OTTAWA – The NHL’s entry draft is the showcase event but make no mistake, the league’s 30 GMs arrive in Ottawa this week for another reason as well.
Trade talk. “There’s no doubt that a lot of teams are looking to do something,” interim Toronto Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher said Tuesday. “There will be a lot of dialogue.” Some years the entry draft serves as a platform for several blockbuster moves. Other years, it’s quiet.
“We’ve certainly had discussions,” Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday. “(But) the state of our discussions is still pretty preliminary.
“There is a lot of chatter but that’s what it is right now – chatter.”
Several GMs contacted by The Canadian Press on Tuesday said there was lots of talk heading into the draft on Friday and Saturday, but that doesn’t mean anything would happen.
“I wouldn’t suggest that we’re going to be aggressive but when you miss the playoffs, you’re certainly willing to talk about what possible changes you can make,” said veteran Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford.
“The fact that there seems to be a lot of chatter going on – we’ll get into that.”
This year is no different than any other year, argues longtime New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.
“I think it’s pretty normal at this time of year,” said Lamoriello. “I just think it’s more anticipation from the media and it just seems like there’s more chatter. …
“I don’t think you’re going to see as much movement as everybody thinks.”
It won’t be from a lack of trying. The Columbus Blue Jackets are shopping one of their two first-round draft picks (No. 6 and No. 19).
“We’re looking to try and maybe use one of our picks to try and help ourselves immediately,” Jackets GM Scott Howson told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
“But No. 6 is a prime pick and that would take a significant player in return.”
Such as a top centre to play with star winger Rick Nash or a top defenceman.
There was talk Tuesday that the Jackets were in conversation with the Pittsburgh Penguins to acquire the rights to winger Ryan Malone, an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“No comment,” Howson said, refusing to confirm any of the rumours. Penguins GM Ray Shero also declined comment.
The trading of pending free agents is a trend that seems to be gathering steam. Last year the Philadelphia Flyers acquired Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from the Nashville Predators – and signed them – before they hit the July 1 free-agent market.
“Some of the discussions that I’ve had, that has come up,” said Chiarelli. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s more of those rights deals that take place through the draft and even beyond the draft before July 1.”
While some GMs were set to arrive in Ottawa on Wednesday, in time to meet with prospects ahead of Friday’s first round of the draft, others like Lamoriello first had to go to New York for the NHL’s board of governors meeting.
The proposed sales of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Edmonton Oilers were among the items on the agenda for owners.
Hockey fans will have their eyes on Ottawa, however, where the trade talk will be front and centre.
Last year the Florida Panthers made waves when they acquired goalie Tomas Vokoun on the Friday night of the draft. This year the rumour mill has them willing to move star centre Olli Jokinen, who has two more years left on his deal at US$5.25 million and $5.5 million.
“I think Olli is a top-line centre and I’ve had some calls about him,” Panthers GM Jacques Martin told The Canadian Press. “We had some conversations before the trading deadline. I don’t know what’s going to happen. If we can help our hockey club, we will, and he could be a player that’s involved.
“But at this point in time I don’t have anything firm. I don’t know what’s going to happen at this point in time.”
The Maple Leafs arrive in Ottawa hoping to shake some trees. Fletcher has a history of draft deals – acquiring Mats Sundin at the ’94 draft – and won’t be shy in looking what he can do to help rebuild a club that’s missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons.
“There’s a couple of things we’d like to do and if we can, we will,” said Fletcher. “But if we can’t, we’ll have to go to Plan B.”
Sundin remains a priority for the Leafs, who hope to find out whether he wants to re-sign or to move on.
“I spoke to (Sundin’s agent) J.P. Barry yesterday and there’s nothing new to report,” Fletcher said.