due in part to injuries. He was signed by the 'Hawks last December to an incentive-laden contract but a shoulder injury suffered in late December affected his performance, and he's not expected to be re-signed by the Blackhawks. Bondra doesn't want to consider retirement just yet, planning to base his decision on how he feels over the summer.

Spector's Note: Injuries also hampered Bondra's performance last season with the Atlanta Thrashers. Age was considered a knock against him, but now he may be considered too injury-prone to attract attention in next summer's UFA market. Retirement could be forced upon him.


COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Aaron Portzline recently reported Blue Jackets defenceman Derrick Walser knows his days with the team are numbered once Rostislav Klesla returns to action, and his playing career could be in its twilight too if he doesn't receive any decent offers as a UFA this summer.

Spector's Note: Walser was demoted Thursday. Unless he's willing to sign up for a two-way contract this summer, he's probably not going to attract much interest.

MARCH 29, 2007.



Spector's Note: My thanks to everyone who sent this in. Good signing by the Canucks. After losing Ed Jovanovski last summer GM Dave Nonis obviously didn't want to repeat the same thing with Salo this summer.


DENVER POST: Mike Chambers reports struggling Colorado Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore is set to make $6 million next season, with $5.3 million counting against the club's salary cap. "The club's buyout option is $4 million for the final year of his contract", reports Chambers.

Spector's Note: The Avalanche will have over $20 million in available cap space heading into next season, so they could afford to buy out Theodore if they want to. The question is, do they want to?


BOSTON GLOBE: Kevin Paul Dupont recently reported Detroit Red Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk is having a strong finish to this season. He's eligible for UFA status this summer, and after earning $3.9 million this season might use Boston's Marc Savard (four years, $20 million) as a comparable in contract talks with the Wings.

Spector's Note: That would be a notable drop from the rumoured $6 million plus he was believed seeking earlier this season. Savard (90 points as of this writing) is indeed close to comparable for Datsyuk (80 points as of this writing).


ARIZONA REPUBLIC: recently reported former Phoenix Coyotes forward Ladislav Nagy is happy playing with the Dallas Stars and hopes the club will retain him after this season. Nagy is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Spector's Note: That'll depend I think on how well he plays in the upcoming playoffs and what his salary demands will be.


TORONTO SUN: Mike Zeisberger reports the Maple Leafs have opened contract talks with forward Boyd Devereaux, whose late season scoring has increased his chances of staying with the club. Zeisberger believes Devereaux will land a "modest one-way deal, presumably for one season". He's currently making $450K this season.

Spector's Note:They'll likely bump it up to $700K, nearly doubling his money from this season.


EDMONTON SUN: Robert Tychkowski reports Oilers backup Jussi Markkanen's contract expires with the club after this season and how well he plays in the club's remaining games this season.

Spector's Note: Hard to believe that the guy who saved the Oilers bacon in last year's Cup finals after Dwayne Roloson got hurt is having to prove himself this late in the season. Unless he doesn't want to "caddy" for Dwayne Roloson next season - and by the sounds of things, that's not a problem for him - I don't see why the Oilers shouldn't re-sign him as their backup.


CAMDEN COURIER-POST: Chuck Gormley reports "the Flyers are not expected to re-sign Esche and York and GM Paul Holmgren said Fedoruk's agent is asking more than the Flyers are willing to pay. The Flyers are expected to makie qualifying offers to all of their restricted free agents."


EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE: Matt Paulson recently reported Phoenix Coyotes CEO Jeff Shumway isn't happy with the team's lack of progress in recent years. “Something has to be done. We can’t continue to do what we’ve done in the past", he said. Paulson notes of rampant speculation GM Michael Barnett and others in the front office could lose their jobs but Shumway would only say that there would be performances reviews at season's end and decisions will be made based on those reviews.

Spector's Note: Hat tip to GJ Berg and "Steffen". Given the Coyotes poor record under Barnett's tenure, it would appears he could be losing his job after this season.


MIAMI HERALD: George Richards recently reported the Florida Panthers signed defenceman Cory Murphy to a two-year contract. Murphy was the top defenceman and named MVP in the Finnish League this season.

Spector's Note: My thanks to "Jon".

MARCH 28, 2007.


PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Tim Panaccio reports the Flyers signing yesterday of goaltender Martin Biron to a two-year, $7 million contract has left goalie Antero Niittymaki uncertain about his future with the team. Acknowledging that the club intends to qualify him for next season, Niittymaki's agent suggested his client might consider playing as a starter in Europe next season rather than playing backup to Biron, but Niittymaki said he hasn't made any decisions yet regarding next season. "They want to give me a qualifying offer. I don't know. It's not that easy just to go to Europe. Not too many jobs available. If I sign the qualifying offer, I have to work hard to get some games next year."

CHERRY HILL COURIER-POST: Chuck Gormley reports "Plan B" for the Flyers if Niittymaki opts for Europe is to re-sign Robert Esche, "although it is unlikely he would want to return to the Flyers next season."

Spector's Note: I don't think the Flyers are concerned about the status of their backups. Niittymaki will likely remain with the Flyers, although the comments from his agent and Niittymaki's denials about playing in Europe makes things interesting. Was his agent expressing his client's true wishes? Or was he angling for perhaps a better deal from the Flyers? As for Esche, he's a UFA this summer and hasn't had a happy tenure in Philly, so he's likely a goner.


ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: Jeremy Rutherford reports highly-touted Blues defence prospect Erik Johnson won't be joining the club this season, but he'll let the club know within a month if he'll sign up with them for next season.

Spector's Note: Johnson is one of the NCAA's top players and was the first overall pick in last year's NHL entry draft. He may decide to spend another season with the NCAA. Regardless, the Blues aren't likely to trade him away if he decides to spend another season in university, something the Carolina Hurricanes did with Jack Johnson, who yesterday signed with the LA Kings and is expected to play with them on Thursday.


TORONTO SUN: Mike Zeisberger reports Maple Leafs forward Jeff O'Neill is frustrated yet again over the reduction in his playing time, although he's not publicly expressing it or sulking like Montreal's Sergei Samosonv, who found himself in a similar situation and now seems permanently benched by the Canadiens. Zeisberger notes that O'Neill has been in the midst of a scoring drought, scoring only once in his last 16 games.

Spector's Note: O'Neill is an unrestricted free agent this summer and is likely playing his final games with the Maple Leafs. His play has been far too inconsistent.


CHICAGO DAILY HERALD: Tim Sassone yesterday reports Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon has some major issues to address with his team this off-season. First, he wants to re-sign Michal Handzus but the latter "is seriously considering going somewhere else to play for a winner." It might cost the 'Hawks between $3.5 -$4 million to re-sign Handzus, who'd be more affordable to retain than to pursue big name UFA centres like Scott Gomez or Daniel Briere. The club isn't expected to spend toward the cap ceiling for next season (expected to be almost $48 million). Sassone also doubts the 'Hawks could attract a big name UFA like Ryan Smyth because of the team's long record of losing seasons, meaning the club would have to overpay for top UFA talent as they did when they signed Nikolai Khabibulin, thus the 'Hawks may be limited to minimal free agent activity this summer.

Spector's Note: The only hope the 'Hawks have is to continue rebuilding with their young players and perhaps swing another major trade acquisition as when they landed Martin Havlat last summer. The Blackhawks, as Sassone noted, is considered one of the worst franchises in the NHL and that's not going to entice top name UFAs to sign with them.

MARCH 27, 2007.


PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/CAMDEN COURIER-POST: reports the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Martin Biron have agreed to a deal in principle and could officially announce the contract today. It's believed the new contract could be worth $3.4 million per season for the next two years.

Spector's Note: No surprises here. The Flyers dealt for Biron with the intent of re-signing him to bolster their goaltending.


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Chris Foster reports the LA Kings have signed blueline prospect Jack Johnson to an entry level contract, and he should make his NHL debut on Thursday. Foster reports the Kings intend to use Rob Blake as Johnson's mentor.

Spector's Note: This'll be hopefully an exciting glimpse into the future for Kings fans, as Johnson was considered a top prospect who could be a Calder Trophy contender as the NHL's top rookie next season.


ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: Jeremy Rutherford reports the Blues held discussions with the agent for prospect Erik Johnson and it's possible the club could have the young defenceman in a Blues uniform on April 7. "Johnson said Monday that the thought of joining the Blues is enticing, but he hasn't made his decision yet", reports Rutherford.

Spector's Note: It'll be interesting to see if Johnson opts for a quick taste of NHL action before this season ends. It might give him a better idea of what he'll be in store for next season.


OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports the Boston Bruins need to shore up their goaltending and could make a pitch for Anaheim goalie J-S Giguere should he hit the UFA market this summer. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli would have to clear some salary to do this and might try to shop veteran winger Glen Murray, who still has two years at $4.15 million per season remaining on his contract. Garrioch believes the LA Kings might have interest in bringing Murray back.

Spector's Note: Chiarelli is on record as saying he won't bid for big name UFA players this summer, so if we take him at his word, he won't bid for Giguere. As for the Kings, GM Dean Lombardi appears intent on rebuilding with young players, which would suggest he's not interested in taking on a player like Murray, especially with his salary.


CAMDEN COURIER POST: Chuck Gormley reports the Philadelphia Flyers admitted they were interested in bringing back John LeClair to allow him to finish his NHL career with the team, but LeClair has no plans to retire thus the idea was scrapped.

Spector's Note: It's tough to call it a career but I doubt LeClair will find another NHL team interested in his services. He's considered a spent force.

MARCH 26, 2007.


TSN.CA/LOS ANGELES TIMES/MICHIGAN DAILY: all report defence prospect Jack Johnson is in the midst of negotiations with the Los Angeles Kings and could potentially join the club as early as Tuesday. "I'll be flying from Denver to Los Angeles," Johnson said. "Everything's done except for they're negotiating bonuses." Johnson will get the standard rookie contract under the terms of the CBA.

Spector's Note: Hat tip to "Patrick" and "Brock" for the Michigan Daily link. I don't usually post up the signing of prospects but this one is noteworthy. Johnson is considered one of the best players, if not the best, in NCAA hockey, and his decision to sign with the Kings bodes well for the club's improvement next season. He's considered a potential front runner for next season's Calder Trophy.


ST. PETERSBURG TIMES: Damian Cristodero reports Tampa Bay Lightning GM Jay Feaster "said the Lightning's shrinking payroll next season means it likely will not sign any big-name unrestricted free agents in the summer." Feaster will instead look to sign role players "who will sign two-way contracts at or close to the league's minimum $475,000 salary and compete for spots as Eric Perrin and Doug Janik did this season." The club will hold its payroll at $40 million, $4 million less than this season's, but also intends to retain "Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Marty St. Louis and Dan Boyle, who have a combined $23-million cap hit." Cristodero suggests that could mean losing Ruslan Fedotenko and Cory Sarich to unrestricted free agency, which would cut over $3.5 million from the payroll.

Spector's Note: The Lightning presently has just over $32 million committed to payroll for next season. While there will be continous speculation throughout the off-season of the team trading one of their high-priced players (Vincent Lecavalier has been frequently mentioned by rumourmongers outside of Tampa Bay), it would appear that's not in the cards. Those players represent a major draw for the Bolts and trading away one of them, even if it makes cap sense, might send the wrong message to their fans. Feaster could also be buying time to get past next season, when he'll have more payroll space to better bolster his roster.


CHICAGO DAILY HERALD: Tim Sassone recently reported the Blackhawks hope to re-sign centre Michal Handzus and use him to center Martin Havlat's line. Handzus started the season on Havlat's line but suffered a season-ending knee injury last October. "The Hawks have offered Handzus a contract that the injured center is in no hurry to sign. Tallon said he has been promised an answer one way or another by Handzus and his agent by the end of April." Sassone reports it's believed Handzus is seeking $4 million per season, nearly double what he would've made this season.

Spector's Note: I suspect the Blackhawks would prefer to retain Handzus rather than risk losing him to free agency thus forcing them into a potential bidding war for a first line centre, which they could potentially lose. Handzus would also likely be more affordable to re-sign than if the club were to sign a bigger name.


THE TENNESSEAN: John Glennon reports Nashville Predators GM David Poile won't get into contract negotiations with his impending UFA players and his coaching staff until after their season is finished. Glennon suggests the club's performance in the upcoming playoffs could have an effect on those future talks. Head coach Barry Trotz said he wasn't feeling any additional pressure because of this. Impending UFA forwards include Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen. Kariya doesn't wish to talk contract until the off-season, while it's possible Forsberg could retire if he continues to be plagued by skate boot problems with his surgically reconstructed right foot. Hartnell and Timonen both expressed the hope of re-signing with the Predators.

Spector's Note: Forsberg is likely a playoff rental regardless of possible retirement plans. The Preds would undoubtedly wish to retain Kariya but he'll be more expensive to keep around. They'd also like to retain Timonen, but it's believed the Philadelphia Flyers will push hard for his services. Hartnell could become a UFA as his contract talks last summer fell through.

MARCH 25, 2007.


DENVER POST: Adrian Dater recently responded to a reader's question regarding the struggles of Colorado Avalanche netminder Jose Theodore. Dater believes Theodore's "probably going to get bought out from the last year of his contract. It's not a huge leap of logic to say that. The one thing you can say about Theodore is that he has not been a distraction or grumbler about his situation. It just hasn't worked out for him this year, that's all, but he's still maintaining a professional attitude."

Spector's Note: Theodore's fall from grace has been a puzzling one. Only three years ago, he was the de facto starting goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, seen as their franchise player. Now, he's not only facing the prospect of a contract buyout but might also have a tough time finding another NHL team willing to take a chance on his regaining his form.


DETROIT FREE PRESS: Helene St. James reports Red Wings blueliner Mathieu Schneider is at 37 having another strong season, but it remains to be seen if he'll re-sign with the club after this season. Talks that started during training camp haven't progressed, although Schneider has touched base with GM Ken Holland to express his hope of staying with the team. "Schneider makes $3.3 million this season and given his offensive prowess, especially on the power play, he's guaranteed to draw competitive offers from other teams. The Wings can't bring everyone back, so Schneider could end up finishing his career elsewhere."

Spector's Note: With the Wings having so many key players eligible for UFA status this summer (St. James listed Schneider, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi, Kyle Calder, Danny Markov, Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek among them), someone isn't going to stick. Datsyuk's contract talks could have a direct result on which of these players stick with the team after this season. Schneider will attract considerable interest if he hits the open market.


Bruce Garrioch reports the following:

- "The Bruins, Lightning, Hawks, Panthers, Kings and Coyotes are all expected to try to upgrade their goaltending and might make Anaheim stopper J.S. Giguere their No. 1 target." It's believed the Ducks won't re-sign Giguere this summer. Garrioch also suggest the Canadiens as a potential bidder but adds their depth in goalie prospects and the clearing of David Aebischer's salary from their payroll might not make them serious bidders.

Spector's Note: I don't see the Habs getting into the bidding for Giguere. If anything, they'll try to land that elusive scoring centre they so desperately need. With the Kings committed to Cloutier for another season I don't see them going after Giggy, and with the Bolts carrying the salaries of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards, I don't see them plopping down big bucks for Giguere. The 'Hawks are still carrying Khabibulin's big contract so rule them out. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said he wasn't going after big-name UFAs this summer so if we take him at his word the B's won't be in the bidding either.

- Speculation still abounds that the Phoenix Coyotes will hire former Toronto Maple Leafs GM and coach Pat Quinn in some capacity, although it likely won't be as head coach since Wayne Gretzky claims he'll return in that role next season.

Spector's Note: There's talk that current Coyotes GM Michael Barnett might be out of a job at season's end. Quinn might come in as either Barnett's successor or as his assistant.

- There's talk that LA Kings players aren't happy with head coach Marc Crawford's demanding style. Garrioch believes those unhappy Kings should go out and play harder rather than blaming a proven coach like Crawford for the team's struggles.

Spector's Note: Crawford isn't to blame for the injury-ravaged goaltending and the lack of quality defensive depth on the team this season.

- The Edmonton Oilers woeful record since GM Kevin Lowe traded away forward Ryan Smyth could force Lowe to try to bring back Smyth, but Garrioch doubts Lowe will be successful, suggesting instead that the St. Louis Blues could target Smyth as the "centerpiece" of their rebuilding plans and could make him a big offer.

Spector's Note: I too doubt Smyth will return to the Oilers. As for the Blues, they'll have serious competition for Smyth's services as probably a dozen NHL teams could get into the bidding for his services, including his current club, the NY Islanders.

- "The Bruins, Kings, Habs, Oilers, Flames and Canucks" could get into the bidding for either Daniel Briere or Chris Drury, as it's believed the Buffalo Sabres won't be able to retain both. Drury could be the odd man out, with the Kings likely to be the leading contender to land him.

Spector's Note: I have to agree with Garrioch that the Sabres will be hard pressed to retain both guys and if it comes down to a choice it'll be Drury who'd be cut loose. As for the Kings, they already have Mike Cammalleri (who has more points than Drury this season) and Anze Kopitar (who has only five points less thus far than Drury this season) so it really doesn't make sense for them to pursue him. I'm also not sure Flames GM Darryl Sutter would bring Drury back to Calgary, given that his last go-around there didn't pan out as well as hoped. The Bruins are another team that already has two scoring centres (Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron), plus there's also Chiarelli's comments about not pursuing big name UFAs this summer. I do expect the Canadiens, Oilers and Canucks to have interest in Drury if he were to hit the market, but it remains to be seen if he'd want to sign with a Canadian team.

MARCH 24, 2007.


PHILLYBURBS.COM: Wayne Fish recently reported the Flyers have a 48% chance of winning the first overall pick in this year's draft in the draft lottery (scheduled for April 10th), but management hasn't ruled out the possibility of trading that pick. If they do keep the pick, they might select Russian right winger Alexei Cherepanov.

Spector's Note: Even though this year's draft isn't expected to be a deep one, that first overall pick will still have plenty of value if the Flyers are willing to entertain offers.

CHERRY HILL COURIER-POST: Chuck Gormley reports the Flyers will have to play better in their final games of this season if they're to "convince potential free agents such as Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Ryan Smyth they are a team with a future".

Spector's Note: I think the time is long past where the Flyers would need to pick up their game to convince marquee UFA talent to sign with them. Regardless, I don't think it'll have any bearing. Philadelphia is a great hockey town, it's location means a less strenuous travel schedule, they're a team with a great hockey history, possess some good young talent, and most importantly, they'll have over $20 million to spend on free agents this summer. In the end, money talks.


BOSTON HERALD: Stephan Harris recently reported former Bruin Sergei Samsonov appears to have been permanently benched by Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau. Samsonov has expressed his regret about signing with the Canadiens, leading to speculation the club might buy out the remaining year on his contract, making him a UFA. "If so, B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli might want to consider bringing him back at a much-discounted price. He could be highly motivated and provide an offensive spark this team so sorely needs. "

Spector's Note: Samsonov's best years were with the Bruins and he might be willing to consider returning to Boston, but if he does become a UFA it remains to be seen if he'd fit into Chiarelli's plans. If any Bruins fans have an opinion on this, please e-mail me and I'll post them in a future "Fans Speak Out".

MARCH 23, 2007.


TORONTO SUN: Mike Zeisberger reports Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin reiterates his intent to remain with the club after this season regardless of whether or not they make the playoffs this season. The Leafs have a club option on Sundin's contract for $6.3 million but it's believed they might decline to pick up the option but then re-sign him to a more affordable contract as a UFA. "I've said all along that I want to finish my career as a Leaf," Sundin said yesterday. "I have no desire to go anywhere else", adding that regardless of what happens he intends on returning with the club next season.

Spector's Note: Sundin might be willing to sign with the Leafs as a UFA to a less expensive but longer term deal, especially if Leafs management pitches the fact that the savings would help them bring in better linemates for him.


NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the Rangers are engaged in serious contract talks with the agent for Michael Nylander in hopes of re-signing him to a contract extension. "It is believed the two sides are talking about a two-year agreement that would carry Nylander through the final season of Jaromir Jagr's contract, presuming the Rangers exercise their team option on Jagr for 2008-09."

Spector's Note: Given that Nylander has played well during his tenure with the Rangers on Jagr's line, it only makes sense for the Blueshirts to retain him.


BUFFALO NEWS: Tim Graham recently reported recently acquired forward Dainius Zubrus hasn't put up much offensively for the Sabres but the team is pleased with his physical game and puck possession. "Whatever the Sabres get out of Zubrus down the homestretch and through the postseason will probably be all they ever get. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent and is said to be looking for a contract in the five-year, $16 million range. He’s almost certainly a playoff mercenary."

Spector's Note: Zubrus can forget about landing that type of contract with the Sabres or anybody else. He might be wise to note the lesson of Jason Allison, whose insistence on a lengthy, expensive contract saw him go unsigned this season.

MARCH 22, 2007.


CAMDEN COURIER-POST: Chuck Gormley reports contract talks between Martin Biron's agent and Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren have begun. " Biron is believed to be seeking a three-year deal worth about $11 million. The Flyers may be more interested in $12 million over four seasons."

Spector's Note: Regardless of the deal, expect Biron to be re-signed well before July 1st, when he'd be eligible for UFA status.


MIAMI HERALD: George Richards recently reported Florida Panthers goaltender Ed Belfour is feeling healthy and happy this season. Originally signed by the Panthers this summer to back up Alex Auld, Belfour split playing time with Auld and since the latter's injury has played 23 consecutive games. Belfour "credits the Panthers head trainer Curtis Bell and strength coach Andy O'Brien for his physical health. The stretching regimen to work out his back is something he says he will keep the rest of his playing career." His incentive laden contract for this season could pay him $1.5 million.

Spector's Note: Belfour's back surgery last year and his next training regimen has given his playing career a new lease. Given the lack of quality goaltending depth in this summer's UFA market, Belfour could be a hot property if he should hit the market, but it's quite possible the Panthers will re-sign him for another season.

MARCH 21, 2007.


OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch recently reported the Senators made a serious mistake in not parting with a first round pick for Gary Roberts prior to the trade deadline. Roberts was eventually traded from the Florida Panthers to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sens GM John Muckler said he didn't want to gamble away the future. Muckler acquired forward Oleg Saprykin from Phoenix at the deadline but he's been a scratch in recent games.

Spector's Note: There's no guarantee Roberts would've been enough to land the Senators into the Stanley Cup finals, but if the club fails to at least make it to the Eastern Conference Finals expect Muckler to be criticized throughout the off-season by the local media for not acquiring Roberts.


PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Dave Molinari reports forward Nils Ekman, who was acquired by the Penguins last summer to provide additional offensive depth, has been "a major disappointment". Ekman missed considerable time to a dislocated elbow and has "six goals and nine assists in 33 games" this season, as well as a -14 rating. Ekman is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. Molinari writes the Penguins haven't given any hints as to their future plans for Ekman "but it's far from certain that they'd invest a seven-figure salary in someone who can't crack the lineup."

Spector's Note: I'd say it's a certainty they won't re-sign Ekman, who'll have a tough time finding a team willing to pay him $1.1 million for next season. He'll have to accept considerably less to continue his NHL career into next season.


CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Bob Foltman recently reported recently-acquired forward Nikita Alexeev knows he simply can't coast for the remainder of the season if he hopes to nail down a spot on the Blackhawks roster next season. "Alexeev knows that the final 11 games, in addition to the seven he has played since coming to the Hawks in a trade-deadline deal, are critical to his future in Chicago,' reports Foltman.

Spector's Note: Alexeev finally appeared to be breaking through earlier this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning but by mid-season has lost playing time as his offensive production declined. I'd expect the Blackhawks may re-sign him to a one-year contract.

MARCH 20, 2007.


OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports Senators defenceman Chris Phillips is confident he'll have a new contract soon with the club. Phillips is eligible for unrestricted free agency in July but the Senators hope to retain him. While no timetable has been set on a new contract, Garrioch reports it's believed both sides would like it done prior to the start of the playoffs.

Spector's Note: Having lost Zdeno Chara last summer to free agency the Sens don't want to repeat the mistake with Phillips. Even if it's not done before the start of the playoffs it'll be done before July 1.


DETROIT FREE PRESS: Helene St. James reports newly-acquired Red Wings forward Kyle Calder has rediscovered his scoring touch since being dealt to Detroit from the Philadelphia Flyers, where he struggled throughout most of this season. He's also reignited center Robert Lang. Still, St. James suggests Calder's time with the Red Wings could be short. "His salary this season is $2.95 million, and that's a prohibitive sum for the Wings to match or increase this summer, when Calder can become an unrestricted free agent. The Wings have a slew of players up for new contracts, including Lang, Schneider, Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Markov, Todd Bertuzzi and Kirk Maltby, plus Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek. Not everyone will be back."

Spector's Note: A lot will also depend on how well Calder plays in the upcoming playoffs. He's not likely to accept a pay cut but might consider a contract extension for another season at $2.95 million. Also, if it seems the Red Wings might not be able to retain Datsyuk, Calder would be good insurance (even though he doesn't play the same position as Datsyuk).


BOSTON HERALD: Stephan Harris recently reports the Bruins "will have only about $8 million or $10 million to spend this summer on free agents, and must resign Wideman, Andrew Alberts, Brandon Bochenski and Hannu Toivonen [stats] (although one longtime NHL scout last week guaranteed Toivonen will be jettisoned during draft weekend)." Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli won't have enough cash available on his payroll to pursue big name UFA players like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury or Daniel Briere this summer. Chiarelli said he'll go after second-tier talent this summer, but Harris suggests there's already enough of that kind of talent on the team.

Spector's Note: The Bruins real problems begin in goal, where Tim Thomas has proven too erratic and Toivonen was just plain awful this season. Stronger goaltending could've netted the B's perhaps ten more points and put them into a playoff berth this season. Until that's addressed, it won't matter what Chiarelli brings in this summer at the other positions.

MARCH 19, 2007.


EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson reports Oilers GM Kevin Lowe intends to examine all options this summer toward rebuilding his club, which will miss the 2007 playoffs after coming to within one game of winning the 2006 Stanley Cup. Lowe intends to increase payroll "at least $43 million, maybe higher" for next season, and will consider trade options as well as UFA signings. The Oilers need a puckmoving defenceman "in the worst way", and Lowe will probably sign one or two UFAs, "although there's a perception that Edmonton is a gulag for a lot of free agents." Matheson lists Nashville's Kimmo Timonen as the best available UFA blueliner but believes the Philadelphia Flyers could outbid the Oilers for his services. Matheson also doesn't believe Sheldon Souray will suit the Oilers needs, listing instead Montreal's Andrei Markov and New Jersey's Bryan Rafalski as better alternatives, and even suggests Calgary's Roman Hamrlik or Brad Stuart, Ottawa's Tom Preissing and Atlanta's Andy Sutton as possibilities. Regarding forwards, Matheson lists Buffalo's Daniel Briere (although noting the Flyers will go hard for him too), New Jersey's Scott Gomez, Nashville's Scott Hartnell, Carolina's Ray Whitney and Chicago's Jeff Hamilton as possibilities.

Spector's Note: Lowe's going to have his work cut out for him this summer. He's obviously willing to spend more, although as anticipated he won't be spending upward toward the cap. I suspect he'll stay within $43 million. Timonen will either remain in Nashville or sign with the Flyers, I expect Markov and Rafalski to remain with their respective club, Souray will either re-sign with Montreal or head to California, and I don't see Briere or Gomez or Whitney signing with the Oilers. Lowe likely has a better chance signing the others Matheson noted. I suspect Lowe will also shop around leading up to the draft weekend for any potential trades, but if unsuccessful then will wait until after the first two weeks of July for the dust to settle in the UFA market before making any trade decisions, based of course on whether or not he was able to address one of his needs via that market.


VANCOUVER SUN: Elliott Pap recently reported Detroit Red Wings 45-year-old blueliner Chris Chelios has no plans for retirement, as he's still a key component on the Wings blueline. "Ken Holland [GM] told me the other day he's playing five more years. He wants to have him at 50, so I don't know what we're going to do about that", said Wings head coach Mike Babcock.

Spector's Note: There's been a few internet rumours suggesting the Wings might cut Chelios loose this summer, but given the comments of Holland and Babcock's using Chelios to mentor his young defencemen, I'd say that's unlikely. Expect Chelios to re-sign another one-year deal with the Wings this summer.

MARCH 18, 2007.


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Chris Foster recently reported the hefty contract Kings GM Dean Lombardi signed goaltender Dan Cloutier to last summer will prevent Lombardi from bidding for a high-priced UFA goalie this summer. Kings goalie Mathieu Garon is eligible for UFA status this summer, Sean Burke is forty and Jason LaBarbera has a fine minor league resume but only 29 NHL games under his belt.

LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS: Rich Hammond also reported on the Kings question marks between the pipes, noting that prospects Barry Brust (3.70) and Yutaka Fukufuji (4.38) were stopgap measures this season who aren't ready for full time NHL action. Cloutier has struggled with injury in recent years and missed most of this season, but its believed he'll be at 100 percent for next season.

Spector's Note: Cloutier will be the Kings starter next season, so it comes down to whether or not they retain Cloutier or Burke, or bring up LaBarbera.


Bruce Garrioch reports the following:

- There could be some off-ice changes coming for some NHL teams in the off-season. Dallas Stars GM Doug Armstrong might be pressured into firing head coach Dave Tippett if the Stars fail to advance in the 2007 playoffs. The Columbus Blues Jackets might fire team president/GM Doug MacLean after this season as the club has once again failed to make the playoffs. Phoenix Coyotes GM Michael Barnett's performance will be up for review by team ownership at season's end.

Spector's Note: MacLean's been rumoured to be fired before yet still remains in his current job. Tippett could indeed find himself replaced if the Stars fail to advance past the first round. Barnett's future is also on shaky ground, and if he survives into next season, he'd better pray the Coyotes show real improvement if he's to save his job.

- Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon will try to retain centre Michal Handzus and could pursue potential free agents like Daniel Briere and Ryan Smyth. Garrioch suggests Tallon could lose his job by Christmas if the Blackhawks fail to make improvements.

Spector's Note: Tallon will find it tough to attract top UFAs to Chicago. The 'Hawks are no longer a desireable destination for most , and given that the Blackhawks have over $32 million already committed to payroll for next season, they may have a difficult time outbidding other teams.

- The Dallas Stars have not started contract talks with forward Ladislav Nagy, whom they acquired from Phoenix in January. "Don't be surprised if several teams -- including Detroit, Boston, Montreal and San Jose -- try to sign Nagy", writes Garrioch.

Spector's Note: Despite some concerns about his injury history and occasionally inconsistent play, Nagy shouldn't have trouble finding suitors this summer.

- The Edmonton Oilers tried to trade defenceman Steve Staios and his $1.65 million contract prior to trading Ryan Smyth.

Spector's Note: Seems odd the Oilers would do this after re-signing Staios earlier this season to a long-term contract.

MARCH 17, 2007.


EDMONTON JOURNAL: In a recent response to reader mail, Jim Matheson suggested Oilers management should consider packaging one of their three first round picks in this year's entry draft with a player for an offensive defenceman like Nashville's Marek Zidlicky. Matheson also doubts former Oiler forward Ryan Smyth will re-sign with the team as a UFA this summer, suggesting the " Islanders, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Predators, Red Wings, Blackhawks and Canadiens" and possibly the Stars might try to sign him this summer. Matheson feels the Oilers want to retain Petr Sykora but he may have to accept a pay cut from the $2.9 million he earned this summer. He also suggests the Oilers make a pitch for Lloydminister native Scott Hartnell. Matheson also believes the Oilers have a shot at signing top UFAs like "Daniel Briere or Chris Drury or (Scott) Gomez or Brian Rafalski or (Kimmo) Timonen" but they'd have to overpay to land them.

Spector's Note: It doesn't sound good for the Oilers to make any bold UFA signings this coming summer. Shopping a high first round pick with a forward for a quality puckmoving blueliner sounds like their best option, although that's easier said than done.


EDMONTON JOURNAL: Joanne Ireland reports Petr Nedved's second tenure as an Oiler has come to an end. He was knocked out of the lineup with a knee injury earlier this month and by mutual consent with management has left the team.

Spector's Note: The quality of Nedved's performance has declined noticeably since the lockout. It's doubtful he'll find any takers as a UFA this summer.

MARCH 16, 2007.


MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE: Michael Russo recently reported Wild goalie Manny Fernandez has lost his role as the club's starting goaltender to backup Nicklas Backstrom, who has posted stellar numbers since filling in for Fernandez, who was sidelined with a knee sprain. Fernandez said he understood the situation and fully supports Backstrom and head coach Jacques Lemaire, who made the decision, and also said he wasn't worried about the Wild possibly considering trading him in the off-season due to Backstrom's play. Three years ago Fernandez had requested a trade when he felt he wasn't getting the opportunity to become the club's starter but wouldn't say if he'll consider making a similar request this summer.

EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson reports Wild GM Doug Risebrough could face a decision regarding his goaltending situation this summer. Backstrom is eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, and Risebrough has to decide if he'll retain him or cut him loose. If he opts to re-sign Backstrom, he could consider shopping Fernandez as he has promising young Josh Harding in his system.

Spector's Note: The playoffs could be the determining factor. If Backstrom is their starter in the post-season and plays well, and perhaps helps carry the Wild deep into the post-season, that could convince Risebrought to ship out Fernandez. Given the lack of depth in goalies in this summer's UFA market, Fernandez could attract a good return in a trade.


ST. PETERSBURG TIMES: Damian Cristodero recently reported Tampa Bay Lightning forward Rob DiMaio is considering retirement this summer as he's still feeling the effects from a concussion suffered in a pre-season game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Spector's Note: Always sad to read about a player's career getting cut short by injury, although DiMaio has been fortunate to have a lengthy (18 seasons) NHL career.

MARCH 15, 2007.


NEWSDAY: Greg Logan yesterday reported NY Islanders forward Jason Blake was relieved that the club didn't move him at the NHL trade deadline.

Spector's Note: But will he remain an Islander after this season? It's been rumoured he was being shopped leading up to deadline day, and it remains to be seen if he fits into the Islanders future plans.


TSN.CA/CP: reports Edmonton Oilers forward Petr Sykora is hoping to remain with the club after this season. An unrestricted free agent on July 1st, Sykora expressed his desire to remain with the team, claiming he enjoys playing with his young teammates and for head coach Craig MacTavish.

Spector's Note: Since it appears unlikely the Oilers will be bringing back Ryan Smyth, some of their savings could go toward re-signing Sykora, depending on how much of a raise over the $2.9 million he made this season he'll seek.

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