NHL Rumors and Notes for July 8th

1. Salary Cap could squeeze out veteran players

2. Leafs Not Done Yet

3. Kris Versteeg to Resign with Hawks

4. Claude Lemiux retires

1. Salary Cap could squeeze out veteran players

Fox Sports is reporting that due to the Salary Cap veteran players could be left out. limited cap space could force some of these clubs to forsake the free-agent market and look instead at promoting affordable young players from their farm teams into their rosters.

It could impact the eventual contract signings of the aforementioned players, but it’s a good bet all will eventually sign with new NHL teams.

Where it will have the most impact will be upon aging veterans and marginal players.

Brendan Shanahan, Todd Bertuzzi, Mathieu Schneider and Mats Sundin were in recent years among the most prized free agents but this summer, they could be faced with a stark choice: accept considerably less money with teams they normally wouldn’t consider signing with or risk going unsigned when next season begins.

Shanahan, Schneider and Sundin could be forced to sit and wait through next season for a contract offer which might never come, which would be a sad ending to their long careers.

They’re not the only ones facing that possibility. Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick hope to return next season but could have retirement forced upon them if they cannot find any takers for their services.

Players who serve as fourth line forwards, sixth and seventh defensemen and backup goaltenders could also have trouble finding new clubs to sign with this summer. They far outnumber available star talent and will find it difficult to attract interest as the available dollars dry up.

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2. Leafs Not Done Yet

The Toronto Sun is reporting that the Leafs are not done Yet. “We’re not done. We’ve still got cap room and you can go over the cap in the summer,” said Burke. “I think we’ve made some major steps but we’re not done,” said Burke yesterday.

“We’ll probably take a deep breath now and see how things shake out. There are still some (free agent) names of interest and there are going to be trade possibilities now.”

The Leafs have nine, possibly 10 defencemen capable of starting the season with the big club and are likely to break camp with seven on the roster.

Ian White showed he is capable of moving up to the wing, but that still leaves a couple of defenders for Burke to market.

The blue chip on the blue line is Kaberle. He is reasonably priced at $4.25 million (U.S.) for two more seasons and his no-trade clause doesn’t kick back in until Aug. 15. Kaberle could bring a top-six forward, as demonstrated by the potential Phil Kessel trade that fell apart, and Burke is certainly willing to listen to offers for the 31-year-old. But none have enticed him yet.

“There is interest, but nothing that requires thinking about,” he said. “If I had to handicap this, I’d say he will be a Leaf at the start of the year. That can change with one phone call, but I haven’t been given any offers that approach what I would think it would take to make that deal.”

Among the teams still looking for a puck-moving defenceman are St. Louis, Los Angeles and Columbus.

Burke’s pattern is to build his blue line and goaltending first, and that mission has been accomplished with yesterday’s signing of Gustavsson, a coveted free agent from Sweden. Improving the defence was particularly pressing because, as Burke noted yesterday, “sometimes it took us a week to get out of our own end.”

Beauchemin’s smarts with the puck are sometimes underestimated and his addition, along with Komisarek and Exelby, give Toronto much more muscle and grit on the back end, which Burke was trying to achieve.

“You don’t want your heavyweight to be a defenceman, the ice time is too valuable. That’s why we got (winger) Colton Orr,” said Burke. “But you need some bite back there (on defence). You need some knuckles on the blue line, too, some five-minute majors. I think with the changes we’ve made, there’s some bite there, there’s some size there.”

Although Burke is actively pursuing more offensive punch up front, he said not to underestimate what is already there, especially now that the skill players should feel better protected.

“Sometimes (Mikhail) Grabovski spent more time on the ice than the Zamboni. These (forwards) were getting knocked down and picking their teeth out of the glass all year. Let’s see how they do with a little toughness around,” he said.

“I don’t know if we’re good enough to make the playoffs yet. That’s our goal and I think we’re a lot closer than we were five days ago and we’ll keep trying to improve the club.”

The Leafs are about $3 or $4 million under the cap, depending on how you put their roster together, and they can be as much as 10 per cent over the $56.8 million until the end of training camp.

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3. Kris Versteeg to Resign with Hawks

NHL.com is reporting that the Hawks are about to resign Kris Versteeg to a three-year contract that will pay him more than $9 million. Versteeg, a 23-year-old right wing, was second among NHL rookies in 2008-09 with 53 points and fourth with 22 goals and a plus-15 rating. He followed that with 12 points in 17 playoff games, tops among all first-year players and tied for fourth among all Blackhawks players.

Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round of the 2004 Entry Draft, he was traded to the Blackhawks in February 2007 for Brandon Bochenski. He had 4 points in 13 NHL games during the 2007-2008 season, spending most of time in the American Hockey League. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder was expected to be back in the minors this season, but made the team in training camp and then had 7 goals and 20 points in his first 20 games.

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4. Claude Lemiux retires

NHL.com is reporting that Claude Lemiux announces his retirement. Forward Claude Lemieux today formally announced his retirement from the game of hockey at the age of 44. One of the most successful NHL players in the history of the League, Lemieux won four Stanley Cups and is one of only eight players to win hockey’s greatest prize with three different teams (Montreal, 1986; New Jersey, 1995 and 2000; Colorado, 1996).

“I want to thank my former teammates from my entire career for all of their support,” said Lemieux. “I feel very fortunate that I was able to have a career like I had. There have been many great NHL players who did not get the opportunities to win that I had. I played for a long time but it went by so very fast.”

In 1,215 National Hockey League games with Montreal, New Jersey, Colorado, Phoenix, Dallas and San Jose, Lemieux posted 786 points (379 goals, 407 assists) and 1,777 penalty minutes, along with 58 game-winning goals.

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