Trade Rumors and Free Agent News – June 28, 2010

1. Blockbuster trade buzzkill

2. Cox: Marc Savard talk risky business for Leafs

3. Nabokov, Flyers talking, but….

4. Jackets to seek center via free agency

5. Dater: Avalanche comes into free agency with money to burn

Blockbuster trade buzzkill

All talk, no action.

As the NHL draft wrapped up Saturday at the Staples Center, all the predictions of big deals with big names changing sweaters fell through for the umpteenth straight year.

The salary cap era has all but killed off the blockbuster trade.

“Guys still talk,” said a league executive. “It’s just every deal has make sense money-wise.”

It’s an issue no team can escape.

The names of stars like Boston’s Tim Thomas and Marc Savard floated around all weekend, but deals didn’t get done because teams are trying to figure out ways to pick up contracts while shedding them at the same time.

Toronto GM Brian Burke did everything he could to move defenceman Tomas Kaberle, but he didn’t get an offer he found acceptable, so the Leafs are going to hang on to Kaberle until someone ups the ante.

The Lightning need a goalie, but can’t afford to take on Thomas’ contract, so the Bolts will have to go in another direction.

Senators centre Jason Spezza was also in play, but he has five years and $33 million US left on his deal. And as Ottawa GM Bryan Murray knows, the market is pretty small for those kinds of contracts.

There was a time the draft was a beehive of activity. Now, it’s mostly become about moving the No. 119 pick for the No. 166 and No. 172 pick.

This is what happened last year when the draft was held at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Teams burned up the phone lines and then served up very little on the draft floor.

Blues president John Davidson said the best way to have success is to build from within, hang onto your players and then make trades or free-agent signings at the right time to put your team over the top.

“That’s what Chicago did. They drafted well and then they were able to sign Marian Hossa to help put themselves over the top to win the Stanley Cup,” Davidson said during a break in the “action” Saturday.

“You have to draft and develop your players. That’s the best way to have success. Once you draft those players, you just hope that you’re able to hang onto them all when they get good.”

So what trade fans have to hope for is that NHL GMs used draft weekend to set the table for deals later this week or in the summer after the free agency has settled out.

With such a thin free-agent market, the chatter was there would be plenty of trades.

Cox: Marc Savard talk risky business for Leafs

Herein lies the conundrum of being Big Blue.

That’s the kinda catchy term that Brian Burke likes to apply to the Maple Leafs, a reference to the wealth of the NHL’s Toronto franchise that should, in theory, give it power beyond the wildest dreams of many other NHL clubs even in the salary cap era.

What it means in general is that the Leafs can consider financial commitments other franchises can’t. Today, what it means is that Burke and his hockey department are seriously examining the possibility of acquiring Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard and his mammoth contract, something franchises like Nashville, Florida, Buffalo and Phoenix would never have to bother spending even a moment considering.

Savard’s a very good player, a point-per-game pivot albeit one with warts, like a history of concussions and a background as a fellow a coach might not always enjoy having on the roster.

His contract is — excuse the expression, commissioner — coyote ugly, a seven-year deal that comes with a salary of $7 million in each of the next two years, with an annual salary cap hit of $4 million (all figures U.S.). The B’s gave him that deal a year ago when they loved him and before he’d been cold-*****ed by Matt Cooke of the Penguins, and before they’d used the second overall pick this past weekend to draft his successor at centre, Tyler Seguin.

Stuck with Tim Thomas, a very expensive goalie they might not be able to move, the Bruins may be prepared to surrender Savard in a so-called “soft” deal. In other words, basically for free.

Which brings us back to Big Blue. Savard is apparently willing to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade to Toronto or Ottawa, in part because of family responsibilities in the Oshawa area.–cox-marc-savard-talk-risky-business-for-leafs

Nabokov, Flyers talking, but….

The Flyers have been given permission to talk with the agent for San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov and try to make a deal before the free-agency period starts on Thursday.

But a soucre close to the situation said he was “not optimistic” that a deal could be reached prior to Thursday.

In other words, Nabokov is expected to test the free-agent waters, and the Flyers will be among a handful of suitors.

If the Flyers do sign Nabokov before Thursday, they would probably have to give San Jose a late pick in the 2011 draft. The source said no compensation has been decided upon, and he denied an Internet report that the Flyers would give a seventh-round pick if they signed Nabokov prior to Thursday.

Jackets to seek center via free agency

Blue Jackets officials flew home from the NHL entry draft late Saturday without making changes to their NHL lineup. They added eight players in the draft, but none is expected to make an impact in Columbus until the 2011-12 season.

Now, free agency is ahead, with the NHL’s annual lunacy kicking off Thursday. Blue Jackets fans anticipating radical changes probably will be severely disappointed.

“There are a couple of things we’d like to try and do, but we’ll probably be pretty quiet on July1,” general manager Scott Howson said. “It’s a thin market this summer, and there will be lots of competition for a few of the players out there.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve the team, but we’re not going to overpay to do it. It ends up hurting in the long run.”

The Blue Jackets will try to sign a fourth-line center through free agency, and they’ll attempt to reshape the blue line via one or more trades, perhaps with one of the handful of NHL clubs facing salary-cap issues.

Of the two desires, Howson said, adding a fourth-line center is the priority.

Names to keep in mind among free-agent centers are Adam Burish, Dominic Moore, Ryan Johnson, Krys Barch and Ryan Hollweg. None of them is likely to seek more than $1 million per season.

One of the above-mentioned names will be added to the Blue Jackets’ current cast of centers, top-six pivots Antoine Vermette and Derick Brassard and third-line checker Sammy Pahlsson.

It’s possible that the best hope of landing a true No. 1 center to play with captain Rick Nash rests with the player the Blue Jackets drafted No. 4 overall on Friday: center Ryan Johnson. That could take three years.

As for the defense

“We’ve had preliminary discussions about ideas and our needs with a few teams,” Howson said, “but nothing material or significant as of yet. There are lots of teams who are looking for defensemen, though.

We’ll get through a few days of free agency and see where the market is.”

Howson acknowledged that it could take a couple of months for such a trade to be completed. Last summer, for instance, San Jose traded defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to Vancouver on Aug. 28 to ease salary-cap pressure. (The Blue Jackets, who also wanted Ehrhoff, had offered the Sharks left winger Jason Chimera.)

“We have seven NHL defensemen,” Howson said. “If we go into the season with that same seven, I’m happy with that.”

The top free-agent defensemen – Sergei Gonchar, Paul Martin, Dan Hamhuis, Anton Volchenkov, Pavel Kubina, etc. – probably will be too expensive for the Blue Jackets to pursue.

The Jackets have $47.6million committed to 18 players next season, with forwards Jared Boll and Mike Blunden and defenseman Anton Stralman – all three restricted free agents – yet to sign. Those numbers don’t include left winger Nikita Filatov, who is expected to return from Russia.

Dater: Avalanche comes into free agency with money to burn

According to the great website — and thank goodness there are geeks out there who keep track of this stuff for numbers-challenged reporters like me — only three NHL teams have more space under the salary cap than the Avalanche.

The Avs have 17 likely roster players signed for this coming season, and still have $29,492,500 of cap space — with the NHL’s cap having just increased from $56.7 million to $59.4 million.

Even with four key young players — Chris Stewart, Peter Mueller, Brandon Yip and Kyle Quincey — still unsigned, the Avs would probably still have considerable cap space for the coming season when or if they come to terms.

And yet, the signs still point to this Thursday being a relatively quiet one for the Avs. Thursday, of course, is the day eligible NHL players can become unrestricted free agents. The biggest name likely to be out there remains New Jersey left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who is only 27, a premier scorer and plays the position at which the Avs most lack in depth.

Avs general manager Greg Sherman has said all along the team won’t take any “shortcuts,” i.e. spend big money on free agents, but plenty of NHL watchers can’t help but wonder if he’s bluffing.

Denver remains a desirable location for players and would be even more so for a team that has so much money it could spend.

But the aftereffects of previous spending sprees continue to leave bad memories in the minds of many still with the organization — presumably owner Stan Kroenke in particular. The Avs were right up against the cap in 2008-09 and finished last in the Western Conference. Kroenke sent the command to “rebuild,” i.e. get younger and cheaper, and that blueprint remains firmly in place.

That mandate likely is why it’s taking time to sign Stewart, Mueller, Yip and Quincey. Even with all that cap space, the Avs remain leery of handing out lavish