Rumors a flying

Straight from Palm Beach Post :

Rick Dudley’s record is perfect, and chances are it will stay that way.

Twice the Panthers’ general manager has had the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, and twice he has traded it. And by the time Commissioner Gary Bettman steps to the podium at Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville on Saturday, it’s a good bet Dudley will have gone 3-for-3.

“People are calling us,” Dudley said late lastt week. “Nobody has made me inclined to trade it yet, but I have to admit a couple are close. They wouldn’t have to tweak very much to make me very interested.”

While Dudley and most other draft experts insist there are at least a handful of elite prospects at the top of this draft, one of them happens to be a goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury — and a Quebec goaltender at that. And that is what has had Dudley’s phone ringing.

The retirement of Patrick Roy and Philadelphia’s trade of Roman Cechmanek to Los Angeles are just two of the scenarios that could lead to as many as a dozen teams offering packages in hopes of getting in position to land the best netminding prospect available since the Panthers’ own Roberto Luongo went fourth overall in 1997.

Boston is rumored to be offering left wing Sergei Samsonov and a prospect. Pittsburgh, which has the third pick, is dangling ex-Panther Martin Straka and a swap of choices. Even Carolina, at No. 2, is rumored to have dangled sniper Jeff O’Neill for the right to swap picks.

While the Panthers’ payroll rivaled that of Minnesota as the lowest in the league by the end of last season, Dudley said majority owner Alan Cohen has never balked at adding the salary of any specific player, and Dudley continues to plan on signing a veteran or two this summer to bring experience.

But when it comes right down to it, Dudley said he isn’t sure any other GMs will want to do business with him.

“Everybody’s pretty leery of me,” he said. “They know I know players, and they know it’s going to cost them. They have to have something we like, and it’s not going to be an easy deal. It’s going to cost a lot.”

Dudley’s first experience with the top pick overall was four years ago with Tampa Bay, when he wound up trading right out of the first round. The deal was a complicated one, with Atlanta winding up getting center Patrik Stefan at No. 1, Vancouver getting twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin at Nos. 2 and 3 and the Rangers getting Pavel Brendl at No. 4. Tampa Bay got winger Nicklas Sundstrom and goaltender Dan Cloutier, both of whom have since been traded.

Four years later, none of the four draftees have become stars.

“The reason we did the deal is we weren’t sure of any of them,” Dudley said.

Last year, he swapped No. 1 to Columbus for No. 3 and the right to swap first-rounders with the Blue Jackets in this year’s draft. That became unnecessary when Florida won the lottery, but in essence it allowed the Panthers to double their chances for No. 1.

If Florida keeps the pick, it will be one of 14 the Panthers own in the nine-round, two-day affair, and Dudley is confident it will land a top-notch prospect.

“This is the best draft since I’ve been a general manager,” he said. “There’s a few potential stars and a couple of can’t-miss pros. But the quality at the top is just so good.

“If it wasn’t this draft, people would be talking about a couple of these guys the way they did (Vincent) Lecavalier and (Ilya) Kovalchuk.”

If Dudley has made up his mind who he would take — and he insists he hasn’t — he isn’t saying.

“We’re going to decide in our meetings when we get up to Nashville (Tuesday),” he said. “I’ve purposely held off on making a final decision because I didn’t want any of our (scouts) to let it slip.”

It’s unlikely to be Fleury, but could be one of a pair of Canadian forwards: Eric Staal, a smooth-skating center from Peterborough, or Nathan Horton, a power forward from Oshawa.

“We have some people very close, so we’re going to look at the team and what we need,” Dudley said.

Very interesting indeed. The Pitsburgh trade makes not too much sense to me. Straka is 32, which is old for this team, and very injury prone. This guy doesn’t have much trade value, espically since EVERYONE know the Pens are dying to get rid of his salary. The Bruins one makes a little more sense, but still not very good. First of all the don’t have a top 5 pick (which I think is a must for the trade). Plus Samsonov is small/weak and not very good at defense. That is exactly opposite of what the Panthers want. The Carolina trade though, is … WOW. To me, this seems like the Hurricanes would be overpaying for the pick, but you never know when Dudley says he wants a good offer. O’Neill would be perfect on this team. Big tough powerforward who has some leadership skills. Plus the Panthers would only move down 1 spot in the drafting ranks. I would really like that trade to come true. I guess we shall have to wait and see until Saturday!