Kovy fallout, Wings' cap issues, Pens-Caps II

Before all was said and done Thursday, there were two other teams in the running with New Jersey for Ilya Kovalchuk: the St. Louis Blues and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Is it just me, or isn't it surprising the Blues were in it? Jeremy Rutherford had the details in Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"We were in on it, but they were asking too much," Blues president John Davidson told ESPN.com on Saturday. "[Thrashers GM] Donnie [Waddell] was driving a real tough bargain."

The Blues are no guarantee to make the playoffs this season, so on the surface, it's kind of surprising to see them go after such a high-profile rental. But the hope was if the Blues got him, he would fall in love with the city like so many other players have over the years and they'd be able to sign him to an extension.

"We have 55 NHL alumni in this city," said Davidson. "Players love it here."

But the price was too high. I'm told the Thrashers wanted T.J. Oshie as part of their package.

The Flyers were in it almost to the end, and that's no surprise at all. They were rumored to be in it all along. There's a lot of pressure on the Flyers to go for it this season; after all, they gave up two first-round picks in the trade that brought in star blueliner Chris Pronger last June, so there's no point turning back now.

But in the end, the Flyers decided Atlanta's price was too high and the Devils were victorious. I believe the Thrashers wanted either rookie forward James van Riemsdyk or impressive young forward Claude Giroux as part of the return package. In both cases, the Flyers balked.

The interesting part? The Flyers have come oh-so-close on a major rental pickup for the second straight year. Last March at the trade deadline, the Flyers came within inches of picking up Jay Bouwmeester before the Florida Panthers decided to keep him through the end of the season. But it went right down to the wire.

One last note on the Kovalchuk saga: Devils GM Lou Lamoriello made a classy move Thursday night, jumping on a private plane and flying to Washington to personally pick up his newly acquired star, along with his agent Jay Grossman and defenseman Anssi Salmela, and bring them back to New Jersey.

Whitney and Wallin updates

If all had gone according to plan, Ray Whitney would have been a Los Angeles King by now and Niclas Wallin would be headed to San Jose.

Instead, they're both still in Carolina. Sources told me on Saturday that both trades were scuttled, as each player used their respective no-trade clauses to try to extract contract extensions from their suitors. (Both players are set to become unrestricted free agents July 1.)

Hey, it's totally within their rights to exercise the no-trade clauses, but you can imagine the frustration of Canes GM Jim Rutherford, who would have had a few assets in his hands had those deals gone through.

So, now what? Let's focus on Whitney, the most valuable rental forward left on the NHL trade market now that Kovalchuk has been moved. Whitney, via his agent J.P. Barry, tried to extract a three-year contract extension from the Kings last week. Given his age (37), the Kings had reservations. Officially, Barry and Kings GM Dean Lombardi haven't spoken since last weekend, although Lombardi ran into Barry's partner at CAA Sports, Pat Brisson, at Thursday night's Ducks-Kings game and I'm told the Whitney conversation was picked up again. Maybe a two-year extension will cut it down the middle?

Whitney has not tailed off in his late 30s; he remains a consistent point producer.
My suspicion here is Whitney would likely rather stay somewhere closer to the East. He's got three kids at home, so who can blame the guy? Pittsburgh and Philadelphia certainly fit the bill. The Penguins are in need of a winger. I'm sure Whitney would love a chance to play with Sidney Crosby. But the Pens likely can't afford Whitney's $3.55 million salary under their cap until the last minute, the March 3 trade deadline.

The Flyers? Well, they struck out on Kovalchuk. And it just so happens Flyers coach Peter Laviolette knows very well what Whitney brings to the table from their days together in Carolina.

But if Rutherford doesn't get the deal he wants because he believes his hands were tied, he may just not deal Whitney.

Panthers scuttlebutt

At this point, the Florida Panthers really don't know whether they are buyers or sellers given their bubble position in the playoff race. The remaining games before the Olympics will have a big bearing on that. If they fall back in the race, UFAs-to-be Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold could both be made available as rentals.

But win or lose over the next week heading into Friday's Olympic roster freeze (the trade deadline before the March 3 deadline), I'm told two players are available from the Panthers no matter the circumstances: forwards Rostislav Olesz and Kamil Kreps. Olesz, who has played well at times this season, has four more years on his deal at a $3.125 million cap hit, while Kreps is set to become a restricted free agent July 1.

I'm told star goalie Tomas Vokoun, who has one year left on his deal at $6.3 million, will not be made available before March 3 regardless of where the Panthers are in the standings. That's a situation the team will revisit come June.

Sid versus Ovi, Part II

Weather permitting, the NHL's best rivalry resumes Sunday afternoon in Washington, where the Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A massive snowstorm blanketed the D.C. area Saturday and there was concern about the Penguins getting from Montreal to Washington on Saturday evening after their afternoon game with the Canadiens. The latest itinerary: Pittsburgh was set to fly into Newark, N.J., and then take a four-hour bus ride to D.C.

Assuming there are no other weather delays, let's focus on the second game of the season between the rivals (the Caps won the first meeting 6-3 on Jan. 21). It's a rivalry players and coaches and, yes, GMs, from both teams have genuinely bought into.

"I think so," said Shero. "Obviously, there's Sid and Ovechkin, that's a great rivalry on its own, and I think there's more hype now because we played last year in a seven-game playoff series. Now, Washington has won 13 games in a row and they're probably the best team in the league. So it should be an exciting game."

What makes this rivalry so compelling is the way both franchises have mirrored each other on so many levels, from bottom-feeders to the drafting of great young players to the gradual ascension up the NHL ladder. The Penguins got over the hump first with a trip to the Cup finals in 2008 and a Stanley Cup title in 2009. This season, the Caps seem to have responded to that challenge, putting together the most impressive season in the Eastern Conference and arguably the entire NHL.

"The Caps are an exciting team to watch," said Shero. "They seem to have taken a next step. It makes the rivalry even better between Pittsburgh and Washington and makes for great games. It's all good."

It's also why a league source reiterated Saturday that the Caps-Pens matchup remains the favorite at this point for next season's Winter Classic, although no final decision has been made.

Gretzky's trip

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier didn't just drop the puck last weekend in Minsk, Belarus, for the KHL All-Star Game. The two legends also donned the old skates, too.
Gretzky and Messier played in a pick-up game with the president of Belarus and some former pro players.

"Yeah, that was neat," Gretzky told ESPN.com this week. "We had a great time. They just built a brand-new rink there in Minsk. It's beautiful. The people of Belarus really treated us like royalty. It was truly an honor to be a guest of the president."

Gretzky also took the time to have breakfast with KHL president Alexander Medvedev.

"He came to my fantasy camp a few years ago, so I had already met him," said Gretzky. "He's an interesting guy. We talked about the growth of the KHL to date and where he sees it going in the future."

The Great One, as most people know, has family roots in Belarus. His ancestors moved from there to Canada. Gretzky was approached by a person in Minsk who had researched the Gretzky family tree. Turns out Gretzky has relatives who live 250 kilometers from Minsk. Gretzky met a woman who was a cousin, his grandfather's niece.

"That was really something," said Gretzky. "My father was so happy to hear that I met some of our relatives. That by itself was worth the trip."

Gretzky also had dinner with former NHL stars Sergei Fedorov, Alexei Yashin and Sergei Zubov, while also taking the time to catch up with Russian greats Slava Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak.

Quite the trip!

Red Wings

Needing desperately to clear salary cap space, the Red Wings dealt Ville Leino to the Flyers in exchange for defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft on Saturday.

But the Wings then immediately put Tollefsen on NHL waivers. If he clears Monday at noon ET, I suspect he'll be sent to the AHL. The sole purpose of the move was to shed Leino's $800,000 cap hit in order to pave the way for the return of star winger Johan Franzen, who has been out four months with a knee injury.

Even with the move, the Wings will still be right up against the cap once Franzen returns. So, if and when defenseman Andreas Lilja is ready to return to the Wings' lineup, Holland will have to shed more salary. Lilja has been out nearly a calendar year with a concussion, but he's playing a couple of games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

Detroit's cap issues mean it'll make things more interesting for the Wings in terms of the March 3 trade deadline. The Wings won't have much room to add.

Avs and Svatos

A source told me Saturday that Colorado is shopping around winger Marek Svatos, an unrestricted free agent July 1. His cap hit is $2.05 million. He only has six goals this season, but he's a former 32-goal scorer. He could be a nice consolation prize for teams who lose out on Whitney.

Flyers and Emery

As I reported earlier this season, the Flyers are hoping to reach an extension with goalie Ray Emery before the end of the regular season. Because Emery signed a one-year deal this past summer, the team wasn't allowed to approach his agent until January. That happened in Calgary last week, when Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and Emery's agent, J.P. Barry, chatted briefly and only agreed they would commence preliminary talks after the Olympics. Emery is earning $1.5 million this season, so he'd be looking for a raise.

A final note

I want to send out my heartfelt condolences to Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke and his family. I've been a parent now for 13 months, and I could not even imagine dealing with the shattering news of losing one's child. We get so caught up in this business with wins and losses and trades and rumors, we often lose sight of what really matters.

I feel absolutely horrible about Friday's tragic death of Brendan Burke. Let's all hope the Burke family can find the strength to get through this.