Category archive: Carolina Hurricanes

When Ray Whitney wasn't moved at the March 3 trade deadline, it was implied there was mutual interest in him staying in Carolina.

But as both sides got to brass tacks early in the offseason, it was clear there wasn't a fit where it mattered most: $$$.

"We would like to bring him back and I think he would like to stay here, but at the end of the day, I think it'll be a financial decision," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "It's probably going to be his last contract ... ideally there's a way to work it out for him to finish his career here, but as of today, that doesn't look like that's going to happen."

So, it's almost 100 percent Whitney is going to hit the free-agent market on July 1. No hard feelings, though.

"It's exciting," Whitney told us Tuesday. "I wish I had finished my career in Carolina, but I understand the direction they're going in. They're getting younger and I totally get it. I have a lot of respect for Jimmy and have nothing but good things to say about the five years I spent in Carolina."

"I like Ray a lot as a person, I really do like him," Rutherford said. "Whatever happens, I wish him the best."

As has always been the case during Whitney's underrated career, the forward will enter free agency somewhat under the radar. But there isn't a deep forward free-agent class this year, especially if Patrick Marleau and Tomas Plekanec stay put, something which has yet to be determined. Even if they don't, once Ilya Kovalchuk goes, and potentially Marleau and Plekanec, some team will be looking at Whitney in a hurry.

"Ray has been an incredibly consistent and durable offensive threat for his entire career," his agent, J.P. Barry, told ESPN.com. "Wherever he plays, he produces. When you actually analyze his production, you get a better perspective of how elite his accomplishments are in this league. 'Underrated' is truly an understatement when you actually see where he ranks offensively. While his peers' production have declined in their 30s, his production has actually increased the past five years."

Agents are always enthused about their clients, that's their job; so we'll take that statement for what it's worth. But Barry is right about Whitney's late-career production. He's averaged 24 goals and 67 points over the past five seasons, better numbers than his 10-year average of 20 goals and 60 points. Like a fine wine?

"Since the lockout, the game seems to have suited my game, and I think that's reflected in my numbers," Whitney said.

More interesting: Whitney's point production over the five seasons since the lockout (334 points) is better than the likes of Shane Doan, Rick Nash, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Cammalleri, Thomas Vanek, Teemu Selanne, Jason Arnott, Danny Briere and Patrik Elias, among others. But one would rarely lump Whitney with those players.

On the down side, Whitney turned 38 last month. You can't ignore that, especially given the 35-and-over rule in the CBA, which calls for the entirety of contracts signed by those players to count against the cap regardless of whether a player retires before the end of the deal.

That reality will make it difficult for Whitney and Barry to get more than a one-year deal on the open market. But given the scarcity among elite UFA forwards this year, Whitney's consistency and the fact he played 80 or more games the past two seasons, he may be able to squeeze out two years from a team.

And which will that be? Pittsburgh would be a decent fit; Whitney could play with either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. What about Los Angeles? The Kings inquired about Whitney before the trade deadline. If the Kings strike out on either Kovalchuk or Marleau, Whitney could be a nice consolation prize.

Bottom line: Any contending team that wants to improve its power play should take a good look at Whitney.

More to ponder

• There's been speculation here and there about the Columbus Blue Jackets shopping their fourth overall pick, the theory being they want to get back into the playoffs picture ASAP and acquire a player to help them now. But Jackets GM Scott Howson squashed the theory Tuesday.

"That's not a goal of mine. I want to keep the pick," Howson told ESPN.com. "I'm not actively calling teams about the pick. But obviously, like anything, we're always open to discussion."

The Jackets are hoping to beef up at center this offseason, so if they were offered a decent player for the pick, I would think they might look at it. But I believe Howson when he says he's not shopping the pick just for the sake of it.

• On the Plekanec front, his agent, Rick Curran, has talked to Habs GM Pierre Gauthier a few times since Montreal's season ended, picking up where the two sides left off during the season.

"We've had a couple of discussions and they've been very productive," Curran told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I'm always optimistic that we can get a deal, but we'll see."

Plekanec led the Canadiens with 70 points (24-45) in 82 games this past regular season. His production dropped off a little in the postseason with 11 points (4-7) in 19 games. How does Montreal replace that production next season if it can't sign him?

Much of our focus will be on the playoffs during the next two months, but let's take a look at the teams that were eliminated from postseason play (as of Friday) and the work that lies ahead of them.

We'll catch up with them again at the NHL draft in June, when there could be fireworks involving these very teams. Here are the Eastern Conference nonplayoff teams. I'll be back with the West later today.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's get the ugly stuff out of the way so we can move on to more interesting matters. Yes, a 29th-place finish is a PR nightmare; this year's first-round pick was one of two shipped to the Boston Bruins for dynamic winger Phil Kessel this past September. The Bruins have a 67 percent chance of ending up with either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin depending on Tuesday's draft lottery.

"I would do it [the trade] again tomorrow," Leafs general manager Brian Burke told ESPN.com on Thursday.

In the meantime, Burke's rebuilding squad took some strides this season despite its finish. The massive turnover, which is far from over, has revealed some promising young building blocks in the likes of center Tyler Bozak, forward Nikolai Kulemin, forward Christian Hanson, goalie Jonas Gustavsson, forward Viktor Stalberg and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson. Sophomore blueliner Luke Schenn recovered from a shaky first half with a solid ending, and highly touted junior forward Nazem Kadri is on the way next season.

The trade for Dion Phaneuf remains a coup for Burke, who solidified his blue line moving forward. But the offense remains a major issue. Kessel needs help, and that's the priority this offseason.

"Our draft is July 1. We're going to go after a free agent, we're going to try and land a top-six forward," Burke said. "We might also do it in advance of July 1 through a trade."

That trade would no doubt involve veteran blueliner Tomas Kaberle, who has one year left on his deal at $4.25 million, a cheap salary for a player of his caliber. Kaberle's no-trade clause will drop this summer, so although Burke says he's not shopping him, the fact that he'll once again have a window with the no-trade clause gone compels him to at least see what is out there.

"We're going to listen," Burke said. "He's a good guy, a good player, and he's at a good number. Those are three good reasons to keep him. But I have to listen [to offers]. We're not going to shop him, but we're going to listen."

The Leafs have about 16 players returning for next season, so there's not actually that much cap room to play with. But just like that, a guy like Jeff Finger (two more years at $3.5 million per) could be dumped in the minors to create cap space. Burke understandably is taking heat for the Kessel deal, but I don't think you can say his team isn't headed in the right direction. Leafs fans certainly hope so. This is Toronto's fifth straight season without a trip to the postseason.

Florida Panthers: Nine straight seasons out of the playoffs. Believe me when I say GM Randy Sexton is on a mission. There will be changes this summer.

Although Sexton would not comment when I asked him about goalie Tomas Vokoun, other league sources believe the Czech goalie will not be back in Florida next season. Vokoun has one year left on his deal at a $5.7 million cap hit. He also has a no-movement clause, but it's expected he will waive it for a chance to win elsewhere. His trade this summer will open up room for highly touted Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom, the 31st overall pick in the 2008 draft. If he's not ready for the NHL next season, my guess is the Panthers will have Scott Clemmensen share the net with a veteran stopgap like Manny Legace or someone of that nature while they await Markstrom's debut.

Although Sexton didn't want to speculate on his goaltending situation, he did address his problems up front; as of Friday, the team was ranked 28th overall in goals per game.

"We need more consistent scoring," Sexton told ESPN.com on Thursday. "[Stephen] Weiss could end up with 30 goals this year, [Nathan] Horton has scored 30 in the past and [David] Booth has scored 30, so we think all things being equal, those guys come back and give us a solid first line. But we need to add some scoring on our second line. We don't score goals easily."

Booth has been hit hard by two concussions this season, and that has to be a question mark moving forward. Let's hope he can fully recover.

My take? The goal in Florida is to get younger, bigger, more physical and faster. Easier said than done, but that's the goal.

Carolina Hurricanes: The season was lost in a hurry by a brutal start, but the second half of the season revealed what most of us suspected: This was a much better squad than what it showed in October and November.

All it did was make GM Jim Rutherford begin the youth movement a few months earlier, and that will remain the goal during the offseason.

"We'll continue our transition into a younger team," Rutherford told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We have a lot of good young players, and we had planned on doing it this fall regardless of how this season ended up. We started the transition a little earlier than we expected halfway through the year, but in some ways, it's been good for us because we've gotten a look at some of the young players, and they've done real well."

Rutherford moved out several veteran faces before the trade deadline but retained winger Ray Whitney, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"He's been a great player for us for a long time," Rutherford said. "We'll have to take a good look at that in the offseason and see what he wants to do. I still feel he's a good player, so we'll have that meeting sometime in the next few weeks."

In the meantime, the Hurricanes will hope for some luck in Tuesday's draft lottery.

"I'm pretty comfortable anywhere in the top eight," Rutherford said. "We'll get a good player whether we pick anywhere from one to eight."

This team is going young but with good players. Be excited if you're a Hurricanes fan.

Atlanta Thrashers: One playoff berth in 10 seasons is a tough sell on even the most loyal fan. But I truly believe the Thrashers are on the right track with the young players they are building this version of the team around, most notably Evander Kane, Ondrej Pavelec, Niclas Bergfors, Zach Bogosian and Bryan Little.

"The one thing we really like is the direction we're going with the youth of our team, and we're going to continue that," Thrashers GM Don Waddell told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We've got six guys under the age of 24 and another seven guys under the age of 29. We have other young guys who are close and who will compete for jobs next year. We're going to hang in there with those guys and let them grow together here."

Waddell did the best he could with a brutal situation: star winger Ilya Kovalchuk refusing to sign an extension that could have afforded him enough money to buy a small island. So, Waddell got the best possible deal out of New Jersey, and Atlanta actually rallied after Kovalchuk's departure to fall just short of a playoff spot.

Waddell also has four key UFAs to address: defenseman Pavel Kubina and forwards Maxim Afinogenov, Colby Armstrong and Jim Slater.

"The hope would be to sit down and talk with them over the next few weeks," Waddell said. "If there's something that makes some sense, we'd like to bring them back."

Tampa Bay Lightning: I didn't think it was wise to reach out to Bolts GM Brian Lawton because who knows whether he'll be back next season under new owner Jeff Vinik.

This team is enigmatic. Despite having big-time offensive contributors in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Downie, the Bolts ranked 23rd in NHL offense as of Friday. Bizarre. What's not surprising is where they ranked defensively: 28th in goals against per game. The blue line and goaltending aren't up to snuff, and no matter who is the GM, that's where you start.

But first, Lawton's future.

"Speculation has been rampant since new owner Jeff Vinik took over that general manager Brian Lawton will not be back next season," Tampa Tribune hockey writer Erik Erlendsson wrote to me via e-mail Friday. "Lawton's contract expires on June 1, and by virtue of the fact he has not been given a contract extension, at this point it's not a question of if, but when he will officially be let go. In his two years at the helm of the Lightning, Lawton has found some success with the likes of Downie, Antero Niittymaki and Kurtis Foster.

"But when he's missed, it's been a Reggie Jackson-esque spinning whiff with the acquisition of Andrej Meszaros for Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and the first-round pick previously acquired from San Jose for Dan Boyle. And it's difficult not to point at the oustings of Jussi Jokinen (30 goals for Carolina this season), Radim Vrbata (20-goal scorer for Phoenix) and the buyout of Vinny Prospal, who will count against the Lightning salary cap for five more years following a season in which a lack of secondary scoring was a season-long issue."

Coach Rick Tocchet has one year left on his deal and would be in limbo if Lawton is gone. A new GM usually wants his own man.

Downie has had a breakout season and is the key restricted free agent who needs a new deal along with Foster. Niittymaki, who outplayed Mike Smith in net this season, will be a UFA. Meanwhile, my colleague Erlendsson believes that whoever is in charge of the Lightning needs to also look ahead to two players who are one year away from free agency.

"Tampa Bay would be wise to begin extension talks for both Marty St. Louis (unrestricted) and Steven Stamkos (restricted) and not let either of those players go through the season without a contract beyond next season," he said. "St. Louis, in particular, while still productive at age 34 with the third 90-point season of his career, continues to be the heart and soul of the team and a real driving force, not only on the ice but in the locker room."

No shortage of work this offseason in Tampa.

New York Islanders: For the fourth time in five postlockout seasons, the Islanders failed to reach the postseason. It wasn't a surprise this season, as the team focused on a youth movement that has showed signs of promise.

Star rookie John Tavares had a solid first campaign, and his supporting cast is building in strength, led by Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, Frans Nielsen, Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, Jack Hillen, Trevor Gillies and more to come up from the farm system. This on top of a possible good draft pick in June depending on Tuesday's draft lottery.

The key question for the Isles is in goal. Martin Biron will be an unrestricted free agent, Dwayne Roloson has another year left but will be 41 in October and Rick DiPietro played just eight games this season, once again felled by injury (knee). This is GM Garth Snow's biggest offseason decision: who plays goal for him next season and beyond. (Snow did not immediately return a call from ESPN.com.)

Otherwise, believe it or not, Isles fans, the future looks bright (wherever the team ends up playing).

The Chicago Blackhawks made their much-anticipated move for a blueliner before Friday's 3 p.m. ET Olympic trade freeze, but nobody was busier than Bryan Murray.

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Bryan Murray
Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images Bryan Murray had a big day Friday, earning a contract extension and making personnel moves.

The veteran Ottawa Senators GM got more job security, made a trade, revealed he made a contract offer to his most important pending free agent, and put another player on waivers.

Murray was rewarded for a surprising season by his Northeast Division-leading Senators with a one-year contract extension and then promptly improved his playoff-bound club with the acquisition of veteran center Matt Cullen from the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I've known Matt since my Anaheim days, and I really felt that he would fit into the room and the chemistry of our team," Murray told ESPN.com. "If he plays with the right people, he should be real productive for us."

The 33-year-old Cullen, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, has 40 points (12-28) in 60 games and is actually on pace to eclipse his career high of 49 points. So this might be a sneaky pickup by the red-hot Sens, who have usurped the slumping Buffalo atop the Northeast Division.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, believe they made a move Friday that helps them this year in their Stanley Cup bid and next year with their salary cap issues. They acquired veteran blueliner Kim Johnsson from the Minnesota Wild as well as prospect Nick Leddy in exchange for defenseman Cam Barker.

Johnsson, 33, will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and has a $4.85 million salary-cap hit this season. Barker has two more years left on his deal after this season at a $3.08-million cap hit. The Blackhawks need to shed some serious payroll in the offseason to accommodate new contract extensions that kick in next season for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. So with Johnsson off the books July 1, they'll save a bit of money there. It's a start. But they'll need to shave off more payroll this summer, around $7 million.

That's what the Hurricanes were doing Friday, shedding more payroll. Cullen, earning $2.8 million this season, is UFA July 1, which put him on Jim Rutherford's hit list. The Hurricanes GM moved Niclas Wallin to San Jose on Sunday and is not done dumping UFAs from his rebuilding squad. Rutherford did a nice job Friday getting a second-round pick in 2010 in exchange for Cullen plus blueliner Alexandre Picard.

Once Dominic Moore went to Montreal on Thursday night for a second-rounder (albeit in 2011), that certainly helped set the market for what Rutherford could get for Cullen, who is also a veteran center and potential UFA.

For Ottawa, the one fly in the ointment in a terrific season to this point has been a 27th-ranked power play. Cullen can help, and even play on the point. Murray figured head coach Cory Clouston wouldn't waste any time using his new toy on the power play.

"We're at the point where our power play hasn't been something that we're really excited about every night and he brings something there," Murray said. "Because of his quickness and intelligence and the fact he sees the ice well, I think Cory will surely try him out there at the point."

Ottawa may not be done ahead of the March 3 NHL trade deadline.

"We're now going to have to look around and talk about a defenseman," Murray said.

The Senators also put Jonathan Cheechoo on waivers Friday. The disappointing winger has another year on his deal at $3.5 million for next season, so I'd be shocked if anyone claimed him. Murray told ESPN.com that Cheechoo would go to AHL Binghamton if he cleared waivers.

And finally, Murray announced he had extended a contract offer to key defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. Volchenkov's agent Jay Grossman confirmed to ESPN.com that he had received the offer from the Senators and "will be reviewing with Anton soon," he wrote in an e-mail.

Elsewhere, the New York Rangers acquired tough guy Jody Shelley from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a conditional draft pick. The Rangers had waived tough guy Donald Brashear the previous day.

Also put on waivers Friday was winger Jamie Lundmark by the Calgary Flames and rugged, veteran winger Brad May by the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings eventually need to clear cap space in order to be able to activate defenseman Andreas Lilja and fit his $1.25 million salary under the salary cap, although at this point doctors still haven't cleared Lilja, GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com.

"We're also not sure what's going to happen with Kirk Maltby," Holland added. "He's played through a chronic shoulder injury all season long, and doctors say he'll need surgery if he wants to play next season. But the question is, does he have surgery now or after the season? We are still determining that."

Bottom line, there are possibly more roster moves coming from Detroit depending on what happens with Maltby and Lilja.

The Florida Panthers were working the phones Friday, a day after shipping out Moore. More players may likely move before the March 3 trade deadline, likely including UFAs-to-be Jordan Leopold and Dennis Seidenberg, both blueliners. Forward Rostislav Olesz is also available, although he has four more years on his deal with a $3.125 million cap hit.

Alexei Ponikarovsky remained a Toronto Maple Leaf on Friday, although a Leafs front-office source told ESPN.com that "interest was building" for the winger, a UFA July 1. But it will wait until March 1 at the earliest. He is earning $2.5 million this season, although his salary cap hit is $2.1 million. The 29-year-old Ukrainian had 41 points (19-22) and a plus-5 rating in 60 games with the Leafs this season.

Ray Whitney did not move Friday and that's not that surprising. Rutherford told ESPN.com Friday morning that he was pretty sure the 37-year-old winger, UFA July 1, would be a post-Olympic move. My sense is that will allow more teams that are tight against the salary cap to get into the action, which brings to mind the Pittsburgh Penguins. Whitney, as previously reported, nixed a trade to Los Angeles two weeks ago when he tried to coax a three-year contract extension out of the Kings. He could do that because any move needs his consent via his no-trade clause.

Whitney has 45 points (17-28) and a minus-1 rating in 58 games with the Hurricanes this season, and is a valuable and versatile player who can play the point on the power play. He's earning $3.55 million this season. He's actually a player the Senators had on their radar before moving on to Cullen.

"I did inquire about Ray, but at the end of the day, being a center and the versatility with Cullen certainly fits with us right now," Murray said.

Another player who did not move Friday was Marty Turco. Again, not very surprising. A Stars front-office source told ESPN.com that the team was getting "no traction" on the trade market. That's because of his $5.4 million salary. The veteran goalie will be UFA July 1, and he showed again Thursday night in Calgary that he remains an elite No. 1 goalie. It also showed he's letting neither the Kari Lehtonen acquisition nor the trade rumors affect him.

"I'm coping just fine," Turco told ESPN.com on Friday. "I want to win. Period. So we'll just see what happens."

We'll also see how the Philadelphia Flyers feel about Ray Emery's rested hip in two weeks' time and whether they believe they can make a playoff push with Michael Leighton as their possible starter.

Another goalie named Marty stayed put as well. Martin Biron has been looking for a move ever since Rick DiPietro returned to give the Islanders a crowded crease. Biron, UFA July 1 and earning $1.4 million this season, recently went on a conditioning stint in the AHL as he awaited a possible trade. But it'll have to wait until March 1 at the earliest.

"I have been feeling good after playing a couple of games in Bridgeport," Biron told ESPN.com. "Got back into action against Nashville [a 4-3 win Tuesday night], and that was good. So I know I can come in and help a team down the stretch."

Friday's mini-trade deadline wasn't full of activity. More bodies will be on the move around the NHL when the trade freeze thaws March 1.

Rumors linking Niclas Wallin to the San Jose Sharks began to surface a few weeks ago. But the fact is, Sharks GM Doug Wilson was after the veteran blueliner way, way, way before that.

"We did a lot of research into Nic," Wilson told ESPN.com Monday. "We tried to get him for the last two years to be honest with you."

The Sharks acquired the 34-year-old Swede from Carolina on Sunday along with a fifth-round pick in 2010 in exchange for a second-round pick in 2010. The deal appeared dead on Friday when Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said as much publicly, but it got back on track late Saturday night.

That Wilson added another former Cup winner in Wallin (2006) is par for the course; Rob Blake and Dan Boyle were also former Cup winners brought into the Sharks fold two years ago.

"His game speaks for itself," Wilson said of Wallin. "He's a playoff-hardened veteran that has played with really good players in Carolina, and he's very versatile. He can play the left side or the right side. We think his character, how he plays the game, he's a team-first guy. We really look forward to adding him to our team.

"There are a lot of mutual friends that speak really highly of him as a teammate and competitor," Wilson added. "Whether it be Arturs Irbe or Bret Hedican, for example. We know about him as a person and as a teammate, and he's always played his best hockey in the playoffs."

Wilson had no interest in giving up anyone from his NHL or AHL roster, so the second-round pick was exactly what the doctor ordered. And the timing of the deal was also important to him -- right before the Olympic break.

"The big thing for us was to be able to add player like this and at this time so that it was early enough for him to integrate himself with our team," said the Sharks GM. "And we didn't have to give up anything from our dressing room because I really respect and believe in the group and how they've approached this year."

Is Wilson done shopping?

"You're always looking. We've got some guys out with injuries," Wilson said. "We also have some guys in [AHL] Worcester playing really well and they're certainly part of our player pool and will be going forward."

It appears there's a chance Niclas Wallin could be a San Jose Shark after all.

On Friday, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told the Raleigh News & Observer the Wallin trade was dead, but two sources close to the situation said the deal was revived late Saturday night.

Wallin has a no-trade clause, and it's believed he was seeking a contract extension to waive it. One source told ESPN.com on Sunday the deal could still fall apart again, but that the possibility of a trade to San Jose was again in the cards.

The Sharks are on the lookout for help on defense, especially with the injury to Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

A potential trade involving Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Niclas Wallin has fallen through.

"There was a pending deal with a team, and after going through the process of a few days, it didn't materialize," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com on Saturday.

TSN of Canada reported Wednesday night that a trade to send Wallin to the San Jose Sharks was nearly complete. Rutherford refused to identify the team to ESPN.com, but a source confirmed it was the Sharks. Wallin, an unrestricted free agent July 1, has a no-trade clause.

There was a fresh new wave of Vincent Lecavalier trade rumors last week, with the New York Rangers again linked to the star center. But the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning wants everyone to know there's absolutely nothing to them.

"We have never talked to the Rangers about Vinny," Oren Koules told ESPN.com on Saturday morning. "And by the way, Vinny has 50 points; he's not having a bad year. He's having a great year."

As I've written before, Lecavalier has a no-movement clause, so he alone will decide his NHL future, not the Lightning. There's no point worrying about it until then.

In the meantime, Koules made an interesting point about Lecavalier's production. When he had a slow start in October, Lecavalier was largely written off, and it certainly didn't help when Team Canada skipped over him for the Olympics on Dec. 30. But Lecavalier has come on of late. He entered Saturday's play 15th in NHL scoring, ahead of the likes of Zach Parise, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Semin and Jarome Iginla.

Lecavalier is on pace for 82 points; still, not really worth the $10 million he's earning this season, but certainly not a bad year at all.

Meanwhile, I also asked Koules about the reports regarding the team's financial problems. While he confirmed the league is assisting him in actively trying to find a buyer or investor, he denied that the Lightning has been forwarded an advance share of revenue sharing to help pay the bills.

It's clear the league wants to find a buyer/investor ASAP for the Lightning.

Toronto traders
The 28th-ranked Toronto Maple Leafs will be sellers ahead of the March 3 trade deadline, but they'll be in a unique position compared to any other club in the NHL. They've got cap space to sell, but more importantly, budget room.

In other words, they may be sellers and buyers at the same time. Confused? Unlike, say, Carolina or Edmonton (teams that solely want to shed salary like traditional sellers would), the Leafs are ready to take on huge contracts if the deals include draft picks or prospects in the process. And that's exactly the message being sent to the buyers around the league right now by GM Brian Burke and assistant GM Dave Nonis.

Burke has had this financial muscle at his disposal all along, but has been waiting for the right time. That time is coming.

For example, pretend you're a Cup contender. You want to make a deal to help your team March 3, but you don't have enough cap room. The Leafs are telling those types of clubs they'll take a contract off their hands for a pick or prospect. No other seller, in all likelihood, will offer that scenario to buyers because no other seller is willing to park big money in the AHL to make these deals happen. This is where the Leafs hope to start recouping some assets, especially after dropping a pair of first-rounders to Boston for Phil Kessel.

In the meantime, the Leafs are getting feelers for pending free agents, such as Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan, and even guys under contract past this season like Niklas Hagman (two more seasons at $3 million per). A handful of the free agents will almost surely be moved out. Ponikarovsky, hot of late, could be a fetching pickup for a team looking for second-line offense.

The Leafs' pro scouting staff, led by vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin, met Friday and Saturday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to prepare for the March 3 trade deadline. Burke joined them Saturday. The staff ranked every player on all 30 teams over the two-day period so Burke and Nonis can quickly pull up those individual reports once trade talks heat up.

Know this: The Leafs' desire is to be extremely busy from now to March 3. We'll see if they find willing partners.

Hurricanes listen
Any player headed for unrestricted free agency is available in Carolina, but the Hurricanes are getting lots of calls on a player that's under contract for next season.

Joni Pitkanen has another year on his deal at $4.5 million for next season. The Canes like him a lot and are not trying to move him in any way. Yet, the interest from other teams is so high for the puck-mover, one wonders if Carolina will be able to say no before March 3 if the offers are too good to resist. The 26-year-old leads all NHL players in ice time per game, averaging just over 27 minutes. There won't be many top-four defensemen moving before March 3, so the high interest in Pitkanen is reflective of a barren marketplace for that position.

One player who will very likely move if he allows it with his no-trade clause is winger Ray Whitney, as I mentioned last week. To me, Pittsburgh and Calgary are screaming for this kind of move, as both clubs need offensive help and a boost to their power plays.

Here's the thing: He's cheaper to acquire now than on March 3. If the Hurricanes could unload him now, they'd save on their payroll. Come March 3, there's only five and half weeks left on Whitney's $3.55 million salary, so the Hurricanes wouldn't be saving nearly as much. In the meantime, teams will be scrambling for his services that day and the price will go up. Either way, the Hurricanes are hoping to recoup a first- or second-round pick and a prospect for Whitney.

Flyers-Rangers fallout
The Rangers, understandably, weren't happy when their star player, Marian Gaborik, got beat up by Flyers agitator/tough guy Daniel Carcillo on Thursday night. I don't blame them. I can just imagine their anger Friday when these Twitter posts were sent out by the Flyers:

From: @NHLFlyers
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 1:06p
In case you missed it, here's video of the Carcillo/Gaborik fight from last night.
http://bit.ly/5akcFO
sent via TweetDeck

From: @NHLFlyers
Sent: Jan 22, 2010 9:44a
Check out last night's media availability following the game, inc. Carcillo's "licking his chops" comment (video): http://bit.ly/71Pv6V
sent via TweetDeck

"I can't say I was aware they were doing this," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com via e-mail Saturday. "It's not in violation of any existing policy we have."

There are no rules against it, but it's in poor taste, in my mind.

This and that
• The phone calls keep rolling in to Atlanta with inquiries about Ilya Kovalchuk, and it's going to get more serious over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a source described contract talks with Kovalchuk as "pretty quiet" of late. I think a trade is inevitable at this point.

• Had a chance to touch base this week with Finland Olympic GM Jari Kurri. The former Oilers great said he couldn't believe it when both Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne went down with injuries in back-to-back games recently. But Koivu is slated to return this week, and Kurri said he was confident the "Finnish Flash" would also be ready for the Olympics. "He should be OK," Kurri told ESPN.com. "Our understanding is that he'll be back in time, but it's going to be close, for sure."

• The Phoenix Coyotes are on the lookout for cheap offensive help; they can't take on too much of a payroll bump. Ideally, they're looking to make a dollar-for-dollar move. That's not an easy thing to do in this market right now, although that's exactly what Minnesota and Montreal pulled off in the Guillaume Latendresse-Benoit Pouliot deal (both players are earning the exact same salary).

• The New York Islanders continue to cast their fishing lines around the league in an attempt to move goalie Martin Biron ($1.4 million salary, UFA July 1). The Isles are pretty open to what they'd want in return: a draft pick, a defenseman or a left winger. Any one of those three apparently will do.