Summer RamblingsA Look Around the League
By: Hockey Alliance Publishers
May 30th, 2003
The publishers that comprise the Hockey Alliance have teamed up this Summer to provide news notes from around the league. This week's column focuses on the free agent market and what teams are faced with this off-season. Take a spin with the latest installment of the Summer Ramblings.
The Sabres announced they are bringing back Darcy Regier as their GM and Lindy Ruff as their head coach. Owner Tom Golisano has issued an edict the Sabres must make the playoffs in 2003-4, with a Cup in 3-4 years. Darcy Regier stated the Sabres payroll was between $24-6 million at the end of last season, he has an operating budget of $30 million for the coming season. Regier stated the Sabres want to improve their goaltending, want a quarterback for their power play on the blue line and want a "top 6" forward.
The Sabres seem content to improve their goaltending by sticking with Biron, Noronen and Miller, Ruff mentioned a goalie rotation. It should be noted Ruff said the exact same thing last season and stuck with the rotation for maybe a week before dumping it. The Sabres will likely try to get more out of goalie coach Jim Corsi to help bring their young goalies along but Regier and Ruff stated they expect a lot from Biron this year, both men said Biron "needs to step up his game".
Regier said the Sabres will also support their goalie more and that's where the power play quarterback and top six forward come into play. The power play quarterback could come in the person of Brian Campbell. Campbell is historically a late bloomer; his smooth skater and flashes of offensive flair are learning him some time to develop in the NHL. Regier stated the top six forward the team is after is a playmaking center. This will likely come from free agency, a trade or through the draft.
Rumors of the Sabres signing hometown free agent Todd Marchant have bounced around for weeks now. Pierre Turgeon (that would be a nightmare) and Vincent
Damphousse are also names that have run through the Buffalo rumor mill. The Sabres did sign prospects Chris Thorburn and Derek Roy yesterday. Roy could potentially step in and fill the role of playmaking center, he certainly has Buffalo fans excited.
As far as the draft goes, the Sabres hold the #5 pick overall. Regier said that the Sabres know they'll get a good player but are looking into moving up. The
Sabres brought Nathan Horton and Eric Staal in for interviews a couple weeks ago. Horton would add badly needed size, grit and skill. Staal is more a finesse player and many in Buffalo are starting to cool on him as questions about his leadership have emerged. Most likely the Sabres will develop from within. It's looking like one or two more salary dumping trades may be made, along with an attempt to trade up in the draft to get Horton or Staal.
Over the past two summers, the Calgary Flames managed a ripple by surprising some and dipping into the free agency pool - first Bob Boughner and then Martin Gelinas 10 short months ago. This summer, don't expect much. Of the two players eligible to leave Calgary; Craig Berube and Dave Lowry, look for Calgary to extend an offer to Lowry, but likely pass on Berube. The real focus in Calgary is on the restricted free agents where Chris Drury, Robyn Regehr and Toni Lydman - all core ingredients in their on going plans – all need to be signed before training camp if the club has any hope to end the league's longest playoff drought at seven.
This week the Flames signed third line forwards Chris Clark and Shean Donovan to multi-year contracts, taking two restricted free agents off the list. Though seemingly minor transactions, the fact that Clark and Drury share the same agent may bode well for talks between general manager Darryl Sutter and the Drury camp.
The Flames are slated to draft 9th overall in next months' NHL Entry Draft. Though Sutter has hinted a move up the draft table may be possible, look for the Flames to stand pat and nab one of the drafts top three defencemen in Braydon Coburn, Ryan Suter, or Dion Phaneuf.
The Blackhawks have to decide on signing prospects Adam Munro and defenseman Brent MacLellan. After an early season trade from Erie, Munro finished with a 20-20-2 record with a 3.85 goals against average and a .894 save percentage and was nominated for the Red Tilson Trophy which is given to the most valuable player in the OHL.
Just because the Blackhawks have not signed Munro to a contract with only a few days before the deadline does not mean that they won't sign him, as they signed goalie Michael Leighton on June 1st two years ago. Speculation has already begun however that the Blackhawks will not sign Munro and take their chances with a draft pick in the second round this year.
It looks like if the Wings will focus nearly all of their spending on Sergei Fedorov -- he's the (obvious) real need. With Steve Yzerman ailing and a lack of certainty that Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg could handle a full-time No. 1 or No. 2 center spot, the big focus is on getting Fedorov back. Without him, the Wings aren't a Cup contender. Turgeon could be an option if Fedorov isn't re-signed, but he's not half the player Fedorov is.
Defenseman Bryan Marchment's name seems to be a fit worth considering, but it's unlikely that he's GM Ken Holland's kind of guy. The Wings could use could use a Marchment, but he's not overly adept at a puck-possession game. A guy like Gregg de Vries would be a much better fit -- but he's also more highly coveted.
Los Angeles Kings
With the Kings acquiring Roman Cechmanek from the Flyers for a song earlier this week, Potvin's days in Southern California appeared to be numbered. The veteran netminder is an unrestricted free agent this Summer, and with the addition of Cechmanek, there is little reason for the Kings to spend the money on the underachieving Potvin.
The Wild will likely part ways with Cliff Ronning, though that decision isn't cast in stone. Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough is going to wait until after the draft to decide. But all indications now are that he's free to look elsewhere. With one year left until Collective Bargaining Agreement hell, look for the Wild to hunker down until the dust settles.
New York Islanders
The summer on Long Island has been fairly active so far. Last week the Islanders signed former Denver U. goaltender Wade Dubielewicz. Dubielewicz was an All-American as a junior and passed on the NHL a year ago to stay for his senior season. One torn hamstring later and he is now a goaltender for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Isles AHL affiliate.
Congratulations are in order to Roger Farina of East Meadow who was selected as the NHL's fan of the year. Farina, currently serving in the Army and stationed in Iraq, flew to New York recently to serve as commissioner for a day. Seven Panelists including Denis Leary and John Saunders selected Farina out of 30 other finalists from around the NHL. Farina give middle names of Nystrom and Gillies to his daughters, which was the clincher for ESPN's Linda Kohn. "Any man who names his two daughters after Islanders legends has got my vote" said Kohn.
Is your favorite team interested in a goaltender? Don't be surprised if Garth Snow is in your net next year. Snow will be a unrestricted free agent on July 1st and as of today the Islanders haven't exercised his team option for next year. While most fans would love to see Snow stay on the Island, you can never tell what's going through GM Mike Milbury's mind.
Speaking of goaltenders, if the Islanders draft one in the first three rounds, you may see a mutiny on Long Island (again). Currently the team is stock piled in netminding prospects: Garth Snow (UFA), Rick DiPietro (RFA), Stephen Valiquette (UFA), David St. Germain, Andy Chiodo (OHL standout) and now Wade Dubielewicz.
This year the Isles have four picks in the first two rounds as Milbury has once again stockpiled picks. This leaves him with a few options to make a blockbuster summer on the Island without having to spend any dough. Currently the Islanders hold the 15th pick and three more in round two. These could be traded for the sniper the Islanders so desperately need (please Mike, you're killing me!) or used to add depth to a farm system lacking in defense.
New York Rangers
Doesn't appear as if the Rangers will be big players in the UFA market this year and in actuality might have their hands full re-signing the players already in the stable.
Sylvain Lefebvre and David Karpa are almost definite goners with Sandy McCarthy probably right behind them. No word on Boris Mironov, but the club has indicated they want to re-sign Brian Leetch. Rangers GM Glen Sather is looking to play hardball with Anson Carter, Tom Poti and Alexei Kovalev...all of whom will be restricted free agents.
There have been some rumors around that they might consider trading Poti if it comes to that, while I've heard and read from a couple of sources that they wouldn't mind brining Cross back.
Still no word on the coach...
Bob Clarke true to his word stated at the 'State of the Flyers' speak that Roman Cechmanek would not be back with the Flyers in 2003-04 has traded the Jenning's Trophy winner to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2004 2nd Round Draft Pick.
The trade ends Cechmanek's three year roller coast career as a Flyer. His regular season numbers speak for themselves. His career goals-against-average of 1.96 is the lowest among goaltenders with at least 150 regular-season games since 1943-44, and his 20 career shutouts rank second on the Flyers all-time list.
The Coyotes are looking to have a busy off-season. Goalies are going to be on the move and the Coyotes have to unload one of the three on their current roster. Sean Burke is the up front choice to go and will spark a better return and also has a hefty salary of $5 million due next season. If the Coyotes deal Burke they would be looking for draft picks in the 1st 2 rounds for this upcoming draft June 21st.
The Sharks still insist that they intend to pursue Teemu Selanne, but they've also indicated that they intend on slashing payroll in order to bite into their $15 million operating loss from last season. New GM Doug Wilson has his hands full with just trying to convince Damphousse to exercise his 2003-04 option and getting Patrick Marleau signed before camp opens in September.
Turgeon's name has come up as a possible replacement for Selanne and / or Damphousse, but don't look for San Jose to start throwing money around this Summer.
Wilson's first move as GM was to bring back center Mike Ricci for another season. His second was to inform Adam Graves that San Jose wouldn't be picking up the team option for next season. Wilson isn't ruling out a Graves return if the veteran forward is willing to take a major cut in pay. Wilson now has to convince Sharks management that he needs a little room to operate if San Jose intends on getting back to the playoffs.
The Leafs kicked off the Summer by acquiring centreman Harold Druken from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenceman Allan Rourke on Thursday.
Defenseman Calle Johansson is gone and Ken Klee may be hot on his heels. The Capitals, a franchise that has traditionally prided itself on tough defensive play, are suddenly looking very short on veterans on the blue line. Look for the Caps to make a run at deVries and possibly Marchment this Summer.