The New Jersey Devils trade/demotion watch is over, at least for the next four-to-six weeks.
That’s how long winger Brian Rolston is expected to be sidelined recuperating from sports hernia surgery, placing him on long-term injury reserve (LTIR) and providing the Devils some short-term salary cap relief to the tune of $5 million.
That will certainly come in handy because since the start of the season the Devils have been icing a reduced roster, at one point being down to 15 players. Rolston’s injury thus becomes a blessing in disguise as they can now call up some depth from the minors.
This will also provide Devils management with several weeks to work out which players they might have to trade or demote when Rolston and defenseman Bryce Salvador return from LTIR sometime in November.
Rolston’s injury also means it’s unlikely the Colorado Avalanche will swing a deal with the Devils.
Adrian Dater of the Denver Post observed the Avalanche were in need of “something for their power play and/or defense,” suggesting the Devils - who are seeking teams with available cap space like the Avs - might’ve been a good trade partner.
Dater also pointed out an unusually high number of scouts (16) attended the recent Avalanche-Detroit Red Wings game, claiming he’d heard from “enough trustworthy people” Avalanche management was searching for some way to address their woeful power play.
Blueline depth, especially a skilled puckmoving defenseman, was an issue for the Avs last summer, but one management opted not to address. Despite having plenty of cap space it appears the team is unwilling to spend it, although that could change if their power play and defense continue to be problem areas as the season progresses.
One place they may look for help is unrestricted free agency. Hard-shooting power play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron remains unsigned, but he’s recovering from off-season knee surgery and won’t be cleared to return until late-November.
Another option may present itself on re-entry waivers if the Edmonton Oilers decide later in the season to recall Sheldon Souray, although even picking up half of his $5.4 million cap hit for this season and next might be too expensive for the stingy Avs.
Another team in the market for an experienced defenseman is the Dallas Stars who, like the Avs, could use something to help their defense and power play, but are also on a limited budget.
Recent trade speculation concerning the Stars remained focused upon Brad Richards and what the club will do with him by the Feb. 28 trade deadline if he’s not re-signed by then.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, however, agreed with one of his readers that blueliner Matt Niskanen is playing his way out of Dallas this season, suggesting the young defenseman will join veterans Trevor Daley and Karlis Skrastins (who are both UFAs next summer) as potential trade candidates.
Speaking of Richards, the New York Post claimed it’s an “open secret” the Rangers covet the playmaking center and will try to acquire him by the trade deadline as a rental player before attempting to re-sign him to a long-term deal.
That will likely change, however, if rookie center Derek Stepan continues to play well. THN.com’s Ryan Kennedy observed the 20-year-old Stepan had a hat trick in his first NHL game and as Kennedy noted, the Rangers’ lack of depth at center leaves the door open for the youngster to continue to pile up the numbers this season.
LEAFS SHED JEFF FINGER
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ recent demotion of defenseman Jeff Finger and his $3.5 million annual salary had some observers suggesting this was a preliminary move to free up cap space for an impending trade.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson, however, claimed Finger was simply demoted because he was being out-played by the other seven Leafs defensemen.
The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle interviewed Leafs assistant GM Claude Loiselle, who suggested the move was done in part to ensure sufficient cap space would be available if the Leafs needed to call up a goaltender if either J-S Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson get injured, as league rules prohibit teams from icing only one goalie.
Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, however, suggested this move was Leafs GM Brian Burke’s way of letting cap-strapped clubs know his team had available cap space to do a deal.
Ultimately all these answers are appropriate. Finger was being out-played, the Leafs do need to ensure they have sufficient cap space for potential call-ups and the additional $4 million in available space could make them an attractive trade target for teams wishing to move salary later in the season.
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.