Trade Rumors and NHL News – June 30, 2010

Jokinen back to Florida?

Kings still prime suitors for Ilya Kovalchuk

Penguins: No progress in Hamhuis talks

Jokinen back to Florida?

• Though a return here would be surprising, free agent center Olli Jokinen (15 goals, 35 assists with the Flames and Rangers last season) would love to sign with the Panthers, his agent said.

Kings still prime suitors for Ilya Kovalchuk

The Kings continue to be the front-runners to land two-time 50-goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk providing he doesn’t try to break the bank when the NHL’s free agency period opens Thursday at 9 a.m. Pacific time.

Yes, the Kings have talked before about landing impact players and have fallen short. Sometimes woefully short.

But this time they have not only the money and salary cap space but a strong selling point in a young, on-the-rise team that Kovalchuk could lead to Stanley Cup contention for years to come. There are few teams that have the resources or cap space that the Kings do, and from what team governor Tim Leiweke said last week as well as what agents for other players are hearing and seeing as they observe the market, the Kings appear determined to use their money and cap space to acquire the game-breaker they haven’t been able to develop themselves.

Kovalchuk, who turned 27 in April, is clearly the most talented player in a generally weak free-agent class. There should be a few decent defensemen available, and look for the Kings to pursue Paul Martin or Dan Hamuis if neither signs before free agency begins.

But Kovalchuk is the big fish, a dynamic player with marquee value and 338 goals in 621 NHL games. He didn’t have a good playoff series in the Devils’ five-game loss to Philadelphia but Jacques Lemaire’s restrictive system didn’t allow him to capitalize on his talents.

Two potential problems lurk: Kovalchuk turned down offers from the Atlanta Thrashers of $101 million over 12 years and $70 million over seven years before they traded him to New Jersey in February, and the Kings might balk if he’s looking for a double-digit annual salary.

They also have to think about re-signing Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Wayne Simmonds, who can become restricted free agents after next season, and about keeping their young core intact. The salary cap has zoomed upward since it was adopted after the lockout, and there are enough teams for sale or publicly declaring that they’re losing money to think that owners might push for more financial controls in the next collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA recently was extended through the 2011-12 season. After that, who knows?

Penguins: No progress in Hamhuis talks

Ray Shero spoke with free-agent-to-be Dan Hamhuis on a conference call Tuesday.

Talked a bit with his agent, Wade Arnott, too.

But whether Shero actually will discuss contract terms with either at some point, well, that remains to be seen.

Tuesday night, Shero described his interaction with the Hamhuis camp as “ongoing discussions,” and rejected a suggestion that they could be characterized as negotiations.

“Not yet,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

Arnott said simply that, “We continue to have dialogue with the Penguins.”

The Penguins are starting to run out of time to convince Hamhuis, whose rights were acquired from Philadelphia for a third-round draft choice Friday, that he should seriously consider the idea of playing here.

If he is not signed by noon Thursday, Hamhuis will qualify for unrestricted free agency and be free to sign with any team that wants him.

There have been numerous suggestions that his preference is to play in, or at least near, his home province of British Columbia, although neither he nor his agent has said so publicly.

Signing Hamhuis and fellow defenseman Sergei Gonchar are Shero’s priorities as the start of free agency closes in, but neither seems particularly close to accepting a contract.

Asked about the Gonchar negotiations, Shero said “nothing’s really new” and “not much has changed there.”

Gonchar’s agent, J.P. Barry, could not be reached for comment.

Defenseman Jordan Leopold and Mark Eaton remain on the periphery of the Penguins’ plans — and could move into more prominent spots if Hamhuis and/or Gonchar do not sign — and Shero has stayed in touch with both.

He spoke directly to Leopold Tuesday, although there is no evidence they had any talks of consequence.

“We’re in the same position as before, not close to anything yet,” said Leopold’s agent, Ban Hankinson. “I expect that we’ll talk again [today] or Thursday [morning].”

Steve Bartlett, who represents Eaton, acknowledged that the Penguins’ focus is on Hamhuis and Gonchar, but suggested his client could end up viewing the Penguins as a fallback position, much as they seem to be looking at him.

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