The return of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to North America generated considerable buzz over which NHL team he would sign with, leading to a consensus the Tampa Bay Lightning are the likely destination given the struggles of the current goalie tandem of Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, who possess the worst combined goals-against average and save percentage in the league.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman admitted to speaking recently with Nabokov’s agent, but told the St. Petersburg Times it was merely an informational discussion and he had no immediate plans to change his goaltending.
Columnist Damian Cristodero noted the Lightning’s current winning record and the availability of other, less risky goalies by the Feb. 28th trade deadline meant Yzerman wasn’t in any hurry to consider changes. Yzerman could also wait to see what type of contract Nabokov gets with another team and then perhaps attempt to claim him off waivers.
That would change if Smith and Ellis’ struggles threaten the Lightning’s playoff hopes, but for now it appears Nabokov won’t be heading to Tampa Bay.
BLACKHAWKS SEARCHING FOR DEPTH
The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks continue to struggle this season, as they are currently jockeying with six others teams for one of the final three playoff berths in the very tight Western Conference.
GM Stan Bowman recently admitted he’d like to bolster his depth on defense and at center, but a lack of salary cap space makes that difficult at this time of year.
Bowman could end up waiting until the February trade deadline to address his roster’s weaknesses, but if the Blackhawks continue to struggle, a deadline deal may come too late to help. The Hawks signed checking center Ryan Johnson Friday morning, but that won’t be the only move they try and make.
It’s ironic that a lack of cap space is hampering Bowman’s efforts to improve his roster depth, as it was last summer’s need to become cap compliant for this season that forced him to deal away players such as Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, placing the Blackhawks in their current dilemma.
DEALING WITH THE DEVILS
The New Jersey Devils placed veteran left winger Brian Rolston on waivers earlier this week, but couldn’t find any takers for his services.
The Devils now face the possibility of placing Rolston on re-entry waivers, where it is more likely a rival team will be interested in picking him up for only half of his $5.06 million cap hit.
Rolston claimed he wasn’t asked to waive his no-trade clause and told NorthJersey.com’s Tom Gulitti they would cross that bridge when they came to it. However, considering Rolston’s age (37), declining production (he’s on pace for 16 points this season) and expensive salary it seems unlikely anyone will attempt to acquire him via trade or re-entry waivers.
Placing Rolston on waivers appears to be the first attempt this season by GM Lou Lamoriello to dump salary in preparation for rebuilding his roster in the off-season.
With his team 16 points out of a playoff berth and the mid-point of the season fast approaching it seems like Lamoriello, despite his public confidence in his roster, may be laying the groundwork for an eventual sell-off of some high-priced veterans, such as forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, who are in the final years of their current contracts.
LEE FROZEN IN OTTAWA
Ottawa Senators defenseman Brian Lee remained in limbo heading toward the NHL’s holiday trade freeze.
Senators GM Bryan Murray has tried for weeks without success to trade him, with the hold up being Lee’s one-way, $875,000 per season contract. He continues to practice and travel with the team, but has played in only one game since mid-October.
Murray’s inability to find any takers for such a low-paid defenseman speaks volumes of the difficulty to make trades this season, as there are too many teams with too little cap space able or willing to take on much salary.
At this rate, the earliest Lee could expect a trade is late-January, when more than half his salary will have been paid out by the Senators.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 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.