Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is the hot topic in the NHL rumor mill. The news he was a healthy scratch from Tuesday's game against the Ottawa Senators prompted speculation a trade was close, though the Panthers claimed it was a product of recent poor play.
Despite a recent report from the sun-sentinel.com denying the Panthers were trying to move Kulikov, TSN's Bob McKenzie and the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported the 23-year-old is being aggressively shopped.
McKenzie claimed GM Dale Tallon hopes to stoke a bidding war for Kulikov, though the blueliner's slow development and the possibility of him heading to the Kontinental League as a restricted free agent could hurt his trade value.
CBC's Elliotte Friedman recently reported the Toronto Maple Leafs could reignite trade talks with the Panthers about Kulikov. Friedman claimed the two clubs came close to a deal last season, but one of them backed out. The Toronto Star's Damien Cox claimed the Leafs have had interest in Kulikov for some time, but are wary of his RFA status and the threat of the KHL.
The National Post's Michael Traikos expressed doubt about Kulikov going to Russia, noting he played in the Quebec League before joining the Panthers, but Cox maintained he could use the KHL as leverage in contract talks. Kulikov's arbitration rights could also affect his value.
With the Leafs sinking in the Eastern Conference standings, GM Dave Nonis could consider shaking up his blueline, but he lacks the cap space ($1.47 million) to take on Kulikov's $2.5-million cap hit.
Nonis could offer up veteran blueliner John-Michael Liles (currently buried in the minors), but Tallon might have his eye on Jake Gardiner. To reach a deal, the Panthers must either take back some money from the Leafs or pick up half of Kulikov's remaining salary.
The Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche could also have interest in Kulikov.
The Oilers and Islanders lack skilled blueline depth while the Senators wish to bolster theirs. The Hurricanes seek a replacement for the injured Joni Pitkanen. The Rangers could offer Michael Del Zotto straight up for Kulikov, as they're comparable in age, salary, style and free agent status. Meanwhile, it's believed the Avalanche are shopping left winger Jamie McGinn for a defenseman or a checking forward.
Despite the risk factors, Kulikov is still young and possesses good offensive skills. There's bound to be an NHL GM willing to gamble this season on a change of scenery improving the young Russian's game.
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.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine