Kovalchuk isn't only compelling story
While the focus of the NHL world is currently fixed upon Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract status, there are other players potentially facing decisions which could decide where they play next season.
Topping the list is Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle, whose no-trade clause goes back into effect on Aug. 15.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke admitted receiving six offers for Kaberle prior to embarking on a two-week vacation in mid-July, suggesting Burke either isn’t in too much of a hurry to shop the veteran blueliner or expects interest in Kaberle could increase now that most of the best free-agent defensemen have been signed.
Burke now has about three weeks to entertain more offers, after which he’ll need Kaberle’s permission to swing a trade.
Kaberle isn’t the only defenseman believed available in this summer’s trade market as Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa and Edmonton’s Sheldon Souray are also potential trade bait.
A Bieksa trade was considered a certainty earlier this month as the Canucks have considerable depth on their blueline and must get under the league’s $59.4 million salary cap prior to the start of next season. Anaheim, Los Angeles and Columbus were reportedly interested.
With veteran Sami Salo tearing an Achilles tendon playing floorball in Finland last week, it’s possible the Canucks might retain Bieksa until Salo is ready to return at some point next season.
The Oilers can’t even give Souray away, finding no takers when they placed him on waivers earlier this month.
His age, injury history and $5.4 million per season cap hit are the main factors, and the Oilers might have to consider taking on another aging player with a big salary in order to make a deal.
Internet speculation suggested the Ducks should offer up winger Jason Blake and his $4 million per season salary but it remains to be seen if either club decides to go that route.
Speaking of the Ducks, their management remains at an impasse in contract talks with winger Bobby Ryan.
The Ducks were offering up a five-year, $25 million contract. Ryan was happy with the money but wants a shorter deal in order to maximize his value down the road.
That has led to the inevitable speculation they might trade him the longer this impasse drags on, but management insists they won’t move him.
The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, lost out on signing Kovalchuk, which could push GM Dean Lombardi into the trade or free-agent market for another scoring winger and/or a veteran defenseman.
Lombardi has lots of promising young players he could offer up, including goalie Jonathan Bernier and winger Wayne Simmonds, but it’s believed he wants to retain them.
Free agency might be a better bet for Lombardi. Wingers Paul Kariya, Maxim Afinogenov, Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Bill Guerin are still available while defensemen Andy Sutton and Willie Mitchell would make good options as shut-down blueliners.
Granted, most are past their prime but as the summer rolls on they could be had for more affordable prices on one-year contracts and Lombardi wouldn’t have to part with players, draft picks or prospects.
Finally, keep an eye on the upcoming (July 29) arbitration hearing for Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi.
If the ‘Hawks fail to re-sign him prior to his hearing and walk away from his arbitration award if they find it too expensive (rumor has it they’ll walk if it is over $3 million) potentially forcing them to shop around for a more affordable veteran option.
Marty Turco and Jose Theodore remain available and could likely be had for perhaps around $2 million for next season.