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NHL entry draft wraps up with news Hossa tells Penguins will try free agency

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

OTTAWA - The NHL entry draft wrapped without a significant trade Saturday but not without any significant news.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were informed that star winger Marian Hossa was going test the July 1 free-agent market, where he will arguably be the most attractive commodity.

"I think we made him a very fair contract offer," said Penguins GM Ray Shero. "From Marian's standpoint, he just wants to be 100 per cent sure. He knows the risks involved and so do we. So we'll see what that brings us.

"But I've had very good conversations with Marian," added Shero. "Anybody that gets to this point, they have the right to test free agency July 1. I don't begrudge him that at all."

Shero refused to discuss any financial details of his team's offer but it's believed it was in the ball park of $7 million per year.

"It's very fair in my opinion," said Shero.

Hossa had developed some chemistry with superstar captain Sidney Crosby in the playoffs after coming over at the trade deadline. So much so that the Penguins decided to make a serious push to re-sign him when originally they figured he was probably a rental player.

"The important thing is, I know Marian had a great experience in Pittsburgh," said Shero. "I know we're at the top of his list. I believe he just wants to be sure. But as I told him, once you go down this route for both sides there's risk involved.

"I think it's important for him to know that he's our first priority as a UFA but if it doesn't work out for both of us it's not meant to be and we'll be ready to move on."

Another high-profile player who may follow Hossa into the free-agent market is star defenceman Brian Campbell. While sources indicate the San Jose Sharks will hold another conversation with the player and his agent Larry Kelly possibly as early as Sunday, all indications are that the offensive blue-liner might be leaving.

In fact, multiple sources told The Canadian Press that the Sharks allowed other NHL teams to speak with Campbell's camp over the weekend to see if there was a fit and the Sharks could trade his rights. He may simply wait it out until July 1 and fetch what would be one of the most appealing contracts for a defenceman on the market.

The second day of the draft didn't produce the drama of Friday night when a few big names changed teams, notably Olli Jokinen going to Phoenix, Mike Cammelleri to Calgary, Alex Tanguay to Montreal and R.J. Umberger to Columbus.

The Blue Jackets had promised to shop their 19th overall pick to try and land some immediate help and GM Scott Howson delivered in a deal with Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren.

"It started two weeks ago," said Howson. "We had a discussion and Paul had said he might be in a position to move him and I wanted to be included in that process. ...

"The good thing about R.J. is that he can play left, right or centre," added Howson. "We are not very loaded at centre so he may end up playing centre for us and playing that role. But we'll see what the summer brings and who we bring in."

The biggest name to make news over the weekend still hasn't changed teams. Toronto's decision to grant the rival Canadiens permission to negotiate with Mats Sundin until July 1 remained the hot topic among NHL people at the draft.

As it should. The optics of the Leafs captain wearing the famous bleu-blanc-rouge uniform of the Habs is probably tough to digest tor Toronto fans.

"I just have to do my job," Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher said Saturday. "I'm the one who brought Mats to Toronto so I feel good about that. Whatever job I have to do, I have to do. My responsibility is the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the best interest of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And all the Leafs fans out there who want to see us improve."

The Leafs, who have made him a one-year contract offer believed to be worth around $7 million, are ready for life without Mats.

"If Mats isn't in a Maple Leaf uniform next year, yes, we've already started our plan," Fletcher said.

On the flip side, the thought of the 37-year-old Swede skating in La Belle Province is exciting for Montreal fans. Habs GM Bob Gainey has served noticed with the acquisition of a top forward in Tanguay and the attempt to sign Sundin that the Canadiens mean business in their 100th anniversary season.

"This is a year for us and our purposes where there were some things that we were able to accomplish while we were here," Gainey said.

"We'll leave this year's draft with a good feel," he added.

Gainey also dispelled the notion that Sundin's possible arrival would mean a trade of either captain Saku Koivu or scoring centre Tomas Plekanec. There's room for all three, Gainey said Saturday.

"I think we have a place for him with the players that are there," said Gainey. "There's lots of ice time for everybody."



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