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PRINCE OF PUCKS: LeClair rumors abound

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The playoffs are finally over, so now we can all look forward to a nice, quiet off-season, right? Guess again, rumor fans! With the entry draft weekend (June 21-22) fast approaching and the July 1 deadline for unrestricted free agency not far behind, the rumor mill is churning as fast as ever. Leading off, it seems that everyone wants to go to New York. Well, not quite, but there have been recent reports claiming several notable players could be playing for the next season. The New York Post's Larry Brooks got the ball rolling by claiming Pittsburgh captain and owner was hoping to find someone to buy his shares of the team, in order that he could become a free agent and sign with the . Thankfully, Lemieux wasted little time dismissing that story, stating he hadn't made up his mind if he'd return to NHL action next season, but if he did, it would be as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Brooks followed this up by claiming the Philadelphia were offering up to the , but GM Glen Sather wasn't interested, even with the apparently willing to absorb a large portion of LeClair's hefty contract. Brooks also claimed GM Bob Clarke had spoken to two other teams about LeClair, with both unnamed clubs having concerns over the salary. However, the Philadelphia Daily News subsequently reported Clarke denied speaking to Sather or asking LeClair to waive his "no-trade" clause to bring about such a deal. Still, there were other reports claiming the GM had indeed asked LeClair to waive the clause, to which the big winger agreed but only if he would be dealt to four clubs: The Detroit , Dallas , L.A. . . . and the . If the reports are true and the are indeed attempting to move LeClair, it'll be easier said than done. Once the dominant power forward in the game, LeClair's career has been hampered in recent years by back and shoulder injuries. And then there's that big contract, paying him three more years at $27 million, as well as his age (34). Don't be surprised if there are few, if any, takers for LeClair.
  • Then there was the report from TSN.CA citing sources claiming the owners of the and the Washington were discussing a potential swap of and . Representatives of both clubs denied the speculation. Apparently this one was based on Caps owner Ted Leonsis unhappiness with the poor results he's gotten for the huge amount of cash he's sunk into player salaries the past two seasons. That may well be, but the whopping six-years, $66 million remaining on Jagr's contract makes him practically untradeable. Even if the Caps are serious about dumping Jagr, I doubt very much they'd want Lindros, who's stock has fallen faster than Martha Stewart's.
  • The New York made news recently with their firing of head coach Peter Laviolette after only two seasons in the job. Apparently, Laviolette was cause for division in the Isles dressing room, alienating some players and playing favorites with others, which in turn led to the club's disappointing follow-up to their promising 2001-02 campaign. Whatever the real reason, Newsday's Alan Hahn reports Isles GM Mike Milbury is threatening to make "personnel changes" yet again to his roster. The club's most pressing need is a scoring winger for , but Milbury suggests that might be difficult given how many teams are becoming more "budget-conscious". He also has to either re-sign impending free agent netminder or seek a suitable replacement. The possess depth at the blueline, prompting speculation either or could be shopped for either a winger or goaltender. Meanwhile, the New York Post claimed Hamrlik, along with forward , might be dealt in "cost-cutting" trades, and suggested team captain may no longer be an "untouchable". Given Milbury's record for making big splashes at previous drafts, expect the GM to garner a lot of attention as this year's entry draft weekend approaches.
  • Despite the denials of Tampa Bay management, some reporters simply refuse to let go of the "Nikolai Khabibulin-on-the-block" rumors. The latest was the Toronto Sun's Al Strachan, who stated during the second intermission of Game 6 of the Finals "the 'Bulin Wall" would indeed be shopped, as he was angered over being benched during Game 5 of the -Bolts series. Strachan also hinted ownership didn't believe Khabibulin was worth the large salary he was being paid. The latest comment on this from GM Jay Feaster has been ... silence. Don't take it as confirmation, though; he's been denying this rumor since April. He's probably just getting tired of it. Granted, most teams are looking to pare down their payrolls, given the uncertainty over the next round of collective bargaining slated for September 2004. However, the Bolts had one of the lowest payrolls in the NHL last season. Part of the reason they advanced to the second round, let alone made the playoffs, was Khabibulin, who was red-hot during the final two months of the season and in the first round series against Washington. Yes, backup looked sharp in the triple-overtime fifth game against New Jersey, but this is a goalie that's had more downs than ups thus far in his NHL career. It would be folly for the to cast aside a proven performer in Khabibulin, based on the strength of one good playoff game from a backup netminder.
  • Are the Pittsburgh planning another fire sale? According to Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pens GM Craig Patrick is making forward available and has sent a fax to the other general managers around the league to let them know. Price claims Patrick was shopping Straka before the March trade deadline but couldn't find a deal that suited him. It's a damn shame this is happening to a franchise that was once one of the best in the league. There's no doubt in my mind the would still be a perennial Cup favorite if they could've retained Jagr, , , and . You can bet Lemieux wouldn't be pondering retirement again.
  • Are the Calgary planning on stripping of the team captaincy as a prelude to a summer trade? That's what the New York Post suggested, naming as the next captain. If this is true, the hockey-mad Calgary media isn't aware of it.
  • Despite being critical of 's playoff performance, Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe denies he's shopping the Swedish netminder. Salo had a sub-par season and is one of the highest paid players on the .
  • Forget about those rumors of Dominik Hasek "unretiring" and the Detroit shopping his rights to either Philadelphia or Colorado. Hasek was quoted in the
  • Buffalo News as stating he's happily retired and has no plans to return to the NHL.
  • Finally, there are numerous reports claiming the Florida are more interested in trading their first round pick, first overall, than in using it themselves. Indeed, GM Rick Dudley has confirmed being contacted by several clubs interested in taking the pick off their hands. The Boston Globe suggested the Philadelphia might offer up forward and blueline prospect Jeff Woywitka for the pick, which they'd use to draft goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Sorry, can't see that one happening. The need goaltending depth now and cannot afford to wait for Fleury to mature into a bona fide starter. Besides, they're touting as their future, and seem more interested in landing a veteran from the UFA market, possibly Boston's . If a deal is to be done, it's quite possible the Dallas may be involved. A report in the Palm Beach Post had the and holding discussions over a potential deal that would see defenseman and forward dealt to Florida. In exchange, the would get the first overall pick and one of the promising young forwards, such as or . Neither club has commented on this, but I've gotta admit, it's one of the few times I've seen a trade rumor this season that actually looked plausible. At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector for the latest NHL rumors from around the league and buy his book.
  • Tagged: Flames, Red Wings, Oilers, Hurricanes, Kings, Stars, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Capitals, Panthers, Craig Conroy, Dominik Hasek, Richard Matvichuk, Jason Arnott, Alexei Yashin, Roman Hamrlik, Garth Snow, Mark Parrish, John LeClair, Justin Williams, Robert Lang, Martin Straka, Chris Drury, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Peca, Niklas Hagman

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