Rumors, Rumors, Rumors – Feb 3, 2010
Kovalchuk trade talks heating up
Flames GM on hot seat
Another deal on the Flames’ horizon?
Ponikarovsky: The artful dodger Kovalchuk trade talks heating up
Trade talks between the Thrashers and several teams involving star Ilya Kovalchuk have heated up in the last few days, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Thrashers general manager Don Waddell had no comment other than to say that the franchise and Kovalchuk’s agent have not had any new talks in more than a week. Both sides currently have proposals on the table that differ in salary and length of contract.
Kovalchuk, the franchise’s all-time leader in games, points, goals and assists, becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Waddell was in Philadelphia last week scouting the Flyers and Islanders. It also has been reported recently that the Kings and Bruins are interested in obtaining Kovalchuk.
Several NHL teams, including the Flames and the Rangers, have cleared salary cap space recently.
Flames GM on hot seat
Calgary’s Darryl Sutter continues to shuffle his lineup deck in hopes of a change in fortunes of struggling NHL club
They waited until mid-afternoon to practice so that the two newest members of the Calgary Flames – Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins – could join the four others that came over from the Toronto Maple Leafs 24 hours earlier.
And if it looked like a mini version of training camp, well, that’s what it was.
Few times in recent NHL history – and not at all since the recent salary-cap era began – has a team in playoff contention undergone such an extreme makeover six weeks before the trade deadline.
“They’re definitely sending a message,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said yesterday.
And the message was delivered by general manager Darryl Sutter, who orchestrated the changes on the heels of a 1-8-2 run during which the Flames slipped out of a playoff position in the Western Conference.
This was his team; and these are his gambles: That Kotalik and Higgins can find the scoring touches that eluded them with the New York Rangers; that Matt Stajan can play centre effectively with Iginla; that Niklas Hagman will find a home somewhere in the top six; and that Ian White has a better blueline rapport with Robyn Regehr than Dion Phaneuf developed.
The shelf life of any NHL GM tends to be fairly long, compared to the various coaches he employs. Sutter replaced himself behind the bench in 2007, with Jim Playfair, then switched to Mike Keenan, and now has his younger brother, Brent, running the show. Amid all those changes, Sutter usually made it clear the issues with the team had little to do with the personnel he assembled.
Well, you can only make that case for so long. Maybe this team was overrated; maybe it got exactly what it deserved in all those early postseason exits.
Another deal on the Flames’ horizon?
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
Flames GM Darryl Sutter has made a couple of trades which make it appear another deal is soon coming.
He’d better be.
Six new faces via trade, and a seventh if you count Mikael Backlund being summoned from the minors just over a week ago, has added up to big changes on the roster, but it’s not enough to seriously call this club a Stanley Cup contender.
Actually, an argument can be made it’s not even a playoff team.
Not when the Flames sit ninth in the Western Conference.
Not when the Flames can lay claim to just one victory in it’s last 11 games — which came at the expense of the lowly Edmonton Oilers — and just two wins in 14 outings.
Not when you start to poke holes in the team.
As they ready for Wednesday night’s clash against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Flames are potentially deeper on the wings, but a few of those — especially newcomers Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik — have struggled mightily this season.
The Flames are readying to hit the ice with Matt Stajan, Daymond Langkow, Mikael Backlund and Eric Nystrom as the chief faceoff takers.
Nobody will mistake that for a murderer’s row of centres.
For years, Sutter maintained you build a team from the goal, through the defence and then up the middle. Nobody will argue Olli Jokinen panned out as the top-notch centre the Flames needed, but the club is weaker at that position now that he’s been dealt to the New York Rangers.
It’s a weakness Sutter must address before the March 3 trade deadline, or he’ll have to explain how the club he called an elite team for so many months failed to reach the playoff party.
The trades pared the equivalent of more than $800,000 from the salary cap over the course of the season. Sutter, whose budget did leave a cushion for a trade-deadline acquisition, will have cash to add a player, a good player, when time comes.
Especially if he is able to jettison a fair-sized salary in the process.
Sutter scoffed Tuesday at the suggestion he has Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk in the cross hairs (read into that what you want, but remember he denied Dion Phaneuf was on the block within the last two weeks), but there has to be a centre out there to acquire.
Pie-in-the-sky dreams would mean Vincent Lecavalier, Eric Staal or Brad Richards would be packing his bags for the Stampede City. Don’t bank on that happening.
More realistic is the likes of Mike Ribeiro or Tomas Plekanec among the pending unrestricted free agents.
Ponikarovsky: The artful dodger
BILL LANKHOF, TORONTO SUN
When he got married, Alexei Ponikarovsky told his bride that being a hockey player was a little like being in the military.
In other words, keep the suitcase handy, because invariably the marching orders will be handed down.
For nine seasons in the Maple Leafs organization, the phone call telling him to take a hike has not come. Several times it has been expected by the media, the public and even Ponikarovsky himself, but when the Leafs hit the ice Tuesday night against New Jersey Devils, the only two players in the lineup with more than two years of service in Toronto were Tomas Kaberle and Ponikarovsky. He has seen Leafs icons such as Gary Roberts, Tie Domi and Mats Sundin summarily dismissed or depart on their own. He watched last year as lockermate and buddy Nik Antropov was packed off to Broadway.
“Some people think about it more than others. I tend to just think about the next game because you can’t control the other stuff. You can’t do anything about it so there’s no point,” Ponikarovsky, 29, said.
This season, his name was chewed through the rumour mill, but somehow even after Brian Burke’s garage sale this week, Ponikarovsky remains. One constant on an ever-changing landscape.
“Welcome to Toronto,” he laughed yesterday as newcomer Fredrik Sjostrom shook his head at the din created by several thousand exuberant school kids who showed up to watch a pregame skate.
“It’s hard to believe. I went out there and they’re playing the national anthem and the place is packed,” said callup Christian Hanson, who played last year at Notre Dame. “I
thought I missed morning skate and I was late for game time.”
Nine seasons now, Ponikarovsky has watched this adoration. And he admits to some surprise that, with so much shrapnel flying, he remains not only a Maple Leaf — but a first-line Maple Leaf alongside Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
“When you get into this business, and especially when you get into the NHL you don’t prepare yourself to get traded but mentally you know that at some time you might get traded. Most of us do at some point. You just have to kind of deal with that as being part of your job. It’s like being on an oil rig somewhere and the company says you’ve got to move.
“I try to keep that Russian military mentality,” said Ponikarovsky, who recalls his childhood and his grandfather. “He is 83 now and, for 25 years, they wouldn’t let him over the border because he knew stuff that was pretty important back then, but he moved all over Russia. That’s how you have to look at hockey … it’s a business. I’m not worried. I’d love to stay but it’s up to management.”