MONTREAL – Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, Chris Pronger, Jay Bouwmeester, Tomas Kaberle, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The list of players involved in trade rumours on the eve of the NHL draft could easily have been taken right from an all-star game program.
While scouting departments went through their final preparations on Thursday, the league’s 30 general managers were busy working the phones. And judging by some of the rumours, there could be a lot of fireworks at the Bell Centre during the first round of Friday evening’s draft.
“It heated up pretty well today,” said Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. “Not just on the draft front, but on some other trade issues.”
He’s currently weighing an offer for Kaberle, Toronto’s longest-tenured player. An “attention-grabbing” proposal arrived out of the blue for the smooth-skating defenceman, who sees his no-trade clause expire on Friday because the team missed the playoffs.
The offer caught Burke’s attention.
“We got an unexpected, unsolicited offer on Tomas Kaberle,” he said. “It was not my intention to look at moving him while we were here. We thought the best strategy was to wait and see where Jay Bouwmeester ended up (on July 1) and then get to work on the teams that were unsuccessful in that courtship.
“We’ve got an offer we have to take seriously.”
Bob Gainey is also looking to make a splash for the hometown Canadiens. He has 10 players on his roster with expiring contracts and appears ready to make some big changes.
The top item on Gainey’s list of priorities is acquiring a big centre and he doesn’t think anyone fitting that mold will be available on July 1. That means he’ll have to make a deal, adding fuel to the persistent rumour that the Habs will go after Lecavalier.
Gainey indicated that the biggest barrier to that involves establishing whether the Tampa Bay Lightning are truly willing to part with their franchise player.
“We feel like we have some of the assets needed to put a deal together if we have a partner that really wants to move in that direction,” he said.
Another big mover could be Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray, who has been instructed to cut payroll and will likely have to trade one of his top players to do it.
He still doesn’t know if Scott Niedermayer plans to return next season and will have a tough call to make if he can’t find someone willing to take Giguere off his hands.
If that’s the case, there are plenty of teams that would be happy to acquire Pronger.
With Bouwmeester ready to test free agency starting next week, the Florida Panthers are looking to deal his rights for a draft choice.
Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray is still shopping Heatley, the sniper who recently asked to be traded, in part because he didn’t enjoy playing for Cory Clouston. The Sens coach spoke Thursday about the situation for the first time and indicated he was surprised with Heatley’s request.
He also questioned the player’s performance.
“It was just consistency,” said Clouston. “When Dany is moving his feet, when he is playing his game, he is one of the best players in the NHL. I think if you asked him to assess his season, he would probably say he was not as consistent as he wanted to be.”
Burke has been consistent in saying that he wants to move up and select top prospect John Tavares.
That goal appears less and less likely because the Maple Leafs GM doesn’t think there’s a deal to be made with the New York Islanders (No. 1 pick) or Tampa (No. 2 pick).
“I don’t think the Islanders are moving their pick, I think they’re going to pick,” said Burke. “The only name that Tampa’s expressed interest in is Luke Schenn and he’s not going anywhere. That probably leaves us out on the top two picks, but we’ll see.”
The GMs are also expected to officially find out Friday where next season’s salary cap will fall. That should factor into some decisions.
The Detroit Red Wings, for example, are still hoping to re-sign winger Marian Hossa before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Whether they can do it or not, all depends on how much money they’re allowed to spend.
“It’s all about the cap number,” said Red Wings GM Ken Holland. “It’s all about math.”
If that math doesn’t work out, they might start looking at other moves.
The biggest challenge for GMs on draft day is trying to make quick decisions that pay off down the road. There are a lot of different offers to be weighed.
“It’s a great day for our sport,” said Burke. “It’s a day of unlimited hope.”
With files from Andy Blatchford in Brossard, Que.