UFA Tracker

Rumor Roundup: Will Shea Weber be traded?

If the Predators decided to deal Weber, what kind of return could they expect? What will the Islanders to with Vanek and MacDonald? And would Ray Whitney return to the San Jose Sharks?

The New York Rangers shipping defenseman Michael Del Zotto to the Nashville Predators for blueliner Kevin Klein raises speculation over potential moves for both teams in the near future.

Josh Cooper of The Tennessean reports the Del Zotto-Klein swap makes 28-year-old Shea Weber the Predators’ oldest defenseman. With Nashville’s defense corps getting younger and seemingly in rebuild mode, Cooper wonders if Weber could become expendable via trade. He notes Predators management “has staunchly said it won’t trade its captain,” but given Weber’s strong play this season his trade value will never be higher.

Despite the Predators’ matching the Philadelphia Flyers’ 14-year, $110-million offer sheet to Weber in July 2012, questions remain over how long their budget-minded ownership is willing to carry his contract. That’s kept Weber’s name floating around the rumor mill for nearly two years.

If the Predators decide to trade Weber, or should he request a trade, the earliest they could move him is this summer, when the salary cap will jump from $64.3 million to a projected $71.1 million. Teams will have more cap space and a willingness to invest in a big-ticket player like Weber.

The asking price, however, would be very expensive. Weber is among the league’s elite defensemen and the Predators’ franchise player. They desperately need to bolster their offense and could seek a return of at least a young first-line forward, a first round pick and a top offensive prospect.

The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis, meanwhile, reports Rangers GM Glen Sather wants to re-sign all his free agents, preferably during this season. Among them is defenseman Dan Girardi, who will seek a significant raise over his current $3.3-million cap hit. If his demands prove too high, Cyrgalis believes Sather “will have a large portion of the league” making enquiries into Girardi’s availability near the March trade deadline.

Having battled their way back into playoff contention, the Rangers won’t trade away a key player like Girardi. Playoff revenue is more important to their ownership than a return of draft picks and prospects for one of their best defenseman, even at the risk of losing him to free agency in July.

A New York-area team worth watching near this year’s trade deadline is the Islanders, who must decide if they can afford to re-sign left winger Thomas Vanek and defenseman Andrew MacDonald.

Newsday’s Arthur Staple reports contract talks between the Isles and Vanek’s agent could pick up over the next couple of weeks. If Vanek, who the Isles acquired earlier this season from the Buffalo Sabres, isn’t willing to sign a long-term extension, Staple believes Isles GM Garth Snow will shop him at the trade deadline.

To his credit, Vanek told Newsday he would understand if the Islanders moved him at the deadline and wouldn’t rule out returning this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

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If Vanek is willing to ink a long-term deal, the question becomes how much are the Islanders willing to pay. The 30-year-old is coming off a seven-year, $50-million deal, which he signed with the Sabres in 2007. His $7.1-million annual cap hit is considerably higher than that of Isles captain John Tavares ($5.5 million), who’s younger than Vanek and a better player. It’s difficult to imagine cash-conscious Isles owner Charles Wang approving a deal that pays a player considerably more than his franchise superstar.

As for MacDonald, he’s rumored to be seeking a contract in the range of $5 million per season. If so, this will be his last season with the Islanders. On a deeper team, MacDonald is a good second-pairing defenseman. If he wants to stay on Long Island, he must lower his asking price.

If the Islanders fail to gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Vanek and MacDonald, if still unsigned, will become playoff rental players by early-March. The San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators and Phoenix Coyotes could pursue Vanek, while the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals could have interest in MacDonald.

The Dallas Stars could become trade deadline sellers if they fail to get closer to playoff contention.

Veteran left winger Ray Whitney could be among those on the move come March 5. The 41-year-old is a pending UFA. Though he’s coming to the end of his impressive career, he would have value for playoff teams seeking experienced depth and leadership. Whitney has a modified no-trade clause allowing him to choose 10 teams to which he can be dealt.

Kevin Kurz of csnbayarea.com, responding to a reader’s question, didn’t rule out the possibility of the Sharks acquiring Whitney. The veteran began his NHL career with the Sharks in 1991-92.

CBC’s Elliotte Friedman points out Stars center Vernon Fiddler could also be shopped. Like Whitney, the 33-year-old Fiddler can become a UFA in July. Friedman points out Fiddler considered a trade request earlier this season but changed his mind. His strong faceoff skills would make him a valuable commodity in the trade market.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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