With the elimination of the Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers from the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs, inquiring minds are pondering their potential off-season moves.
San Jose Sharks
Another early playoff exit not only had GM Doug Wilson apologizing for his team’s woeful performance, but also suggesting significant changes could be coming for a roster that has under-performed in the playoffs over the past four years.
Speculation is growing that key Sharks like Joe Thornton, Evgeni Nabokov, Jonathan Cheechoo and team captain Patrick Marleau might be shopped this summer despite their expensive contracts and – except for Cheechoo – no-trade clauses.
It appears the most likely trade candidate is Marleau, who, with one more season at $6.3 million remaining on his contract, might be attractive to teams seeking depth at center.
The likelihood of moving Thornton appears to be remote given the length and expense of his contract.
The Sharks also lack a goalie who could step up to replace Nabokov and there are few potential free agent candidates who fit the bill. A trade is possible, but finding a starting goalie capable of out-playing Nabokov is easier said than done.
Cheechoo’s production has dropped significantly since winning the 2005-06 Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal-scorer, but he might have value to clubs lacking second line scoring depth.
Another year, another first round burnout for the Flames, sparking considerable grumbling amongst the punditry and fan base in the Stampede City.
With Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Jordan Leopold and Adrian Aucoin set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, the roster should have a different look next fall. Cammalleri, Bertuzzi and Aucoin expressed a willingness to return, but it appears unlikely all three will be back.
Cammalleri could command more than $5 million on the open market, so unless GM Darryl Sutter either frees up considerable cap space or offers a long-term, front-loaded contract, Cammalleri is likely a goner.
Bertuzzi and Aucoin could remain, but they would probably have to accept pay cuts. Leopold appears destined for the UFA market.
The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek suggested the Flames should consider shopping Dion Phaneuf as a radical way to determine his market value and free up cap space.
Duhatschek proposed the Flames peddle Phaneuf for a return of two young players or prospects and free up salary to get into this summer’s Jay Bouwmeester sweepstakes.
Trading Phaneuf would certainly be a notable change to the Flames roster, but moving him after one injury-plagued, sub-par season early in his career would be over-reacting. Sutter thinks highly of the big, young blueliner, so it’s doubtful he’d consider such a radical move.
One need Sutter should address is an experienced backup goalie for the overworked Miikka Kiprusoff.
More than one observer noted when Kiprusoff carried the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup final he played less than 40 games in the regular season.
Over the past four seasons, however, Kiprusoff has played more than 70 games each year, leading some to believe he’s burned out by the time playoffs roll around.
New Jersey Devils
GM Lou Lamoriello has several key players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer and by his own admission, won’t be able to re-sign them all.
Forwards John Madden, Brian Gionta, Bobby Holik and Brendan Shanahan, defenseman Johnny Oduya and goaltender Scott Clemmensen will be playing elsewhere unless Lamoriello re-signs them.
Lamoriello told the New York Post a couple of those UFAs were integral parts of the roster and were worth doing anything possible to bring back. The paper suggested Lamoriello was referring to Madden, Gionta and Oduya.
The three indicated they’d like to stay, but it’ll depend on their contract demands and their place in the Devils’ long-term plans.
Gionta and Madden appear to have their best seasons behind them, which could force the two veterans to consider accepting reduced pay to remain with the Devils. The 27-year-old Oduya, however, is coming into his own as a quality defenseman and is due a significant raise over the $600,000 he earned this season.
Shanahan and Holik intend to take some time to consider their options, but it remains to be seen if they have a part in Lamoriello’s future plans. Clemmensen will probably test the market as he’s keen to land a multi-year contract where he can challenge for the starter’s role, something he won’t get in New Jersey.
New York Rangers
No lack of suggestions from the New York media over what Rangers management could or should do to improve the lineup this summer.
Newsday’s Steve Zipay made several suggestions ranging from clearing the salaries of one or two expensive players via trade or buyout, to improving the power play – perhaps by targeting Martin Havlat or Daniel Sedin – to adding more size and/or scoring up front. He also suggested going after Marian Gaborik on the market.
The New York Post’s Larry Brooks suggested Rangers coach John Tortorella might push for the club to pry Martin St-Louis away from the Tampa Bay Lightning, citing Tortorella’s good relationship with St-Louis when he coached the Lightning. Brooks also suggested, if the asking price for St-Louis is too steep, acquiring Alexander Radulov’s rights from the Nashville Predators.
That appears to be wishful thinking on Brooks’ part. While rumors of the Lightning trying to dump Vincent Lecavalier’s expensive contract won’t go away, St-Louis is coming off one of his better seasons, despite a woeful run for the team.
He also has two years remaining on his contract at an affordable $5.25 million per season and a no-trade clause he’s given no indication he wants to waive.
As for Radulov, do the Rangers really want that headache? Besides, the asking price is likely to be a scoring forward, something the Blueshirts don’t have to spare.
The Rangers will, however, have an additional $4 million in cap space to work with this summer as the Post also reported veteran winger Markus Naslund will retire rather than play out the final year of his contract.
Naslund signed the two-year deal last summer weeks before his 35th birthday, meaning the final season won’t count against the Rangers cap.
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Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.